Most Americans learned about the trophy killing fringe group Safari Club International for the first time in July 2015. That’s when one of its members, Walter Palmer, killed Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, leaving the poor creature in agonizing mortal pain for at least 10 hours before deigning to finish him off. A new book by Andrew Loveridge, an Oxford University wildlife biologist, lays bare the circumstances of the wealthy Minnesota dentist’s misconduct. Palmer and his guides used a slaughtered elephant as bait, let Cecil suffer for hours in agony, and then took steps to cover up their seemingly illegal actions.
Now, a second SCI member is in the news for greenlighting the trophy animal importation policies that led to Palmer’s wanton killing of Cecil in the first place. But that member, Greg Sheehan, also happens to be principal deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which makes him more dangerous to African wildlife than a thousand Walter Palmers. By signing the order that consigns countless imperiled African animals to death by trophy hunting, Sheehan’s made a mess of America’s global wildlife policy. And he’s done it all in defiance of the president of the United States.
That’s right. Even though President Trump told the world back in November that he thought trophy hunting was a “horror show” with no conservation value, Sheehan and the FWS have lifted existing bans on the import of elephant and lion trophies from certain African countries. This is something that SCI and allied organizations like the National Rifle Association had been pressing for as a part of their all-out assault on wildlife in the United States and abroad. And they knew just who to talk to.
SCI itself announced the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to the American public on November 15, the surest sign of improper collusion between trophy hunting interests and the federal government, and the announcement came during a Safari Club event in Tanzania where Sheehan was a guest. A few weeks later, Sheehan was again an honored guest at SCI’s Las Vegas convention, a festival of taxidermy, safari killing packages, and celebrations of SCI’s Record Book, a catalogue of cruelty filled with soulless, clinical details of kills and carcasses. Sheehan met with officials and stakeholders from Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, and South Africa at the convention, to further seal the fate of Africa’s wildlife along with those who sit at the head of the African wildlife table.
There’s really only one fundamental fact worth knowing about SCI; it stands for killing, one hundred percent of the time. In February 2017, when the U.S. Congress voted to overturn the “fair chase” rule restricting the baiting, trapping, and use of airplanes to track and shoot bears and wolves on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands in Alaska, SCI was there – not on the side of traditional hunting, but on behalf of the most radical ideas, like the supposed right to shoot animals in their dens. In June 2017, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisted Wyoming gray wolves and returned their management to the state, SCI cheered – not on behalf of nature or sound wildlife management, but again for the radical fringe. In November 2017, with Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming poised to authorize limited trophy hunts for grizzly bears outside Yellowstone Park after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revoked the species’ threatened status, SCI was there too, giddy at the opportunity to kill these iconic bears. In 2018, SCI awarded one of its highest honors of “International Professional Hunter of the Year” to a trophy hunter who has been prosecuted by African authorities for crimes against wildlife.
In Washington, D.C., you have to look around pretty hard for an organization with an agenda so debased, and you sure have to wonder about the competence and wisdom of a public servant who would want to be counted on SCI’s rolls. Over the years we’ve become accustomed to the idea that SCI will defend anything when it comes to the killing of animals. But we’re bound to say that we still have higher expectations of our government.
SCI has a stranglehold on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service right now, and it’s our earnest hope that President Trump will take steps to free the agency from the iron grip of this fraternity for trophy hunters.