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This report was posted on the IUCN website on Friday 27th September 2019 but was subsequently removed with no explanation.

The report aims for assisting IUCN to clarify the ethical acceptability of trophy hunting according to current IUCN statutes and policies and consistent with generally accepted methodologies of social and environmental ethics. There has been considerable debate around the morality of trophy hunting in the general public including the international conservation movement, and within the IUCN.

1. Introduction

For IUCN, the issue of trophy hunting recently arose in the context of whether organizations that are supportive of trophy hunting may be eligible for IUCN membership under the IUCN statutes. Of central importance to determining membership is whether, at least, one central purpose of an organization meets IUCN’s objectives. The Council has to determine, in particular, whether:
“the objectives and track record of the applicant embody to a substantial extent (i) the conservation of the integrity and diversity of nature; and either or both: (ii) the aim to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable: (iii) dedication to influencing, encouraging and assisting societies to meet the objectives of IUCN.”1

In determining whether an applicant meets this test, the Council cannot rely on claims or representations made by the applicant, but has to consider whether the applicant’s “objectives” and actual “track record” make it likely that the applicant is dedicated to advancing the objectives of IUCN. Hence, a mere intention or willingness of the applicant to advance IUCN’s objectives would not be sufficient. The “dedication” to influencing, encouraging and assisting societies involves a credibility assessment. This may include a closer look at the membership of the applying organization, for example, the motives and actual conduct of its members and the overall impact that the organization has had, and would have as an IUCN member, on IUCN’s dedication to meet its objectives. The central question for the Council is – or should be – whether or not an applicant adds to the potential of the IUCN’s overarching objective, i.e. “to influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable.” (Art. 2). This objective cannot be interpreted in a way that emphasizes one aspect (e.g. “sustainable use”) at the expense of other aspects. Nor would it be appropriate to liken the objective with “sustainable development” or any abstract idea of promoting conservation. Rather, Article 2 contains a certain hierarchy: the conservation of integrity and diversity of nature is the overall concern. The use of natural resources has to occur in a manner that it is equitable and ecologically sustainable so that the integrity and diversity of nature will be conserved (and restored where necessary). This clearly implies that sustainable use and sustainable development are both subservient considerations to the overarching aim of ensuring ecological integrity.

It would be wrong therefore to measure trophy hunting purely against “sustainable use” as it is commonly referred to in domestic environmental laws and international hard and soft law. Nor could it be measured against statements on sustainable use of wildlife as, for example, provided by WWF which contends: “WWF is not opposed to hunting programs that present no threat to survival of threatened species and, where such species are involved, are part of a demonstrated conservation and management strategy that is scientifically based, properly managed, and strictly enforced, with revenues and benefits going back into conservation and local communities.”2 Trophy hunting is not mentioned here, and even it were, it would have to be measured against a “demonstrated” conservation strategy and against “revenues and benefits going back into conservation and local communities”.3 Furthermore, the overarching concern, for IUCN at least, is to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature (globally and locally) and to educate (“influence” etc.) societies (nationally) how this can be achieved. Is trophy hunting an acceptable means to achieve this end?

In answering this question, we need to consider not just sustainable use requirements and practices, but also the general debate around trophy hunting. There are pro-arguments in favour and arguments against. The former are largely based on economic benefits for local conservation efforts, while the latter is critical of such ‘trickle-down’ effects and emphasizes the ethical dimensions of trophy hunting. For the Ethics Specialist Group, ethical grounding of conservation laws, policies and practices is critical and arguably consistent with IUCN’s overall objective to ensure integrity and diversity of nature. In the next section we outline some ethical considerations before addressing the actual question at hand.