Conservation and Society

: 2012  |  Volume : 10  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 53--62

The place of hunters in global conservation advocacy

Nels Paulson 
 University of Wisconsin-Stout, Menomonie, WI; (Research undertaken at: Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA), USA

Correspondence Address:
Nels Paulson
University of Wisconsin-Stout, Menomonie, WI; (Research undertaken at: Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA)


Hunters consider themselves conservationists, but they also think of themselves as hunters first. Some environmentalists perceive this as a paradox. This hunting-conservation paradox is typically reconciled in very similar ways across the hunting world, and for many they do so through associational life. Specifically, the sustainable hunting model of governance is promoted by hunters; proponents argue that revenue from hunting increases the funding, and therefore efficacy, of conservation efforts at various scales. While conservation worldwide has benefitted tremendously by this governance, there have been variations in the levels of success of different expected social and economic outcomes. Such variation could be explored through greater incorporation of sustainable hunting in global conservation dialogue, while simultaneously broadening conservation advocacy worldwide. However, this does not typically occur due to low levels of trust, stemming from divides in values and styles of reasoning among various environmentalists and hunting advocates. This paper provides insight into such limitations and, hopefully, informs and encourages further dialogue to improve sustainable hunting governance worldwide and expand the breadth of global conservation advocacy

How to cite this article:
Paulson N. The place of hunters in global conservation advocacy.Conservat Soc 2012;10:53-62

How to cite this URL:
Paulson N. The place of hunters in global conservation advocacy. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2012 [cited 2020 Dec 5 ];10:53-62
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Hunters have historically been leading advocates in conservation, even though strategies for conservation advocacy in the past looked quite a bit different from today's green movements. Hunting advocates, particularly in the Global North, point to charismatic historical figureheads like the former United States President Teddy Roosevelt and organisations like the Boone and Crockett Club to illustrate such claims. They argue that hunting is an important component in improving game animal populations and the ecosystems in which those game animals reside (among other benefits, to be discussed below). While they carry with them a large amount of evidence from peer reviewed research, hunters' claims do not come without resistance. Some environmental advocates' values, specifically in the Global North, are not always commensurate with hunters' perceptions of conservation. Some environmentalists cannot understand the thought of hunting a game animal for sport; some even oppose hunting at all. However, hunters provide potential breadth to global conservationism, and promote a model of governance that could improve our collective abilities to meet many social and ecological goals. This model-"sustainable hunting"-suggests that trophy hunting provides revenue for both species survival and economic development. In short, hunters as conservationists embody a unique advocacy group and source of funding; an analysis of their values, styles of reasoning, and social relationships with other conservation stakeholders is particularly important for illustrating the challenges of more fully incorporating hunters into global conservation advocacy and governance today.

In what follows, this article explores the conservation advocacy of hunters in the Global North, with special emphasis on hunting non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including Safari Club International (SCI) and the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC). Central research questions are as follows: How do hunters view the relationship between hunting and conservation? What are hunters' values, beliefs, and styles of reasoning surrounding nature, especially compared to other environmentalists? How do those views play out at the global scale, where many problems and solutions are framed and significant partnerships are formed? What unique contributions do hunters offer conservation advocacy? What are some of the current limitations of their contributions? There are several findings (illustrated below). First, hunters categorically support sustainable hunting management as a universal governance model, even though the success of at least one of the model's outcomes, economic development, is not always likely. However, discussions about sustainable hunting efficacy and the place of hunting and hunters in conservation, both among hunters, and between hunters and other environmentalists, typically do not revolve around the conditions of success in sustainable hunting management but instead revolve around values of nature. These discussions constrain explorations of the limitations of sustainable hunting, and marginalise both hunting as a conservation tool and hunters as legitimate conservation advocates, at least at a global scale. This paper concludes with some suggestions on future directions for integrating hunters in global conservation advocacy.


This paper is a result of a two year (from 2007 to 2008) qualitative study of several global conservation organisations, including the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Conservation International (CI), World Wildlife Fund-International (WWF), CIC, and SCI, among others, with particular focus on SCI. Data were collected from 38 in-depth interviews with various hunting and conservation advocacy representatives, and 41 collective days of observations at hunting and conservation NGOs' offices, and international hunting and conservation advocacy meetings. Key actors from each organisation were interviewed to determine how they identify their organisations' roles in global civil society and how they view hunting, nature, and wildlife management. A majority of these interview subjects originated from the Global North (95%), and all were working in organisations managed and centrally situated within the United States of America (USA) or Europe. Observations of SCI's headquarters in Washington, DC and Tucson, Arizona, and organisational meetings (e.g., the SCI international convention and IUCN World Conservation Congress) were integrated to further tease out these patterns. This was combined with a document analysis of each organisation's publications and annual reports to triangulate data from interviews and observations.

