The impacts of sport hunting on biodiversity, and the role of sport hunting as a conservation tool, have caused much debate. Sport hunting and nature conservation are inextricably linked, and many reserves can be historically traced back to sport hunters who wanted to protect game species and their habitats. However, there are numerous examples of ‘bad practice’ associated with the hunting industry. Two examples highlighted here are illegal bird of prey persecution in the UK and illegal songbird slaughter in the Mediterranean. Unchallenged, these activities call into question the ethics of the hunting industry as a whole.
What can I do?

The sports optics industry needs to show transparency by publishing policy statements on illegal activities within the shooting industry, condemning illegal activities and distancing themselves from bad practices. They should avoid sponsorship or advertising of any activities that could be connected to illegal activities, for example bird of prey persecution in the UK or illegal songbird slaughter in the Mediterranean. As part of their CSR, they need to sponsor holistic conservation projects backed by independent science.

You can encourage them to do this: find contact details here. You can also choose to distance yourself from the hunting industry by shopping with a wildlife-friendly brand.

What’s the problem?

Hunting essentially places an economic value on wildlife, which has led to greater habitat protection globally. Academics have suggested that sport hunting (often trophy hunting) also has an important role to play in alleviating human-wildlife conflicts, potentially offering an economic incentive to conserve wildlife and habitats. It is also suggested that sport hunting as an outdoor recreational activity, connects individuals with the broader environment – raising environmental awareness and increasing the likelihood of participation in conservation activities. This theory is based on the notion that in order to become a good hunter you need to understand the behaviour, habitat and food preferred by the animals that are being hunted.

However, studies have also questioned this rational, as it is difficult to identify whether hunting leads to conservation or whether hunters would have conserved habitat in the first place – whether or not hunting was involved. There is also evidence to suggest that sport hunters are not always willing to change their hunting preferences for broader conservation purposes.

Many arguments placed in favour of sport hunting appear to boil down to economic benefits and associated financial incentives. There are, however, various practices coming to light associated with the sport hunting industry, which are raising questions over future sustainability and ethics. One is the systematic removal of predators from sport hunting landscapes, including bird of prey persecution. You can read more here. Another international problem is the illegal slaughter of songbirds in the Mediterranean.

Consumers who wish to avoid all links with the pro-hunting industry may wish to avoid optical companies who sponsor, supply and support the hunting industry. Alternatively, demanding transparency and clear position statements on illegal practices from the sports optics companies might help put pressure on the industry as a whole.

This information is based on independent research by Ethical Consumer (2016 & 2018). You can read the full reports here.