Concerns over trophy hunting mount as pro-killing lobbyists go on charm offensive

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A number of concerns related to trophy hunting have come to the fore recently. South Africa has faced criticism for releasing killing quotas that lack scientific evidence to back them up. At the same time, the US authorities have come under fire for failing to take action against the trade, and the UK is dragging its feet over proposed legislation to limit the trade.

Pro-killing lobbyists, meanwhile, are on the charm offensive.

Opaque killing quotas

As the Daily Maverick‘s Don Pinnock recently reported, environmentalists have criticised officials in South Africa over hunting plans. In October, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment announced its draft hunting and export quota for elephants, black rhinos and leopards. It gave the public a 30-day window to object to the plans. But it apparently offered no meaningful evidence regarding the scientific basis for the proposed killings. Such evidence would speak to the impact of the killings on the species’ populations. This is important as, according to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), black rhinos are critically endangered, elephants are endangered, and leopards are vulnerable.

The EMS Foundation called the process “procedurally unfair”, saying that the quota “contains no information in relation to how [it’s] been determined”. As such, the organisation argued that the draft plan offers no information “whatsoever to enable the public to meaningfully comment” on it.

The draft plan would potentially see 150 elephants, 10 leopards, and 10 black rhinos killed by trophy hunters. It comes after the same department recommended a “new deal” for wildlife in South Africa earlier in 2021. That deal promised to close the country’s captive lion industry, among other things.

Leopard legal action

Relatedly, the import of dead African leopard ‘trophies’ to the US is the focus of a recently launched legal action in the country. The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), Humane Society International, and the Humane Society of the United States are behind the action. They are suing the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for not imposing stricter conditions on hunters bringing leopards’ body parts into the country, in light of the species’ precarious position.

The groups say that the US accounted for over half of the global trade in leopard ‘trophies’ between 2014 and 2018. So they want the USFWS to use the Endangered Species Act to provide further protections for the species. The CBD’s international legal director Tanya Sanerib explained:

Read on...

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The Endangered Species Act’s full protections could ensure that the gruesome trophy trade doesn’t drive leopard decline. To defeat the extinction crisis, we need to use every weapon in our arsenal. But after trophy hunting was identified as a threat to African leopards, U.S. wildlife officials sat on their hands. The failure to help conserve these iconic cats is unacceptable.

Charm offensive

Meanwhile, pro-trophy hunting lobbyists have recently taken action to pressure the US government. In defiance of voters’ wishes, Joe Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump opened up vast tracts of wildlife refuges to hunting and fishing. Now the hunting advocacy organisation Safari Club International (SCI) has launched a ‘no net loss’ campaign. It effectively demands that Biden commit to at least maintaining the levels of access to lands that hunters currently have.

The SCI Foundation, an arm of SCI, recently held its annual African Wildlife Consultative Forum in Botswana. At this event, hunting advocates liaise with governmental wildlife officials from African countries, amongst others. The journalist and author Adam Cruise has previously described the forum as “SCI persuading African governments… to adopt policies incorporating the conservation ‘benefits’ of trophy hunting”.

SCI has revealed that USFWS official Mary Cogliano attended the latest forum virtually. She confirmed that the department is processing a backlog of hundreds of import permit requests from US hunters for killing abroad. They include 126 applications for lions and 323 for elephants.

The IUCN classifies lions as vulnerable. Conservationists have raised concerns that this listing, however, doesn’t reflect the dire situation for lion populations. LionAid has calculated that there are potentially less than 10,000 wild lions left in Lion Conservation Units across Africa.


Pro-trophy hunting lobbyists claim that the practice is a form of conservation. Proponents argue that revenue from hunting benefits communities co-existing with wild animals and increases tolerance. However, some surveys and studies suggest funds don’t ‘trickle down’ to communities to any meaningful extent.

Overall, the pro-argument revolves around the doctrine that people will only conserve other animals if the latter are of ‘use’. But SCI’s own actions provide an illustration of how these concepts fail to stack up. Trump removed protections for wolves in 2020, which allowed trophy hunters to target them. SCI celebrated this as a major win. But in 2021, SCI lobbied against hunting fees going towards the reintroduction of wolves in Colorado. It argued that hunters should not “foot the bill for the high cost of premature wolf introduction”. Wolves in the US only occupy around 15% of their historic range.

A startling story

There are deep concerns about the damage trophy hunting can and is doing to communities of wild animals, and the impact it’s having on their potential for long-term survival. As Pinnock pointed out, the numbers themselves tell “a startling story”. He highlighted that in South Africa alone between 2016 and 2019:

190,468 wild creatures were “bagged” as trophies — that’s 171,748 wild mammals, 15,233 birds, 742 reptiles and 2,745 non-indigenous animals. It works out to 130 kills a day.

Numbers for the killing of threatened species – i.e. those at risk of disappearing – tell a similar story. In the book Trophy Leaks: Top Hunters & Industry Secrets Revealed, Eduardo Gonçalves asserted that:

In 2018, the most recent year for which full data is available, trophy hunters from 77 countries shot 35,000 animals from more than 150 threatened species. This equates to 100 supposedly protected animals every day.

The wolf massacres in the US, meanwhile, paint a particularly excessive picture. Earlier this year Wisconsin set a quota for hunters of 119 wolves over a week-long period. They killed 216 wolves in just 60 hours.

The scale of killing amid an extinction crisis has led to countries considering or implementing bans on the import of body parts attained through hunting. The UK is currently considering imposing such a ban. But, as it’s done in the past, the government is dragging its feet on the issue. Wildlife campaigner Dominic Dyer says that lobbying by trophy hunting proponents is likely responsible for the ban’s delay.

