David Cote, CEO of Honeywell, a company in the top tier of the Fortune 500, shot a white rhino and had parts of the prehistoric-looking animal made into two vases, an ashtray, and an ice bucket. How’s that for treating the natural world as your playground and reducing one of the most magnificent animals on the planet into an array of frivolous decorative items for your home?
On his trips to Africa, perhaps on the dime of Honeywell and possibly delivered there courtesy of the company plane, Cote also shot leopards and even some captive animals, including an endangered Bontebok and a black wildebeest. He didn’t restrict his killing to the southern hemisphere – he pursued and killed lots of animals in the top half of the world, from Alaska to Russia.
He’s hardly the only fat cat to use his wealth and privilege to spread suffering and death. Jimmy John Liautaud, CEO of the eponymous fast-food company, has killed enough animals to fill a museum – including a rhino, an African elephant, a leopard, and even a hyena. He also shot a lynx and a wolf. He had a compatriot in former GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons, too. In 2006 alone, SCI records show Parsons killed a kudu, an eland, a bushbuck, and a grysbok in Zimbabwe and even bison in the United States. In 2011, he posted a video of himself killing an elephant – a hunt that could have cost him up to $500,000.
But these guys are all pikers compared to Thomas J. Hammond, founder of Flagstar Bank, which in 2012 paid a $133 million settlement for predatory and fraudulent mortgage lending practices. Hammond has killed at least 13 African lions, 11 elephants, five leopards, and even a highly endangered cheetah, among thousands of other animals. In all, he claims he’s killed 314 different species. There’s a fellow who values biodiversity as his own personal grab bag.
Today, on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the slaying of Cecil the lion – an act that inadvertently threw back the curtain on the perverse subculture of high-price competitive trophy hunting with the United States as the top importer – The HSUS and Humane Society International release a report that reveals trophy hunting’s terrible foothold within the United States. It’s a realm filled with thousands of people pursuing the biggest animals in the world, in order to get into the record books, by killing enough animals to qualify for the “grand slams” and “inner circles” that secure their place in the Safari Club International’s pantheon of trophy hunting. The SCI’s awards include the “Africa Big Five,” “Bears of the World,” “Cats of the World,” and “Introduced Trophy Game Animals of North America,” which essentially requires the trophy hunter to shoot dozens of captive animals on American “canned hunting” facilities.
We had our cameras rolling at the SCI convention in Las Vegas earlier this year to get the unfiltered views of the trophy hunters and the guides and outfitters who are known to all but guarantee a successful hunt, in what is known in the industry as a “no kill, no pay” arrangement. Walter Palmer paid an estimated $50,000 to kill Cecil after the lion wandered out of the protected range of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe and into range of Palmer’s bow and arrow. Trophy hunters may pay even more for an elephant or a rhino, or a little less for a leopard or a Cape buffalo.
Drawing an estimated 25,000 trophy hunting enthusiasts, the SCI convention displays taxidermied lions, wolves, leopards, bears, elephants, mountain goats, and other creatures as killer porn bait for these bloodthirsty gents. Around 500 trophy hunting outfitters are on hand to book sales well into 2018.
The annual convention is a major source of income for SCI. According to its financial statement for 2014, 62 percent of SCI’s $23.8 million in revenue was generated by that year’s convention – a large chunk of this was from auctioning off hunts to a host of willing bidders.
Our cameras captured the guides and outfitters saying some pretty extraordinary things. A representative of Hallamore Hunts noted, “The problem with lion, isn’t to get him to eat the bait, he’s gonna eat the bait. Problem is, does he have a nice mane?” A person with Swanepoel Safaris noted that captive lion hunting is a major industry in South Africa, with probably 1,000 lions being shot there each year by hunters. “In South Africa they’re so, so affordable. Thirty thousand dollars, you can shoot a hell of a big lion, you know.”
Just like the factory farms or commercial seal killing that are the targets of other HSUS and HSI campaigns, these activities are so removed from daily experience that most of us hardly realize that they are occurring. That’s why the image of the grinning Walter Palmer and his guide over the slain Cecil came as such a jolt – it looked perfectly cruel and bizarrely colonial.
With today’s report, we remind the world that there are plenty of Walter Palmers still creating mayhem at the edges of the social grid. It will be made tougher now with U.S. restrictions, successfully petitioned for by The HSUS, Humane Society International and our partners, on the import of African lion trophies. And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not permitted the import of elephant trophies from Tanzania and Zimbabwe since 2014.
But it’s still not enough to put a stop to this trophy hunting madness. Only shining a light on the participants, and passing stricter laws in the range countries, importing countries, and right here in the United States, can stop them from killing so many of the planet’s most majestic creatures for ego, for awards, and for a deep-seated instinct to dominate, kill, and acquire. It just fuels the outrage, on top of that, to see that these people have the audacity to try to excuse their selfish, life-nullifying acts as generous act of conservation. Anybody who sees what they do, and the trail of destruction they leave, knows better.