All forms of hunting have and continue to attract significant controversy, and it’s really not hard to imagine why. No matter how you sugarcoat it, hunting involves the intentional targeting and killing of sentient animals, often ones that pose no direct threat to the hunter. Of course, humans have hunted animals for an unfathomably long time, and doing so was practically required to gather food during the early years of human existence.
But now we live in a fundamentally different world, one where industrialized countries have no shortage of food options and a large portion of hunters are financially well-off. Now that there are fewer vital reasons to hunt, it has become much easier to criticize the practice as cruel, barbaric, and ultimately unnecessary.
Many of those who regularly hunt, however, argue that there is more to the activity than displaying taxidermied animal heads and uploading distasteful social media posts. As paradoxical as it may sound, they believe that hunting provides valuable benefits to the environment, such as the managing of specific animal populations and even the conservation of animal species. These are sincerely-held beliefs, even by those who otherwise don’t participate in the activity. But do these arguments hold any merit?
Is hunting required for population control?
Hunting as a method of population control remains one of the most common justifications for the practice. Wild animals may be integral to the planet’s ecosystem, but once they interact with human populations or settlements, things can quickly turn sour. For instance, deer are notorious for unintentionally causing serious car accidents on the road, and many of them also end up wandering into farmland, putting valuable crops at risk. Additionally, many animals carry ticks that can latch onto and bite humans, which has the potential to transmit Lyme disease and other dangerous illnesses. By hunting these animals, so the logic goes, humans can keep their populations in check and reduce the number of potential threats to our way of life.
At first, this argument seems to make intuitive sense. The lives of animals may be worth preserving, but if an overabundance of them puts human lives at risk, then maybe hunting is a necessary sacrifice we must make to preserve the balance of nature? But what this argument doesn’t consider is how these animal species become overpopulated in the first place.
The thing is, natural predators already serve as a form of population control. Unlike most humans, predators need to hunt in order to survive, and them doing so has the added benefit of keeping certain animal populations at a sustainable level. Unfortunately, hunting industries often incentivize the killing of big game animals like bears and wild boars to sell as meat or to display as trophies. With fewer natural predators out in the wild to keep populations in check, that responsibility is left up to outside forces, namely hunters, who are creating a feedback loop where they kill these crucial animals and use the resulting risk of overpopulation as a justification to kill more animals.
Is hunting conservation?
One of the other common arguments in favor of hunting, that it aids in the conservation of animal species, does not hold much water either. It doesn’t take a wildlife biology degree to learn that several species have gone extinct or continue to be endangered by hunting regardless of its legality. But claims surrounding hunting’s supposedly vital role in conservation are often not predicated on the practice itself. Rather, they tend to center around hunters’ contributions to a whole host of conservation efforts, including the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, a set of policies that aim to protect wildlife and establish various rules that hunters must abide by.
The achievements in conservation that hunters helped to facilitate are legitimately beneficial and should not be dismissed. But this does not mean that hunting in and of itself contributes to conservation. Hunters may engage in individual acts that further the conservation cause, but the actual act of hunting plays no part in these efforts. Of course, it does not exactly come as a revelation to many that those who kill the animals they are supposedly aiming to conserve are, in fact, not conserving them, but the point still needs to be stressed.
Except, from a certain perspective, hunting really does have a part to play in the long-term survival of certain species. Unfortunately, the way in which this is accomplished is not exactly what one would call humane. In over half of the states in the U.S., there are private game farms that breed certain animals such as deer and elk specifically so that they can be shot by fee-paying hunters in what are often referred to as canned hunts. Until then, the animals are held captive behind large fences, where they are often crowded together in a manner not unlike what occurs in factory farms. These overcrowded environments heavily facilitate the spread of illnesses like Chronic Wasting Disease, which degrades the brains of the animals that receive it.
It should be noted there are many hunters who actively oppose game farms, as they should. But it nonetheless demonstrates that arguments in favor of hunting as a form of conservation can only go so far. Do game farms contribute to the long-term survival of certain animal species? Strictly speaking, yes they do. But is living a life in captivity only to inevitably get shot or succumb to disease an experience that animals deserve to go through? I think we all know the answer to that question.
Are there viable alternatives to hunting?
But ultimately, even though hunting is an inhumane way to control animal populations and minimize the risks of contact between humans and animals, these issues are still very real. So how do we solve these problems without having to kill or endanger the lives of animals? The solutions will vary depending on the situation, but a few ways to prevent animals from entering roads or populated areas specifically include setting up fences and either using repellent spray or growing certain plants that can ward off the animals in question. When it comes to controlling populations, immunocontraception, which is essentially a form of birth control for animals, could serve as an effective method for safely preventing animal pregnancies, although since the technology is still being perfected, it is not yet widely available.
These are not magic bullet solutions by any means, but neither is hunting, which is becoming increasingly untenable as both the technologies and moral attitudes of the modern world continue to develop. Instead of treating hunting as some sort of necessary evil that will secure the health of the ecosystem in spite of the immense harm it causes, we should fully commit to exploring solutions to valid concerns regarding human-wildlife contact that respect the lives of everyone involved. That way, we could properly maintain the balance of nature without sacrificing our humanity.
Where do you stand in the debate regarding the environmental benefits of hunting? Do you believe hunting is a valid way to control and conserve animal populations, or do you see hunting as too cruel and ineffective to serve such a purpose? Let us know in the comments below!