CITES must close the loophole which allows trophy hunters to shoot the world’s most endangered animals for ‘sport’.
Trophy hunting is often written about as something horrid that is perpetuated by a few aberrant individuals.
But this doesn’t explain how it survived the international furore that followed the killing of Cecil the lion. Nor does it explain how trophy hunters are allowed to shoot thousands of protected animals every year, including some of the world’s most threatened species.
In the past decade, as many as 1.7 million animals have been killed for selfies and souvenirs. Some 6,000 cubs are bred every year in lion ‘factory farms’ for canned hunting, where semi-tame animals are shot in enclosures.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), states that trade in Appendix I species – the most vulnerable – can “only be authorized in exceptional circumstances”.
However trophy hunters are largely exempted from this. British and European hunters are among those shooting leopards and cheetahs. Both are CITES Appendix I species. Thanks to CITES, trophy hunters are getting away with murder.
Lions, elephants and other animals are shot in huge numbers not just because the law lets them, but because the industry actively encourages it. Safari Club International (SCI), the largest industry group, offers 80 different awards for hunters who shoot the most animals.
To earn the “African 29 Grand Slam”, you have to shoot 29 different species from a list. There are prizes for hunters who have shot more than 100 animals, and statues for hunters who’ve shot animals on all 6 continents. Some individual hunters have shot thousands of animals.
Tony Sanchez-Arino is a Spanish trophy hunter who has single-handedly killed more than 1,300 elephants, 340 lions, and hundreds of rhinos and leopards.
In the face of overwhelmingly hostile public opinion, the industry is rebranding itself – as a conservation movement. The NRA, the gun rights group, now calls itself a conservation organisation, as does SCI.
Moreover in recent years, a number of conservation ‘front’ groups have emerged with names such as Conservation Force, Conservation Visions, Conservation Frontlines, and more.
Worryingly, global wildlife bodies appear to have fallen for it. IUCN – the international body which produces the Red List of threatened species – has one of the world’s top lion trophy hunters on its lions ‘experts’ committee. He has no scientific qualifications or relevant experience. He is, however, a former President of SCI and now heads up ‘Conservation Force’.
‘Real’ conservationists have been fighting to get lions listed as ‘Endangered’ on IUCN’s Red List. Lion numbers have crashed from 500,000 in the 1950s to 20,000 today. Yet they remain in the lesser category of ‘Vulnerable’.
SCI raised $1.3 million for a lobbying campaign to stop lions being ‘uplisted’. Conservation Force openly celebrates the fact that it helped. Not only does Conservation Force have several of its directors sitting on (and in some cases chairing) key IUCN committees, it has also been granted official status within CITES. The trophy hunting industry is literally putting the ‘con’ into conservation.
The industry is supported by some of the most powerful men on earth. One of SCI’s leading donors is a top fundraiser for Donald Trump who broke the world record for the largest-ever lion shot by a trophy hunter. A former right-hand man to Russian President Vladimir Putin keeps trophies of over 250 different species in his house 60 km outside Moscow.
Sanchez-Arino is a close friend of former Spanish king Juan Carlos, himself a prolific trophy hunter. The head of an Indonesian paramilitary death-squad has served as a ‘master measurer’ of trophies for SCI’s Records Book.
SCI receives funding from oil companies, banking institutions, leading drinks brands, and of course gun-makers. There are some surprising names among the donors, though, among them the Boy Scouts Association of America which also has a partnership with SCI to teach children about trophy hunting.
The industry auctions off trophy hunts at its huge annual conventions. Among the animals recently sold off are polar bears and wallabies.
SCI ploughed $1.2 million in campaign contributions to help elect pro-hunting politicians between 2016-2018. Among the benefactors were Donald Trump’s first Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, US Secretary State Mike Pompeo, Senate leader Mitch McDonnell and the House Speaker.
Zinke’s replacement, David Bernhardt, is an avid hunter who spoke at the annual convention of Dallas Safari Club last year. He is currently opening up 2 million acres of public land to hunters, including 100 wildlife refuges.
More than half of America’s state governors are members of the Congressional Sportsman’s Foundation – set up by Conservation Force’s chairman – which wants states to allow young children to go hunting. In Texas, there are now ranches where American hunters can shoot giraffes and zebras without having to get on a plane to Africa. Children are welcome.
Polls show that more than 80 percent of UK voters are opposed to trophy hunting and want a comprehensive ban on trophy imports. They also want a ban to apply to all animals, not just those classed as endangered.
Pledges to ban hunting trophies were included in the manifestoes of all the main political parties at the last election. A ban was promised in the Queens Speech and by Boris Johnson himself, both in Parliament and on social media. However the industry is currently fighting a rear-guard action behind the scenes, and is believed to have the ear of sympathetic civil servants loath to changing the status quo.
But a UK import ban can only be the start. Trophy hunting is a multi-million dollar global industry. There needs to be concerted international action to do away with this archaic and cruel bloodsport. Shockingly, last year’s CITES conference voted to allow trophy hunters to shoot twice as many critically endangered black rhinos as before.
CITES must close the loophole which allows trophy hunters shoot the world’s most endangered animals for ‘sport’. IUCN should stop allowing hunting industry lobbyists to influence its work. And the international community must act to abolish what is arguably the most senseless and abhorrent of all bloodsports for good.
Eduardo Gonçalves is the founder of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting.