The Case for Trophy Hunting

The four life-quarter test

Hardly a moment goes by these days, without some ridiculous claim being made by an ignorant animal rightist; by some idiotic foreign politician or civil servant; or by some uninformed celebrity ‘do-gooder’, who all berate trophy hunting as being cruel, barbaric and wasteful of valuable genes. Despite having no knowledge about the subject, they claim that trophy hunting, because it allegedly removes all the big quality males from wild animal populations, destroys the genetic quality of the species which, in turn, ultimately causes their extinction.  So out of touch with reality are these people, they even call me the worse kind of trophy hunter ever, when, in fact, I have never in my life shot a single animal for its trophy.

What utter balderdash these anti-hunters spread around the world!

However stupid they may be, however, ordinary members of the public listen to them and they are not content with half-measures. They insist on a total ban on the hunting of all wild animals. They seem to believe that by protecting a few individuals from the hunters’ guns, they are contributing to the protection of all wildlife. And they know nothing at all about the whys and the wherefore of essential wild animal population management; or the fact that the health and vigour of the habitats is more important than the number and/or the species of the animals that live in them. This tells me that we have a monumental task ahead of us to educate the public in all matters pertaining to wildlife management.

I want to get one thing straight at the outset, however! This problem is NOT a ‘hunting’ issue. It is, more importantly, a wildlife management issue – of which hunting is but one small part. Nevertheless, hunting is very important because hunting is an essential wildlife management tool. The argument in favour of hunting, therefore, is going to have to lead the way forward towards the greater ecological truth.

Many First World people believe that trophy hunting is particularly obnoxious. They believe that the trophy hunter searches for the biggest and the best bodied specimens in the herd. These, they say, are also the animals with the biggest and longest horns (or, in the case of elephants those with the longest and heaviest tusks). These especially superb specimens, they say, are vitally important quality gene–banks for the species as a whole. And when such superb animals are consistently killed by the trophy hunters, the species loses the source of its best quality survival genes. So, they say, wherever, trophy hunting is allowed the genetic quality of the species concerned is evermore degraded.

These statements entice a whole host of intelligent questions that need wise and articulate answers. But, although all those questions are answerable with good and rational scientific fact, I am not even going to attempt such a thing in this essay. Instead, I am going to concentrate on supplying you (the reader/the hunter) with a new and innovative approach that you can use to argue FOR trophy hunting.

I have never understood how any intelligent person can support serious opposition to responsible trophy hunting because, to me, the answers in its favour are indisputable and vey easily explained. You will never, however, convince those who believe otherwise so I suggest we don’t waste our time trying. What we have to do is to convince the public that we are right and the anti-hunters are wrong. And the people who are going to have to do that are the practitioners, the Trophy Hunters themselves.

I have been involved in big game hunting and wildlife management work for more than 60 years. And I was beginning to believe that I understood it’s every facet. That turned out to be untrue. Earlier this year (2021), in view of the seriousness of the current challenges facing hunting, and especially trophy hunting, I put my mind to contriving a new way to present my pro-trophy hunting arguments and I discovered a good way to do so. It is a way that explains my pro-trophy hunting, and pro-trophy hunting arguments in a manner that my animal rightist adversities will find difficult to gainsay.

You will not find this concept in any university text book. It is brand new to the science of wildlife management. Its year of origin is 2021. And, so far its veracity holds true with every species of wild animal – even with humans. When evaluating its values, however, don’t be too pedantic about exactitudes. There are exceptions to the rules in the lives of all living organisms. And minor changes can occur within the rules of the game when, for example, climate circumstances change, upwards and downwards, between one year and the next. This has nothing to do with the so-called man-induced climate change phenomenon which I do not believe. Common changes in the exigencies of the component parts of ecosystems, however, may upset the precision apple carts from time to time. But the principles remain the same. All this simply means you may have to smudge the overlaps of this concept a little, to reveal the important truths involved.

So let me introduce you to what I call my Four-Life-Quarter thesis, and let me tell you how it works. I worked only with the male components because that is whence the TROPHY ANIMALS come.

