Trophy Hunting – The Drive to Kill

Elephant - trophy hunting

By Annette J Beveridge

Trophy hunting is alive as much today as it ever was. While there seems little reason as to why people would even contemplate participating in such a blood-thirsty sport, it is happening throughout the globe. We are on the edge of a climate emergency which means that some animals will find it harder to survive and yet even this does not stop the lust to kill. It can be difficult to step inside the mind of another – especially those who view animals as a commodity. Trophy hunting is supporting the collapse of wildlife populations and many animals – including lions, and African elephants, are on the slippery slope to extinction. If trophy hunting was banned, and the ban maintained, it is more than likely that these populations would recover.

When you think about trophy hunters, what is your uppermost thought? That they are psychopaths and one step away from becoming a mainstream murderer?

Is it that simple?

Let’s consider this. In nature, there appears to be few other predators that target large and dangerous animals and there is a reason for this. The risks are too great. Yes, injured or vulnerable elephants may be taken by lions, and lions themselves can be at risk when isolated or surrounded by a pack of hyenas, but it is only when the odds of their survival increases that they would consider tackling such large prey. This is not for fun or for a trophy kill.  Animals hunt to survive, people hunt for the pleasure of doing so.

So why do people go trophy hunting?

Could it be the hunter-gatherer instinct? This reason is often used by those who go hunting but it doesn’t necessarily equate either because if we look at our ancient ancestors, we know that the drive to kill would be for food or for animal skins and bones may have been used for tools. However, it is likely that many hunts would be unsuccessful. Nowadays, the odds are stacked in the hunter’s favour.

So, let’s contemplate the following:

Costly signalling

There is a term known as costly signalling and we can definitely apply this to trophy hunters. It is significant because it is all about status. Trophy hunting is expensive, and by participating, individuals gain additional ranking, more so, if they kill their chosen prey. This affords far more kudos than if buying a new car, or a bigger house although these are indicative of status too. Trophy hunting is all about the prospect of stalking, and taking down a large animal. It is about the thrill as much as the kill. The rarer the animal, the better.

Some trophy hunters and hunt organisers say that it is about keeping the population in check but this could not be further from the truth. Trophy hunters do not protect species, they annihilate. So, what can be done? More countries can ban animal trophies from entering the home country and this may reduce the desire to participate. One possibility to consider is that we undermine trophy hunting by detracting from the gains, we shame them. This reduces their status rather than improving it.  

Lobby groups

It is important to know that many brand themselves as conservationists. This is false. We should also not underestimate the extent of power behind the sport. There are incredibly powerful lobby groups supporting them along with  influencers. Money talks.


There is a very strong link between those who gain an abject thrill from the power of the kill and those that would abuse animals but we cannot underestimate the power of status. This may certainly lie at the heart of it. Unless we strip that status down to its bare minimum exposing it for what it is – that of small minded cruelty, this barbaric sport will continue.

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