TGA’s Perspective on Trophy Hunting

Image: African Outfitter

In recent years, volumes have been written and spoken about the so-called bad effects that trophy hunting has had on the gene pools of wild animal populations, yet throughout the 20th century – when trophy hunting was at its zenith – the size of world-record game trophies were repeatedly bettered every year. And in the modern era, every year new world records are still being collected. Surely, after over a hundred years of zealous trophy hunting by tens of thousands of avid hunters – seeking the biggest and the best of naturally occurring trophies – this reality should tell the world that there is no substance to the animal rightists’ propaganda that trophy hunting in injurious to the gene pools of wild animal populations.

It is easy to assume that the biggest and the best trophies are to be found on the heads of the biggest and the strongest of the breeding males in each and every animal species population. Sounds good! Sounds logical! And if that were truly the case, I would have to agree that when trophy hunters remove these prime beasts from the breeding herds, it would have a detrimental effect on the genetic well-being of the herds from which they were removed; and so, ultimately, trophy hunting would be bad for the species as a whole.

But that is not the case. That assumption is wrong.

The breeding males in any wild animal population are NOT those with the biggest and the most sought-after horns.   They are males in the prime of their lives – yes – full of vim and vigour, full of testosterone, males that are prepared to fight each other for the pheromone-driven pleasures of mating with the females when they come into oestrus. And when the breeding season comes round, there are very often (normally) several dominant males that do the breeding; not just one.

Different species also exhibit very different rules of engagement. There is no “one-size-fits-all” behaviour pattern to which all species populations adhere.

The period of their lives, in which prime males do all the breeding, is often relatively short. After four or five years of active service, when the breeding season begins, those bulls that dominated the mating game in previous years – not so strong as they used to be – withdraw from the contest. Younger and stronger bulls replace them. The withdrawing bulls have done their duty; they have long ago passed on their genes to the next generation; and they go into retirement.

Retiring males are, nevertheless, still very large and very strong animals; and they still have many years to live out their lives detached from the mating game.   These animals become singletons, or they form male coalitions; and their horns and their bodies continue to grow in size for many years. An elephant bull’s tusks, for example, continue to grow until the day it dies at 60 years old; and it has, by then, long ago passed on his genes.

Normally, retired bulls of most species make no attempt to interfere with the mating programmes of their parental populations; so they have no influence on the behaviour of the breeding herds; and they are beyond contributing genetically to the populations that nurtured them. It is from this cohort of the population that world record trophy animals are sought, still found and hunted.


The same sort of considerations apply – but they are variously different – to even the most survival-challenged of our wildlife; species like the black rhino.

Black rhino have a different life pattern to most other animals. Among many other things, there is a strict rank structure amongst the males: comprising dominant; sub-dominant; and lesser ranked bulls. Only dominant bulls get to breed. Only dominant bulls hold down territories which they mark with sprays of their own urine; and which they defend to the death. Dominant bulls, however, will allow lesser ranked bulls to share their territories as long as they remain subservient when in the presence of the master.

Cows in breeding condition visit one dominant bull after another – in their respective territories – and they are served by them all. Fighting breaks out between dominant bulls when the visiting cow crosses the boundaries from one territory to another. Such fights become very fierce and major injuries, sometimes deaths, occur. Also, when they are fighting, the bulls are not mating with the cow – which reduces the chance of her conceiving. Thus many cows often lose an oestrus cycle – and their breeding performances are reduced.

When dominant black rhino bulls lose their mating potency, they do not relinquish ownership of their territories – thus denying younger bulls the opportunity to breed. The younger bulls are reluctant to attempt to usurp the bigger and older bulls, however, because, to do that, they will have to risk their lives. But deposing does occur. When that happens the old bull loses everything – its rank; its territory; and its home-range. Thereafter the dethroned king is attacked by every other bull in the population. They are hounded from pillar to post; and most are killed within one year.

NB: When a dominant bull is deposed, therefore, the best thing to do with it is to offer it, quickly, to a trophy hunter – before the other rhinos kill it!

With respect to black rhino management, it has been determined that calf production increases when bull numbers are reduced. One bull to four cows has been recommended as the optimum sex-ratio. This is because with fewer dominant bulls around, there is less fighting and more mating going on when cows come into oestrus. That ratio certainly seems to produce the most calves. In threatened species like black rhino – when improving breeding performance is critical for the species’ survival – this kind of consideration is very important.

