Airline Takes On Big Game Hunters to Protect Rhinos, Lions, and Elephants

Africa’s largest airline bans the shipment of endangered animal trophies on its flights.

An elephant head with ivory tusks and other hunting trophies in a taxidermy store in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. (Photo: Robert Caputo/Getty Images)

Apr 30, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

It just got harder for big game hunters to bring endangered animal trophies back home from South Africa to hang on their wall.

That’s because South African Airways, the continent’s largest airline, has banned the transport of endangered rhinos, elephants, and lions aboard its passenger and cargo flights.

“SAA will no longer support game hunters by carrying their trophies back to their country of origin,” SAA country manager Tim Clyde-Smith told the South African media on Wednesday. “The vast majority of tourists visit Africa in particular to witness the wonderful wildlife that remains. We consider it our duty to work to ensure this is preserved for future generations and that we deter activity that puts this wonderful resource in danger.”

The news broke April 25, when the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa posted internal documents from SAA revealing its embargo plans. The airline then issued a statement announcing that the embargo had gone into effect April 21 on all of its flights. No exceptions will be made, even if the hunter holds a valid permit “issued by the relevant authorities” to transport the animal, the airline said.

SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali said in an email that a recent incident influenced the airline to establish the embargo. “Early in April 2015, a shipment lodged as machinery spare parts was discovered in Australia whilst in transit to Kuala Lumpur. The shipment contained elephant tusks and was seized. We were issued with a notice of seizure.”

“We recognize that this decision could impact several stakeholders,” Tlali added. “SAA Cargo remains committed to playing a significant role in curbing the illegal transportation of all animal species while positively contributing to national and international conservation efforts.”

Conservation groups are touting the move as a step in the right direction, helping curb the hunting of Africa’s endangered animals and limiting options for illegal wildlife traffickers who might otherwise transport wildlife products under the guise that the goods were obtained via legal hunts.

“We see this as a bold and positive move on South African Airways’ part to limit human-induced mortalities,” said African Wildlife Foundation spokesperson Kathleen Garrigan. “It’s especially impactful given that [SAA] services a major sport-hunting destination.”

With SAA taking the first step, the question is whether other international airlines will follow suit. Delta Airlines, the only U.S.-based airline with direct flights to South Africa, did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding SAA’s embargo.

If other airlines jump on board, trophy hunting might not be so appealing to big game hunters if they can’t bring evidence of their kills home. American hunters are already facing restrictions on what African animals they can go after.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials banned ivory trophy imports from Tanzania and Zimbabwe last year and are considering listing the African elephant as an endangered species—which would effectively ban all ivory trophy and elephant skin imports from legal hunts.

“This move will likely not deter hunters from hunting, but it may deter them from choosing South Africa as a destination for sport hunting,” Garrigan said.