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Intelligence Squared Debate: Hunters Conserve Wildlife

by robertrosenkranz on July 21, 2016

Debate Overview

When wealthy American Walter Palmer killed Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe last year, the incident sparked international outrage. Palmer was never charged with any crime, as authorities determined his hunting papers were perfectly in order, but the practice of hunting itself came under heavy fire from those who condemned it as senseless destruction of nature.

Hunters have fired back, insisting that, on the contrary, they have been historically the drivers of wildlife conservation efforts. With naturally a vested interest in maintaining the conditions for their sport, they take credit for initiating science-based regulation and programs to put money back into sustaining habitats.

Are hunters truly conservationists? On May 4, 2016, Intelligence Squared US called upon a panel of experts to debate the motion, “Hunters Conserve Wildlife.”

The Debaters

The panelists arguing for the motion were Anthony Licata, editor-in-chief of Field & Stream, and Catherine Semcer, COO of Humanitarian Operations Protecting Elephants.

Arguing against the motion were Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, and Adam M. Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA and Born Free Foundation.

The Research

The team arguing for the motion cited a briefing paper from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which presented a scientific consensus that trophy hunting positively contributed to the conservation of wildlife. They provided figures indicating that hunter-generated initiatives in the US helped to rebuild populations of species that had been on the cusp of extinction, including elk in Montana, which grew from 20,000 at the turn of the century to 120,000 now. Hunting license fees, Federal Duck Stamps and excise taxes on ammunition sales were credited with generating the majority of the money that went into funding wildlife agencies and maintaining habitats. Addressing conservation in Africa, they argued that ecotourism alone could not generate sufficient funds because it was not viable in all areas. Hunters were necessary to conserve dangerous or remote areas that photo tourists would be unwilling to enter.

The opposition noted that the excise tax on ammunition affected all gun owners, most of whom would never engage in hunting. Therefore, hunters were contributing only a small percentage of that funding. They argued that hunters actively harmed the ecosystem by needlessly dispersing lead into the environment, poisoning millions of animals each year. They alleged that, in Africa, the corrupt political regimes that took over farmlands to provide hunting concessions also fueled markets that drove poaching. To illustrate the economic illogic of funding conservation through hunting, they pointed out that Botswana, after outlawing trophy hunting, generated more money by monetizing the watching of lions. Not only was the market for ecotourism evidently larger, but a single lion could be monetized hundreds of times by keeping it alive for repeated viewing.

Pre-Debate Poll Results

Prior to the debate, 21 percent of respondents voted for the motion, while 35 percent voted against, and 44 percent were undecided.

Post-Debate Poll Results

After the debate, 26 percent voted for the motion, indicating a 5 percent increase in support. 65 percent voted against. This was a considerable increase of 30 percent, signifying a decisive win for the team debating against the motion. Only 9 percent remained undecided.

For the full video and audio of the IQ2US debate, visit:

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