Selfishly, well-heeled people from many countries travel to Africa to legally trophy hunt endangered and threatened lions, elephants, leopards and black and white rhinos, unfazed by the $11,000 to $150,000 price tags determined by the animal, length of hunt and accommodations. But Americans should be the most ashamed, since they make up the greatest number—particularly in countries where hunting safaris are most expensive.
In Tanzania, for example, 34 percent of the trophy hunters are Americans, and in Zambia, 57 percent of the trophy hunters are Americans, according to a 2009 study by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Its Resources.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), 1.2 million animals were legally killed by American hunters and sent to the U.S. as trophies over the last 15 years. In 2015 alone, 405 lion trophies, 67 elephant trophies, and 217 leopard trophies were imported into the U.S. from Africa. Alarmingly, American tourists account for the majority of lions killed for sport in Africa. A 2011 report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare found that between 1999 and 2008, Americans brought home lion trophies (including heads and pelts) representing 64 percent of all African lions killed for sport during that period. Between 2005 and 2014, trophies of 5,605 African lions were imported in the U.S., an average of 560 per year. There was a steady increase in imports from 2011 onward, with imports peaking at 736 lions imported in 2014.
That’s why Friends of Animals believes that until there is a national ban in place in the United States to end the importation of sport-hunted trophies of the African Big 5 species, it is critical that states like New York, which have designated ports where a large number of these trophies are imported, take action on their own.
And FoA is leading the charge to help states do just that. In April 2015, FoA’s Wildlife Law Program director, Michael Harris, drafted the Africa Big 5 bill, which would ban the importation, possession, sale or transportation of the protected species or their body parts. Ivory and ivory products that are otherwise legal to possess, transport, import, and sell under federal law are not subject to the prohibitions contained in this bill.
In New York, the bill was sponsored by state Sen. Tony Avella, who later renamed it Cecil’s Law in honor of one of Zimbabwe’s most beloved lions who was killed by American hunter Walter Palmer in July of 2015.
During the month of July 2015, when Cecil was illegally killed, U.S. hunters legally killed 69 other lions in Africa for fun who they could mount as trophies back home.
While there was overwhelming support for Cecil’s Law in the New York Senate, it has been stalled in the Assembly.
In 2016, Cecil’s Law was championed by state Sen. Bob Duff in Connecticut, where it was voted favorably out of the Joint Environment Committee and then passed in the Senate in April 2016. Unfortunately, Cecil’s Law didn’t get voted on in the House because time ran out as legislators were consumed with the budget.
Rest assured we are committed to getting Cecil’s Law across the finish line in New York and Connecticut in 2017. And FoA also has its sights on introducing Cecil’s Law in other states in 2017—with an emphasis on the West Coast.
The impact passing state laws could have
Generally, all wildlife (including parts and products) must be imported through one of 18 designated ports in the United States. The majority of the Africa Big 5 trophies enter the U.S. through New York. The other top ports are in Houston, San Francisco, Dallas and Chicago.
Taking into consideration data from the USFWS, FoA is adamant that shutting down states like New York, Texas and California to trophy imports would have a huge impact.
Consider New York for example: From 2005-2014, 1,541 African lions were imported as trophies; 1,130 African elephant trophies were imported, as well as 84 pairs of tusks; 1,169 African leopard trophies were imported; and 110 African white rhino trophies were imported, as well as 3 pairs of horns.
Since the closest port to Connecticut is New York, the NY data could also be considered a reflection of the Nutmeg state as well since residents could be using New York as an entry point. Even though a state like Connecticut does not have a designated port, USFWS told FoA that it is possible for residents to apply for a non-designated port permit, allowing them to bring trophies directly into Connecticut, which makes the passing of Cecil’s Law critical.
To determine just how much Connecticut residents are playing a role in trophy hunting, FoA submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the USFWS seeking information about trophy hunting permits given to Connecticut residents from 2005-2015. We uncovered that 65 trophy hunting permits were issued to Connecticut residents. All except for six were provided so people could hunt and kill leopards for their trophies; the others allowed residents to kill African elephants in Botswana, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
According to the report “The conservation biology and ecology of the African leopard,” published at Plymouth University in 2012, consumptive practices like trophy hunting significantly deplete local leopard populations. Male leopards are the most desired predator trophy in Africa, however, sex determination during hunts is not straightforward and can cause high female mortality. In Tanzania, 77 leopard trophies were genetically analyzed to find that 29 percent were female. Additionally, a deficiency of male leopards—from trophy hunting—could cause a loss of genetic variation due to a declining population size resulting from a skewed sex ratio. Leopards show a high dependency for stable, long-term relationships. Increased male mortality disrupts leopard social structure and spatial dynamics, which can lead to increased intraspecific strife and infanticide.
Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it ok
What some members of the Connecticut’s Joint Environment committee didn’t comprehend until FoA’s testimony at a public hearing about Cecil’s Law in March of 2016 was that legal trophy hunting, in and of itself detrimental to African wildlife, also feeds illegal poaching.
FoA testified that there is growing scientific evidence that the legal trade of trophy hunted species enables illegal poaching by providing poachers a legal market to launder their contraband. One example is South Africa—the country had seen a marked rise in illegal rhino poaching since it began selling permits for trophy hunted rhinos in 2004. Illegal trophy hunting increased 5,000 percent since 2007.
FoA also testified about the myth sport hunters like to perpetuate that African governments would not have money for conservation without trophy hunting. FoA was one of the first international organizations to challenge that regulated hunting can be a conservation tool.
Brent Stapelkamp, a conservationist who resides in Zimbabwe and studied Cecil for a decade, dispels the myth further in our Q&A with him on page 24.
Just last year, in an NBC investigation, former top U.S. officials questioned America’s ability to vet trophy hunting abroad—admitting monitoring conservation programs in foreign countries is challenging for the USFWS. In 2014, the agency even suspended the import of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Tanzania, citing lack of information to prove that the sport-hunting programs enhance the survival of the species.
The tide is turning...but there’s still work to be done
Sept. 30, 2016, marked a milestone for African elephants: a D.C. federal judge rejected the notion that killing elephants will save them and upheld the USFWS’ 2014 decision to ban imports of sport-hunted African elephant trophies from Zimbabwe, striking down a challenge brought by the Safari Club and the National Rifle Association. FoA intervened in the case on behalf of USFWS (see story page 7).
And on Dec. 21, 2015, the USFWS, for the first time acknowledged that trophy hunting is detrimental to Africa’s remaining lion population. The agency listed two lion subspecies as endangered and threatened under the Endangered Species Act. While it was good news for Panthera leo leo, located in India and Western and Central Africa, because you can’t trophy hunt an endangered animal, overall the listing continues to promote trophy hunting of threatened lion species and others.
“Any rule that still allows the killing of these animals isn’t a protective rule at all, and it will continue to lead to their demise,” said Harris. “This type of mentality is what led to these animals needing to be protected in the first place. It’s the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service giving in to a small number of trophy hunters who are living in the barbaric past, putting their self-interests above that of the world’s and these animals.”
And unlike Cecil’s Law, the ruling completely ignores African elephants, leopards and black and white rhinos.
“The importance of Cecil's law is that it recognizes trophy hunting remains one of the main reasons that Africa’s Big Five are heading to extinction. Cecil’s Law sends a strong message to not only people within the states of New York and Connecticut, but all around the country and those in Washington that trophy hunting itself needs to be stopped. Domestic legislation like Cecil’s Law is vital to any hope of the long-term survival of these animals,” said Harris.