Featured image via Benjamin Hollis / Flickr

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  • Show Comments
    1. Hi Tracy. You must be one of the UK’s most successful eco-fiction writers by now. Well done.
      Let’s not kid ourselves that any of your quoted “experts” are actual conservationists or environmentalists. They are all stone-faced animal rights advocates. Pinnock is a Capetown fellow writer of eco-fiction, HSUS suckers $200 million a year out of people and saves very, very few animals but does fill its off-shore Caribbean bank balance well. Goncalves collects God’s knows how much for his breathtaking UK deceit yet conserves nothing except his social currency, while Dyer is the nutty Badger Trust flag waver, pseudo-nurse and poodle of Dr Jones, the Archbishop of Animal Rights at the BFF (£5 million a year, kerching) who infects everything with animal right disease wherever he goes. You could write their collective knowledge of the field management of African megafauna on the back of a postage stamp with a broom dipped in bitumen.

      The short window allowed by South Africa’s DFFE consultation was hardly surprising. It’s nothing sinister – its called incompetence – the kleptocratic ANC government couldn’t organise a urinatory celebration in a pub – it has completely stuffed up everything else in the country by inserting comrades into every high position (ie next to a cash till), so why should this be different? So on the subject of hunting revenue not trickling down to the people, I wouldn’t mention the ANC if I were you. Their recent high level panel on the subject of trophy hunting (the one that you are so enraptured about) was a sick joke, stuffed largely with trough-scoffers who conserve nothing except their well-paid jobs selling ammunition data in the war between the fluffy/bunny tourists and the farming/hunters. Even the SA DFFE minister (Barbara Creecy) got her job for being a red flag cadre comrade (viva! viva!) – and she couldn’t tell an ostrich from a budgerigar.

      There is only a problem counting leopards in SA because the exceedingly sneaky beasts are very good at hiding, but nothing else is a counting problem, Tracy, so let’s not try to tar all wildlife management stats with the one difficult practical problem. Anyway, most years South Africa doesn’t fill its very conservative leopard hunting quotas, even when they issue one, so stop losing sleep about it. Worry more about the leopards that are SSS (shoot, shovel and shut up) and those killed for regalia and muti medicine or by-catch in snares.
      The elephant and rhino populations of Southern Africa are very well known – there are at least 100,000 too many elephants and they are becoming a big problem for people and the environment. They have disappearing across vast areas of “non-hunting” Africa but rising in number across the hunting south. They could hunt 10,000 a year and not keep up with the birth rate.
      Rhinos – just about every individual can be accounted for. Again, they are plentiful in the south but not elsewhere. Few animals could be more closely monitored by the authorities. Thanks to the stupid ban on horn sales that AR zealots bought at CITES, rhino owners have to offer a few rhinos to rich hunters in order to pay for guarding the rest because they can’t legally sell horn shavings. If they could sell horn shavings, they would all keep rhinos, thousands of them. Who wouldn’t? Most ranch owners don’t even want rhinos because they cost a fortune to guard and attract armed poachers – so the ban your AR “experts” organised got more rhinos killed and turned them into unwanted white elephants. Well done, Tracy.

      You forgot to mention the six to ten millions of wild animals on SA’s forty million acres of game farms and more in the vast community reserves, probably because you know that farmers and communities own and sell their wildlife and benefit directly. You forgot to mention that well over a million wild animals are shot in South Africa every year, but they are far less than the birth rate, so the numbers keep going up while the system produces thousands of tons of venison and employs 100,000 people.
      Permits to shoot black rhinos are rarer than hen’s teeth because there has to be a good scientific reason for shooting one legally with hunting and export permits.
      The only lions available for hunting are a sustainable handful on government permits and government land hunting concessions, those that are a conflict problem, dispersers from reserves (like the infamous Cecil) (totalling about 10 per year into the UK) ,but mostly (about 50 a year into the UK) privately owned lions, raised on lion farms and set free to be hunted as ferals on private farms (average size 4000 acres). They don’t affect wild lion numbers at all. Given that there are 12,000 privately owned lions on lion farms, the numbers are insignificant – unless there is an AP inspired ban on lion farming, when all 12,000 will end up shot as worthless and farmers will do something else. Lion farming will simply move to less controlled places.

      Since the numbers of all species are going UP in South Africa and Namibia, what mathematical system do you employ to suggest this is contributing to extinction? You know and I know that the numbers across the southern range state are ALL going up because farmers, private reserve owners and community reserve owners all raise animals ahead of demand by hunters and value them accordingly. Could it be that hunting industry truth caused your rather selective amnesia?
      And it simply not true that regulated trophy hunters affect animal populations or quality – quite the reverse in the south, where UK hunters go. There is no reduction in number or quality where hunters go because farmers reserve the best (most valuable) breeding stock and sell only representative specimens or post-breeders.

      The UK government has these real figures and can’t legally or honestly ban imports that raise numbers and conserve forty million acres of natural habitat in South Africa alone. If they introduced a ban on your evidence, it would be thrown out at the first judicial revue based on fact and science. That’s their delay. To help African animals or doom them to grab the popular fluffy vote?

      Of course, the statistics on imports that you use include all sorts of things such as museum exchanges, personal effects, taxidermy, venison industry by product like skins and leathers, found items from natural and traffic collision causes, pest control, antiques, parts of animals and items made from parts of animals, culls in population management operations, biological specimens and so on. They are not all trophies, and even then, the 6000 (pre-covid) hunting visitors to South Africa (who do export trophies), for example, are dwarfed by the 200,000 local paying hunters and the thousands of informal rural hunters who hunt small game, many of whom keep trophies, too. You can’t ban them.

      Its such a pity your AR fanatics keep pumping out “selective” news. Both hunting and eco-tourism are important to animals and rural people, each in their own way. Both are sorely needed, if animals and people are your primary interest, that is……

      And so it goes on, Tracy…………

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