Three years after Americans were outraged by the killing of Cecil the lion by Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer, yet another wealthy American trophy hunter is in the news for an act just as shameful: the poaching of an elephant in Zimbabwe with a plan to sell the animal’s tusks. And here’s the clincher to this sickening story: the hunter, Ross Jackson, was serving as a director of the Dallas Safari Club until last week.
On April 24, Jackson, a Colorado resident, pleaded guilty in a federal court proceeding to violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by exporting ivory from an elephant he illegally killed in a national park in Zimbabwe in spring 2015 to South Africa, where he planned to sell the tusks for US$ 300 per pound. Jackson compounded his unlawful poaching of the imperiled animal by attempting to procure false residency papers for South Africa so that he could get the necessary permits from Zimbabwe to export the elephant’s valuable tusks to South Africa.
After Jackson’s plea agreement was filed in federal court, the Dallas Safari Club jumped into action to wipe out his name from its website: last Thursday he was listed as a vice president, by Friday he was listed as a director, and later that day his name simply disappeared. The organization was undoubtedly trying to limit the damage to its own reputation, but really, it needn’t have bothered. Like Safari Club International, it’s all about bid-to-kill and pay-to-slay auction schemes that enable its members to target threatened and endangered animals across the globe. There’s not much of a reputation to lose, really.
Jackson pleaded guilty to violating the ESA and agreed to pay a fine of $25,000. He’s also agreed to a four-year worldwide prohibition on the hunting of any species designated as threatened or endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). He also has to return the tusks to the government of Zimbabwe.
Meanwhile, the FWS, which is charged with protecting species listed under the ESA, is too often a willing partner of trophy hunters seeking to import sport-hunted trophies. At the moment, we are waiting to hear if the FWS will give a permit to a Texas billionaire who is looking to import the trophy of a critically endangered black rhino that he killed in Namibia, where rhino poaching has dramatically increased in recent years.
The Dallas Safari Club, along with another shill organization for trophy hunting, Conservation Force, auctioned off the pay-to-slay package in December 2016 for $275,000. The rhino was killed in February 2017 at the Veronica Game Lodge in Namibia, and an import permit application was submitted in mid-April 2017.
Given the past actions of the FWS, we are worried. In 2015, the agency issued import permits to a Texas millionaire and a Nevada businessman, who paid $350,000 and $200,000 respectively to kill and import black rhino trophies from Namibia.
Fewer than 5,500 wild black rhinos are left in the world, with just 1,946 in Namibia. And for all their talk about conservation, for the trophy hunters, the rarer the animals are, the higher is the value of the trophies and the greater is the prestige in killing them. Poaching of black rhinos and white rhinos in Namibia increased from zero in 2006 to 30 in 2014 and then tripled to 90 in 2015. The vast majority of rhinos poached in Namibia between 2014 and 2016 were black rhinos.
Approving the pending application for import would ignore the conservation mandate under the ESA, which makes it clear that it is illegal to import endangered species unless such action will enhance the propagation or survival of the species, or is for scientific purposes that promote the conservation of the species.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the FWS has increasingly moved toward favoring trophy hunters in recent months. Earlier this year, the agency formed an International Wildlife Conservation Council, full of trophy hunters and wholly dedicated to the promotion of more trophy hunting throughout the world, at a time when we just we don’t need it. Catering to the wealthy few at the expense of critically endangered species and against the will of the majority of regular Americans betrays the agency’s conservation mandate, and the U.S. government shouldn’t be in the business of facilitating pay-to-slay schemes by trophy hunters. It is time to end this practice of snuffing out the lives of the world’s most magnificent animals so a wealthy few can decorate their homes with their heads and hides. You can do your part by signing the pledge to end trophy hunting.