Kitty Block: 860 animal lives on offer at trophy hunters’ Reno convention

Next Wednesday, trophy hunters with a yen for slaying some of the world’s most endangered and threatened animals will gather in Reno, Nevada, for the annual Safari Club International convention.

This is perhaps one of the world’s largest such gatherings, and it’s a grim affair. On offer will be more than 300 trophy hunts here in the United States and abroad, with starting bids ranging from $1,650 to $100,000 each. By the time the convention wraps up on Feb. 8, at least 860 animals, including black bears, wolves, leopards and elephants, will be condemned to die.

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Peddling off one of those animal lives will be Donald Trump, Jr., a trophy hunter himself who was recently in the news for killing an argali sheep, an animal protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, during a trip to Mongolia. Trump Jr. will auction off a black-tailed deer hunt in Alaska for a starting bid of $17,000.

The convention is expected to rake in $5 million for the SCI. Meanwhile, the methods of killing trophy hunters employ are becoming more gruesome every year. Among the vendors at the convention this year is HHK Safaris, which describes itself as “Africa’s largest safari operator.” This outfitter has been the subject of recent media coverage for shooting leopards in the legs ahead of time so trophy hunters can go in and make a certain kill: a practice known as “kneecapping”.

At last year’s convention, vendors offering captive-bred lion hunts hawked the majestic animals as if they were pieces of furniture. The price of a lion hunt was largely determined by the size of the animal and his mane, ranging from “budget” to “deluxe.” One attendee bragged that he and his children participated in a canned hunt, killing a lion within 90 minutes. A hunt operator attempting to make a sale offered to bait lions with meat ahead of the trophy hunter’s arrival, to save time.

Trophy hunters often hold out the false claim that their work helps wildlife conservation and local people. Nothing could be further from the truth. Studies show that hardly any of the money from trophy hunting actually trickles down to local people in the range nations. And the rarer the animal, the more trophy hunters prize it, which means they often end up decimating populations of animals that are already struggling to survive. Our analysis of SCI’s “Record Book” for 2015 showed SCI members have killed mindboggling numbers of endangered and at-risk animals, including at least 2,007 African lions, 1,888 African leopards, 791 African elephants and 572 critically endangered black rhinos, among other animals.

People around the globe are increasingly becoming aware of this needless killing of the world’s precious wildlife and are voicing their objection. Recently we reported how an SCI chapter in Calgary, Canada, was forced to call off its planned auction of the first elephant trophy hunt in Botswana in seven years following local protests. Trump Jr.’s trophy hunt of the argali sheep was met with shock by large numbers of Americans and HSUS and HSI have urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to not allow the import of that trophy. Last week, music group REO Speedwagon pulled out of their scheduled performance at the SCI convention.

These are promising signs for our cause, and it is also encouraging that attendance at the convention has been dwindling year after year. In a world in which a million species are fast disappearing because of direct exploitation, climate change, habitat loss and poaching, no one has the patience anymore to indulge trophy hunters and their killing of wildlife for fun.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and CEO of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of the HSUS. www.humanesociety.org