Research explored the meaning of global conservation governance among hunting advocacy organisations, with particular attention to how hunters perceive legitimate conservation advocacy, and how hunting and hunters are in turn perceived by environmentalists in conservation NGOs. Interviews with global actors included questions about their views on how hunting should be best managed at various scales. Their reflections illustrate the rationale behind their behaviour, and the potential avenues for further cultivation of meaningful collaboration that might impact governance and decision-making at multiple scales. Node trees were developed in NVIVO 8.0, and included themes, frames, and general categories that emerged while building analytical protocol. This process of developing protocol is essential to qualitative analysis through "open coding" (Altheide 1996); it involves a careful process of "reflexive or dialectical interplay between theory and data whereby theory enters in at every point, shaping not only analysis but how social events come to be perceived and written up as data in the first place" (Emerson et al. 1995: 167). Considering the importance of reflexive open coding to a study's validity, data are presented here in a manner revealing the role of the researcher to eliciting such data.

 Context of Study

Global conservation advocacy as a social realm can generally be defined as those actors who attempt to shape ideas and behaviours within government and industry to prioritise the conservation of nature. Typically this advocacy coalesces in very formal and institutional ways in the Global North, where advocates contribute their time, money or resources to formal environmental organisations. Essentially, they work to frame the conservation agendas for governments and industries around the world. They individually or collectively change their attention from the political marketplace to the economic marketplace and from global to local scales of managing nature, depending on the political opportunity structures that emerge, and as such global conservation advocacy can take many shapes. In general this study focussed on the global scale of conservation by actors within these organisations with the understanding that it matters how decisions are made by those who frame agendas for so many around the world-what is often referred to in global governance literature as "epistemic communities" (Haas 1992). That is, problems exist in the world today due to dynamic processes that occur at multiple scales, and global actors, particularly those NGOs that operate within global civil society, frame the levels of interest and the types of responses to various social and ecological problems for many other actors (e.g., Arts 1998; Corell and Betsill 2001; Wapner 2002; Doh 2003; Pulver 2005). Therefore, a focus on the global scale provides an opportunity to understand avenues for expanding those levels of concerns and types of responses, in this case with regards to hunting. However, before illustrating the current conditions that limit hunting and hunters in global conservation advocacy, we should consider first the governance model hunters promote, and where discussions of that model could follow if the conditions that limit hunters' place in global conservation advocacy were overcome.

 Sustainable Hunting

First and foremost, hunters interviewed in this project believe that hunting has been an essential historical mechanism for successful conservation efforts. They see hunting as a commodity that pays for the conservation of animals and ecosystems effectively, generally referred to today as the 'sustainable hunting' model. Historically, in the USA especially, this has often been called the North American Model of Conservation, articulated most prominently in the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, commonly known as the Pittman-Robertson Act, where purchases of guns, hunts and ammunition became the largest contributor of conservation revenue. In addition, sustainable hunting management advocates argue that the privatisation of trophy hunts to be sold on the global market produces revenue and incentive for conservation efforts. This privatisation of trophy hunts has been the prevailing source of revenue in southern Africa in comparison to the USA, where taxation is the dominant basis, but in both cases the conception is that hunting pays for conservation. This model has been implemented widely around the world, even if its form varies slightly from place to place.

Taken together, previous studies show that four outcomes are typically promoted, if not actually facilitated, when policies that produce revenue from hunting are implemented-equitable economic growth, preservation of hunting as a right, protection of local and indigenous rights, and species survival. Sustainable hunting advocates generally promote hunting limits on game animals (with endangered species legally protected by either the laws of a particular state or various codified rules of international trade), sale of trophy hunts of game animals, money from those hunts to provide incentives for the conservation of both game animals and the larger regional ecosystems, and permitted special status for indigenous and other local groups to continue traditionally hunting 'sustainable' levels of game animals. Within this model of governance, all stakeholders are seen as 'winners' by sustainable hunting advocates. Very few other tools for conservation offer the possibilities for so many to 'win'-and for so few stakeholders to have to give up their own interests-as the sustainable hunting model. While there is certainly variance among hunters worldwide on the extent to which they believe in, and value, sustainable hunting as a conservation strategy (many hunters in fact do only care to harvest animals for the sake of harvesting animals), the larger hunting advocacy community believes in this model of governance wholeheartedly. One SCI representative's general account of this conservation strategy is as follows:

I mean when you have these SCI hunter members being so passionate about the wildlife that lives in these countries and paying a lot of money for that adventure to go hunt them, the villages realise how important that safari hunter is because they get hired by the outfitter to service the camp-to be the staff for them at the camp-so there's this economic infusion that happens by those villagers being hired. And what it does is increase the value, the market value… And you have to understand that entire cycle to realise it's more than just SCI members going to the store and finding something that they want… A professional hunter can sell an elephant hunt for USD 50,000… He is going to be able to hire a bunch of villagers to be a part of this… When that elephant is harvested the village gets really excited because they're going to have meat… So not only are they being fed, but they are also being paid because they are going to work. And so you have that societal benefit of hunting in these Third World countries, in these rural areas… But you also have the outfitter that is being paid a very high price [and] he [helps] the village because when the value of that elephant increases he's going to get the support of that village-to have the elephant there-because the village is going to benefit. So there's an incentive there for him to manage and invest in the elephant populations-to manage it and sustain it, and even spend money to stop poaching.