Every animal species has an average life expectancy that applies to the existence of each and every one of its individuals. I am going to use the African elephant as my example, which has an average life expectancy of 60 years.

The value of each of the Four-Life-Quarters for the African elephant, therefore, is 15 years. Now we have to justify (or rather to test) the size of this award against what we know about the species. We can only do this by knowing something about the elephantand its normal growth and development phases from the day of an individual’s birth. We also have to know something about the elephant’s general biology.

An elephant enjoys six sets of molar teeth during its 60 year life span. They occur on each side of the opposing jaws. Only two sets of molars, however, are ever in use at any one time. As the older teeth wear out, they are replaced by new, bigger and heavier teeth that invade the jaw from the rear. In effect, therefore, the new teeth push out the older worn-out ones from behind. Ultimately, however, when the elephant is 60 years old, the last of its molars becomes worn out and there is nothing to replace it. The elephant, thereafter, therefore, cannot masticate its food. So, during the last several years of its life, as the elephant’s last tooth slowly crumbles away, the animal slowly dies of starvation.

During the elephant’s First-Life-Quarter the animal is born; it suckles from its mother; it learns how to eat adult food (palatable grass, and the leaves and bark of trees); it enters and passes through puberty; and it leaves its maternal (matriarchal) herd and joins the adult bull community. This takes the elephant to ‘about’ the age of 15 years.

For those who don’t know anything about the elephant’s social structure, during their last three Life–Quarters, I can tell you that young bull elephants separate from the cowherds at the end of their First-Life-Quarter and, thereafter, the two sexes live quite separate lives forever.  Furthermore, the bull herds and the cow herds (or rather breeding herds) often live many miles apart. In some areas the wildlife managers refer to particular areas of their game reserves as being “bull” zones and “cow” zones.

Sometimes the bulls and the cows mingle at the waterholes during the hot dry-season evenings but after slaking their thirst they go their separate ways.

Having the sexes mingle like that, is not a normal or frequent social behavior for the species. Once a year, or once every few years, however, entire elephant populations comprising many bull groups and many different cow herds, come together, and they stay together, for several days. These groups often number in their many hundreds. Then they split up again and go their separate ways. Nobody has yet determined the reason for these irregular get–togethers. We just know that they happen

Individual breeding herds are believed to be blood-family units. The matriarch (the leading or older cow) of the herd is thought to be the mother of the senior cows in the herd. The herd includes, also, the daughters of the senior cows, too and all their progeny.

One of idiosyncrasies of the elephant cow herd is the fact that a junior cow and her immediate off-spring (one or two calves) sometimes splits away from the parental herd. And they go visiting with another unrelated cow herd, for several days.  But they eventually return to their maternal family. Why? We don’t know!

So, there is still a lot we don’t know about elephants!

From biopsies of culled elephants, however, we do know that elephant heifers start ovulating when they are ten or eleven years old. That means they are able to conceive at that young age too, and they sometimes do.  And that, in turn, also means that females of that young age are able to come into oestrus.

The two things that elephants need to successfully reproduce are females in oestrus and bulls in musth.   Unless the sexes are correspondingly in these hormonal and highly sexual conditions, they will not breed.

Musth is a hormone–induced sexual state that brings mature bulls into a physical and mental condition that enables them to successfully mate with a cow that is in oestrus. Bulls not in musth do not mate. Although bulls as young as 12 years old produce healthy and motile sperm, bulls at that age do not mate because they cannot come into musth.

Bulls most regularly come into musth in their Third–Life–Quarter (that is, between the ages of 30 and 45 years). And when they are in that Third–Life-Quarter, mature breeding bulls disapprove of younger bulls coming into musth. It seems they don’t like the competition!  And any young bull in its Second-Life-Quarter, that shows any inclination towards coming into musth, is immediately bullied by the bigger bulls – by action and/or attitude – which suppresses their breeding urge.

All Second and Third–Life-Quarter bulls live in the bull herds and, therefore, when the younger bulls show a desire to come into musth, that desire is constantly suppressed. No young bull elephant under the age of thirty, wants to fight for his right to mate with any of the truly giant leviathans that he has to live with. This reality is said to be an important disciplinary disincentive that pervades all bull societies in normal-structured elephant populations.

