Safari Club International members have assembled in Las Vegas for the group’s annual gathering, which attracts individuals who’ve made a macabre hobby of traveling to the far reaches of the world to kill many of the world’s rarest animals for their heads and hides. What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas, in this case, given that the trophy hunters connect with some 2,500 vendors who offer up hunts all over the world, particularly in the African nations that possess some of the world’s most remarkable mammals. Walter Palmer, the man who lured Cecil from a national park in Zimbabwe and killed him with an arrow, was an SCI member, and the group rose in defense of trophy hunting after Palmer killed the world’s most studied and famous lion.
SCI could raise as much as $5.3 million from the mammal auctions, and millions more from vendor fees. At this year’s convention, the top three most expensive items on offer are a New Zealand red stag and tahr hunt for four people (valued at US$92,000), a Zambian leopard, sable, roan, and plains game hunt (valued at US$81,400), and a Canadian polar bear trophy hunt (valued at US$72,000). The rarer the animal, the more coveted the trophy. Some of the killing will occur within fenced areas – canned hunting facilities – where the animals are victims of staged hunts.
It’s not just foreign species who are under threat from this assembly of the pitiless. SCI’s auctions include hunts for 137 mammals in the United States, valued at nearly $1 million.
SCI bills itself as a “conservation” group that contributes to the economies of poor African countries through hunting. But this is a convenient and overcooked rationalization. To coincide with SCI’s Las Vegas convention, Humane Society International is releasing today a study carried out by Economists at Large that finds that trophy hunters have vastly overstated their contribution to eight African nations, and confirms what we have said all along– that non-lethal forms of wildlife tourism in Africa dwarf trophy hunting as a source of commerce and profit.
The report found that in Botswana, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, trophy hunting brings in just 0.78 percent or less of the overall tourism spending and has only a marginal impact on employment, providing approximately 0.76 percent or less of overall tourism jobs. Foreign trophy hunters make up less than 0.1 percent of tourists in these countries, and their economic contribution is at best an estimated 0.03 percent of these nations’ gross domestic product. In fact, the segment of the tourism industry that does not rely on hunting has a much brighter future in Africa, growing much faster and employing 132 times more people than the trophy hunting industry.
The vendors at SCI’s auctions this year will advertise hunting achievement awards like the Africa Big Five (requiring a hunter to shoot a lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and Cape Buffalo), Bears of the World, Cats of the World, and dozens of other killing combinations that allow for recognition within this fraternity. Last year, SCI made $14.4 million from the convention. It uses these funds to aggressively oppose any efforts at conservation and to open up trophy-hunting seasons on wolves, fight efforts to restrict the hunting of African elephants and lions, and lobby Congress to enable its hunters to import endangered polar bear trophies into the United States. Just earlier this year, the group filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in defense of aerial hunting and other inhumane predator-killing practices on refuges in Alaska, challenging regulations from USFWS for which we have long advocated.
Make no mistake, this is a large gathering of wealthy people who as a group may spread more pain and loss to wildlife than just about any other collective on earth. But let’s also remember that they hold minority views among the American population. Even in the host state for the convention, Nevada, there is a deep dislike for trophy hunting. A recent statewide poll from Remington Research Group showed that an overwhelming 77 percent of Nevada residents are opposed to canned hunting of lions, 66 percent are opposed to trophy hunting of their native species (bears, bobcats, and mountain lions), and 61 percent oppose the trophy hunting of elephants, lions, leopards, and rhinos.
It’s one thing to kill animals for food. It’s another matter to go on head-hunting gambits and pursue many of the rarest animals in the world, in competitive hunts driven by awards programs. We’ll continue to make the case that Safari Club International is far out of the American mainstream, and that its activities are destructive to animals who deserve our protection, rather than our persecution.