For years, the trophy-hunting crowd has treated the world as its playground. They’ve viewed rare creatures as collectibles, assuming that lavish spending on guides, outfitters, and foreign governments entitled them to do as they please in shooting up wildlife.
This week, members of Safari Club International — the Arizona-based group that promotes competitive trophy-hunting activities across the globe – are gathering by the thousands in Las Vegas for their annual convention. But this time they face blowback from an American public more alert to the havoc they create and from businesses and government authorities that are putting up some roadblocks and making their killing sprees a little less biologically diverse than they’ve been in the past.
In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service banned imports of elephant trophies from Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Since the shooting of Cecil in July, 45 major airlines, including Delta, Virgin Atlantic, and United Airlines, have banned the transport of any trophies of the Africa Big Five. Just over a month ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services conferred threatened and endangered status for African lions across their range – an administrative action that should reduce the flow of lion trophies into the United States from more than 700 a year to a trickle. And just last week, South Africa banned the exports of leopard trophies in 2016, following findings that trophy hunting is detrimental to these big cats’ survival.
Walter Palmer was to trophy hunting what Michael Vick was to dogfighting – the face of the enterprise and an individual whose misdeeds provided a wake-up moment for society on long-running abuse that had for years escaped careful scrutiny. Palmer’s misdeeds in Zimbabwe threw back the curtain on a bizarre subculture of elites who spend their time and treasure killing large numbers of rare big-game animals.
SCI encourages this slaughter by offering accolades and awards to its members. As author and animal advocate Matthew Scully once described it, the Safari Club awards program is sort of a “frequent slayer” scheme; the more you kill, the more credits you gain within the fraternity. Walter Palmer won a “continental” award for killing a dozen animals in North America. When caught with Cecil, he was on his way toward claiming the Africa Big Five award, which requires the killing of an African elephant, an African lion, a rhino, a leopard, and a Cape buffalo.
Over the past 10 years, American trophy hunters have killed 5,552 African lions and brought their parts back home. From 2005 to 2014, they brought home more than 1.2 million trophies of more than 1,200 different kinds of animals.
This class of Americans is not only a menace to other countries’ wildlife, but also to native species in our own continent, such as wolves, bears, mountain lions, and bobcats. Today, The HSUS and HSI released a report documenting that trophy hunters have killed approximately 29,000 American mountain lions within the last decade in western states, with almost all of the kills achieved by chasing the cats with packs of dogs and shooting the quarry out of trees. The five states with the highest body counts are Idaho (4,833 lions), Montana (4,407), Colorado (3,414), Utah (3,200), and Arizona (2,893).
SCI secures much of its annual budget by doing auction-based and other forms of fundraising at this convention and others. According to 2015 online auction postings, SCI earned over $2.7 million from last year’s 314 mammal hunt auctions alone. According to SCI’s financial statement, in 2014, $14.7 million of its $23.8 million annual revenue (62 percent) was generated by that year’s convention, between the auctions, tickets, and other fundraising activities associated with the get-together. With this money, SCI works to open up trophy-hunting seasons for 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. The group has also pushed for trophy hunting on National Park Service lands, and is currently fighting a proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restrict the baiting of brown bears and the snare-trapping of black bears on Alaskan refuges.
What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas. But the Safari Club folks staying in Vegas this week slay creatures just about everywhere else. The city shouldn’t give them a meeting place where they can develop their plans to loot the world’s wildlife in order to win accolades within the world of competitive trophy hunting. And lawmakers and wildlife authorities shouldn’t tolerate their destructive, selfish, colonial, and competitive hunts any longer.