Trophy hunting denotes a type of selective recreational hunting of nonhuman animals done to obtain their body parts as a representation of success or memorial. Debates about trophy hunting intensified after July 2015, when an American dentist killed Cecil, the lion, in Zimbabwe in what was perceived by the public as an inhumane manner. Since then, the morality of trophy hunting has been discussed among both the public and scholars.
Here I investigate trophy hunting as it is practiced by the Western world and claimed to promote conservation. This paper aims to consider a broad range of ethical concerns about trophy hunting from the perspective of three major ethical theories that evaluate the rightness or wrongness of actions. Utilitarianism concerns maximizing the aggregated happiness of all those affected by an action. Deontology that deals with conformance to certain rules or duties, or respect for individual rights. Lastly, Virtue Ethics focuses on the character of the doer and acknowledges those actions that foster a flourishing human life.
Under a utilitarian framework, it seems that a broad account of all the trophy hunting consequences to all who are affected can undermine the net aggregate happiness caused by the practice. Moreover, a deontological point of view appears to have the most vigorous opposition to trophy hunting, considering the rights of nature and individual nonhuman animals. Lastly, a virtue theory perspective, too, is likely to oppose trophy hunting as it is practiced by the Western world since there seems to be no reason to believe that trophy hunting contributes to living a flourishing human life.
The review of ethical concerns provided in this essay suggests that, when a sufficiently broad range of ethical concerns is contemplated, all the three ethical frameworks appear to converge in opposition to trophy hunting. With increasing social pressure and shifts in public attitudes toward wildlife, it is reasonable to expect condemnation and restriction of trophy hunting activities in the foreseeable future. Conservation authorities and managers need to reconsider the underlying ethical assumptions of trophy hunting and seek alternative ways of funding for conservation, particularly in those cases in the trophy hunting industry like canned hunting and wildlife farming that cause the most ethical concerns.