Concerns over trophy hunting mount as pro-killing lobbyists go on charm
Tracy Keeling, The Canary
November 22, 2021
A number of concerns related to trophy hunting have come to the fore
recently. South Africa has faced criticism for releasing killing quotas
that lack scientific evidence to back them up. At the same time, the US
authorities have come under fire for failing to take action against the
trade, and the UK is dragging its feet over proposed legislation to limit
Pro-killing lobbyists, meanwhile, are on the charm offensive.
Opaque Killing Quotas
As the Daily Maverick‘s Don Pinnock recently reported, environmentalists
have criticised officials in South Africa over hunting plans. In October,
the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment announced its
draft hunting and export quota for elephants, black rhinos and leopards. It
gave the public a 30-day window to object to the plans. But it apparently
offered no meaningful evidence regarding the scientific basis for the
proposed killings. Such evidence would speak to the impact of the killings
on the species’ populations. This is important as, according to
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), black rhinos are
critically endangered, elephants are endangered, and leopards are
The EMS Foundation called the process “procedurally unfair”, saying that
the quota “contains no information in relation to how [it’s] been
determined”. As such, the organisation argued that the draft plan offers no
information “whatsoever to enable the public to meaningfully comment” on it.
The draft plan would potentially see 150 elephants, 10 leopards, and 10
black rhinos killed by trophy hunters. It comes after the same department
recommended a “new deal” for wildlife in South Africa earlier in 2021. That
deal promised to close the country’s captive lion industry, among other
Leopard Legal Action
Relatedly, the import of dead African leopard ‘trophies’ to the US is the
focus of a recently launched legal action in the country. The Center for
Biological Diversity (CBD), Humane Society International, and the Humane
Society of the United States are behind the action. They are suing the US
Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for not imposing stricter conditions on
hunters bringing leopards’ body parts into the country, in light of the
species’ precarious position.
The groups say that the US accounted for over half of the global trade in
leopard ‘trophies’ between 2014 and 2018. So they want the USFWS to use the
Endangered Species Act to provide further protections for the species. The
CBD’s international legal director Tanya Sanerib explained:
The Endangered Species Act’s full protections could ensure that the
gruesome trophy trade doesn’t drive leopard decline. To defeat the
extinction crisis, we need to use every weapon in our arsenal. But after
trophy hunting was identified as a threat to African leopards, U.S.
wildlife officials sat on their hands. The failure to help conserve these
iconic cats is unacceptable.
Meanwhile, pro-trophy hunting lobbyists have recently taken action to
pressure the US government. In defiance of voters’ wishes, Joe Biden’s
predecessor Donald Trump opened up vast tracts of wildlife refuges to
hunting and fishing. Now the hunting advocacy organisation Safari Club
International (SCI) has launched a ‘no net loss’ campaign. It effectively
demands that Biden commit to at least maintaining the levels of access to
lands that hunters currently have.
The SCI Foundation, an arm of SCI, recently held its annual African
Wildlife Consultative Forum in Botswana. At this event, hunting advocates
liaise with governmental wildlife officials from African countries, amongst
others. The journalist and author Adam Cruise has previously described the
forum as “SCI persuading African governments… to adopt policies
incorporating the conservation ‘benefits’ of trophy hunting”.
SCI has revealed that USFWS official Mary Cogliano attended the latest
forum virtually. She confirmed that the department is processing a backlog
of hundreds of import permit requests from US hunters for killing abroad.
They include 126 applications for lions and 323 for elephants.
The IUCN classifies lions as vulnerable. Conservationists have raised
concerns that this listing, however, doesn’t reflect the dire situation for
lion populations. LionAid has calculated that there are potentially less
than 10,000 wild lions left in Lion Conservation Units across Africa.
Pro-trophy hunting lobbyists claim that the practice is a form of
conservation. Proponents argue that revenue from hunting benefits
communities co-existing with wild animals and increases tolerance. However,
some surveys and studies suggest funds don’t ‘trickle down’ to communities
to any meaningful extent.
Overall, the pro-argument revolves around the doctrine that people will
only conserve other animals if the latter are of ‘use’. But SCI’s own
actions provide an illustration of how these concepts fail to stack up.
Trump removed protections for wolves in 2020, which allowed trophy hunters
to target them. SCI celebrated this as a major win. But in 2021, SCI
lobbied against hunting fees going towards the reintroduction of wolves in
Colorado. It argued that hunters should not “foot the bill for the high
cost of premature wolf introduction”. Wolves in the US only occupy around
15% of their historic range.
A Startling Story
There are deep concerns about the damage trophy hunting can and is doing to
communities of wild animals, and the impact it’s having on their potential
for long-term survival. As Pinnock pointed out, the numbers themselves tell
“a startling story”. He highlighted that in South Africa alone between 2016
190,468 wild creatures were “bagged” as trophies — that’s 171,748 wild
mammals, 15,233 birds, 742 reptiles and 2,745 non-indigenous animals. It
works out to 130 kills a day.
Numbers for the killing of threatened species – i.e. those at risk of
disappearing – tell a similar story. In the book Trophy Leaks: Top Hunters
& Industry Secrets Revealed, Eduardo Gonçalves asserted that:
In 2018, the most recent year for which full data is available, trophy
hunters from 77 countries shot 35,000 animals from more than 150 threatened
species. This equates to 100 supposedly protected animals every day.
The wolf massacres in the US, meanwhile, paint a particularly excessive
picture. Earlier this year Wisconsin set a quota for hunters of 119 wolves
over a week-long period. They killed 216 wolves in just 60 hours.
The scale of killing amid an extinction crisis has led to countries
considering or implementing bans on the import of body parts attained
through hunting. The UK is currently considering imposing such a ban. But,
as it’s done in the past, the government is dragging its feet on the issue.
Wildlife campaigner Dominic Dyer says that lobbying by trophy hunting
proponents is likely responsible for the ban’s delay.