WASHINGTON—A shocking undercover investigation released today by the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International exposed the hypocrisy that the trophy hunting industry uses to promote the killing of imperiled species. The Safari Club International convention in Nashville, Tennessee Feb. 22 through 25, hosted over 850 exhibitors from more than 140 countries peddling trophy hunts and products made from animal skins and claws. The event brought in about $6 million in revenue for SCI to further its lobbying efforts to roll back laws and regulations that protect vulnerable species from trophy hunting, including Endangered Species Act protections.
Trophy hunts were offered in at least 65 countries with the majority in South Africa, Canada, Namibia, Zimbabwe and New Zealand. Almost 100 outfitters offered elephant hunts, at least 115 offered leopard hunts, 98 offered lion and giraffe hunts, 89 offered hippo hunts, and 39 offered rhino hunts. On exhibitors’ websites, critically endangered animals, like the forest elephant and the black rhino, were also available to hunt, as well as captive animals such as scimitar oryx, a species classified as extinct in the wild and bred almost exclusively for trophy hunting.
The investigation revealed hunting trips sold from $2,500 to $143,000 with menus so hunters could “add-on” animals in addition to their primary targets. Most African carnivore hunts were advertised to include baiting—a practice that uses carcasses of other animals, like impala and zebras, or other items to lure the target species, which violates fair chase ethics and causes conservation issues by drawing out animals from protected areas into hunting zones.
Among the most revealing investigation findings is a recorded conversation with an exhibitor who encouraged the investigator to schedule a white rhino hunt before it is too late as the species is on the brink of extinction. They stated: “The one that’s gonna be closed down the soonest to import to the United States because of the numbers going down is the rhino… and if you want something Africa[n], you have to get the rhino as soon as possible.”
Outfitters were also vocal about “bending the rules” and broke policies to make a sale. One vendor violated the convention’s own policy against promoting captive lion hunts—a cruel, senseless practice condemned by the South African and U.S. governments and many others. He told the investigator, “You can hunt...captive bred lions in South Africa, cause this way you’re not impacting the wild lions...but they...catch their own animals; they’re as wild as can be.” Another told the HSUS/HSI investigator, “...we’ve got hunters that really can’t walk at all…we do bend our own rules a little and we shoot them from the truck...we don’t have a problem with it.” Hunting from a vehicle is illegal in many places because it violates fair chase ethics and invites numerous safety hazards.
Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said: “Despite the public’s growing disdain for trophy hunting, Safari Club International’s convention celebrates the senseless killing of animals, putting their deaths up for sale around the world, all to be turned into nothing more than trinkets and stuffed trophies. Make no mistake: This is an industry that threatens our most imperiled and ecologically important wildlife. As one of the world’s largest consumers of hunting trophies of imperiled species, the United States government has the responsibility to end hunting trophy imports.”
Jeff Flocken, president of Humane Society International, said: “Iconic species like elephants, rhinos and leopards play critical roles in their respective ecosystems, with many other species dependent on the delicate balance they provide. Sadly, these same animals are also highly coveted by trophy hunters. And as they often target the largest individuals of a species, they weaken the gene pool and can even cause collapses of small populations. In the midst of this biodiversity crisis in which over one million species face extinction, the global community must strive to protect wild animals by eschewing cruel practices like trophy hunting.”
Hundreds of luxury items were offered at the convention and for custom order including elephant skin luggage sets ranging from $10,000 to $18,000 and jewelry made from leopard claws. Both African elephants and leopards are listed under the Endangered Species Act. Exhibitors also offered lynx coats for $14,000 and purses made from zebra for $2,350. Multiple vendors displayed or offered for sale items made from imperiled species in potential violation of state law. At one booth, for example, a taxidermy company advertised its services by displaying horns from an endangered black rhino. Tennessee state law prohibits the commercial use of federally endangered species.
Among the hunting trips up for auction were a lion, leopard and plains game hunt in Zambia valued at $143,000; a hunt for a brown/grizzly bear, Dall sheep, moose, black bear and caribou in Alaska valued at $100,000; a white rhino hunt in South Africa valued at $100,000; a canned hunt for a bongo antelope in Texas valued at $41,870; and a polar bear hunt that sold for $100,000.
“Trophy hunting is an archaic and abhorrent practice that we must no longer tolerate,” said Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund. “It is unthinkable that endangered and threatened species are killed just to have their parts put out on display. Congress has been urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to look into its trophy import program for years and this convention is another reminder that the Biden administration must take a hard look at trophies coming into the U.S. so that species are not further pushed to the brink of extinction. We must continue to fight to end this egregious display of blatant disregard for the future of these imperiled species.”