This week, a 19-year-old Texas college cheerleader caused a stir when she posted photos online of her posing with imperiled African wildlife that she had hunted. An elephant, a lion, a leopard and a tranquilized white rhino -- which she claimed was conveniently in need of being knocked-out for research purposes -- all being propped up and posed as dead or unconscious trophies for her photo collection. Not surprisingly, the onslaught of comments overwhelming condemned her bloodthirsty escapades.
This is just the latest in a series of high-profile incidents where a trophy hunter attempted to flaunt their participation in this killing sport -- under the unlikely guise of conservation -- and it backfired. The King of Spain, Donald Trump's sons, the CEO of GoDaddy, aspiring TV hunt-show host Melissa Bachman and the winner of the Dallas Safari Club auction to kill one of the last black rhinos in Namibia, are just a few examples of animal killers who found out that they are in the small minority of our population that are willing to tolerate killing charismatic and endangered species for sport.
While most of these hunts may have been legal, they certainly were not ethical. Many of these hunters claim to be "pro-conservation," but they clearly are not "pro-animal" as in the end their trophy kill is no less lethal or brutal than poachers who are similarly robbing the planet of their wildlife.
In this modern day and age, saying that we have to kill something in order to save it is just no longer acceptable. There are ways to help communities in Africa living among (and, sometimes in conflict with) wildlife, that does not necessitate killing the animals. IFAW and other wildlife conservation organizations and animal protection groups are working with local communities on-the-ground every day find real solutions.
Elephants, great cats, rhinos are all struggling to survive in the face of shrinking habitat and unsustainable exploitation. There are fewer than a half million elephants left in the wild, less than 35,000 lions in Africa, and only around 5,000 black rhinos left. As their populations decrease, they unfortunately become more valuable as a trophy. Setting a price tag on the head of magnificent animals because they are rare and worth more dead than alive is the same philosophy that is driving the insatiable markets behind wildlife poaching.
Luckily the world is finally paying attention to the horrific global wildlife trafficking problem. But how can we be incensed and shocked by other nations illegally killing their wildlife for money in order to survive, when we knowingly watch Americans dump piles of money to go and kill these same animals for mere sport?
It's easy to see why this young woman and the others like her have stirred up such great emotion. Trophy hunters personify an ugly stereotype of Americans who travel abroad and pay to do whatever they want. This is not how I, as an American, want to be seen or known around the world. Hopefully, the small number of Americans who still revel in this kind of vainglorious exploitation and killing of living things for fun will disappear before all the animals do.
Jeff Flocken is the North American Regional Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).