Prince William Defends Trophy Hunting

The future king has spoken in support of hunting endangered wild animals—as long as they are infertile, and at the end of their lives.

Andrew Yates/Pool/Reuters

Prince William has launched a passionate defense of the stomach-churning practice of “trophy hunting” in which endangered wild animals are hunted and killed by rich “sportsmen” willing to pay vast sums of money for the right to do so.

In an interview with ITV news screening in the U.K. Tuesday night, which was intended to highlight anti-poaching initiatives, William bizarrely launched into a rant about how pay-to-slay big-game hunting has a valid role in conservation.

“There is a place for commercial hunting in Africa as there is round the world. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but the arguments for regulated, properly controlled commercial hunting is that the money that goes from shooting a very old infirm animal goes back into the protection of the other species. So when one is infertile, he’s at the end of his life.

“If somebody out there wants to pay that money and it wouldn’t be me, but if somebody did then as long as that money goes back into protection of the species then it is a justifiable means of conserving species that are under serious threat.

“And that isn’t just me talking, there’s a lot of eminent conservationists out there who truly believe that there is a balance to be had here. And of course it is a fine balance and it does involve a lot of regulation.”

However, when asked whether he felt the killing last year of “Cecil the lion” by U.S. dentist Walter Palmer was unforgivable, he answered, “Yes.”

There is in fact some truth to William’s comments and many conservationists based in Africa support trophy hunting.

“Sportsmen” who like killing animals for fun do indeed provide serious financial incentives to locals and governments to protect habitats and species.

Namibia is often held up as an example of the success of trophy hunting and—it was notable that when Prince Harry visited the country the tourism minister warned him not to speak out about trophy hunting which sees the slaughter of elderly rhinos, lions and giraffe every year.

But it’s a nuanced, complex argument that requires extreme detachment from the emotive issues of hunting, and not one that can be made in a five-minute interview on the nightly news.

Instead, understandably, William’s comments will be taken as evidence by his enemies and detractors that he is a hypocrite; a man who preaches conservation but spends his weekends blasting birds out of the sky with a twelve bore.

Hunting (specifically shooting) is so deeply ingrained in the royal blood and tradition that William is at risk of seeing trophy hunting the way he wants to see it--and for all those who argue, as William does, that trophy hunting protects habitats, there are many, many others who see trophy hunting as a vehicle which enriches primarily the foreign companies that organize the trips, and enables much local corruption.

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The killing of Cecil the Lion (for $50,000) showed just how complex--and open to possible corruption--the decisions about which animals are ripe for killing can be.

The Zimbabwean wildlife authorities argued that Cecil, at 13, was old and past his prime, of no use as a member of the species, but the creature was in fact the subject of a long term research study by Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit.

Illustrating the complexity of the issues around trophy hunting and sustainability, the CRU receives sponsorship from the Dallas Safari Club, an organization that advocates sustainable trophy hunting!

The foolish comments are reminiscent of William’s inexplicable decision to go on a hunting holiday in Spain—a wild boar hunt at Finca La Garganta, the Spanish estate of Britain’s richest man, the Duke of Westminster—just days before launching an anti-poaching crusade in 2014, and will inevitably revive memories of Harry’s grinning pose above a water buffalo he had just shot in South America in 2004.

The pro-bloodspots lobby can argue all they like that without hunting of wild animals the habitats of creatures--be it wild boar in Spain or woodcock and snipe in the UK--would not be protected by landowners. This may be true, but the public has no time for the intricacies of this particular debate.

They see an animal cruelty issue and a class issue, and they think, “If you love animals so much, then why are you shooting them?”

William’s own passion for blood sports, and his refusal to give up the hobby, fatally weakens and undoes all his conservation work.

William was stupid to try to make the complex argument for trophy hunting in a brief TV fireside chat, and the disastrous interview, which will be widely used against him, clearly points up the complete lack of control senior courtiers now have over William.

It’s hard to imagine these comments were planned or thought through with any advisers worth their salt.

Maybe headstrong William will now finally agree to media training, where interviewees practice making these kind of remarks in a safe place first and then play them back to see how they ‘sound’.

Asked in the same interview about whether he was angered by recent commentary implying he was “workshy,” William said taking such criticism was “part of the job” and said, “Today is more about talking about the poaching crisis.”