Asian countries, like Thailand, are fighting to contain the illegal ivory trade and the killing of elephants by illegal hunters known as poachers. However, South Africa has a tourism industry that permits people to hunt big game animals such as the elephant, rhinoceros and lion. Many people object to this blood sport. But some argue that hunting big game animals creates income needed to save the country's population of big animals.
In many sports, when you win or do well, you get a trophy. This trophy could be a medal, as in the Olympics, or it could be a cup or a small statue.
In hunting, especially big game hunting, the trophies are parts of the animal that is killed. In their homes hunters may show the skins, heads and horns of the animals they kill.
Trophy hunting for big game is a much-disputed, or controversial, issue. It is also an emotional issue. A nineteen-year-old college student from the American state of Texas started an online debate recently. The controversy began when she posted pictures of herself with African wildlife she had legally hunted on a trip to South Africa.
Trophy Hunting is Big Money
It is legal in some African countries to hunt big game. The business brings in a lot of money. A ten-day ‘elephant package' could cost U.S. $36,000. Hunting a rhinoceros can cost U.S. $100,000.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has strong words against what it calls the "needless killing of endangered species for trophies." The organization says big game hunting is not sustainable, meaning it cannot be supported over a long period of time. The group also says it provides only short-term economic gains, hurts the area's environmental balance and is morally wrong.
But not all conservationists agree. Some argue trophy hunting may be helping Africa's wildlife. Professor John Hanks is the former head of the World Wide Fund for Nature in South Africa. He says tourism and donations do not provide the billions of dollar needed.
"I think trophy hunting in South Africa is really absolutely essential if we are going to look for long-term future for rhinos in the whole of Africa...there's hardly a single country anywhere that can afford to run its national parks as they should be run... Here we are in South Africa, one of the richest countries in the continent, Kruger Park has a million visitors a year and they still cannot afford to defend the rhinos."
The hunting industry in South Africa brings in more than $744 million each year. The industry employs about 70,000 people. And about 9,000 trophy hunters travel to South Africa every year. Ninety percent of them come from the United States. In 2012, foreign hunters spent $115 million in South Africa. Trophy hunting is the most profitable form of commercial land use in the country.
Herman Meyeridricks is the president of the Professional Hunters' Association of South Africa. He argues that legal hunting is important to wildlife protection.
"The only way there will be incentive for those landowners to protect and keep on investing in rhino is if they have an economic value. They can only have an economic value if there is an end-user that is willing to pay for that and that is the trophy hunter."
Rhino Poaching in South Africa a Crisis
In South Africa, rhino poaching has become a crisis. Many people say hunting is leading to the disappearance of this endangered species.
Mr. Meyeridricks argues that hunters would not be given permits, or permission to hunt, if the animals were truly under threat. He says that the number of animals hunted represents a small part of the total number of animals available.
An international body called CITES controls the number of animals that hunters may kill. But critics say the system is weak because individual governments are responsible for confirming that hunting limits are observed.
Susie Offord is the deputy director of the group Save the Rhino. She argues that trophy hunting could be a useful tool in protecting the rhino population if it is supervised correctly.
"In an ideal world, rhinos wouldn't be under the extreme pressure they are facing today and there wouldn't be any need for trophy hunting, but the reality is that wildlife conservation is incredibly expensive."
Not every country in Africa permits trophy hunting. Kenya has had a policy against it for a long time. The Kenyan government banned the sport in 1977 describing it as a "barbaric" part of its colonial past.
Criminals presenting themselves as legal hunters have also become involved in trophy hunting. They use the business to illegally trade horns. They sell these animal parts for high prices on black markets in countries such as Vietnam and Thailand.
South African officials say that since 2009 false hunters exported about 300 rhino horns illegally. Because of this, South Africa has stopped giving hunting permits to citizens from the Czech Republic and Vietnam.
Conservationists argue that governments need to do more to fight the illegal hunting of big game and enforce hunting regulations.
Much of the public is likely to continue to disapprove of trophy hunting as more elephants, rhinos and lions are killed for sport. But for some environmentalists, the issue is not so clear-cut or easy to understand.
I'm Anna Matteo.
This report is written by VOA's Johannesburg correspondent Gilliam Parker and adapted for Learning English by Anna Matteo.