A canvas made of a whole elephant’s ear. Belts made with hippo skin. Elephant skin furniture. The annual Safari Club International convention in Reno, Nevada, had plenty on view that would shock and sicken the average person. But investigators for the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International who went undercover there also found that SCI and its affiliates may have crossed into illegal territory by offering for sale body parts of imperiled animals in a state that banned the sale of such wildlife products last year.
At the convention, SCI itself auctioned several donated items that cannot be sold under Nevada law.
Moreover, in contradiction of its own policy against canned lion hunting – shooting captive-bred lions trapped in an enclosure with nowhere to hide – the trophy hunting group allowed numerous vendors to market such canned hunts at the convention. SCI had announced the policy last year after lion scientists and conservationists widely condemned such hunts.
While one cannot expect a group that promotes the killing of threatened and imperiled wildlife to stick with an ethical position, no industry group, however powerful, is above the law. That’s why we have submitted our findings to the Nevada Department of Wildlife and Reno Police Department, requesting an investigation into the sales of prohibited wildlife products at the SCI convention. Under Nevada law, it is unlawful for any person to buy or sell any item wholly or partially made of the body parts of certain animals, including elephants, hippos and narwhal.
SCI claims that the trophy hunting industry is all about conservation but their role in the illegal wildlife trade and promotion of unethical canned lion hunts demonstrates that this is a lie. The group’s callous disregard for wildlife was on full display at the convention, filled with animal trophies and pay-to-play pitches for trophy hunts. Among the items offered for sale were an elephant skin bench, a table made with a hippo skull, elephant leather boots, shoes, chaps, belts and saddles, bracelets made from elephant hair, an entire mammoth tusk and mammoth tusk carvings, stingray skin boots, shoes, belts and purses, boxes of hippo teeth and shark skin belts.
[Read the full investigation report]
Hundreds of trophy hunting outfits offered hunts ranging from African lions and elephants to Alaskan grizzly bears and Canadian polar bears. Vendors who offered to sell canned lion hunts to our investigators peddled the majestic animals as if they were pieces of furniture. The price of a lion hunt was largely determined by the size of the animal and his mane, ranging from “budget” to “deluxe.” One attendee bragged that he and his children participated in a canned hunt, killing a lion within 90 minutes. A hunt operator attempting to make a sale offered to bait lions with meat ahead of the trophy hunter’s arrival, to save time. One said he baited lions with giraffe meat. Tour operators who don’t have lions on their own property enthusiastically offered to broker canned lion hunts at other facilities.
Fees and sales at the convention generate millions of dollars in revenue for the SCI, further amplifying its lobbying power. Members of this Arizona-based trophy hunting industry group see the world as their personal playground and its iconic animals as mere collectibles. Our analysis of SCI’s “Record Book” for 2015 showed SCI members have killed at least 2,007 African lions, 1,888 African leopards, 791 African elephants, and 572 critically endangered black rhinos, among other animals.
There is not much to be said for an outfit that profits off the killing of wild animal species already under severe threat because of poaching, habitat loss or degradation and retaliation killings due to human-wildlife conflict. The numbers of African elephants in the wild has declined by 30 percent in recent years and there are fewer than 20,000 lions remaining in the wild. The last thing these animals need is to find themselves in the crosshairs of American and international trophy hunters.
There is some reason for hope, however. The killing of Cecil the lion and other highly scrutinized trophy hunts have brought a growing momentum among enlightened American states and countries amenable to cracking down on illegal and unethical trophy hunting and wildlife trafficking. Botswana banned trophy hunting in 2014. In the United States, nine states, including Nevada, have already passed laws against wildlife trafficking in recent years and we expect to see similar bills introduced in legislatures around the country this year. The tide is turning, and before long, it’s going to be trophy hunters, and not imperiled animals, on the run.