Trophy hunters pay more to target larger-bodied carnivores




Mihalik, Ilona
Bateman, Andrew
Darimont, Chris T.

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Royal Society Open Science


Hunters often target species that require resource investment disproportionate to associated nutritional rewards. Costly signalling theory provides a potential explanation, proposing that hunters target species that impose high costs (e.g. higher failure and injury risks, lower consumptive returns) because it signals an ability to absorb costly behaviour. If costly signalling is relevant to contemporary ‘big game’ hunters, we would expect hunters to pay higher prices to hunt taxa with higher perceived costs. Accordingly, we hypothesized that hunt prices would be higher for taxa that are larger-bodied, rarer, carnivorous, or described as dangerous or difficult to hunt. In a dataset on 721 guided hunts for 15 North American large mammals, prices listed online increased with body size in carnivores (from approximately $550 to $1800 USD/day across the observed range). This pattern suggests that elements of costly signals may persist among contemporary non-subsistence hunters. Persistence might simply relate to deception, given that signal honesty and fitness benefits are unlikely in such different conditions compared with ancestral environments in which hunting behaviour evolved. If larger-bodied carnivores are generally more desirable to hunters, then conservation and management strategies should consider not only the ecology of the hunted but also the motivations of hunters.


We thank B. Starzomski and T. Dawson for their important insight at the early stages of this project. We also thank members of the UVic Applied Conservation Science Lab for their support and input throughout this project.


body size, costly signalling, trophy hunting, wildlife harvest, exploitation, carnivore


Mihalik, I., Bateman, A. W., & Darimont, C. T. (2019). Trophy hunters pay more to target larger-bodied carnivores. Royal Society Open Science, 6(9), 1-10.