There once was a time when most Americans needed to hunt to put food on the table, but hunting today is a recreational pastime, and worse: waterfowl, pheasant, and dove hunting are no more than shooting at living targets. Some hunting is done solely to acquire trophies or to see who can kill the most; some are no more than shooting tame, confined animals. Brutally inhumane weapons such as the bow and arrow are increasingly used. In all cases, sport hunting inflicts undeniable cruelty—pain, trauma, wounding, and death—on living, sentient creatures. Most civilized and caring people will believe that causing suffering and death is by definition inhumane, regardless of method.
More than 100 million animals are reported killed by hunters each year. That number does not include the millions of animals for which kill figures are not maintained by state wildlife agencies.
The vast majority of species that are hunted -- waterfowl, upland birds, mourning doves, squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, crows, coyotes, etc. -- provide minimal sustenance and do not require population control.
Hunters have strived for decades to convince the American public that hunting is good for wildlife and good for society, often with arguments that are based on obfuscation and half-truths. They have deliberately focused the debate on deer hunting, for which plausible, but not necessarily true, arguments for subsistence and management can be made. But the holes in their arguments are becoming increasingly apparent, as is the magnitude of their waste, cruelty and destruction. More than that, sport hunting—the killing of wild animals as recreation—is fundamentally at odds with the values of a humane, just and caring society.
Canned hunting is the killing of an animal in an enclosure to obtain a trophy. The animals are sometimes tame exotic mammals; some, in fact, have been sold by petting zoos to the canned hunting operation. These animals do not know to run from humans. Many groups that support hunting scorn canned hunting for its unsportsmanlike practice; patrons are guaranteed a kill. Several states now ban canned hunting operations, but the practice is spreading.
From Maine to Arkansas and Indiana to Texas, canned hunting operations are sprouting up all over. The Humane Society of the United States estimates there are more than 1,000 canned hunt operations in at least 25 different states. They are most common in Texas, but they are found throughout the continental United States and Hawaii. Safari Club International (SCI) has done its part to promote canned hunting by creating a hunting achievement award, "Introduced Trophy Game Animals of North America," which may support the operation of canned hunts.
The sale of exotic mammals to canned hunts is big business for private breeders, animal dealers, and disreputable zoos. The over breeding of captive exotic animals exacerbates the problem. The indiscriminate breeding produces surplus animals, which are then sold, traded, or otherwise disposed of to exhibitors, circuses, animal dealers, game ranches, or individuals. Hunt operators can purchase animals directly through dealers or at auctions. Until those who own exotic animals stop their irresponsible breeding, there will be a steady supply of victims for canned hunting operators.
Clients pay large sums of money to participate in canned hunts, which take place in a confined area from which the animal cannot escape. The victims are exotic (non-indigenous) animals, including several varieties of goats and sheep; numerous species of Asian and African antelope; deer, cattle, and swine; and bears, zebra, and sometimes even big cats.
The killing of a confined or restrained wild animal is abuse for the sake of amusement. Unlike situations in which animals can use their natural and instinctual abilities to escape predation, a canned hunt affords animals no such opportunity. In fact, animals may be hand-reared, fed at regular times, and moved regularly among a system of corrals and paddocks. These practices lessen the natural fear and flight response elicited by human beings, and ensure the hunters an easy target. Animals may be set up for a kill as they gather at a regular feeding area or as they move toward a familiar vehicle or person. Once a pattern is established, even the most wary antelope can be manipulated effectively, guaranteeing a kill.
Most states allow canned hunting. Only California, Indiana, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and Wyoming have laws prohibiting the hunting of exotic mammals in enclosures. Oregon's Fish and Wildlife Commission, responding to public disgust for canned hunting, recently passed a ban on the practice.
At this time, no federal law governs canned hunting. The Animal Welfare Act does not regulate game preserves, hunting preserves, or canned hunts. Although the Endangered Species Act protects species of animals listed as endangered or threatened, it does not prohibit private ownership of endangered animals and may even allow the hunting of endangered species. Federal legislation regarding canned hunts is anticipated in the near future.
Every year, tens of thousands of wild animals, representing hundreds of different species, are killed by American trophy hunters in foreign countries. The heads, hides, tusks, and other body parts of most of these animals are legally imported to the United States by the hunters.
Many animals imported as trophies are members of species protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), such as leopards and African elephants. The ESA allows importation of endangered and threatened species only for scientific research, enhancement of propagation, or survival of the species. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which implements the ESA, has broadly interpreted the term "enhancement" to include trophy hunting of threatened species. While the FWS has rarely allowed the importation of endangered species as trophies, this has not stopped hunters' trophies from making their way across the U.S. border in the guise of scientific research.
In 1997, just months after the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History accepted a $20 million donation from big-game hunter Kenneth Behring, the Institution sought a FWS permit to import the trophy remains of two endangered wild sheep that Behring shot in Central Asia. One of the sheep, a Kara-Tau argali, is extremely rare in the wild where only 100 exist today. After a storm of ugly publicity, the Smithsonian abandoned the permit application. This was not, however, an isolated case. The Smithsonian has been involved in facilitating the import of endangered species killed by trophy hunters in the past. Other museums have done the same.
While the trophy hunting of endangered and threatened species attracts a great deal of attention, the vast majority of wild animals that American hunters kill and import—such as impala, black bears, common zebra, warthogs, eland, African buffalo, African lions, giraffes, and baboons—are not protected under the ESA or any other domestic law. If the foreign government allows the animals to be killed, as many do, the American hunter can import the trophies.
Trophy hunting is an elitist hobby, requiring tens of thousands of dollars to participate in each hunting trip. Many trophy hunters belong to organizations which promote and enable the so-called "sport," such as Safari Club International (SCI). Founded in 1971, SCI is based in Tucson, Arizona, and has more than 100 chapters in foreign countries. It has a wealthy membership, many of whom are doctors, lawyers and executives, 55% of whom have an annual income exceeding $100,000. SCI's annual conventions attract thousands of current and would-be trophy hunters. Through its publications and conventions, SCI entices people into booking more hunts and helps to hook up the hunting clients with the industry representatives, including outfitters, professional hunters, gun manufacturers and taxidermists. SCI's thick, glossy, bimonthly magazine, Safari, contains page after page of advertisements for trophy hunts and Hemmingway-like stories glorifying the hunt.
SCI also conducts elite competitions that provide trophy hunters with a playing field so that they can compete with others to kill the most animals of a particular type -- one victim from all the bear species in the world, for example. There are 29 awards in all, and in order to win all of them, at the highest level, a hunter would have to kill 322 animals of different species or subspecies. Not the only club of its type, SCI is by far the most prominent trophy-hunting advocacy organization in the world. It protects the hunter in every conceivable forum, including lobbying the U.S. Congress to weaken laws, like the ESA, and lobbying the FWS not to list species that hunters like to kill, such as argali sheep, under the ESA.
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