“It’s Survival of the Weak and Scrawny”….

“Elephants are highly prized among trophy hunters who can pay £10,000 (approx.$16,500) or more for a kill.”

It turns out hunting animals may be more harmful than we thought,  especially trophy hunting.  It could be causing a kind of backward evolution, because the largest and most impressive animals, “prized” by hunters, are diminishing in some species, leading to a reduction in  size and other disturbing changes in the remaining animals.  In other words, the more robust members of certain species are disappearing, not by the process of “natural selection” but by hunting pressure. It’s as if hunters are selectively breeding animals in the wild by killing off the “trophy” animals, leaving the smaller and weaker individuals to breed.

Big horned sheep rams in Alberta, Canada have experienced a 25% decrease in horn size over the last thirty years. Being larger, with huge horns makes them a target for trophy hunters. It then follows the smaller sheep with less impressive horns, have more mating chances.

“Hunters frequently compare their role in the ecosystem to that of natural predators, some of which are disappearing throughout the world. The problem with that analogy is that, unlike hunters, natural predators target the small, the weak, and the sick. Hunters, on the other hand, tend to target the largest, strongest individuals with the largest hides, horns, tusks or antlers.”

It’s not just Big Horned sheep, elephants are also changing.

“Tusks used to make elephants fitter, as a weapon or a tool in foraging—until ivory became a precious commodity and having tusks got you killed. Then tuskless elephants, products of a genetic fluke, became the more consistent breeders and grew from around 2 percent among African elephants to more than 38 percent in one Zambian population, and 98 percent in a South African one. In Asia, where female elephants don’t have tusks to begin with, the proportion of tuskless elephants has more than doubled, to more than 90 percent in Sri Lanka. But there’s a cost to not having tusks. Tusked elephants, like the old dominant males on Ram Mountain, were “genetically ‘better’ individuals,” says Festa-Bianchet. “When you take them systematically out of the population for several years, you end up leaving essentially a bunch of losers doing the breeding.”

The effects that are taking place are difficult to link solely to hunting pressure @ this early stage because evolutionary changes happen so slowly but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or hundreds of years of evolution to observe what’s happening.  Trophy hunters target the “biggest and the best”, therefore there are fewer of these alpha animals to pass on their genetics.

 The solution is to err on the side of caution and ban trophy hunting entirely. It’s a cruel and heartless enterprise, there would be no down side to freeing animals from this torture.  It doesn’t belong in a civilized society and should  be eliminated for purely ethical reasons BUT if it’s actually upsetting the natural process and weakening animal species, then all the more reason to rid the world of it.

A 2009 Newsweek article explains it all. Hunters not only don’t play the same positive  role as apex predators, like the wolf and grizzly bear but may be the cause of a deadly reverse evolution.

It’s Survival of the Weak and Scrawny

Jan 2, 2009 7:00 PM EST

Researchers see ‘evolution in reverse’ as hunters kill off prized animals with the biggest antlers and pelts.

Some of the most iconic photographs of Teddy Roosevelt, one of the first conservationists in American politics, show the president posing companionably with the prizes of his trophy hunts. An elephant felled in Africa in 1909 points its tusks skyward; a Cape buffalo, crowned with horns in the shape of a handlebar mustache, slumps in a Kenyan swamp. In North America, he stalked deer, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep and elk, which he called “lordly game” for their majestic antlers. What’s remarkable about these photographs is not that they depict a hunter who was also naturalist John Muir’s staunchest political ally. It’s that just 100 years after his expeditions, many of the kind of magnificent trophies he routinely captured are becoming rare.

Elk still range across parts of North America, but every hunting season brings a greater challenge to find the sought-after bull with a towering spread of antlers. Africa and Asia still have elephants, but Roosevelt would have regarded most of them as freaks, because they don’t have tusks. Researchers describe what’s happening as none other than the selection process that Darwin made famous: the fittest of a species survive to reproduce and pass along their traits to succeeding generations, while the traits of the unfit gradually disappear. Selective hunting—picking out individuals with the best horns or antlers, or the largest piece of hide—works in reverse: the evolutionary loser is not the small and defenseless, but the biggest and best-equipped to win mates or fend off attackers.

When hunting is severe enough to outstrip other threats to survival, the unsought, middling individuals make out better than the alpha animals, and the species changes. “Survival of the fittest” is still the rule, but the “fit” begin to look unlike what you might expect. And looks aren’t the only things changing: behavior adapts too, from how hunted animals act to how they reproduce. There’s nothing wrong with a species getting molded over time by new kinds of risk. But some experts believe problems arise when these changes make no evolutionary sense.

Ram Mountain in Alberta, Canada, is home to a population of bighorn sheep, whose most vulnerable individuals are males with thick, curving horns that give them a regal, Princess Leia look. In the course of 30 years of study, biologist Marco Festa-Bianchet of the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec found a roughly 25 percent decline in the size of these horns, and both male and female sheep getting smaller. There’s no mystery on Ram Mountain: male sheep with big horns tend to be larger and produce larger offspring. During the fall rut, or breeding season, these alpha rams mate more than any other males, by winning fights or thwarting other males’ access to their ewes. Their success, however, is contingent upon their surviving the two-month hunting season just before the rut, and in a strange way, they’re competing against their horns. Around the age of 4, their horn size makes them legal game—several years before their reproductive peak. That means smaller-horned males get far more opportunity to mate.

