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4. Killing nature to save it? Ethics, economics and rhino hunting in Namibia

Mike Hannis (September 2016)


Abstract. This paper presents a case study of ethical discourse generated by the officially sanctioned trophy hunting by a US hunter of an endangered black rhino (Diceros bicornis) in Namibia, following a permit auction raising US$350,000 for rhino conservation in this context. Both the hunter and the Namibian government were vocally condemned by those focussing on the welfare of the animal. The emphasis here, however, is not on animal welfare concerns directly, but on the dominance of economic reasoning in the heated debate surrounding the story, and on how an apparently ‘wrong’ action is seen to become ‘right’ if it has economically desirable consequences. The welfare of the individual animal is one of several ethical considerations rendered invisible or illegitimate in this process: others may include local perspectives, historical context, contemporary power relations, and the pre-shaping of future management decisions. The calculative consequentialist logic of the market displaces other forms of ethical reasoning, marginalising critique and further consolidating its own hegemony. But this is not a triumph of utilitarianism: little trace remains of Bentham’s egalitarianism, or of J.S. Mill’s concerns with the qualities of pleasures, and their effect on character. It is rather a triumph of economics over ethics, in which almost anything can be commodified into commensurable ‘capital’, thereby erasing other ways of understanding and engaging with the world.


Key words. trophy hunting; Namibia; rhino; ethics; utilitarianism; economism

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