The World’s Largest Hunting Club Is Auctioning the Chance to Kill Hundreds of Animals
The world’s largest trophy hunting organization, Safari Club International, is hosting its annual convention in Las Vegas this week, where more than 20,000 big game hunters are expected to bid on the chance to kill an animal.
It’s dubbed the “Ultimate Hunters’ Market,” and this year the club is auctioning off 300 hunts taking place in 32 countries across Africa, Europe, Asia, and North and South America. Bidders can sign up for the chance to kill African elephants, Australian water buffalo, and Alaskan bears.
The sales are expected to garner millions for the club (the 317 hunts sold last year brought in $2.7 million) and come as tensions rise among hunting advocates and wildlife conservationists.
It doesn’t help the club’s image that Cecil the lion’s killer, Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer, is a member. The club suspended Palmer after questions about the legality of the hunt—in which Zimbabwe’s most famous lion was lured out of a protected area and killed—arose. The club appears to have reinstated Palmer after Zimbabwe authorities only brought charges against his guide, according to the Humane Society.
“These conventions bring to light that most trophy hunters are in fact American,” said Teresa Telecky, director of the wildlife department for Humane Society International, during a press conference Wednesday.
In a new report, the animal welfare group outlined the scope of U.S. hunters’ involvement in trophy hunting.
More than 1.2 million animal trophies were imported into the U.S. between 2005 and 2014. That’s an average of 126,000 trophies a year, according to data the Humane Society obtained from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Thirty-two thousand of those trophies came from Africa’s “Big Five” hunts; the five animals targeted are the African lion, the elephant, the cape buffalo, the rhino, and the leopard. Telecky said hunting clubs award special prizes for members who kill all five.
“It’s like a hit list, and the club honors those award winners at these conventions,” she said.
The trophy killings don’t stop with Africa. The Humane Society’s report, Cecil 2: Trophy Hunting America’s Lion, details the toll hunters take on American mountain lions, also known as cougars, pumas, or panthers.
Trophy hunters killed 29,000 mountain lions in the United States between 2005 and 2014. The top five deadliest states for the big cats are Idaho (4,833 killed), Montana (4,047), Colorado (3,414), Utah (3,200), and Arizona (2,893).
Bradley Bergstrom, professor of biology at Valdosta State University in Georgia, said state and federal wildlife agencies claim that recreational hunting of mountain lions, wolves, and other predators is necessary to manage the species and protect livestock and elk herds.
“But those arguments don’t square with recent science on the issue,” Bergstrom said. “Carnivores, especially wolves, are self-regulating. Of course they’re going to affect overpopulated deer and elk pops when they are reestablished in an area, but once they are established, they control their own population growth by their own density; their population is limited by inter-pack aggression.”
Josphat Ngonyo Kisui, executive director for the African Network for Animal Welfare, said another argument clubs make is that trophy hunting funds conservation efforts through permit fees.
“But instead of relying on those trophy hunting profits, countries need to realize the income potential from wildlife ecotourism,” Kisui said. “In South Africa, $9.2 billion—approximately 2.6 percent of the country’s GDP—was generated by wildlife watching, almost 14 times more than trophy hunting. The best way to save a species is to ensure that the animals stay alive.”