The preys and places were different. It was a hapless giraffe that Sabrina Corgatteli killed in South Africa for a trophy. Cecil, the rare black-maned lion of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe was hunted for another trophy by Dr Walter Palmer. Be it the greedy poachers or the elite trophy hunters, the iconic animals are killed everywhere at alarming speed. The lion and elephant population of Africa was nearly halved since 1980. There are only 30000 lions, 20000 rhinos and 500000 elephants left out in the African continent. It is reported that 1215 rhinos were killed in 2014 alone, an increase of 21 % from 2013.
According to ‘World Wildlife Fund‘, the illegal wildlife trade nets $10 billion a year – elephants killed for ivory, rhinos for their horns and lions for skins and bones. The exact losses can’t be quantified as wild life poaching is illegal and often underground and covered. Add to this – the legal and licensed trophy hunters around the globe. Trophy hunting gives legality to exhibit the trophies and instigates the poachers to move on. Though the exact figures of trophy hunting are not available, its impact on the wild animals is definitely significant. As reports suggest there are 11 million trophy hunters in US and 6.8 million in Europe and from among them 1.3 million hunt abroad.
Trophy hunting is big business. It brings in a lot of money. A ten-day ‘elephant package’ could cost $36,000. Hunting a rhinoceros may cost $100,000. South Africa generates more than $744 million each year throgh hunting industry. About 70,000 people are directly or indirectly employed in this industry. An estimated 9,000 trophy hunters travel to South Africa every year and 90% of them come from the United States. In 2012 alone, $115 million was spent by foreign hunters in South Africa.
‘The Economist’ reported that American and European tourists alone gun down around 1000 captive lions every year on South African ranches. Wild lions shot across the African continent are only half of that were killed in the ranches. Killing beasts in fenced-off, private property is easier Rather than shooting them down in their own habitats, it is easy to kill them in captivity. To a tourist, tourists hunting a male lion in fenced-off, private property at $20,000 is much cheaper compared to the price of $75,000 they had to shell out if the animal is a real wild one.
The revenues generated by the African trophy hunting industry alone will be $200 million per year, thanks to the booming ‘canned hunting’. This new and easy ‘hunting’ is said to be practicing the system of weaning the cubs to jumpstart ovulation for population growth. Though the unethical ‘canned hunting’ brings in more profits to a few, some organizations deliberately keep away from this blood-money: South African Airways stopped transporting ‘trophies’, British Airways stopped animal transport for ‘scientific experiments’, Emirates Airlines and Delta Airlines have decided not to carry any animal-trophies.
Reports of ‘TRAFFIC’, the wildlife trade monitoring network, around 16000 trophy hunts of birds, reptiles, mammals, primates and the ‘big-five’ (African lions, African elephants, Cape buffaloes, African leopards, and African rhinos) took place in 2000 in Namibia alone. According to them, some 5,663 trophies of wild lions alone were legally traded internationally between 1999 and 2008. Incidentally, 64 percent of them were imported to the US.
Technically, trophy hunting is the selective hunting of wild ‘game‘ or game animals. Often the oldest and most mature animal preferably a male with the largest body size or largest antlers or horns were targeted. ‘Game’ is also the flesh of any wild animal or bird: small birds as the thrush, quail, goose, duck, woodcock, grouse, pheasant; small animals as squirrel, hare, rabbit, deer, elk, moose; and even bigger animals such as bear and wild boar. Parts of the animal as skin, antlers, horns , head are kept as a hunting trophy or souvenir and the meat used as food. And trophy hunting was often regarded distinctly different from poaching. In reality, trophy hunting always included buffaloes, bears, tigers, leopards, hippos, elephants, lions and rhinos.
Many countries have taken advantage of trophy hunting. Besides being a ‘conservation tool’, trophy hunting generated income. Tanzania generated $75 million during the period 2008-11. Wildlife ranches in the US charge $4000 or more as hunting fee and 10% is earmarked for conservation of ‘endangered’ species. The revenue generated by hunting tourism by seven SADC (South African Development Community) countries in 2008 is approximately US$ 190 million.
There are hundreds of agencies to arrange for the trophy-hunt safaris in Africa. Their packages and pricing may vary from each other, but all are providing offers from birds to lions. The pricing often include hunting license & permits, care of the trophies to include caping and & transportation to taxidermist for export, services of trackers, drivers & skinners, licensed professional hunter, boarding, lodging etc. The hunt prices may vary from animal to animal. If you want to kill a blonde mane lion, you have to pay $16500. If it is a black mane lion, the price higher and range between $25000 to $35000. If it is $30000 for a trophy white lion, hunting a lioness is pretty cheap at $9900.
But if the decline in the animal population caused by poaching and irresponsible trophy hunting continues in the current pace, the SADC countries will lose billions of dollars generated by the tourists flocking to watch the African wildlife.
While the organizations supporting trophy hunting are vociferous on its ‘positive’ attributes to conservation of wildlife and highlights the income generation for conservation efforts. They try to prove that the selective trophy hunting led to growth of sustainable natural habitats for the wildlife and in many cases the population is reportedly grown. Their arguments are summarily rejected by organizations opposing trophy hunt.
As many as 182 countries became signatories to Rio Accord in 1992 which developed bio-diversity plans to dissuade trophy hunting. The ‘League against cruel sports’ argue that trophy hunting has nothing to do with conservation and ecotourism is fifteen times more potential to generate income. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) strongly condemns ‘trophy hunting’ and terms it as “needless killing of endangered species for trophies.”
While arguments for and against trophy hunting go on, the undercover operations are in full swing. The dentist Dr Walter Palmer who killed ‘Cecil, the lion’ with bow and arrow in Zimbabwe has reportedly shelled out $50000 to hunt. And his action opened up a torrent of condemnations across the globe. Ingrid Newkirk, President of PETA even demanded that Walter Palmer be hanged for this barbaric act.
Animal activists and people from all the countries were infuriated and rallied against the hunting of animals, legal or illegal. The photos circulated by Sabrina Corgatelli, an accountant for Idaho State University in social media invited public outrage over trophy hunting. Over 1 million animal lovers around the globe signed an online petition addressed to Zimbabwe President, Robert Mugabe to stop the brutal killings of endangered species.
The ‘trophy hunting’ is not limited to any zone, country or continent. In India, the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary was a hunting ground for the Maharajas of Bharatpur and duck shoots were organised for the British Viceroys. Lord Linlthgow, the then Governer-General of India killed over 4,273 birds such as mallards and teals in one shoot in 1938. The big-game hunting dates back to 16th century with Mughal emperors. It was a pastime for the Maharajahs and British officers. In 1911, King George V has reportedly killed 39 tigers in ten days. Colonel Geoffrey Nightingale has reportedly shot more than 300 tigers in India. Over 80,000 tigers were estimated to be slaughtered in 50 years from 1875 to 1925. Even after the British-raj, the big-game hunting continued to be a big business in India collecting some $4 million annually. till 1971 when trophy hunting was legally banned.
Though the ivory trade was banned internationally in 1989, the poaching continues everywhere.. According to ‘Born Free foundation‘ the estimated killings of elephants for ivory trade ranged between 30,000 and 50,000 elephants per year between 2008-2013. The Wildlife Protection Society of India recorded killing of 121 elephants in India during 2008-2011. According to media reports, poachers killed more than 20 elephants in Kerala in the last ten months.