This argument was replicated in some way in each hunting advocate interview, and it comes across as quite convincing for many stakeholders, even while perhaps also a bit paternalistic. However, given this prevalence it is important to identify inconsistencies between what sustainable hunting advocates promise and what actually occurs. This is not to discredit sustainable hunting, as in many cases it does work in the ways promised. Instead, identifying such inconsistencies provides a basis for where discussions would be most apt to logically flow in the conservation community, and it offers a sharp contrast to the types of discussions surrounding hunting and conservation that typically emerge. So what does previous literature tell us about species survival and the extent to which local people gain the benefits expected from sustainable hunting?

Previous studies of sustainable hunting management

First, we should understand that academic literature is replete with studies that have found sustainable hunting to be remarkably successful in improving not only game animals but also the habitat in which those animals reside. Research has almost uniformly shown increased survival of game animal populations as a result of the harvest of trophy animals (e.g., Nickerson 1990; Gibson and Marks 1995; Lewis and Alpert 1996; Good 1997; Leader-Williams et al. 2001; Jenks et al. 2002; Mincher 2002; Manfredo et al. 2004; Harris 2007; Craigie et al. 2010). However, previous research has also demonstrated that such management models often change traditional socio-environmental relationships and lead to undesirable outcomes for locals, including uneven levels of equity in economic benefits (e.g., Gibson and Marks 1995; Schroeder 1999; Duffy 2000, 2003; Leader-Williams et al. 2001; Brockington 2002; Mincher 2002; Dzingirai 2003; MacDonald 2005; Robbins and Luginbuhl 2005; Harris 2007; Hussain 2010). In general terms, the successful results expected by hunting advocates from sustainable hunting regarding equitable economic growth and indigenous rights are strikingly less than the protection of hunting rights and species survival.

Undesirable outcomes for locals from sustainable hunting management systems are particularly extant in the Global South. Long et al. (2001) have found that in many Western, developed countries sustainable hunting management systems benefit species survival and local people more or less as intended, but this has not been the case for many developing countries. Long et al. (2001: 2) analyse sustainable hunting in the form of "Community-based Wildlife Management" (CWM) systems and argue that "the rhetoric of CWM and community participation is rarely implemented meaningfully and that most benefits are often intercepted by non-community actors". Long et al. (2001: 27) assert that often "vested interests" promote "the maintenance of an aura of success", and thus do not give attention to "failures", at least not beyond blaming the abilities of locals to properly adopt sustainable hunting management systems.

Similarly, others have found that sustainable hunting management systems often promote a neoliberal 'commodification of nature' that neither improve local socioeconomic standards nor permit traditionally sustainable ways of living desired by some local groups of people (Steinhart 1989; Schroeder 1999; MacDonald 2005). These studies have argued that a neo-colonial rhetoric of 'conservation-as-development' has been promoted in the Global South, but more importantly an idea of an "allegedly scientifically and ethically superior force" has been stressed, further integrating both locals and environmental groups into the global capitalist economy (MacDonald 2005: 259). Local people have found themselves to be cut-off at times from their traditional hunting practices. More significantly, often money has been channelled away from people living closest to game animal populations-people for whom incentives to manage trophy hunting were most important (Harris 2007). The most problematic outcome of these sustainable hunting management systems seems to be this lack of addressing distribution of funds (Lewis and Jackson 2005). These funds are meant to benefit the 'local' populations by providing economic growth and incentives to manage their environment for trophy hunting. Which local population benefits is not always clear, nor is the amount of relative benefit compared to what they gain from subsistence hunting or from poaching animals to sell illegally. While recent studies do show that some success can certainly exist in equitable economic growth (e.g., Jones and Weaver 2009; Taylor 2009), this problem remains prevalent in sustainable hunting management systems worldwide.

These findings offer a picture of some of the problems of the sustainable hunting model of conservation, where discussions could further progress among hunting advocates and other conservation stakeholders [Loveridge et al. (2006), Lindsey et al. (2007), and Dickson et al. (2009) further illustrate the range of problems that need to be addressed in more depth]. The beneficial area to explore for hunting advocates and other conservationists is not whether sustainable hunting benefits conservation or not in general, but rather the conditions that result in the intended outcomes of sustainable hunting. In fact, hunters have an inimitable role to play in improving conservation advocacy by exploring such conditions. However, this is often not the debate that occurs when hunters enter into conservation advocacy with other environmentalists (as shall be illustrated below). Instead, what hunters typically find is that their advocacy becomes enmeshed in defending the moral position of how they value nature and hunting as a practice.


