Ending the Madness of International Trophy Hunting of Rare Animals

The killing of Cecil the Lion gave the world a vivid example of the pain and misery left behind by globe-trotting elites whose primary hobby is killing prized specimens of the most beloved and threatened wild animals on the planet. Today we are turning up the wattage in our campaign against trophy killing by releasing a new report, Trophy Madness, that takes a look at the doings of Safari Club International, the Arizona-based group whose awards program drives deplorable, destructive global wildlife-killing activities. In conducting this research, we used SCI's own record books, in which members record their kills, often accompanied by photographs of them smiling over the animals whose hearts they've stopped.

SCI offers its members the opportunity to compete with one another to win nearly 50 awards such as the "Grand Slam Cats of the World" (requiring a hunter to kill four among the African lion, African leopard, African cheetah, wildcat, jaguar, cougar, lynx, and other cat species). There are award categories like this for bears, ringed-horn antelopes of Africa, wild sheep of the world, ibex of the world, moose of the world, and the sorry list just goes on. The contests include everything from killing a certain number of animals on a given continent to using "alternative methods," such as a handgun or bow and arrow.

To secure a place on the list of individuals who've attained the African Big Five Grand Slam, hunters must kill an elephant, rhino, lion, leopard, and Cape buffalo. Over 3,100 of these animals were killed and imported into the United States by trophy hunters in 2014 alone, including 741 lions, 311 leopards, 1,412 Cape buffalo, 671 elephants, and 32 rhinos. Think about these numbers over a 10-year period, or over a 50-year period, and it's a staggering body count. The top SCI recognition is the World Hunting Award, which requires the hunter to have achieved awards in 30 lower award categories - requiring a dedicated focus to kill animals of particular types across vast portions of the globe.

Trophy Madness takes a look at some of SCI's most obsessed and driven hunters, the "one percent" of its members who have earned the most heralded prize--the World Hunting Award, commemorated with a ring that looks like a Super Bowl ring, featuring gold, diamond, and onyx. These prolific killers have spent decades and often millions of dollars acquiring their "collections" of body parts. One filed a federal lawsuit against his African hunting safari guide when that individual failed to get "adequate" video footage of his kills. Another ring-wearer has personally killed at least 18 lions. Examining just some of the World Hunting Award winners--and their hunting exploits--offers a telling glimpse into the depths of the "trophy madness" fostered by SCI.

So many trophy hunters go to extraordinary lengths in their mania to secure the awards, or to get the biggest lion or elephant. They will lure animals out of the protected confines of a national park, as Walter Palmer did with Cecil. And they will even kill captive, tame lions. That is the subject of a new documentary, Blood Lions, airing on October 7th on MSNBC. This film exposes the greedy and seedy businesses in South Africa that breed lions in captivity only to offer them as trophies for thousands of dollars. This horrendous industry is booming with the help of American hunters: of the 5,647 lions whose parts were imported to the United States as trophies over the past ten years, 1,558 were captive lions. The documentary is not to be missed.

The killing of Cecil gave the world an inkling of the depravity and selfishness of this subculture that threatens to drive wildlife into extinction. Our report throws back the curtain and exposes the whole damn enterprise. They can try to dress up their kills in the language of tradition or sport, and claim that their license fees pay for conservation, but it's all a smokescreen and a series of self-serving rationalizations. These people leave a trail of innocent victims, rob African nations of wildlife that good-hearted people are happy to capture with a camera or merely get a glimpse of in the wild, and embarrass themselves by this gross misuse of their wealth. Their slaughter of polar bears, lions, elephants, and other rare animals must end.

This article originally appeared on Wayne Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.