The black rhino’s sex ratio at birth is roughly 1:1 which produces a large number of bulls that are surplus to the population’s breeding needs. Females start breeding at about five years old and, thereafter they have a calf every 30 months. A 30 months old black rhino is only 15 cms (six inches) shorter at the shoulder than its mother. So black rhinos, potentially, reproduce well and they grow fast. They also produce large numbers of “surplus” males.

There are many opportunities for hunters to collect black rhino bull trophies – all of which will strengthen the populations from which they were taken. But journalists, animal rightists NGOs, politicians and other such rebels-without-a-cause, everywhere, will manufacture reasons why the hunting of black rhinos is unethical and wrong. Such people don’t take the trouble to find out the facts and reasons that support the practice of selected black rhino bull hunting. So they are wrong. All of them!

France’s infamous Cardinal Richelieu said of such people:

“If one would give me just six lines written by the hand of an honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged!”


Competent wildlife managers know all about these details in most species; and their concern is to create and to maintain “best practice” management programmes for the populations of wild animals that they look after. Implementing “best practice” programmes is these managers’ means of earning a living; so they would be fools to practice anything else.

Trophy males are sought and found amongst the retired old bulls – because the hunters know they will not be found within the breeding herds. And the removal of trophy males from these retired groups does not affect the breeding potentials of the main herds – not one little bit.

The hunting of selected males of the rarer species – like black rhino – is not only entirely possible, it can be hugely beneficial to the breeding potentials of the species.


So, what is all the furore about? Why is everybody up in arms about trophy hunting if the facts do not support that point of view. The answer to that question is easy. The people who make these claims are animal rightists. It is their purpose in life to abolish ALL animal uses by man. Their complete purpose is not to stop JUST trophy hunting.   Trophy hunting is an easy and soft target for them to bowl over! Stopping trophy hunting is just one step along the road toward the attainment of a much bigger objective – which is to stop ALL hunting. The entire world is being duped. Innocent people in all the big cities of the Western World are being treated like a bunch of ignorant fools; and they are being milked of their hard earned money. The modus operandi of the animal rightist NGOs is fraudulent; they practice racketeering; and so (according to the American Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organisations {RICO} Act) they are part and parcel of organised crime.

What experience do journalists, politicians, or green activists in the First World have that qualifies them to make judgment calls on a subject like trophy hunting – especially in Africa far removed from their own homes in the First World? None at all!

Who are the people the world should be listening to for advice on such matters: The people whose livelihoods depend on trophy hunting! Such people cannot afford to make management mistakes when the outcome of what they do or say determines whether or not they will have bread on their table that night.

A last word on the matter! I have 57 years of varied experience in the fields of hunting, wildlife management and national park administration in Africa. I have commanded some of Africa’s biggest and most prestigious national parks – like Hwange and the Gonarezhou in Zimbabwe. I have vast big game hunting experience but I have never hunted for trophies. I have hunted all the big five animals in Africa – aplenty – but have never purchased a hunting license. I hunted because it was my job – as a national parks employed game ranger – to do so. I hold no professional hunting license and I am not a hunting safari outfitter. So I have no vested interest in telling you that I support trophy hunting 100 percent. And I have no political agenda when I tell you that trophy hunting does NOTHING to downgrade the genetics of wild animal populations.

So when you hear, or read about, people saying that trophy hunting will destroy Africa’s wildlife, you will know that statement is not true. Quite the contrary, trophy hunting puts an added value to all wildlife management affairs in Africa – which is the factor that will ‘save’ Africa’s wildlife, not destroy it.

Ron Thomson



  1. joao felizardo

    Very interesting and informative article !
    I do hunting but as for venison meat, so I have no personal interest to only choose animals with big horns for example in case of antelope with horns ; if a kudu or springbok happens to have big horns well that is just the case ; i will keep the horn mount even if they are smaller than a given cut off size for trophy;certain animals however I have a personal belief that I would /will never volunteer to go out buy a license and hunt eg apex predators eg lion , leopard.
    What is your opinion on the hunting of such predators ?

    • Ron Thomson

      If hunting ANY wild animal species is sustainable it is acceptable! The answer is as simple as that!

  2. One of the best EVER articles written regarding hunting.
    Ron, science and facts are on your side.
    Thank you for such a well written, enlightened article.
    Like all of yours on this web page.

    I would personally like to contribute to sustainable African conservation,
    but I only find hurdles on my path.

    Keep shining on, and enlightening us with the TRUTH.

    Kindest regards.

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