World’s wildlife watchdogs accused of allowing trophy hunting giant into ‘the heart of decision-making’ for decades

A trophy hunter surveys his hunting ground, alongside the logos for IUCN and CITES
Tracy Keeling

The world’s key wildlife watchdogs stand accused of allowing a trophy hunting giant into “the heart” of their decision-making for decades. According to an explosive report, a major trophy hunting advocacy group – euphemistically called Conservation Force (CF) – has ‘worked its way’ into a position of influence in both the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The global community entrusts these bodies with setting standards that safeguard the natural world.

‘Conservation’ Force

As the report’s author, the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting (CBTH), points out, CF is the brainchild of John J. Jackson III. An ex-president of the large hunting lobby group Safari Club International, Jackson has hunted many times himself. His position on the value of hunting is summed up in the following statement:

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Nothing has been so consistently fulfilling to me as my hunting. It has stirred an insatiable appetite for more. Without it I would somehow be incomplete.

His comments on killing lions also make it apparent:

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.

This is the man CITES and IUCN deem suitable to contribute to their efforts to preserve wildlife.

Inside CITES and IUCN

US-based CF brands itself as “A Force for Wildlife Conservation”. As such, it has secured membership of the IUCN and official observer status at CITES. It also has consultative status at the UN. CBTH says CF or linked individuals have been involved with IUCN for 15 years and CITES for around 20.

CF’s website bio for Jackson highlights these connections. It also boasts about the numerous ‘achievements’ he has “spearheaded” for the hunting industry. These include:

Filed and won the Elephant Trophy import permit lawsuit that re-opened hunting imports from RSA [South Africa], Namibia, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Cameroon. (1992) …

Lead the defeat of the Germany proposal that would have listed all Urial on Appendix I of CITES

Lead the defeat of the Kenya proposal to list all African Lion on Appendix 1 of CITES.

Successfully spearheaded the downlisting of the Canadian Wood Bison from endangered.

Appendix I of CITES “lists species that are the most endangered”.

CF also claims Jackson “drafted and spearheaded” a revision of a CITES resolution (2.11) to specify that a ‘non-detriment finding’, i.e. a finding that a trophy hunting export isn’t detrimental to a species’ survival, “did not require proof of enhancement for trade”. CBTH says in its report:

This effectively means that there is no longer a requirement to demonstrate how hunting a protected animal benefits its conservation.

CF is currently opposing efforts in the US to list giraffes as endangered. Such a listing would inhibit the species’ import as trophies into the country by hunters.

True to form

That CF sees these as ‘achievements’ isn’t surprising. The group’s list of directors and advisers is stacked with hunters. And prior to setting up CF, Jackson ran a law firm that regularly represented hunting groups. CBTH says its client list included Safari Club International, the International Professional Hunters Association (IPHA) and the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa, among others.

Indeed, a number of hunting advocates have showered CF and Jackson with glowing reports through the years. In 1996, for example, the Hunting Report‘s editor Don Causey claimed:

Without Jackson’s efforts, most observers agree, elephant hunting by Americans would be a thing of the past.

The Professional Hunters Association of South Africa also said:

Conservation Force, in the person of John Jackson, represents PHASA’s interests at CITES and other forums of importance to our industry. (T)here is no doubt that his continued efforts play a large role in protecting our rights and interests and hence the financial support given to Conservation Force.

Meanwhile, fellow hunter and CF director, now deceased, Bert Klineburger commented:

John Jackson and the Conservation Force is the most important thing we hunters have going for us.

CF should be barred, not feted

But CBTH argues that there’s a clear conflict in allowing a group so apparently dedicated to the preservation of hunting to influence decision-making about the welfare of wildlife species. CBTH’s founder Eduardo Gonçalves says:

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… Their sponsors are firms connected with the trophy hunting industry. Their donors include hunting groups whose interests Conservation Force has promoted at CITES meetings…

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.

Nothing to see here

The Canary approached CITES and IUCN for comment. CITES said:

CITES is an international agreement (administered by the United Nations following its rules and procedures) with 183 Parties, namely 182 States + the European Union. Decisions in CITES are made by the Parties (Governments signatories) to CITES, and not by observers.

It also said that “any body or agency technically qualified in protection, conservation or management of wild fauna and flora” can potentially attend its conference and standing committee as an observer. It also directed The Canary to its rules on observers, which clarify that they have “have the right to participate but not to vote”.

But what CITES didn’t explicitly point out to The Canary is that, as its rules dictate, observers with “expertise on the matter” get onto working groups formed by the conference and committees. They establish these working groups “to enable them to carry out their functions”. One key function parties to the conference do is make decisions, and vote.

