In defense of legal hunting

Story highlights

  • Wayne Bisbee: After the illegal killing of Cecil the lion, legitimate hunters are given a public black eye by the case
  • Conservation through commerce, which are controlled and high-dollar hunts, can benefit communities and wildlife

Wayne Bisbee is founder of Bisbee's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Fund, a nonprofit organization that promotes conservation programs through science, education and technology. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)The recent illegal killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe has understandably generated passionate and emotional responses from around the world.

I agree with the common sentiment that the circumstances around Cecil's death are abhorrent and those responsible should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I also think it's unfortunate that legitimate hunters are given a public black eye by this case.
Let's face it, we all feel strongly about this issue, whether we're animal activists, conservationists, or hunters. Many of us have the same basic goal: to ensure that endangered species are here for generations to come.
    That's why I advocate conservation through commerce, which are controlled and high-dollar hunts whose proceeds benefit animal conservation. This is one of numerous legal, logical and effective tools to humanely manage resources, raise awareness of endangered animals, and help fund solutions.
    Wayne Bisbee
    Yes, I am an avid hunter. I enjoy the thrill and challenge of stalking an animal and providing a more natural, healthier meat protein source to my family than what is available from the commercial food industry.
    Today, most hunters see the activity as sport. But hunting has been around as long as man and it's not likely to go away any time soon. Billions of the world's human population eat animal meat for protein, and this is not going to change. So the reality is that somewhere, somehow, millions of animals are killed every day to sustain human life.
    Does that mean I hate animals? Absolutely not. I love wildlife and I'm not alone among hunters. In a study published in the March 2015 issue of The Journal of Wildlife Management, researchers from Clemson University and Cornell University found that "wildlife recreationists -- both hunters and birdwatchers -- were 4 to 5 times more likely than non-recreationists to engage in conservation behaviors, which included a suite of activities such as donating to support local conservation efforts, enhancing wildlife habitat on public lands, advocating for wildlife recreation, and participating in local environmental groups."
    Hunters are more likely than non-hunters to put our money and time where our mouths are. It makes sense when you think about it. Hunters have a vested interest in keeping exotic and endangered animals from going extinct.
    It's about resource management
    All animals, from wolves to rhinos to humans, are hierarchical. In the animal kingdom there are alpha males who try to eliminate competition. An older member of a herd often isn't ready to step aside just because he can no longer perform his reproductive duties.
    Older, post-breeding males are also very often aggressive and interfere with the proliferation of the rest of the herd, especially in the rhino species. That's why a legitimate trophy hunt to benefit conservation can remove a problem animal from a herd.
    The right way to hunt
    No one thinks that putting a suffering dog to sleep is inhumane. The same logic applies to hunting. Mother Nature does not provide for a comfortable death in the wild.
    In an ideal world, all hunters should only consider animals that are in the last stages of their lives -- though some hunters don't seem to understand why this is important. Usually, these animals are in for a painfully slow natural death that includes losing their teeth and starving, or a painfully quick natural death by being eaten alive by other predators, even in a reserve.
    This may sound harsh, but sometimes ending an animal's misery is the most humane thing to do. That's why it happens in American veterinarian offices every day.
    Economic benefit for locals
    A conservation hunt brings in money for the wildlife cause and local communities. Before the rhino conservation hunt, the animals provided no monetary value to the local economy. With the hunts comes some economic benefit.
    In a 2007 study, Peter Lindsey, a conservation biologist with the University of Zimbabwe in Harare, found that "in the 23 African countries that allow sport hunting, 18,500 tourists pay over $200 million (U.S.) a year to hunt lions, leopards, elephants, warthogs, water buffalo, impala, and rhinos." After the hunt, the meat -- from older, non-reproducing males -- is usually donated to the locals.
    The world's human population is growing exponentially. That isn't good news for the world's wildlife population. Any solution must include conservation and resource management.
    I keep my mind open to all kinds of solutions. My organization has partnered with Ducks Unlimited to initiate an ecological study and future restoration project for wetland habitat considered vital to thousands of species of waterfowl, shorebirds and fish along the northern Pacific coast of Mexico.
    We've started an anti-rhino poaching training academy in South Africa where we enlist former U.S. Navy SEALs who are teaching local recruits military tactics to fight the black market that is a major source of funding for global terrorists. And recently, we sponsored the world's first "catch-and-release" tranquilizer dart hunt, which sedates an animal but doesn't kill it. This can serve as an alternative to trophy hunting.
    Conservation through commerce should not be viewed in a negative light. I encourage all hunters to only participate in legal and properly-run hunts and to raise awareness about protecting endangered animals so that they don't go extinct.