Given hunters' advocacy for sustainable hunting as a governance model, regardless of how successful it is, a larger issue remains whether hunters can successfully work with other conservation advocates to improve both species survival and equitable benefit sharing. Often alliances across the conservation community (and certainly with state and corporate actors as well) provide effective and broad-based action toward protecting the environment (Milne et al. 1996; Hartman and Stafford 1997; Caniglia 2001; Rondinelli and London 2003). Yet it seems that environmental values, interests, and beliefs among hunters and other environmentalists are often divisive instead of complementary (Loveridge et al. 2006). Such divisions in values have been found to be problematic in other conservation areas as well, such as with marine turtles (Campbell 2002). Certainly opposition to privatised trophy hunting as a conservation strategy is not present among all environmentalists; the conflict is clearest between anti-hunting animal rights advocates and hunters who promote the right to hunt and the right to bear arms. However, broad underlying tension remains powerful, and it limits conversations about expanding the effectiveness of sustainable hunting. These conversations could be more plentiful and more productive. This is especially true for a conservation strategy that is already so successful at providing the many benefits to nature and society which conservationists and policy-makers are regularly asked to trade-off.

Divergent values and lack of trust

One of the more significant findings of this study, in terms of illustrating constraints to productive collaboration toward sustainable hunting, is that hunters typically have unwavering beliefs in the viability of sustainable hunting as a governance model, and quite narrow interests surrounding conservation, especially compared to many other environmentalists. That is, trophy hunting as a commodity seeking experience is of utmost importance to their advocacy. For example, wildlife conservation largely became immersed in hunting advocacy for SCI because of the utility it offered to their cause, and not necessarily in the interest of conservation for conservation's sake. Perhaps because of this order of import, many hunters uphold the value of hunting as paramount, and believe that biological science will defend that value. What often occurs is the promotion of conservation biology combined with the high value for hunting in a jumble of advocacy strategies dialectically building upon one another. One SCI representative illustrates this advocacy as follows, when asked about changes in the organisation:

Interviewer (I): Thinking about your time with SCI over the years, what changes has the organisation experienced?

Subject (S): … I think in the old days if you look why people belong it's more for social reasons-conventions, socialising, sharing stories-that still is a big part of it, but their number one priority is more of the advocacy. And now you're seeing conservation catching up to that advocacy part too-it's that conservation can be used in a way to make sure that hunting seasons, limits, are all proper, and either to extend them, shorten them, or even to open season, and that's how conservation is used through the science. And, you know, I think that's a pretty big change there.

I: The use of science and conservation to promote advocacy-is that the change that you're referring to?

S: Yeah-actually I look at it this way-it's that conservation puts the bullet in the gun of governmental affairs. We can't go and argue particular bills of anti-hunting-of closing seasons or opening seasons-without science. The science-you know, we have to be able to take science to the hill, or to any state legislator as well, to make sure they are doing what's benefiting, what's right for, the wildlife as a whole. So I always add a term-you know, conservation is the bullet and governmental affairs is the gun. You know, that's how I look at it.

This is not to say that hunters do not use good science; in fact the scientific literature that has emerged on species survival has been almost uniformly supportive of sustainable hunting as a strategy, especially in comparison to fortress protectionism (e.g., Craigie et al. 2010). Instead, their unwavering belief in the scientific support of trophy hunting makes hunters unlikely to fully integrate into global conservation advocacy circles that may seem to oppose their support of hunting, limiting any discussions that could ensue. That is, if hunting advocates tend to believe that many conservationists are anti-hunting advocates who do not use science to create their arguments, then they are quite unlikely to work with them and learn from them to improve the sustainable hunting model of conservation. Interestingly enough, such a belief is partially informed by hunting advocates' concerns with 'appropriate' behaviour by anti-hunting advocates as an indication of their lack of scientific rigor. This is hardly surprising with interview subjects of largely Western origin when we consider Shapin's (1994) discussion about the development of credibility and knowledge in the West through "gentlemanly" actions. He argues that through the development of credibility in the West there was an emergent "stress upon gentlemanly rejections of notions of truth, certainty, rigor, and precision which were judged to be suitable for scholarly inquiry but out of place in civil conversation," and key to establishing gentlemanly discourses were "conversational sensibilities and practices" (Shapin 1994: xxx). Essentially, in Western traditions of evaluating truth, trust in people and their style of explaining knowledges is emphasised over rigorous investigations at how knowledge is arrived upon. One SCI representative described how anti-hunting advocates appeared to demonstrate that their values were more important than science at a CITES (Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species) Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting:

The problem with CITES is the misbehaviour by NGOs, particularly by the-what I call the animal rights crowd. And I've got to tell you my view of them is that many of them are immature; they're childish about the way they go about their business. And they don't seem to realise that this affects non-wildlife-people and their lives and livelihoods. And I'll give you-and I think that this was 1997 in the meeting in Zimbabwe. Born Free was required to stand up in public during a meeting, during a primary session, and apologise because it had made statements about the government of one of the African countries and things it had done or not done, and the statements were false… There were other things, like organising marches of children through the halls to politicise one aspect of an issue or not. At one meeting the group reconvened in the hall after lunch, and there were people sitting at the head table-these were NGOs sitting up on the podium-with large paper mache elephant heads on their heads. And again it's this kind of guerrilla theatre sort of thing that's gone on at CITES-now it's not the norm, but it does illustrate the fact that NGOs, while they can be a positive influence, can also be anything but.

