By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
The New Yorker broke a story yesterday about the head of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, attempting to kill an endangered elephant in Botswana. The newly released footage exemplifies the blithe depravity of trophy hunting.
The video shows LaPierre’s botched attempt to kill an African elephant, then his struggling to follow a guide’s instructions for ending the animal’s pain. Multiple misplaced gunshots and the animal is still alive; over the course of nearly 10 minutes the elephant suffers an agonizingly slow and painful death.
The footage is hard to watch, and the New Yorker piece captures some appalling details about the events, including LaPierre’s wife cutting off the tail of the elephant she killed as a trophy. But this one repulsive hunt is part of a much larger problem.
The U.S. is the world’s largest importer of hunting trophies, including those from federally protected species. The U.S. imported more than 1.26 million trophies between 2005 and 2014. There were 7,066 elephant trophies traded internationally from 2009 to 2018; that’s 706 per year or almost two per day.
Botswana had a trophy hunting ban in place from 2014 until 2019 to halt catastrophic wildlife population declines and promote ecotourism. In May 2019, however, Botswana lifted its ban, and government sales of hunting opportunities to outfitters began shortly thereafter. We wrote to President Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi at the time, making the case that the decision was not only ecologically disastrous but would also not result in the kinds of benefits to Botswana that non-consumptive wildlife tourism could.
Stopping the death, suffering and ecosystem havoc of trophy hunting worldwide is a priority for the Humane Society family of organizations. We’re doing this through law and policy reform. In the U.S., we’re fighting our way back to the policies in place before 2017-2018, when the Department of Interior lifted existing bans on the import of elephant and lion trophies from certain African countries without soliciting independent scientific input.
We fought the decision to lift the bans, which made it virtually impossible to prevent American trophy hunters from fueling unsustainable and corrupt wildlife management practices abroad.
Now we’re urging the Biden Administration to halt the import of trophies from Endangered Species Act-listed species until a transparent permitting scheme is put in place. In a sign-on letter now circulating on Capitol Hill, Congressman Ted Lieu and other colleagues are asking the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee to prohibit the use of funds by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of International Affairs to issue sport-hunted trophy import permits of threatened or endangered species.
We’re also gearing up for reintroduction of the Prohibiting Threatened and Endangered Creature Trophies Act (ProTECT Act), which will help prevent the hunting of any species listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
The grotesque details of LaPierre’s elephant killing revealed by this footage should push the U.S. (and the broader world) to forge a better path to peaceful coexistence and stronger protections for threatened and endangered wildlife. We hope you’ll add your voice to our call for change.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.