We have just published a feature story “Saving Endangered Species” covering the courageous activities of the organization WildAid, a San Francisco-based organization that prosecutes people who traffic in wild animal parts. WildAid also works to raise public consciousness, especially in Asia, in an attempt to reduce demand for wild animal parts.
There are a few issues here worth exploring: Some are crystal clear, such as the need to strictly regulate hunting animals when the hunting itself is leading a species towards extinction. From that standpoint, hunting game animals even for food is hard to justify.
There is also the issue of keeping animals in captivity in order to harvest, for example, the bile from a bear’s gallbladder. This is typically a dreadfully cruel practice that can leave an animal in agony for literally decades. Again, this is pretty hard to justify under any circumstances.
But what if an animal species that isn’t endangered is hunted, killed humanely, and harvested so its organs can fulfill the demands for traditional Asian medicines? Is this any more justifiable than hunting for trophies? One would be hard pressed to explain why.
Well-regulated and humane hunting can be a force for conservation. An underreported fact about hunting and hunters is that in a properly regulated environment, hunters and the fees paid by hunters provide huge funds for wildlife conservation. Trophy fees for African big game provide the means to patrol against poaching and have helped many species recover from the brink of extinction. In many cases, animals have gone from being endangered to being so numerous that hunting is necessary to manage their populations.
It isn’t just hunting groups who have patiently attempted to spread the message that well-regulated hunting can help endangered species to recover. Not only will you get this message from groups such as The Hunter’s Institute, or the American Hunters & Shooters Association, but even from such environmentalist stalwarts as The Nature Conservancy.
Perhaps along with reducing demand for these traditional remedies, the welfare of some endangered species might be furthered by making provisions for legitimate hunting of animals who are sought for the perceived medicinal value of their organs.
While this may sound objectionable, the logic of the following assertion shouldn’t be beyond debate; there is no reason that trophy hunting should be condoned if hunting for medicines is banned. And if all hunting is banned, a powerful source of funding and support for wilderness preservation and wildlife management is lost, to the detriment of the very species we wish to protect.