Credit: Amy Fitzmaurice, Conservation Scientist and Wildlife Artist.

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In 2015, the death of a lion, nicknamed ‘Cecil’, was followed by global media coverage unprecedented for any wildlife story. Cecil was shot by a trophy hunter in Zimbabwe, a fate which befalls several hundred lions in Africa every year. The widespread outrage at Cecil’s death was motivated at least in part by concern for animal welfare, but also from a feeling that killing animals for sport was just wrong, particularly for animals known to be endangered. There was also bewilderment that some conservationists appeared to support trophy hunting, arguing that banning it might make matters worse by removing an incentive to protect wildlife habitat, potentially leading to land use change and loss of lion habitat. Sport hunting of many animals occurs all over the world. In the UK, where there was a vociferous reaction to the Cecil event, tens of millions of pheasants are released to be shot every year. By comparing pheasant shooting and trophy hunting we have revealed some common themes – they are both defended by their supporters as protecting habitat and as providing significant input to local economies, for example. Concern for welfare is prominent among opponents of both pheasant shooting and trophy hunting, but the difference in degree depending on the species concerned has no clear rational basis, exemplifying numerous inconsistencies in human relations with animals. But anticipated future trends in intolerance of many kinds of hunting around the world seem likely to present some challenges for conservation. The fate of land, and of wildlife, in a post-hunting landscape is often uncertain.