The description of this event should be taken in a context that helps illustrate the divide between global conservation advocacy and hunting advocacy. In the 1990s, reactions to the elephant ivory ban in 1989 created a circumstance by which southern African government agencies established stronger alliances with organisations like SCI in an effort to get around what they perceived to be a theatrical (as opposed to a scientifically informed) debate among global conservation advocates and policy makers. SCI worked with these countries to promote use of the global economic marketplace instead of the global political marketplace in shaping trophy hunting as a tool for conservation. As such, many of the CWM systems (discussed above) became dominant forms of resistance by sustainable hunting advocates to global political decision-making that appeared to be uninformed by science. This resistance was coupled with efforts by sustainable hunting advocates in African range states (most prominently Zimbabwe) to identify components of CITES that were "imperialist" (Mofson 2000). In addition, the Southern African Centre for Ivory Marketing (SACIM), which consisted of Zimbabwe, Botswana, Malawi, and Namibia, proposed listing northern Atlantic herring, an important resource for Scottish fishermen and others, as an Appendix I endangered species in preparation for CITES eighth COP. SACIM tried to make the point that such a proposal was scientifically equivalent to the elephant listing in that both species were not Appendix I level endangered and both greatly impacted livelihoods (Mofson 2000). Combined, these efforts helped overturn the ivory ban at the tenth COP in 1997 for Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe (in an attempt to 'split-list' elephants), and helped increase the support for sustainable use strategies in IUCN since that overturn.

What remained was a divide between global conservation advocates who operated more within the global political marketplace and sustainable hunting advocates who operated more within the global economic marketplace. This may be a key reason why a few divergent values seem to uphold a divide between hunting advocates and other environmentalists; regardless, an underlying pattern of distrust in the value driven use of science pervades. In fact, this argument of values trumping science exists on both sides and is often the same excuse anti-hunting environmentalists use to distrust hunting advocates. For example, at the IUCN World Conservation Congress (WCC) in Barcelona, Spain in 2008 there was a session conducted by the CIC titled "Sustainable Hunting Tourism-A valuable tool for conservation and sustainable development!", and at the end of that session a representative from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) engaged in a conversation with the CIC representatives. When the HSUS representative was asked afterwards about hunting's contribution to conservation, she discussed how no slides and no data were given by the CIC about species populations or economic benefits of trophy hunting, just "personal opinion". The session was fascinating not so much in the lack of scientific data provided, but rather in the lack of productive conversations over improving the effectiveness of sustainable hunting (i.e., how local cultures could be better preserved and economic benefits could be equitably distributed). Several sustainable hunting advocates sat in the front of the room and emphasised the legitimacy of their values and how they have experienced the effectiveness of trophy hunting as a conservation strategy. According to reflections by some in attendance, interviewed afterwards, the session had a distinctive patronising tone to it. For example, one member of the audience from WWF commented afterwards that the session felt like an "infomercial" one would see on cable television. This is not a direct condemnation of the CIC; instead this is indicative of how potentially collaborative interactions in global conservation advocacy turn into one-way transmissions of information. Such lack of dialogue is largely due to the distrust derived from perceived divergent values. Both hunters and anti-hunting environmentalists believe the others do not utilise legitimate knowledge and rest their advocacy only on their own values. For example, one IUCN representative described this distrust some environmentalists have of hunting advocacy:

What tends to happen is that a large part of the world, as you can understand, is somewhat skeptical about hunting as a conservation strategy. It reminds people of Vietnam, you know, we ought to kill these dudes to save them. And they're nervous for good reason. And there's not a lot out there which is not put out by hunting associations. So what tends to happen is that very respectable organisations like CIC do a hunting publication, but it's got their logo all over it. The neutral readers are going to assume that it's not accurate, even if they're completely honest.

In general, anti-hunting environmentalists' concerns are based upon a belief in the moral imperative against trophy hunting. Like hunting advocates, the values, interests, and moral beliefs of anti-hunting advocates are foundational to their arguments. This limits their contributions to sustainable hunting conversations and governance, and at the same time, relegates sustainable hunting to a peripheral position in conservation governance, at least at a global scale, when it could be much more central to debates that might make conservation management more effective. This makes extant global democratic deficits more accentuated and reinforces the argument that NGOs are perhaps nothing more than special interest groups that are unable to work with one another for the good of global society (Mathews 1997). Another IUCN representative described this moral imperative of anti-hunting environmentalists:

S: I think a lot of IUCN members consider it to be unethical to hunt. And I think maybe part of it is maybe some people don't like the enjoyment aspect of hunting. I think that people very much had to deal with the subsistence use stuff and with human livelihoods and hunting based on that as opposed to recreational hunting.

