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July 07, 2009

They Shoot Endangered Animals, Don't They?

The recent decision by a federal court in the District of Columbia to overturn a controversial federal policy allowing the killing of captive and endangered exotic mammals at some of the nation’s estimated 1,000 “canned” shooting ranches was a particularly satisfying victory in our long-term campaign to end the unethical practices of Safari Club International, the world’s largest trophy hunting organization.

This is the group that has manufactured a set of awards programs to encourage competitive killing of rare animals—such as “Bears of the World” or “Cats of the World.” To secure all of SCI’s awards, including the “grand slams” and "inner circle," a trophy hunter would have to kill more than 320 different species and subspecies of mammals.

It’s a selfish, all-consuming passion to kill and display trophies and to occupy a higher place in the hunting pantheon—whether they are shot in the wild or dispatched in one of these drive-by shootings on a fenced preserve. Typically, those involved have the means to pursue any form of entertainment or pastime, yet they choose to spend their dollars and their limited time shooting the world’s rarest and most beautiful animals. How sad.

Endangered addax
© iStockphoto
The endangered addax is targeted by SCI.

Our lawsuit, filed jointly with several conservation groups, successfully challenged a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruling that permitted the shooting of three critically endangered species bred and raised on game ranches—scimitar-horned oryx, addax, and dama gazelle. These antelope have magnificent horns which trophy hunters prize.

SCI argued that charging high fees to kill endangered animals creates a market that encourages money to flow to overseas conservation programs that could benefit the beleaguered species. That bit of twisted logic—kill them to save them—didn’t stop the court from striking down the program.

Last year, The HSUS won another major victory over SCI, which had earlier persuaded Congress to allow U.S. sport hunters to kill Canadian polar bears and import their trophies. We helped persuade the USFWS to list the bears—imperiled by climate change—as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. This prohibited the import of polar bear trophies, removing a major incentive to shoot them. But SCI and its trophy hunting cohorts are so bent on killing these imperiled animals, they have filed several lawsuits challenging the decision to list polar bears, and are even lobbying Congress to reopen the polar bear trophy trade. That's right, these groups would rather see the polar bear stripped of federal protection, and potentially go extinct, than temporarily refrain from shooting just one of the hundreds of species regularly sport-hunted around the globe. Yesterday, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) introduced a bill to authorize the import of sport-hunted polar bear trophies.

John J. Jackson III, a former SCI president, once tried to explain what motivates the group's members: “A trophy of any species attests that its owner has been somewhere and done something, that he has exercised skilled persistence and discrimination in the agile feat of overcoming, outwitting, and reducing game to possession.”

This is a chilling rationale for participation in this so-called sport. Is it “skilled persistence” on display when the trophy collector is driven to a feeding station at one of these canned hunting operations to shoot semi-tame, captive animals with the kill all but guaranteed?

SCI thinks these kinds of captive shoots are fine and permits them to be counted in its record books. In fact, SCI has one hunting achievement award—"Introduced Trophy Animals of North America"—that can be claimed only by patronizing captive hunting ranches. It’s in effect a marketing effort that drives hunting participation at the ranches in Texas and elsewhere around the country. Yet even other hunting groups that encourage and maintain trophy records, such as the Boone and Crockett Club and the Pope and Young Club, do not permit the listing of trophies from fenced enclosures.

The fight to weaken Endangered Species Act protections and its Orwellian “killing is conservation” theme are woven throughout SCI’s 38-year history. The Tucson-based organization once sought to circumvent the federal law by seeking government approval to import an astonishing 1,125 trophies of 40 species on the endangered list. They included gorillas, cheetahs, tigers, orangutans, and snow leopards.

With a straight face and not a hint of irony, SCI claimed its goal was “scientific research and incentive for propagation and survival of the species.” There was one small problem. The animals they wanted as trophies weren't yet dead. Request denied by the USFWS.

Now a U.S. District Court judge, agreeing with The HSUS, once again held the line on animal protection. An organization that in reality operates as an enemy of the world’s endangered species while masquerading as a conservation organization has been stymied yet again.

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