Professor Richard Schroeder (ANTH) gave a lecture on Friday about the impact of “green hunting” on the trophy hunting industry. His lecture was the topic of his recent paper, “Moving Targets: The ‘Canned’ Hunting of Captive-bred Lions in South Africa.”

Green hunting, also known as eco-hunting or dart safaris, was pioneered by Zoologist Iain Douglas-Hamilton in the late 1990s. It is the practice of using tranquilizer darts to temporarily subdue animals for research, instead of killing them outright. Schroeder said this initially appears to be a “win-win-win situation,” giving hunters a nonlethal, ecosystem-preserving, scientifically-beneficial “outlet for their passion.” He argued, however, that green hunting reframes the hunting industry in a more positive light through “greenwashing” without introducing substantive reform. Douglas-Hamilton introduced the concept of green hunting as an alternative to real hunting but said that “in practice … it’s really just another market niche. It’s another opportunity for hunters to have a unique experience,” Schroeder said. 

Schroeder briefly summarized the history of tranquilizer development. Schroeder called tranquilizer development a “layscience,” developed slowly through experimentation on various animals. 

Different animals require varying levels of tranquilizer strength. An important breakthrough was the creation of M99, a powerful opioid capable of bringing down large game such as elephants. This opioid is fatal for humans, so hunters always have an antidote on hand in case they are accidentally exposed. 

Tranquilizers have been important for wildlife conservation missions, allowing for safe transportation of large animals. To illustrate the dramatic nature of animal transportation, Schroeder showed a clip of World Wildlife Fund members transporting a rhinoceros. After shooting the rhino with a tranquilizer dart from the safety of a helicopter, they tied it upside down to the helicopter and carefully took off with the rhino swinging underneath. This transportation method was completely safe, and gave the rhinos a chance to thrive on better terrain.

Animal transportation capability was put to use in Operation Noah, which ran from 1958 to 1964. Kariba Dam is situated on the Zambezi River Basin, between Zambia and Zimbabwe. While the dam has been an important source of power for the two countries, the bottleneck of water above the dam created Lake Kariba, which became the largest man-made lake in the world. Before water flooded the Kariba gorge, Operation Noah managed to safely transport thousands of animals through the use of tranquilizer darts. 

The dam also led to the displacement of tens of thousands of Tonga people, and perspectives vary on how successful the resettlement programs were. This reveals one of the central problems of both green hunting and hunting in general. Trophy hunting has contributed significantly to the Gross Domestic Product of several countries in Africa, including South Africa. To cater to rich hunters, South Africa has established large safaris that encompass 17 percent of the territory, displacing thousands of black tenant farmers in the process. Schroeder explained that as the trophy hunting is dominated by wealthy Afrikaners, the controversy over trophy hunting is inextricably linked to wider racial and socioeconomic tensions.

Schroeder then transitioned to describing the market of green hunting for trophy hunters. The inspiration for rebranding the image of the hunting industry came from incidents such as that of Cecil the Lion. In 2015, a Minnesota dentist paid tens of thousands of dollars to kill a lion named Cecil, which an Oxford team had been tracking for research purposes. The dentist then posted a trophy shot on social media, drawing widespread condemnation. 

According to Schroeder, trophy hunters see green hunting as a way to lessen this condemnation. Hunters see green hunting as an “ennobling experience,” free from the guilt of actually killing animals. It is cheaper than real hunting, and to prevent the tranquilizer dart from getting blown off course, there is a necessity of getting close to the animal before shooting, which provides extra adrenaline for the hunter.