Shooting Wildlife II

Our new report explores the debates surrounding the ethics and impacts of sport hunting. It updates the 2016 ‘Shooting wildlife?’ report, and re-examines how 30 optics companies approach this sensitive subject. It recommends the companies to to buy your optics from.

In 2015 the killing of Cecil the Lion sparked outrage, as did Donald Trump’s more recent decision to lift the ban on elephant trophy imports from Zimbabwe and Zambia in November 2017. This public outcry to these moments demonstrates widespread opposition to hunting for fun or trophies in the UK.

You might expect companies operating in both pro-hunting and anti-hunting sectors to be transparent or to take a definitive ethical stance on such a thorny issue – which has significant animal rights as well as environmental aspects. But the optics industry has so far widely avoided taking a stand.

83% of major brands selling binoculars and other optics products specifically market to hunters, a recent Ethical Consumer report has found. 

Shooting Wildlife II (link opens as pdf report) updates a 2016 report, which looked at links between the optics industry and the hunting world. The report reviewed marketing text and images, sponsorship links, and other company material that promoted hunting, particularly highlighting the glamorisation of sports hunts. 

Of the 30 companies looked at, 25 had some link to hunting, and 20 were considered to have strong links – for example selling products specifically for hunting, or marketing products for sports hunts. 

Companies were not only found to advertise to hunters; their support extended to sponsorship for hunting organisations and events, employment of ‘pro hunter’ professional staff, and even ‘training academies’ run by the companies on the use of optics for hunting sports. 

The complex relationship between conservation and hunting

It might seem particularly surprising that connections to hunting remain so rife in an industry that also targets its products at bird watchers and conservationists.

Yet companies’ refusal to take a definitive in stand in fact reflects the long-running and complex relations between hunting and conservations. If hunting is well regulated and managed under the guidance of ecologists, it can provide revenue for conservation projects while helping to manage animal populations in a ‘sustainable’ way. 

However, the reality can be far from this. Bad or corrupt management can have disastrous affects on ecosystems, and can in some cases lead to extinction. 

Even a quota system can have unforeseen impacts. For example, if fewer animals are hunted, it is often those of a larger body or antler size that are selected as trophies. This often means killing the strongest males in an area, distorting mating patterns and potentially reversing the natural evolution of a species, where natural predators often kill the weak, old and young. The implications are both short and potentially very long-term, from altering population dynamics to the transference of genes. (1) (2)

Nonetheless, the complex relation between hunting and conservation plays a role in ongoing support for hunting by optics companies: 30% of companies looked at in the Shooting Wildlife II Report sponsored ‘conservation’ organisations that had ‘protecting hunters rights’ as part of their manifesto. 

Unsustainable advertising

Seven companies were found to directly market products for trophy hunting – one of the types of hunt most widely recognised to impact animal populations. Many used images of specific animals which are known to have had their populations damaged by sports hunting. 

Swarovski claims on its website, ‘we work in a harmonious symbiosis with nature and the environment because this forms the basis for the use of our products.’ Yet the company continues to market products specifically for ‘big-game’ hunting – an activity that is known to have serious impacts on animal populations. (3)

Zeiss ‘funds research programs aimed at protecting endangered animals.’ Yet the company simultaneously runs an ‘exclusive customer magazine’, which has discussed the hunting of black bear, lions and elephants. The populations of all three species are known to have been affected by sports hunts. (4) (5) (6) 

Image: passion magazine

Time for change?

Clearly the relation between hunting and the optics world is deeply entrenched. Nonetheless, the position taken by Canon and Opticron tells another, alternative story.

Canon and Opticron have confirmed that they will not advertise their binoculars and other optical equipment for use in hunting.

All 30 companies were contacted during research. Three companies responded, all of which have no (Canon and Opticron) or weak (Kowa) links to hunting. 

Opticron responded in December 2017 stating that it had removed all mention of hunting from its website. The company stated that the decision was ‘partly as a result of the ongoing work with conservation organisations’, and partly due to customer feedback after the publication of the first version of the report, in which customers told the company that they had chosen its products because of its comparatively minimal links to hunting.

‘As you will be well aware, binoculars can be used for hunting regardless of whether or not a brand supports that activity. And there are some types of "hunting" such as deer population management which are necessary, in that case due to the lack of top predators in the UK for example. Optics are an essential part of making sure any such cull is done properly.’ The brand emphasised, however, that it would not support trophy or sports hunts. 

This brings the number of companies without any marketing links to hunting up to five: Canon, Opticron, Olympus, Kenko Tokina and Visionary. In September 2017, Canon – which was not found to have any links with hunting in the original report – wrote to Ethical Consumer confirming this stance. ‘Canon does not include sport hunting as an activity associated within promotion of our product ranges’.  Canon is one of the biggest optics companies in the world and the largest company in this report: a large manufacturer that has thrived without any formal associations with the hunting world. 

Table: companies and links to hunting

A wildlife-friendly gap in the market

Optricron’s recent decision to remove mention of hunting hopefully reflects a new demand for such companies.

In November 2017, as part of this research, Ethical Consumer surveyed wildlife watchers and conservationists online, and found that 70% of those who used optics in this way said that they would change their optics brand if they knew that the company behind it was endorsing hunting for sport. The survey was completed by over 1,400 people of whom around 60% identified as wildlife enthusiasts and around 40% as hunters.

Tellingly, many of the responses also highlighted the need for more transparency around the issue, asking companies to take a clear stance on what is undoubtedly a very murky topic. When asked what they were like to see in the future, respondents asked for:

  • Transparency with branding and corporate stances on issues such as hunting.
  • A definitive list of ethical brands to be produced.
  • An ethical brand to emerge and be supported by wildlife conservation organisations.

This feedback suggests that there is an opportunity for a ‘wildlife-friendly’ optics market that is currently being missed by the vast majority of optics brands.

Who to buy your optics from

Companies with no direct links to hunting

Recommended companies to buy from are:

  • Canon
  • Kenko Tokina
  • Olympus
  • Opticron

These are the only companies covered in the report that could not be directly linked with the sport hunting industry.

Visionary is also recommended as it only mentioned hunting once and did not do so in order to market products to hunters.

Companies with weaker links to hunting

The five companies with weaker links to sport hunting may also be a good choice.

The main brands in this group are: Celestron, Pentax, Kowa, Viking, and Barr & Stroud.

Companies with strong links to hunting

Consumers who hold animal rights issues close to heart may want to avoid brands owned by companies with strong links to hunting.

These include: Nikon, Swarovski, Leupold, Zeiss, Leica, Steiner, Bushnell, Vortex, Meopta, Minox, Burris, Hawke, Bresser, Alpen, Tasco, Barska, Visionking, Bosma, Vanguard, Carson, Eschenbach, and Fujinon.

Companies who glamorise trophy hunting

If environmental issues guide your purchasing choices, then you may wish to avoid companies that glamourise trophy hunting. In particular, companies whose images and footage include animals such as lions and bears where the potential negative impacts of selective hunting have started to be evidenced.

These include Alpen, Steiner, Swarovski, Burris, Bresser, Zeiss, Leica, Vanguard, Vortex, Hawke, Leupold, Meopta and Vista (Bushnell and Tasco brands).

If you are going to change what you buy because of this report, remember to tell the company about it and let them know why.

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