I: So people have noted opposition to it because morally it's not OK to take enjoyment from the trophy aspect?

S: That's what some people think.

In fact, sustainable hunting is not discussed overtly as a strategy by many within some of the largest environmental NGOs in the world. For example, CI does not have people or offices that address hunting except as it pertains to specific species or the bushmeat crisis (concerning non-trophy species like primates) in West Africa and elsewhere. Likewise, when sustainable hunting was brought up in an interview with one representative of IUCN, he personally thought that it would be difficult to find anyone in the secretariat with any expertise in such a marginalised issue for the organisation:

There will be no one in the building that does that… unless they are in the species office. And people in the species office don't do that. If Mariano was still there-and he's not, he left a few years ago-Mariano… He might have been interested in hunting because he did his Ph.D. on deer in Argentina. There's no one in the species office that's really into that aspect of sustainability.

Even so, several experts from IUCN were interviewed in this study to explore their views of sustainable hunting and hunters. Many of the interview subjects raised this issue of who benefits socially and economically; evidently identification of the need to explore shortcomings in sustainable hunting does exist, even if it's not actively pursued often. One IUCN representative's discussion of this need was as follows:

I: So the key for you is that money and where it goes-to make sure it goes in the right places.

S: Exactly. If it doesn't go in the right place-if it's one million dollars to kill an animal and it goes in the pocket of the cop who's park manager or minister-no way. No way.

I: So, I'm curious-how do you think IUCN can facilitate and make sure that that money does go in the right place?

S: That's why we need some people. We need some organisation so we know it's happening all the time in some countries [such as] corruption [and other related problems with sustainable hunting]… We have one programme jointly with WWF, which is TRAFFIC. That is the only official organisation programme that we have in IUCN to document trade, so that's the only option for over-harvesting and dealing with hunting. So that's all we can operate-we're not going to do any writings in the newspapers.

This interview subject indicated concern about how IUCN is perceived in the media in his discussion of the idea of a watchdog organisation, and others echoed such concerns. That is, even though people within CI, WWF, or IUCN recognise the need to discuss sustainable hunting in more depth with hunting advocates and other stakeholders, there is a concern by environmental NGOs regarding how it will be perceived by donors or others who support their given organisation. One WWF interview subject described this challenge in more depth:

If you talk about working in Zambia and conserving wildlife and working with communities, but the hunting part of it is not one that gets high profile in that discussion, because maybe while it may be the most critical source of revenue for the communities… Fundraising is run by [those] with a different set of values and interests and sets of experiences and that type of thing… In almost all cases in southern Africa the majority of revenue comes from safari hunting. And WWF for a long time was not really willing to talk about the important role of safari hunting in that. But it does come out… There would be discussions about hunting and all of this, and I would say that WWF would be more like a snail, pulling into its shell and hiding a bit, but you'd always get the questions about-if you're being interviewed by TIME magazine, what are you allowed to say and what are you not allowed to say? You had to watch-there was always a lot of sensitivity [regarding trophy hunting]… You had to think before you opened your mouth.

Hunters and the expansion of global conservation advocacy

The problem described above regarding image illustrates how scientific knowledge surrounding species is not the essential problem for exploring how sustainable hunting can be more effective. Instead, the values, interests, and moral beliefs of both hunters and anti-hunters do not allow a constructive environment for discussing how to improve sustainable hunting systems and effectively include hunters in global conservation advocacy. This reflects a dominant divide between sustainable use and protectionism in global conservation advocacy that has been explored elsewhere (e.g., Norton 1991; Rolston 1995; Minteer 2001; Odenbaugh 2003; Blaustein 2007; Miller et al. 2011). However, in light of such divergence there are also opportunities for hunters to more successfully increase the breadth and efficacy of global conservation advocacy. Most hunting advocates spend a great deal of time 'on the ground' with wildlife, working with many local stakeholders, from outfitters to policy-makers. They are also often able to speak to more politically conservative stakeholders that typically operate in opposition to environmentalists. This is most true in the USA, where upholding hunting traditions and defending the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution right to keep and bear arms are conflated with one another as essential conservative values for many citizens. One SCI representative spoke at length about this access to conservative actors (organisations, politicians, and voters) in the USA:

Going down that line, the big difference between us and the other organisations is that we're an advocacy organisation from the grassroots [meaning specifically 'conservative' grassroots]… We'll tell somebody that Senator Kyl's good on our issues and to support him… [And] they feedback pretty good to us if we're endorsing somebody they don't think is the right candidate… It's a proven fact that hunters-you know, 8 out of 10 hunters vote. I mean, it's a huge block… And-you know our members have their own perks because of being business owners and professionals a lot of them have their own personal relationship with their own local congressmen and state senators and that as well because of their business… A lot of them already have relationships that way with us… I mean I don't know any other organisation that has 150 meetings on the hill. And for our PAC [Political Action Committee]… For instance if there was a fundraiser for [conservative] Senator Kyl from Arizona and he's somebody that we supported and you were a chapter president and you said, 'Hey there's a fundraiser for Senator Kyl, I would like to attend and it's a USD 1000', then our PAC would write a check and that member would take and give that money to Kyl… You know, say Senator Kyl and we had something up that we needed him to be on our side with on an issue, what we would tell him is that, just remind Senator Kyl that this bill is coming up and we're for it or we're against it and give him the reason why… [And] for me I happen to sit on the Professional Sportsman's Foundation Board, and I also sit on the Sporting Conservation Council which is an advisory group to the [President George W. Bush] White House, the Department of Interior and Agriculture. There are only 12 of us that sit on that-it's been around for about 3 years now.

This SCI representative illustrated the process of accessing various nodes within elite decision making networks, and specifically gave an indication of nodes that are often outside the realm of influence in which other conservation organisations typically operate. These networks are potentially invaluable for allowing global conservation advocacy to broaden its reach. That particular SCI representative went on to discuss how he and another hunting advocate were able to establish successful dialogues with many rural, conservative resource users in Michigan, and as a result significantly improved the management of deer. In fact, alliances across different types of groups are essential to what many conservation advocates do to increase the profile of, and actions towards, various environmental causes (Milne et al. 1996). Formal and informal alliances help circumvent many of the costs in reconciling different values and styles of reasoning surrounding nature. However, these alliances often remain quite narrow because of the difficulties in surmounting divides in values of nature, as illustrated above. Individuals who orient such connections, referred to here as 'trust brokers', are potentially the basis upon which hunters may enhance their unique position in conservation advocacy, and strengthen productive discussions about how sustainable hunting may be improved globally. Trust brokers for conservation and hunting organisations can take several forms-as a translator, who can translate languages or confused meanings between disparate groups on a given substantive topic; as an imbedded ambassador, who can work within a given social network or organisation to help that group of people understand an opposing group's values, knowledges, and styles of reasoning; or as an external advisor, who can work as an outsider with a given group of people and help them understand an opposing group's values, knowledges, and styles of reasoning. For (an illustrative) example, one sustainable hunting advocate discussed the use of trust brokers in better implementing sustainable hunting management in Guatemala:

S: In Guatemala, Rowan McNabb and Eric Bower with the North American Wild Turkey Federation generated thousands of dollars for the Chiqueros who run a concession in the Miovise Reserve… So being an avid turkey hunter you want to hunt every single one of the species or sub-species… [They] get a lot of money from people going to Guatemala and shoot a tom turkey, and those monies are used to prepare a water system in the village of Wakshotoon. So rather than going to get water from the stinky river they rebuilt the spring and rebuilt the piping so that there's now piped water back to the village-which is great.

I: So the money is generally allocated toward projects rather than specific people in this situation?

S: Yeah, [it was revealed to McNabb and Bower that there] would be greater community cohesion if they used the turkey monies for community projects, rather than do a family by family hand out… So they were able to renovate the school and pay the school salary for the teacher, and fixed their water supply again [because] that it would be a better solution than a household [distribution of funds].

This example indicates that, at the very least, the North American Wild Turkey Federation's Rowan McNabb and Eric Bower seemed to work as imbedded ambassadors to sustainably link trophy hunters to Wakshotoon and other Guatemalan villages-trophy hunters who otherwise might have more recklessly disrupted turkey management in Guatemala or might have never brought their infusion of capital to Guatemalans. Still, trust brokers may not be bridging values, styles of reasoning or knowledge as much as we might hope. That is, a trust broker utilised by a hunting organisation, for example, is typically not seen as legitimate by that organisation unless the trust broker inherently promotes the interests of hunters and privatised trophy hunting. The strategies employed by such a trust broker when communicating with other stakeholders can perhaps carry the distinct propensity for paternalistic prosthelytising with regards to trophy hunting, rather than listening to and trying to truly understand divergent values, interests, and styles of reasoning. For example, MacDonald (2005) illustrated an 'us/them' divide of privileged white First World trophy hunters versus poor Third World livelihood hunters that may be the tone of interactions still perceived by some local resource users from hunting advocacy actors at a more local scale. This problem can emerge at the global scale as well, such as during the sustainable hunting session at the 2008 WCC (described above). The HSUS representative questioned the advocacy of hunters at the end of the session, and a sustainable hunting advocate-one who specifically attempts in his advocacy to be a trust broker and bring together different stakeholders to improve the efficacy of sustainable hunting-requested that those at the session disregard the HSUS representative as "emotional" and her concerns as "scatterbrained". Fortunately, the CIC representative running the session approached the HSUS representative afterwards to discuss where their values might overlap. However, the initial tenor of the interaction exemplified the potential challenge trust brokers must overcome on the subject of hunting.

