Trophy Hunting: The moral implications of killing animals for “sport”

A person hunting. One type of hunting is called hunting for sport, and it refers to hunting for entertainment. Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko/Pexels

The Cambridge Dictionary defines “hunting” as “chasing and killing an animal or bird for food, sport, or profit.” Now when it comes to debating the morality of hunting, there’s an endless pit of conflicting arguments that could be covered. However, if we zoom in on hunting “for sport” in particular, the ethical waters become significantly less murky and a clear answer always emerges: sport hunting is simply unnecessary and highly problematic.

I want to make it clear that we aren’t debating hunting out of necessity, food, environmental conservation/population control, or the plethora of other topics that are used as a basis to criticize hunting. This is simply criticizing the act of killing an animal purely for the thrill of it. The sense of enjoyment that people derive from shooting an animal, proudly taking a picture with it, or hanging it up as wall décor strikes me as deeply cruel.

Hunting for sport is killing animals recreationally. When conversations come up with those who are pro-hunting, one of the claims I hear most often is that — “They were going to die anyway, either through the meat industry or other natural predators, so what’s the big deal?” Again, it’s the principle of the matter in connection with each individual hunter. Regardless of what happens to the animal after it is killed, the act of going out to kill an animal purely as a game and for personal pleasure is difficult to rationalize. 

The problem lies in considering taking the life of an animal is an “achievement” to begin with. Trophy hunting regards wildlife as a commodity and renders animals as some sort of play-toy to be conquered and thrown around by humans. It’s a highly anthropocentric view of the world — the belief that the purpose of everything in our universe is for the benefit of humans and doesn’t exist autonomously. 

The main issue I have with sport hunting is that it’s so blatantly unnecessary. For most people, humans have evolved past the time when hunting was crucial to survival. Now, hunting for sport is nothing but a pastime for those who can’t seem to find a different hobby that doesn’t involve merciless killing. Trophy hunting fanatics are not as niche as they are painted out to be, and one of the most outlandish explanations I’ve heard is that regulated hunting for sport is justified because the quarry was given a fair chance to escape and earn its freedom with its abilities. If the hunter was skilled enough to shoot game down, then why shouldn’t they be proud of their achievement?  

This is not a new sentiment by any means: The social aspect and “codes” of hunting for sport has always underwritten the game itself. According to Britannica’s historical record for sport hunting and its origins, “the pioneer tradition of ‘every man a hunter’ persisted until after the frontier closed near the end of the 19th century.” Essentially, hunting for amusement wasn’t essential anymore and the tradition was only practiced by kings and nobles who had the most leisure time and the wealth to shoot game for reasons other than putting food on the table. Hunting being a lifestyle choice was purported “Under the reign of Francis I during the Renaissance in France and according to Alimentarium, “Post-hunt banquets were an opportunity to demonstrate social relationships in court.” Clearly, the symbolic status of social and economic class throughout history has been inherently attached to trophy hunting. 

So, what does all this have to do with hunting for sport today? Primarily, the extensive history around the world and throughout time illustrates the archaic nature of hunting for sport and the outdated traditions trophy hunters continue to uphold. Despite our advancements as a species, some humans seem to want to rewind to a time when society was so heavily divided into classes, primarily defined through what one had to do versus what one could do. And the question that ultimately arises is that just because we can treat hunting animals as a sport, should we? Well, when it comes to trophy hunting, the aspect of cruelty is undeniable, and it reflects on the character of those who decide to take an unnecessary action to kill animals for entertainment. Hunting for “sport” deserves no exception from criticism, and according to me, those who chose to participate in this culture are irredeemable for the basic cruel nature of shooting an animal and seeing its corpse as a trophy to be hung above their fireplace. 


  1. Hunting, particularly trophy hunting, supports forty million acres of private game farms in South Africa, 65,000 sq miles of Namibian concessions, and 250,000 sq miles of Southern Africa in general. From a consequentialist perspective, it is beyond reproach. All of this is extra to the National Parks and turns wildlife into a self-supporting, tax paying entity. That is the safest conservation of all in poverty stricken Africa.
    The “masculine” principle gets the resources that the “feminine” principle uses to nurture our kind and reproduce. Hunting in all its forms is therefore an expression of the male evolutionary principle, different but equal to the female evolutionary principle. They take turns like the halves of a wheel, first getting resources and second turning them into survival and reproduction.
    Morals are “indoor” things, indoor the human cave of civilisation. Outside in nature, there are no morals, no rules. Nature doesn’t care and “indoor” human morals would destroy it all. There is nothing moral or immoral about hunting. It is to the male gaze what childbirth is to the female gaze.
    And I am not a hunter – my interest is rural economics in Southern Africa.

    • So, what you’re implying is that all of us that work, or at least plan to work, in progressive zoos and aquariums that specialize in ex situ conservation that want to do our jobs or careers *specifically because* we all view it as a moral and ethical obligation, who even the IUCN agrees plays a crucial role in wildlife conservation and research besides “sustainable use”, shouldn’t be involved in conservation simply because we disagree over how we view nature despite all the hard work we’ve put in it?

      Yes, morality and nature don’t exactly intertwine, but at the same time the work that I want to be a part of has done considerable work in the fields of conservation, but, once again, we do it because we view nature as having intrinsic value rather than monetary.

      True, I don’t have the power to change an entire system, but at the same time if something like the UK ban ever comes to fruition we will be more than happy to take up the burden.

      I’m not sure if you got this message on Mongabay the last time I talked with you, but I hope you get it at least here.

    • So if it doesn’t pay then to hell with it and let it die ? You’re not a conservationist, you’re a capitalist who has reduced wildlife to nothing more than a commodity to be exploited for financial gain. Anyone who believes that a species is only worth saving if they can make money out of it has a seriously screwed-up moral compass. To quote the renowned conservationist Dr Richard Leakey:

      “If wildlife and wilderness were regarded solely as items that generate money, their days were surely numbered. Inevitably, someone would find a way to use them to make more money from them than protecting them does.”.

      Which unsurprisingly is precisely what has happened with elephants, rhino and lions that have become worth more dead than alive for their ivory, horn and bones.

      Oh and as for “Hunting in all its forms is therefore an expression of the male evolutionary principle”, so is murder.

Leave a Reply