The conservation group Conservation Force is funded by hunting interests and has gained access to CITES meetings, sat on key IUCN committees, and influenced a number of major decisions affecting threatened wildlife.
Lawyers acting for Conservation Force have successfully challenged a ban on elephant trophy imports from southern African countries, and helped defeat an international proposal against lion hunting.
The group is currently opposing moves to protect endangered giraffes. It has previously lobbied for polar bear trophies to be allowed, and defends the continued hunting of leopards and a rare species of zebra.
In the wake of the killing of Cecil the lion, Conservation Force sued Delta Airways for refusing to carry hunting trophies. It also sued the state of New Jersey for refusing to allow hunting trophies to come in through its ports.
Conservation Force is led by John Jackson, a former President of Safari Club International - the world’s biggest hunting lobby group - who has himself been on dozens of ‘big game’ hunts.
The Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting has unearthed interviews in which Jackson says killing elephants is “the most intimate, real relationship one can have with elephant. Nothing else in life is more satisfying than an elephant hunt”.
Jackson has also described shooting lions: “I can plainly see the African lion that has leaped into the air the moment its head snaps backward and explodes with smoke from my bullet.”
Eduardo Gonçalves, founder of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, said: “Hunting lobbyists are presenting themselves as conservationists. It is part of a concerted effort by the industry to peddle the lie that shooting animals for ‘sport’ is ‘conservation’.
“Conservation Force lobbies and litigates to block, strip and reduce protections for animals that hunters like to shoot. It has filed over a dozen legal challenges to conservation laws, and is demanding that the status of vulnerable wildlife be downgraded to make it easier for hunters to kill them and bring the trophies home.
“It wants to deregulate conservation and liberalise laws that protect wildlife. It wants the number of animals that can be hunted, and the places they can be hunted, to increase. To do this it promotes the supposed ‘conservation benefits’ of trophy hunting of lions, leopards, zebras, and rhinos.
“Conservation Force’s board includes leading trophy hunters. Their sponsors are firms connected with the trophy hunting industry. Their donors include hunting groups whose interests Conservation Force has promoted at CITES meetings.
“The group’s leader, John Jackson, has been on dozens of big game hunts, shot multiple elephants, and has a personal trophy room filled with stuffed zebras, giraffes, bears, and cougars."
Gonçalves continued: “He has travelled the world giving talks to pro-hunting audiences on how to build ‘public acceptance’ for ‘sustainable use of wildlife’.
“Conservation Force’s agenda has nothing to do with conservation. In the era of supposed ‘fake news’, Conservation Force is the ultimate Orwellian misnomer. It’s mission is to defend hunters’ so-called “rights”.
“Institutions and individuals who have succumbed to its charms need to wake up. There are serious questions to be answered by CITES and IUCN about how trophy hunting interests have been allowed to work their way into the heart of decision-making processes affecting vulnerable wildlife. Organisations like Conservation Force should be barred, not feted.
“We’re facing a global extinction emergency with up to a million species under threat. They include some of the hunting world’s favourite targets. Thanks to the industry’s lobbying efforts – and the naivety of officials at CITES and IUCN - a cruel colonial pastime has successfully persisted to the present day and is compounding the crisis facing endangered animals.
“If trophy hunters really are interested in conservation, they should forfeit the huge amounts of money they pay to go on luxury hunting Safaris to kill animals for entertainment and instead donate that money directly to genuine conservation work”.
The Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting has published figures showing that CITES has permitted international trade in trophies of tigers, black rhinos and animals that have gone extinct in the wild such as the scimitar-horned oryx and the Arabian oryx, which was wiped out by hunters in 1972. British trophy hunters are among those who have shot these endangered animals for trophies.
It is prohibited under CITES to trade ‘Appendix I’ listed species unless there are exceptional circumstances. However these restrictions do not apply to trophy hunters as trophy hunting is considered by CITES to be a non-commercial ‘sport’ and is therefore exempted.
There has been a surge in popularity in trophy hunting of some critically endangered species. Records of black rhino hunting trophies show 11 were taken in the 1980s, two in the 1990s, 26 in the 2000s, and 81 from 2010 to 2017.
Black rhino trophies included feet, bodies, skins and genitalia, as well as horns. British trophy hunters were among those to have hunted black rhino.
Despite tigers' status as one of the most endangered mammals on earth, CITES records show tiger trophies being traded with CITES’ permission as recently as 2016. At least two of the tigers shot for sport had been bred in captivity in South Africa.
The IUCN responded in a statement: "Trophy hunting is badly run in some sites by some unscrupulous individuals and has caused problems, and this poor practice requires urgent action and reform, but trying to ‘demonise’ hunting diverts much needed attention from real conservation problems."
"Conservation Force has not 'worked its way into the heart of decision-making processes' in IUCN. Conservation Force is one of more than 1,000 IUCN members and does not have disproportionately any more influence than other organisations - a number of prominent animal welfare organisations are also members of IUCN."
A spokesperson for Conservation Force provided the following statement: "Most of this article is a shotgun attack against Conservation Force. Of course, the force is a conservation organisation. It is a registered public charitable foundation with published wildlife, habitat and associated rural community missions and purposes.
"The second negative insinuation is that Conservation Force is somehow not up front about it’s connection with hunting. To the contrary, we are proud hunters and broadcast the fact. Regulated hunting is the force for conservation underlying the name Conservation Force."
This article is based on a press release from the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting.