Scientists carry water for trophy hunting industry

By on October 30, 2019 with 6 Comments

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

For years now, trophy hunters have spun a web of lies to tie their ruthless killing of some of the world’s most at-risk animals to fake conservation benefits. A recent exchange in the prestigious Science magazine has laid bare links some scientists have with the trophy hunting lobby, and it has led to the magazine revising its own policy on how it identifies letter writers with ties to lobbying interests.

In August this year, the magazine published an open letter, “Trophy hunting bans imperil biodiversity,” led by five scientists from Oxford University’s wildlife conservation research unit and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and signed by 128 more. The letter claimed trophy hunting has a positive impact on conservation, and Amy Dickman, one of the letter’s lead authors, appeared on the BBC, where she claimed that imposing a complete trophy hunting ban is likely to cause “more animals to die.”

The letter from Dickman and the others also argued against anti-trophy-hunting legislation, like the CECIL Act (Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large Animal Trophies Act) now in Congress, and claimed that banning imports of hunting trophies would undermine efforts to protect lions, elephants and other endangered animals.

What the letter’s authors did not disclose – but was soon exposed by another letter, this time from a British non-governmental organization – is that four of the five authors of that letter, including Dickman, Rosie Cooney, Dilys Roe and Maxi Pia Louis, had worked for organizations and projects that received funding from trophy hunting industry groups, including Dallas Safari Club, Safari Club International, Safari Club International Foundation, Russian Mountain Hunters’ Club, Wild Sheep Foundation, and NACSCO, a Namibian organization that supports trophy hunting initiatives.

Further, at least two of the signatories work for or advise Conservation Force, another trophy hunting group that has been working to weaken trophy import regulations and the Endangered Species Act in the United States.

Think about this for a moment: these are scientists affiliated with prestigious entities, like Oxford University and IUCN, who are publishing their scientific opinion in a prestigious journal without disclosing that they have ties to the industry that stands to benefit from the policy recommendations the scientists are advocating.

The editors of Science, in addition to making the authors of the original article declare their conflicts in writing in an addendum, immediately announced their policy on letters is now under revision to ensure that authors make readers aware of financial and advisory competing interests.

The magazine also published several more letters from other scientists and advocates who wrote in to refute the sham conservation claims made by the scientists supporting trophy hunting. We appreciate the magazine’s response and commitment to avoiding such a situation in the future by revising its policies.

There may also be good news forthcoming on the International Wildlife Conservation Council (IWCC), which we have been telling you about on this blog. This deceptively-named council created by the Trump administration is packed with trophy hunters and gun lobbyists who have successfully pushed our government to reverse several policies protecting endangered and threatened animals over the last three years. Last week, The Hill reported that the IWCC may soon be terminated, with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt telling members at a recent meeting that he “hasn’t yet decided” on the pathway forward for the committee. The pressure comes from a court challenge to the council, with its deep conflicts of interests, filed by the Humane Society of the United States and our partner groups.

Lawmakers in Congress are also stepping up the pressure against trophy hunting, and recently a bipartisan group of representatives, with the support of the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International and the Humane Society Legislative Fund, introduced a bill, the Prohibiting Threatened and Endangered Creature Trophies Act of 2019 (ProTECT) Act, to prevent the hunting of any species listed as endangered or threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The trophy hunting industry is increasingly being exposed for what it is, and contrary to what they would have us believe, it is not an industry that benefits African economies, nor an industry that helps conserve endangered wildlife. All it really is, is a group of wealthy people who want to treat the world as their playground and mow down beautiful animals for fun so they can put their heads and hides on display in their living rooms. It’s time this industry is stopped in its tracks, and the deception is ended for good, and we are excited to see the progress being made on this on so many fronts.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

Humane Society International, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative), Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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  1. sydney goddard says:

    These people lack the ability to stand on their own merits The killing of a large animal and to display the results on a wall or in photos is their way of saying look at me

