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ITV News follows professional hunters in SA where most animals are seen as fair game

Even with a royal endorsement, there can be hardly a more controversial way to spend a day. Treading softly, carrying a big gun.

I am, I should point, a mere observer.

Hunting, as Prince William put it this week, is not quite my cup of tea. We’ve been invited to watch professional hunters at work.

Nothing too contentious, they say. We‘re tracking antelope.

Warning: Viewers may find some images in John Ray's report distressing:

It turned out to be a long day. And the climax - the killing of a wildebeest - was by the end of it quite unexpected. So too, to me at least, was the reaction of the woman who pulled the trigger.

For the right price in South Africa, there's hardly an animal that’s not considered fair game.

Many animals are considered fair game in South Africa. Credit: ITV News

Here’s a sample price list I found on the internet this morning. Prices in dollars as the American market is lucrative.

$25k
for a male lion
$40k
for an elephant
$15k
A Cape Buffalo

Before the untimely demise of Cecil the Lion, pride of Zimbabwe, I reckon most people wouldn’t have known even endangered species can be - quite legitimately - on a hunter's hit list.

Cecil the Lion was one of Zimbabwe's most famous attractions. Credit: PA

You might have been surprised to learn that in all, commercial hunting claims to bring in something like £50 million to South Africa’s struggling economy.

The argument, advanced by Prince William this week, is that helps fund conservation – anti-poaching patrols, rangers, fences and so forth.

A simple argument; greatly contested.

Prince William said while 'not everyone's cup of tea' hunting of animals was 'justifiable' in certain circumstances. Credit: ITV News

How much of that money actually reaches conservation causes, critics ask, and now much ends up in the pockets of rich land-owners, or in a continent rife with corruption, in the bank accounts of government officials.

And then, who decides which animals get shot? In theory, it should be the old, no-longer productive beasts.

But Cecil was hardly in his dotage when he died.

For some, the argument is even more simple. It can never be right to kill and animal for pleasure, they say.

For meat eaters, there's an idea to chew over.

But for the hunters, and many conservationists, this shouldn't be a debate about animal rights at all, but rather how best to ensure the survival of species.

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