That’s why people like Jackson brag about being in these working groups, because they inform decision-making.

CITES also referred to its resolution on the issue, which states:

well-managed and sustainable trophy hunting is consistent with and contributes to species conservation, as it provides both livelihood opportunities for rural communities and incentives for habitat conservation, and generates benefits which can be invested for conservation purposes

Only members make decisions

Dilys Roe, chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group, responded to The Canary‘s specific questions in detail. Roe is also a member of the UK government’s Darwin Expert Committee, among other roles.

Roe said that CF does not advise IUCN on conservation. She clarified that:

IUCN policy is based on decisions made at its World Conservation Congresses by IUCN Members

As IUCN’s own website details, however, CF is one of its members. In fact, Roe confirmed that in a further response. She also claimed that:

conservation is concerned with the preservation of entire species, whereas animal welfare groups including anti-hunting groups are concerned with the preservation of each individual animal.

This is untrue. Numerous animal welfare groups show themselves to be concerned with “preservation of entire species”.

Diversity is healthy

Roe then explained her view on conservation further:

Conservation entails active management of wildlife populations, including culling of individuals if that is for the good of the population or species as a whole. Well-regulated hunting has been shown to be an effective tool for conservation and to deliver benefits for indigenous and local communities living with wildlife.

Questioned about an IUCN report that contradicts this position, Roe said that, although IUCN published the report in question, “it is not authored by IUCN nor does it reflect IUCN policy”.

Roe also argued that individuals linked to CF have “many years of on-the-ground conservation experience covering a range of different geographic regions, contexts and species”, so make a “valuable contribution to IUCN’s conservation efforts”. Asked about IUCN’s effectiveness and trustworthiness in light of CF’s involvement, she said:

IUCN is a recognised global scientific authority on the status of threatened species and the threats to them. Is it not healthy to have a diversity of groups included in its membership so that it doesn’t just use one-sided information? Membership by groups like Conservation Force is balanced by membership by groups such as IFAW [International Fund for Animal Welfare] and Born Free. IUCN encourages and welcomes healthy debate and questioning but it also relies on scientific evidence, and on sound principles of conservation management, not on campaign rhetoric.

However, if the UK government announced a plan to make Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka Tommy Robinson, a member of a body dedicated to racial cohesion in Britain, it would face outrage and ridicule. Because another widespread belief is that you don’t find solutions by relying on those who bear responsibility for the problem.

Crunch time

Roe did clarify that “IUCN does not claim that trophy hunting is sustainable overall”. She reiterated her point about “legal, well regulated trophy hunting programmes” being beneficial to wildlife and communities, and pointed The Canary to an IUCN briefing paper on the subject, before saying:

Like all programmes that bring conservation assistance, however, the relevance and applicability of international hunting varies depending on the species, ecological circumstances and whether other viable alternatives are available.

The problem is, it doesn’t appear that the “ecological circumstances” can support the ‘insatiable appetite’ of trophy hunters at its current rate. This rate, furthermore, is only increasing.

As The Canary has previously reported, the hunting industry traded 1.7 million animal ‘trophies’ between 2004 and 2014. And 200,000 of them came from threatened species. At the same time, there has been a 43% decline in lion numbers between 1993 and 2014. As Gonçalves explained in April:

Killing lions for fun isn’t just despicable, it’s disastrous for their survival. A staggering 10,000 lions have been killed by trophy hunters over the past decade – about half today’s total remaining population.

Giraffe populations have also plunged by 40% over the past 30 years. Meanwhile, there are fears that elephants could be virtually extinct by the close of the next decade.

Going, going…

Overall, world-leading scientists and experts say one million species are at risk of extinction. This is a result of many human-induced threats, such as habitat loss, the climate emergency, poaching and more. But, in the face of this catastrophe, allowing hunters to continue to massacre wild animals to take their body parts by the millions for ‘fun’ is folly in the extreme. Especially as, contrary to these watchdogs’ claims, other studies suggest that trophy hunting severely harms rather than helps conservation. Citing numerous studies, for example, a further CBTH report found that:

all point towards trophy hunting not delivering net conservation benefits to species or habitats. Instead they are identified as being directly responsible for serious negative impacts.

Many see trophy hunting as part of the problem. Yet wildlife watchdogs appear to have embraced it as a solution for rapidly diminishing animal populations.

If these are the global ‘experts’ and protectors, then it’s hard to see how a number of the world’s most magnificent species stand a hope in hell of surviving. And if they go, what are the chances for us?

Featured image via YouTube – John Jackson / YouTube – IUCN / YouTube – CITES

Get involved

  • Sign the petition to get trophy hunters kicked out of CITES.
  • Find out more about this issue with CBTH.

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