In the end, even in the face of hunters' opportunities to uniquely contribute to conservation advocacy's breadth and scope (especially if organisations work to utilise trust brokers more broadly and not simply in promoting their own agendas), sustainable hunting currently remains a fringe area within global conservation advocacy. While hunting is a major factor in more on-the-ground conservation in the USA, Europe, Africa, and parts of Asia, global conservation advocacy may be missing an important opportunity to help improve those and other on-the-ground efforts. Hunters are often not trusted by other stakeholders (in spite of the success hunting has had with successfully improving conservation in many contexts), and hunters similarly do not trust the advocacy of many environmentalists. Without increased reconciliation of values and styles of reasoning surrounding nature by both hunters and environmentalists, the place of hunters in global conservation advocacy will remain on the fringe, and sustainable hunting management will not get the broad deliberative and participatory discussion it could certainly use.


Hunters have a unique place in global conservation advocacy- through the promotion of the sustainable hunting model of management they present hunting as a tool for conservation, and through their unique networks and alliances they offer potential breadth to conservation advocacy. However, discussions surrounding the efficacy of sustainable hunting, especially with emphasis on trophy hunting, are not as broad, inclusive, or productive as they could be. The limited place of hunters and hunting in conservation stems from a lack of trust across groups, resulting from differing values, styles of reasoning, and moral beliefs surrounding nature. Divisions do not necessarily rest upon scientific knowledge, either on the side of hunting advocates or anti-hunting environmentalists, except perhaps insofar as either group uses or presents knowledge that only reflects their own values.

Future research should build from this paper's findings to further tease out how more transformative and conciliatory discussions among stakeholders toward hunting and conservation may occur. Research exploring the role of trust brokers could reveal more specific mechanisms for bridging different valuation schemas among hunting advocates, conservation advocates, and other stakeholders. Subsequent expanded usage of trust brokers by NGOs could be especially helpful for identifying sustainable hunting successes and failures for both advocates and opponents of sustainable hunting. Along with understanding sustainable hunting successes and failures, future research (and discussions of such research) by both academics and practitioners could more extensively investigate how sustainable hunting can be modified as a tool for conservation in given contexts for improving species survival and human livelihoods. In fact, there is hope of some movement in this direction. The IUCN Species Survival Commission's Sustainable Use Specialty Group recently brought together various organisations, including the CIC, SCI, Conservation Force, and the Zoological Society of London, and produced a book for practitioners to help orient their future work on sustainable hunting (see Dickson et al. 2009). Some suggestions that have emerged include certification of sustainable hunting practices (e.g., Child and Wall 2009), and performance monitoring and visualisation of data (articulated methodologically in Riet 2008). In addition, SCI has taken significant steps toward these efforts at the more local or regional scales, specifically in their facilitation of annual African Consultative Forums in southern Africa, and WWF has been exploring the efficacy of sustainable hunting in places like Namibia for many years with their LIFE (Living in a Finite Environment) project. However, these sustainable hunting partnerships and projects across stakeholder groups have been far too few, particularly in comparison to other conservation areas that may not provide the kinds of further benefits that are potentially accomplishable by sustainable hunting. That is, if hunters are perceived as more legitimate within global conservation advocacy, and sustainable hunting is overtly addressed by more conservation advocates, then we could very likely have an expansion of (diversely conceived) sustainable hunting management systems across the world that work in all the ways we desire while simultaneously expanding support for conservationism among more diverse groups worldwide. The hope and expectation is that biodiversity and ecosystems over time would win a little more, with far fewer costs to people.

This paper articulated the current state of hunters in global conservation advocacy, paying particular attention to the limitations and benefits of hunters and trophy hunting. The most pressing divide to more fully incorporate hunters into conservation advocacy in a productive and transformative manner is surrounding values of nature. To address this divide in a direct manner is a challenge indeed, but doing so will allow more deliberative and participatory dialogue (and research) of sustainable hunting as a tool for conservation in future. Such combined dialogue and research would improve sustainable hunting's efficacy and add breadth to global conservation advocacy. We hope that academics, hunters, and anti-hunting environmentalists recognise this opportunity, and this paper spurs future advocacy and research that moves beyond tired rhetorical divisions surrounding hunting in conservation.


I am grateful to Paul Robbins and Sara Grineski for comments on earlier drafts. I am thankful to the organisations researched in this project, Safari Club International in particular, for their support. This research was funded by grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Advancing Conservation in a Social Context research initiative, Arizona State University's School of Social and Family Dynamics, and Arizona State University's Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes. I also thank Ann Kinzig, Tom McShane, and Pete Brosius for organising the 2008 World Conservation Congress event ethnography during which some of the data was collected for this paper, and to the other participants in that ethnography who were tremendously helpful collaborators in the data collection process. Finally, I extend thanks to the anonymous reviewers who greatly helped improve this paper. [49]


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