Maverick TV journalist Louis Theroux talks exclusively to Serena Davies about his upcoming documentary, a look at the hunting industry in South Africa, where foreign tourists pay thousands of dollars to shoot big game on private farms
What made you choose this particular topic?

Iíd done a film on high stakes gambling in Las Vegas and Iíd done one on plastic surgery in Beverly Hills and Iíd been thinking along the lines of what stories are there out there in a similar vein.
Louis Theroux with the product of Africa's game hunting industry
Thereís obviously a lot of controversy around the issue of hunting as there is around gambling and I like these stories where there is a moral dimension, stories that force you to think about your prejudices about a subject and explore the extent to which they are justified.

Hunting really divides people in Britain. We keep pets and we name our animals but weíre not too worried about industrial hunting practices. Though that is starting to change. We made this film last year, before Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall began their campaigns drawing attention to meat farming practices.
Certainly at the time we were making the film last year it was not to my mind self evident that the life of a kudu running around on a game farm in South Africa and shot by an American tourist for its horns is much worse than a battery farmed chicken here, cooped up in a cage with its claws and beak chopped off. In fact the kuduís got it significantly better, I would have thought.

How did making the film alter your attitude to big game hunting?
I came away from the programme thinking that although I wouldnít choose to hunt, I wouldnít want to see it made illegal. The argument that [the game farmer] Pete Warren makes in the programme that the private ownership of game and the raising of game on farms is actually a very effective way of maintaining game stocks and preserving endangered species is a strong one.
Although I do feel there is more they could do to ensure the hunters themselves are confident. I donít think half-blind people should be out there. In many hunting circles it used to be considered unsportsmanlike like to shoot from the truck. In Ernest Hemingwayís day it was a definite no-no. But nowadays those rules are all out of the window.

There is a lot of talk of the hunterís ďkiller instinctĒ in this programme. Do you think this is something that would get expressed in other ways if the hunters didnít have the opportunity to kill animals?
No I donít. In some ways thereís a mystery at the heart of hunting and this programme which I donít completely unravel. The bottom line is I donít really understand why people want to shoot these animals.
The source of the pleasure is definitely not the act of doing harm though. Iím not being an apologist for it but even I can see the hunters that I met really strove to make the kills as clean as possible. There is a big premium on the idea of the clean big kill. No one would inflict unnecessary pain. They wanted the animals to die as painlessly as possible.

How do you persuade people to be involved in a programme such as this?
Thereís always a negotiation that goes on to persuade people we are coming to the subject with an open mind but without surrendering too many pawns. We donít want to misrepresent the fact that we will draw our own conclusions.
Big game hunters and the hunting industry in South Africa know a lot of people regard what they do as terrible, and the media have tended not to do them any favours. So it was an uphill struggle to win trust from the people, and to get into the world. The director and the associate producer went out there and met lots of people and tried to explain what we were doing and most of them said no and then we ground down Rhian (the game farmer who features in the film), who opened his doors to us and made it possible.

How did the experience of making this film compare with some of the others you have worked on?
With most of the worlds Iíve explored the people are possibly doing harm to themselves, either by gambling their money away or making themselves look a bit odd, or damaging themselves emotionally by becoming prostitutes. But in hunting itís different because there are animals involved and hunters arenít harming themselves, they are harming another living creature. I felt like this took us into a slightly different place: it was a bit tougher for me to work out what I felt about them.

Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
They are still works in progress. I canít get specific. The season is still open on making another programme about the right kind of intriguing public figure. Iíve sent two letters to Heather Mills and I was thinking of sending her a third one but at this point I think Iíve got to accept sheís just not in the mood at the moment. Itís all give and no take at this point.

Louis Therouxís African Hunting Holiday is on BBC1 on Sunday, 6th April at 9.00pm

Q&A: Louis Theroux - Telegraph