Other species are shrinking, too. Australia’s red kangaroo has become noticeably smaller as poachers target the largest animals for leather. The phenomenon has been most apparent in harvested fish: since fishing nets began capturing only fish of sufficient size in the 1980s, the Atlantic cod and salmon, several flounders and the northern pike have all propagated in miniature.

So what if fish or kangaroos are smaller? If being smaller is safer, this might be a successful adaptation for a hunted species. After all, ” ‘fitness’ is relative and transitory,” says Columbia University biologist Don Melnick, meaning that Darwinian natural selection has nothing to do with what’s good or bad, or the way things should be.

Read more: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2009/01/02/it-s-survival-of-the-weak-and-scrawny.html

“In the Shadows of the Congo Basin Forest, Elephants Fall to the Illegal Ivory Trade”

Top Photo: Christophe Morio/Africahunting
Bottom Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Posted in: Trophy Hunting
Tags: Hunting pressure, species evolution in reverse, small is better, hunted animals, damage done by trophy hunting
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26 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. You big and brave “hunters”. It is so easy to kill an elephant or a whale or a rhino. You don’t prove anything. Hunter/killers must have a self-image problem.

    • Hunters like trophies, as if it proves something! I don’t get it, and never will!

      • I think it’s called “blood lust” timpotom or someone who enjoys killing.

        For the wolves, For the wild ones,

  2. The hunters can spin their place in nature all they want. They are killers who enjoy killing living creatures and grinning over the bodies of their trophies. As far as I’m concerned, the whole group of elephant hunters aren’t worth one of their victims.

  3. The science is in about bio-regions sustainability and prey-predator relationships. Allowing hunting of predators and trophy hunting of prey species seems to me to be like allowing witch doctors and exorcists to open up shop and practice medicine, or to allow lead and mercury in food products, as what the heck it’s just business as usual and who are we to put our scientific values on others.


  5. Not to mention the loss of genetic diversity.

    • Well said!!! I agree totally.
      Hunters care not about genetic diversity. They are all about death!! And destruction of all the beautiful creatures on this planet.

  6. https://fishandgame.idaho.gov/ifwis/portal/form/2012-nonbiological-rules

    IDFG is thinking about letting trappers use bait to kill wolves. Absolutely disgusting.

  7. https://fishandgame.idaho.gov/ifwis/portal/form/2012-nonbiological-rules

    IDFG is thinking about letting trappers use bait to kill wolves. Absolutely disgusting.

    spread this around immediately.

  8. Thanks for posting this! It inspired my post for today: http://exposingthebiggame.wordpress.com/2012/06/27/culling-of-the-fittest/

    • Excellent. I want to buy your book. Do you have it available for download on audio books?

      For the wolves, For the wild ones,

      • Great, thanks, glad to hear you want a copy. Unfortunately it’s not on audio yet. Being in part a photo book (there are 240 b/w photos throughout) you would lose the benefit of seeing the animals mentioned in the text. All the photos are taken of animals living their natural lives in the wild. The book is available at any book store, or you can order signed copies at exposingthebiggame@gmail.com

      • Thanks Jim, you’re right, I should buy the physical book to see the photos. Can’t wait!

        For the wolves, For the wild ones,

      • Great–I know you’ll enjoy it! There are 2 chapters on wolves, by the way.

      • Thanks for the heads up Jim (:

        For the wolves, For the wild ones,

  9. Taking out the biggest caribou and elk had been the main concern of Native Alaskan sustenence[sp?] hunters for quite some time.

  10. Seems to me hunters mess up a lot the natural state of things.

  11. Finally someone is getting a clue. Man, when he hunts takes the BIG & HEALTHY – when a apex predator hunts they take the SICK & the OLD. Apex predator meaning wolves, mountain lion, bear, etc.

    • Seriously Sandra…not sure why this isn’t talked about more, it’s fairly obvious what these “trophy hunters” are doing. I know they aren’t out looking for the smallest elk or moose to hunt. They are ruthless.

      For the wolves, For the wild ones,

  12. I hate this – I remember reading somewhere that killing the healthy adults upsets the family structure of an elephant heard. We as humans are arrogant enough to think that we are the only creature on earth who has a family structure. With no adult males to learn from, the scientific research said that the young males don’t learn to behave properly. Wolves have a family structure to their packs too. No matter what these rabid anti-wolf groups say, wolves are needed as part of nature’s plan, and kill only for food, taking the weak and sick to make a healthier herd. Humans’ perverse minds kill for much more sinister reasons besides food. :(

    • Sorry, that should be “herd” in the first line. :)

  13. Let me say I hate guns as much as i despise hunters grinning after they have killed some defenceless animal.

    • Guns don’t kill, people do. An old expression that is rather valid when you think of the horrors that trophy hunters do. I can’t express, on paper, how I feel about those that do this. It is so incredibly disgusting to be proud of your kill!!!!

  14. […] human hunters, who kill the strongest and genetically sound animals, wolves select out the weak, sick, old and yes sometimes the young, which  helps control ungulate […]

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