Bulls that mature in small game reserves, where the elephant populations are derived from the rearing of orphans rescued from culling operations – because they have not grown up in the company of Third-Life-Quarter bulls – often turn rogue at maturity. And they wantonly kill other animals, even those as big as white rhinos, and they take to attacking and turning over tourist vehicles that get too close for their comfort. Only by introducing normal mature bulls to these populations can such bad behavior be corrected. Such is the effect that mature elephant bulls, in their Third–Life–Quarter phase, have on the younger bull fraternity.

So, young elephant bulls growing up in their Second-Life–Quarter in the company of adult bulls, do not breed because they are not allowed to come into musth. Instead, they concentrate on sparring, play–fighting and competitively pushing over trees, in preparation for the start of their real life period which happens during the Third–Life–Quarter phase of their lives.

For bull elephants, therefore, life begins at 30.

During their Third–Life-Quarter phase – when they are between 31 and 45 years of age –bull elephants become fully adult. By then they have achieved an acceptable level of dominance in the bull rank structure, but they still fight for greater rank.

Bull elephants come into musth when their physical state is at its best. And when they do come into musth they leave the bull herds for short periods and go in search of females that are in oestrus. The Musth condition elevates a bull elephant’s rank for its duration. Musth, therefore, is the mechanism that nature uses in elephant populations to make sure that only biggest that the best elephant specimens actually breed.

They can then mate with cows-in-oestrus without contest from their larger male cousins. This phase of their life, the Third–Life–Quarter, is when practically all bull breeding activity takes place. This is when they spread their genes far and wide.

By the time they enter their Fourth-Life-Quarter (at the age of 46), therefore, they have sown most of their genetic wild oats. Thereafter their sex drive falls off and they become less inclined to fight for the privilege of mating. They also end up losing fights, and they suffer more and more from fight–injuries. And they lose their previous rank amongst the mature bulls. So, as their age advances, they become less and less inclined towards fighting for mating rights. And they avoid the challenges of the younger and stronger adult bulls. In other words, the older bulls, sexually, become ‘has-beens’

By the time they are fifty they know they have past their prime. And as time marches on they become old men without any interest in sex. Thereafter, it is just a matter of time before their dentition becomes an issue of survival importance. At fifty-five starvation takes its toll. Thereafter, the old bulls rapidly lose their body condition. The bones of their ribs, hips and shoulders begin to show. Their faces become gaunt and they look like walking skeletons. Older bulls, like these, are often accompanied by one of two ‘askaris’ – younger adults that have elected to be the old bull’s final companions in life. And at 60 they have had enough. They just lie down and they die.

I was once advised by a knowledgeable elephant manager, that cow ivory continues to grow only until the cows are 20-25 years of age. Bull tusks, on the other hand, continue to grow in length, in diameter and in weight until the day the old bull dies. And my observations tend to support this point of view.

Old elephant bulls approaching their deaths, therefore, are definitely not breeding. They are, therefore, not the tremendously important gene banks that the animal rightists tell the world they are. And the elephant hunters who do the least damage to the gene pools, are those who seek out the oldest elephants with the biggest, longest and heaviest tusks. Indeed, all elephant bulls over the age of 45 can be considered surplus to the breeding needs of their respective populations. They have long ago served their biological purpose.

Elephant bulls over the age of 45, therefore, should be reserved for the Trophy Hunters.


These are the kinds of relevant scientific facts that the hunters need to use to destroy the propaganda lies of the animal rights brigade. Don’t argue with these pernicious people. Just destroy their arguments with sound common sense science. And encourage the uncommitted man-in-the-street to accept your alternative argument. This is the only way we are going to win this war against the anti-hunters. But we CAN win it and we WILL win it, if we simply stick to our guns and talk common sense science.  But most of all, we WILL win this war against the anti-hunting brigade because we are right and they are wrong.

And I think it might be a good idea for hunters to start compiling Four-Life-Quarter assessments – like this one I have presented here for elephants – for every major game animal species that is included in the Trophy Hunting record books.

Ron Thomson. CEO- TGA

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