Frequent Flier’s Petition Presses Delta to Ban Big Game Hunting Trophies [UPDATED]

Animal advocates are pressuring airlines to follow South African Airways’ lead and ban the transport of elephant, rhino, lion, and tiger carcasses killed for sport.

(Photo: Dimitri B./Flickr)

May 8, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

South African Airways, Africa’s largest airline, last week decided to kick rhino, lion, elephant, and tiger hunting trophies off its flights in the name of wildlife conservation. Now, the move is prompting animal advocates to pressure other airlines to follow suit.

On Thursday, they created a petition to get Delta Airlines—the only United States carrier that offers direct flights to South Africa—to join SAA and ban the transport of endangered wildlife on flights out of the country.

More than 17,000 signed the petiiton in the first 24 hours, and it has garnered 56,000 signatures total.

“If you’ve got Africa’s main carrier of passengers and cargo doing this, it seems like a no-brainer to get one of the world’s largest carriers on board too,” said Chris Green, the petition’s sponsor and chairman of the American Bar Association’s Animal Law Committee.

Delta issued the following statement in response to South African Airways' change of rules: "Delta accepts hunting trophies in accordance with all U.S. domestic and international regulations, which prohibits the possession of trophies or other items associated with protected species. Customers are required to produce detailed documentation of trophies to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials as their trophies undergo inspection."

SAA’s move followed an incident on one of its flights to Australia in which cargo marked as “mechanical equipment” ended up containing elephant tusks—one small bust in the billion-dollar world of illegal wildlife trade.

So, instead of trying to sort permitted wildlife trophies from those taken illegally, SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali said the company decided to implement an outright ban on the transport of Africa’s most-sought-after wildlife on the international market—even if hunters have a permit.

“What they [SAA] have done is decide that the short-term gain the company would make from transporting these animal trophies doesn’t make sense long-term,” said Green, a Delta frequent flier. “More people go to South Africa to look at animals than to hunt them.”

Green said the petition and news from SAA are a chance for Delta to make the right decision in wildlife conservation and get positive media attention in the process.

If airlines band together on the issue, they might discourage foreign big game hunters from traveling to South Africa if they can’t return home with their trophies.

“Regardless of your views on hunting, these are often endangered creatures, and as a longtime Delta Frequent Flier, I ask the company to take responsibility,” Shannon Moylan commented on the petition.

“That’s the thing with implementing animal protection legislation and rules—around 80 to 90 percent of the general public are usually supportive of animal welfare,” Green said. “The percentage of Americans who hunt is tiny, and the percentage who go safari hunting is even smaller—so, yeah, you may lose a little business on the front end by not letting people transport animal carcasses, but they would be preserving dwindling wildlife resources that drive massive amounts of tourism.”

UPDATED May 12, 2015—4:15 p.m.
Delta Air Lines spokesperson Morgan Durrant issued a statement from Delta regarding its transport policies of hunting trophies.