Trophy Hunter Controversy

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The Safari Club International, a large trophy hunting organization, holds an annual auction that gives international hunters a chance to hunt over 600 animals in over 32 countries. This auction on average raises about $2.7 million dollars through entry fees and donations, and while it is claimed by organizations such as the Safari club that the money from large trophy hunts like the Safari Club International’s goes to the conservation of natural habitats and the aiding of impoverished communities near the events, the hunts cause much more destruction than it is implied by supporters of trophy hunting.

Although many argue that trophy hunting benefits conservation, it actually aids in the extinction of many species, such as the African Lions and African Elephants, who are estimated to be facing extinction within the next fifty years (http://www.idausa.org/campaigns/wild-free2/habitats-campaign/anti-hunting/hunters/trophy-hunting/). Although some of these endangered animals are protected against trophy hunts, many hunters enthralled by the thrill of chasing rare and forbidden animals still go after them. Last summer a member of the Safari Club International, Walter Palmer, decided to target a protected lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe. Cecil’s death sparked a reaction among animal activists and anti-trophy hunters alike: hundreds of protesters lined up outside of Palmer’s workplace and attacked the offender online. The fame Cecil’s death received from social media brought to light the horrors of trophy hunting for many who had previously been ignorant about its evils. Corruption in the trophy hunting community like that of Mr. Palmer, in his claiming that he had purchased a “valid permit” to hunt Cecil’s breed in Africa, infects the sport of trophy hunting, taking it past the flimsy, ludicrous guidelines that encircle it.

The Endangered Species Act only allows the importation of endangered species for scientific research, but many trophy hunters are able to find loopholes in this and other laws. They are able to smuggle endangered species that they have previously hunted over the border by claiming that the specimens are to be used for scientific research. Many prevalent trophy hunters are able to pay off organizations that might interfere with the importation of their kills, to keep them from enforcing important laws. In 1997, millionaire and ex-president of the Safari Club International, Kenneth Behring, after his term as president, paid off the government of Kzakhstan so that he could kill an endangered species of sheep, the Kara Tau Argali sheep, of which there are only 100 left in the world. He “donated” 100 million dollars to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in order to use the museum’s permit in order to import the animal. There are many other cases of these very wealthy, very influential trophy hunters using their power in order to shift the rules for their benefit. These hunters argue that instead of trophy hunting hurting the ecosystem, it actually promotes conservation.

Trophy hunters argue that instead of endangering many species of animals, their hunts protect the animals from possible predators who might lessen their numbers. By being able to pick and choose specific species to hunt, hunters are able to lower the amount of predators that could inflict harm on endangered species. If a certain species’ numbers are growing rapidly, trophy hunts would “restore balance to an ecosystem” (or so the hunters claim) by keeping their numbers in check. There is also an argument for trophy hunting not only benefitting the conservation of animals, but also the communities around where the hunts take place. Many of said hunts take place in rural, impoverished parts of Africa, Asia, and South America. The publicity that accompanies the hunts brings revenue to these areas, helping their local economies. The negative impacts of trophy hunts, however, deeply outweigh the benefits.

A bit of background information on trophy hunting: hunting did not switch from necessity to sport until the latter half of the 1800s. Hunting in America used to be mainly for industry; there was a prominent market for animal products. Some viewed the new urbanized life in cities as stripping men of their manhood; city life was perceived to be making them too “civilized and domesticated.” These men, looking for way to reinstate their manhood, turned to trophy hunting, which in turn “served as symbolic proof of one’s ‘hardness.’” This form of self-assurance turned into hunting animals for sport instead of necessity. Hunters often judged one another’s manhood based on the rarity of their kill, degrading hunters who hunted for food instead of sport. As Theodore Roosevelt, the original “wild man,” once put it, “Nothing adds more to a hall or a room than fine antlers when their owner has been shot by the hunter-displayer, but always there is an element of the absurd in a room furnished with trophies of the chase that the displayer has acquired by purchase.”

The “Holy Grail” in the SCI is the record book keeping dates, times, and locations of the various animals that members have slaughtered over the years. This book is a three-volume record with thousands of pages listing the many animals that have been hunted. There are 1,100 species listed in the book, many of which have become extinct because of rampant trophy hunting. The book lists awards given to hunters who came home with the biggest tusks, horns, skulls, and bodies. Last year the Dallas Safari Club auctioned off a permit to hunt a black rhino, and argued against leading conservationists that “lawful, ethical, vigilant hunters play an important role in public acceptance of sustainable hunting as a vital tool for modern wildlife conservation and management” (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/02/160202-safari-club-international-auction-dallas-safari-club-big-game-hunts/). The Dallas Safari Club made the argument that trophy hunting is in fact beneficial in many animal communities: “By removing counterproductive individuals from a herd, [populations] can actually grow” (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3180201/Trump-defends-big-game-hunting-sons-shamed-Twitter-posing-trophy-kills-including-leopard-elephant-death-Cecil-lion.html#ixzz42zaN1T8t http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/02/160202-safari-club-international-auction-dallas-safari-club-big-game-hunts/). Trophy hunters make it seem like they only hunt for the survival of certain species, but much of trophy hunting revolves around hunting rare, endangered animals to win prizes and prize money from their trophy hunting clubs. The Safari Club International claims that they are participating in a long “fight” with the government to secure more land for hunting. They claim, “We are influencing policy with our own dedicated team of lawyers, funding vital wildlife research, securing more public land for hunting and fighting for the way of life we all cherish” (https://www.safariclub.org/join-and-participate). The Club invests over $300 million dollars to their cause each year, claiming that their money goes to “conservation,” but is this “conservation” benefitting the hunters or the animals? Their main goal is to keep their existing land open for trophy hunting, while expanding their horizons in different countries.

In connection to the politics of today, republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has been quoted advocating for his two sons’ big game hunting habits. He has said, “My sons love to hunt. They are members of the NRA, very proudly. I am a big believer in the Second Amendment,” and, “I AM A HUNTER I don't hide from that” (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3180201/Trump-defends-big-game-hunting-sons-shamed-Twitter-posing-trophy-kills-including-leopard-elephant-death-Cecil-lion.html). His two sons have been photographed next to many species of big game such as crocodiles, leopards, buffalo, waterbuck, African lion, and many more. Donald Trump has been questioned many times about his sons’ hunting activities, and he doesn’t seem quite as perturbed by his sons’ disturbing hobby as much of America has proved to be. The pricing for his son’s hunting trips, or “trophy fees”, in which the hunters are given prize money for their type of kill, averages around $2,000 per animal. Donald Trump’s sons have associated, and even hunted with Walter Palmer, the man who killed Cecil the Lion in Africa. This involvement with a controversial figurehead in the world of trophy hunting and Donald Trump’s support for his sons’ activities gives animal activists a reason to oppose Trump, ruining his chances of gaining their support in his presidential campaign. Trophy hunters have killed over 1.2 million animals, including many endangered species, in the United States in the last fifteen years alone (http://www.nbcbayarea.com/investigations/US-Hunters-Trophy-Hunting-Endangered-Threatened-Animals-347267462.html). Their claims of conservation have been proven false again and again. If these trophy hunts are inspiring so much positive environmental change, why are they causing so many species to go extinct?

 

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