Massachusetts has just banned cruel wildlife killing contests, becoming the fifth state, after Vermont, California, New Mexico and Arizona, to take a firm stance against these gruesome events in which participants compete to win cash and prizes for killing the most or heaviest animals.
The Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board’s 6-1 vote on the ban, proposed by the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife), is historic because it covers coyotes, foxes, bobcats and other species; it goes even further than the bans in other states by requiring prompt reporting of regulated coyote and fox hunting. This is a big step forward in how states manage these two species so often disregarded by wildlife agencies.
This is a great victory for Massachusetts’ citizens who have repeatedly stood up for animals in the past, by voting for a ban on bear baiting and the use of cruel body-gripping traps and snares, and, more recently, on a landmark prohibition on the extreme confinement of farm animals. In addition, lawmakers in the commonwealth are now considering measures to ban the use of wild animals in traveling exhibits and circuses, to end the intrastate trafficking in ivory and rhino horns, and to enter the state into an interstate compact to enforce wildlife poaching violations.
MassWildlife said today that the ban on killing contests “addresses public concerns that these hunting contests are unethical, contribute to the waste of animals, and incentivize indiscriminate killing of wildlife,” and that “public controversy over this issue has the potential to threaten predator hunting and undermine public support for hunting in general.”
We have seen similar thoughts being voiced by other state wildlife agencies that have banned killing contests, including in Arizona and Vermont. Professional wildlife stewardship organizations like The Wildlife Society have also spoken out against the random killing of wild carnivores in killing contests.
The growing public sentiment against such contests has also been reflected in studies, most notably when researchers at the Ohio State University revisited a 1978 study on American attitudes toward eight historically stigmatized or feared wildlife species such as bats, sharks, vultures, wolves and coyotes. They found that in the ensuing three decades, American attitudes improved significantly toward wild canines—by 42% for wolves and 47% for coyotes. Another 50-state study released earlier this year showed Americans increasingly believe that humans and wildlife are meant to co-exist and live in harmony.
The HSUS has been at the frontlines of the fight to end wildlife contests. We’ve conducted undercover investigations of these contests in New York and New Jersey, and in Oregon, and footage shot by our undercover investigators captures the casual indifference participants at these contests show for the suffering and death of animals. The contests also desensitize children — who are often encouraged to participate in the killing — to animal cruelty. We’ve also joined with Project Coyote to form the National Coalition to End Wildlife Killing Contests, which now has more than 30 state, regional and national wildlife protection organizations.
We applaud the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board for its decision today, and we hope to see other states follow suit in protecting their animals from cruel, gratuitous and unnecessary killing. We are also grateful to our coalition partners, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Project Coyote and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, for their tremendous efforts to get this ban over the finish line. Our goal at the HSUS is to see wildlife killing contests eradicated once and for all. If your state has such contests and you want to learn how to effectively advocate to end them, you can download our toolkit here.