Several governments and wildlife organizations use the notion “killing is conservation” to justify the killing of large carnivores like wolves and grizzly bears. They argue that legal hunting helps decrease poaching. But a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B has fueled a debate that may force the governments to reevaluate their stance on the state-approved killing of endangered animals.

Legal Hunting Of Large Carnivores Leads To More Illegal Killings

Governments’ arguments have little scientific backing

The study concludes that legal hunting increases illegal killing of threatened carnivores. The state-approved culling of wolves that threaten humans and livestock helps reduce resentment among frustrated ranchers, argue the governments. However, a 2014 study showed that killing wolves to protect the livestock caused predators to kill even more sheep and cattle.

For the latest study, Guillaume Chapron, an ecologist at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, and Adrian Treves of the University of Wisconsin, Madison looked at wolves in Michigan and Wisconsin. Between 1995 and 2012, wolves in these two states have been placed under federal protection six times, and experienced six periods of legal culling. It makes them ideal for testing whether legal hunting helps conserve large carnivores.

Why legal hunting helps increase poaching

Researchers used a complex algorithm to measure population growth over time. They also took into account the number of wolves culled. Chapron and Treves were surprised to find that during years legal hunting was allowed, the wolf growth rate dropped dramatically. The huge drop could not be explained by a slowdown in reproductive rates or the animals migrating out of the state.

Poaching was the only possible explanation for the decline, said scientists. What encourages people to kill animals illegally during years the governments approve wolf culling? Chapron and Treves said, “Liberalizing wolf culling may have sent a negative message about the value of wolves or that poaching prohibitions would not be enforced.” Their findings are in line with a 2013 study that showed that legal hunting does nothing to reduce the inclination to poach.