By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
It may be hard to believe that a group of celebrity and professional trophy hunters, a director of the National Rifle Association, and the president of the world’s largest trophy hunting group are advising our government on wildlife conservation. But that is exactly what the International Wildlife Conservation Council, a panel appointed by the Trump administration, is tasked with – a privilege they have exploited abundantly over the last two years to ensure that U.S. policy favors trophy hunters. This week, at the panel’s fifth meeting since it was created in 2017, it became clearer than ever that this group does not have the interests of animals – or the wishes of a majority of Americans – at heart.
Instead of spending their time considering the plethora of threats to African wildlife, which are driving many species to extinction, the members of the IWCC put on a pathetic display of ignorance, arrogance and manufactured “facts” to protect their own trophy hunting interests.
- They ranted and railed – unjustifiably – against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for not issuing as many import permits for trophies of endangered and threatened species as they would like.
- They criticized the Endangered Species Act, the bedrock U.S. law protecting at-risk wildlife, for getting in the way of trophy hunters importing their animal kills.
- They aggressively questioned USFWS representatives for their agency’s support for giving giraffes international protection at the recent Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting. One council member went so far as to accuse the United States of making this policy decision based on “emotion” not science.
- They repeated the tired old claim that trophy hunting acts as an incentive to local communities in Africa to protect wildlife while ignoring the well-documented corruption and mismanagement in the trophy hunting industry. In a recent example of such mismanagement, local community leaders in Zambia called for a halt to trophy hunting in the country because hunting revenues are not trickling down to their communities.
- They harped time and again that Americans trophy hunting in Africa is at the heart of American culture and pushed the notion that American trophy hunting is a silver bullet guaranteed to solve development challenges in Africa. Trophy hunting, in fact, has very little benefit for African countries compared to ecotourism: of the at least eight African countries that allow trophy hunting, foreign trophy hunters make up less than 0.1% of tourists on average and they contribute 0.78% or less of the $17 billion in overall tourism spending in the studied countries. Trophy hunting tourism employment is only 0.76% or less of average direct tourism employment in study countries. A paper released this year estimated that wildlife tourism not related to trophy hunting generates $48 billion in revenues and supports 26 million jobs in Africa.
The group also failed to once acknowledge what multiple hunting industry reports and polls have shown in recent years – that 63-78% of Americans (including those associated with hunting communities) believe that trophy hunting is not an acceptable reason to hunt.
The IWCC symbolizes how far the United States has strayed from its position as a leader in wildlife conservation. Its very existence is illegal, because federal laws prohibit the establishment of advisory councils stocked with members who have political and financial interests in the agency action they’re influencing. The fact that the IWCC is mostly made up of trophy hunters and that one of them is the president of Conservation Force, which has filed dozens of applications on behalf of its trophy hunting clients to import body parts of at-risk animals like elephants, black rhinos, lions and other imperiled species, makes it more of a trophy hunting trade association than a public policy panel.
The Humane Society of the United States and our partners are now engaged in a lawsuit challenging the legality of the IWCC. To our staff who attended this two-day meeting, it was abundantly clear that in addition to its other flaws, this panel is just a small group of elitist hunters clinging desperately to a colonial-American culture even as most Americans have moved on to a better appreciation of the risks wildlife face in our world today. They bring no value to the Department of the Interior’s understanding of wildlife conservation and should not be granted exclusive opportunity to influence our government through a special advisory panel just so they themselves can continue to hunt down -- for fun -- animals who are fast vanishing from earth.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.