Document Type

Editorial and Commentary

Publication Date



The killing of Cecil the lion (Panthera leo) ignited enduring and increasingly global discussion about trophy hunting. Yet, policy debate about its benefits and costs focuses only on the hunted species and biodiversity, not the unique behaviour of hunters. Some contemporary recreational hunters from the developed world behave curiously, commonly targeting ‘trophies’: individuals within populations with large body or ornament size, as well as rare and/or inedible species, like carnivores. Although contemporary hunters have been classified according to implied motivation (i.e. for meat, recreation, trophy or population control, as well the ‘multiple satisfactions’ they seek while hunting (affiliation, appreciation, achievement; an evolutionary explanation of the motivation underlying trophy hunting (and big-game fishing) has never been pursued. Too costly (difficult, dangerous) a behaviour to be common among other vertebrate predators, we postulate that trophy hunting is in fact motivated by the costs hunters accept. We build on empirical and theoretical contributions from evolutionary anthropology to hypothesize that signalling these costs to others is key to understanding, and perhaps influencing, this otherwise perplexing activity.


Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited