Off-limits hunts and endangered species at low prices: Inside Europe’s largest hunting fair

African forest elephants
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African forest elephants’ survival status dropped to critically endangered in 2022. That’s terrible news on many counts, for the elephants themselves, for the diversity of life on Earth, and more. For instance, a study came out on 23 January that illustrated how important forest elephants are to tropical forest biodiversity and the storing of carbon in those ecosystems.

Nonetheless, forest elephants were on menu, so to speak, at Europe’s largest hunting fair. The essential giants were one of countless species on offer at Dortmund’s Jagd & Hund event, which ran 24-29 January.

Critically endangered species at cut price

According to German nonprofit Pro Wildlife, buying the chance to end the life of a forest elephant came cheap at the event. In one trophy hunting outfitter’s brochure, attendees could purchase the kill at a price of $9,500.

Compare this to the apparent financial value of keeping a forest elephant alive. A 2014 report by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust concluded that an elephant can offer over $1.6m in ecotourism income opportunities over the course of their life. Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund’s Ralph Chami has worked out their financial worth in relation to the storage of carbon. In these terms, a forest elephant carries a value of $1.75m over the course of their lifetime, according to Chami.

Pro Wildlife suggested that the low hunting price for forest elephants at the fair was due to an EU ban on African elephant imports from Cameroon, where the hunts would happen. This means that if a person from the EU kills a forest elephant in Cameroon, they can’t bring their body parts, i.e. the trophies, back home.

Off-limits kills for sale

Elsewhere in the fair, some exhibitors offered animals up as targets that the venue – Messe Westfalenhallen Dortmund – explicitly forbids them from marketing there. As Messe Dortmund told the Canary in a statement, exhibitors must not violate relevant laws at the federal, EU, or international level. Additionally, it does not allow sellers to market:

hunting trips that imply hunting practices contrary to the principles of German huntsmanship. The advertising and offering of shooting opportunities such as caged lion hunting (a.k.a. canned lion shooting) are prohibited. The same applies to the marketing of culls on animals with artificially bred colour variants and mutations.

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Nonetheless, Pro Wildlife saw hunts of “captive-bred” lions on sale, along with hunts of white lions, meaning lions bred to be a certain colour. The organisation told the Canary that it identified “several” exhibitors with such off-limits offers. It also said that although the venue did take action against those exhibitors, this only happened after Pro Wildlife expressed objections.

In its statement, Messe Dortmund said that exhibitors make a voluntary commitment to abide by all its rules in advance of the fair. Despite this, the venue said it uncovered “individual violations” during “continuous verification activity”, i.e. checks, at the event. The venue insisted that it does not tolerate such transgressions. It added:

The exhibitors were immediately asked to remove non-conforming offerings and propositions.

Messe Dortmund told the Canary that animal welfare and species protection “are matters of fundamental importance” to the venue.

Rejecting violence and extraction

Ahead of the hunting fair, the Wildlife Animal Protection Forum South Africa (WAPFSA) wrote to Dortmund officials and Westfalenhallen’s board. The letter from WAPFSA, a South African coalition of wildlife-focused organisations, was backed by signatories from many different countries. It called on Messe Dortmund to consider suspending the marketing and sale of trophy hunts involving endangered and protected African species at the fair.

The letter argued that:

The persistent removal of species through trophy hunting can have profound impacts on species extinction risk and selection within populations and can have broader negative consequences for other species and ecosystem processes.

It further said that trophy hunting is “rooted in colonial modes of extraction” and spotlighted a number of established and emerging alternatives to the practice on the African continent. The letter said that these alternatives:

reject and avoid violence, subjugation and extraction in favour of more ecologically sustainable and dignifying activities

WAPFSA warned, however, such alternative activities can “struggle to flourish” due to “competition with extractive, immediate-reward models and sectors”, such as trophy hunting.

In December 2022, Born Free organised an event titled “Beyond Trophy Hunting”. During the session, panelists discussed various income-generating alternatives to the practice, including agroecology, non-lethal tourism, and carbon credits.

Increasingly, people are exploring such alternatives amid the slow but sure progression of import bans on hunting trophies in various countries.

Not sustainable conservation

Hunting interests argue that the practice is a form of conservation. Proponents, including some conservationists, assert that revenue from hunting benefits communities co-existing with wild animals and increases tolerance.

However, other conservationists and environmentalists say that trophy hunting is harmful to conservation, while surveys, studies and investigations suggest funds don’t ‘trickle down’ to communities to a meaningful extent.

The Jagd & Hund fair, and the behaviour of some hunting outfitters there, is unlikely to bolster hunters’ case for the practice as a form of conservation. Pro Wildlife certainly doesn’t believe the fair has done so. It said:

It is ridiculous to believe the tales of the hunting industry claiming trophy hunting benefits conservation when even forest elephants that are threatened by extinction are sold for very cheap prices.

The organisation insisted that what it saw at the fair is not what “sustainable conservation looks like”.

Featured image via Thomas Breuer / Wikimedia, cropped to 770×403, licensed under CC BY 2.5

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