  2. WA Taylor says:

    This article by Kitty Block misrepresents the facts around the letter in Science explaining how trophy hunting bans may imperil biodiversity. The policy of the journal Science did not require or allow authors to disclose any potential conflicts of interest in letters such as these, so it was not possible for them to do so. There was no intent on their part to hide very minor links to the hunting sector, so the authors were not ‘exposed’ by some plucky NGO as Block has written for dramatic effect. Block is equating the authors of the article to the tobacco lobbyists of the last century, which is completely inaccurate. The authors do not stand to benefit personally from trophy hunting but are legitimately concerned that banning trophy hunting outright will have negative consequences on some wild areas and the wildlife that live in them. They are justified in their concerns – if you remove the income that pays to conserve the space that wildlife needs, the wildlife will disappear.

  3. Anna says:

    How sad these scientists got bought. Fingers crossed the IWCC gets taken down.

    Conservation simply does not equal killing. Keep the pressure on. They must be stopped.

  4. Rosie Cooney says:

    This article is inaccurate and misleading. There was no attempt by any of us to conceal anything at any point. Please note the following:
    i. Our “links” are as follows: none of us receive any personal funding or other benefits from any hunting-related organisations. Three of us are affiliated with organisations that have received, respectively, approx. 2% and 1% of funding for activities from hunting-related organisations. Two authors are current/past Chairs of IUCN Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (IUCN SULi). IUCN SULi was a co-convenor (along with GIZ – the German development agency, Panthera, TRAFFIC, and a Tajik organisation) of one meeting in Central Asia, part of the funding of which came from organisations with a link to hunting, with other funding coming from non-hunting-related sources. Only one author was even present at that meeting. It has no effect on our current personal views on the conservation impacts of indiscriminate hunting bans. Another author, seven years ago, had donations to her conservation organisation for anti-poaching work, along with donations from tourism organisations. Given the vast bulk (99%) of her funding, plus all her personal funding, is from either anti-hunting or non-hunting sources this has no effect on her current views.
    ii. Science has always had a policy of not asking Letters authors to make a Competing Interests statement, so we were at no point asked to make one – had we been, we gladly would have.
    iii. After our letter was published, Science decided to revise its policy, and we were happy to comply, as Science itself has made clear in a statement (see below).

    Science was alerted to possible conflicts of interest (COI) among authors of the letter by Dickman et al. after the letter’s publication. This brought to the journal’s attention its need to align its letters COI policy with that of Science’s manuscript COI policy more broadly. Science’s request to the authors of the letter by Dickman et al. was our first effort to align our letters COI policy with that of Science’s manuscript COI policy for manuscripts. Science did not conduct an investigation into any of the authors’ potential conflicts. Rather, we asked the authors to declare their own potential conflicts and the Dickman et al. authors were happy to comply with our requests. The update to the letter is being included as an addendum, not a correction, as the goal is to provide additional information for potential readers. Science’s policy with regards to declaration of COIs pertains to the need for readers to be aware of associations that might influence an authors’ arguments. The declaration of a potential COI is not a confirmation of bias.

    • Blog Editor says:

      We did not say that the authors received the funds personally. In fact, we say that they “had worked for organizations and projects that received funding from trophy hunting industry groups”. Ms. Cooney seems to miss the point which is that scientists are expected to disclose conflicts of interest, whether requested to do so or not. It is not ethical or professional to withhold such information. The amount of funding received, or the percent of all funding received it comprises, do not matter. Scientists who accept even one penny from industry groups are ethically compromised. All scientists know this. To claim that, as scientists, they were unaware of having crossed this ethical and professional line and were not trying to hide their financial ties with the industry they were defending in their letter, simply does not pass the blush test.

  5. Sharon Thacker says:

    The killing of endangered species is horrible. The fact that they teach their children to murder these animals is unconsiounable. When you kill the best of a species THE best genes are destroyed. You therefore are not helping to save that animal. The money paid for canned and other hunts does not go to the locals. It goes the middle man to make a profit!!!!!

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