When Cecil the Lion was shot, in 2015, the story went viral. People were shocked that this colonial “sport” was still going on. However, as I wrote in my recent book Killing Game, published on the fifth anniversary of Cecil’s killing, thousands more lions have been shot by trophy hunters since his tragic death.
I also revealed how trophy hunters kill tens of thousands of other endangered animals every year—including rhinos, cheetahs, and polar bears.
My latest book, Trophy Leaks, seeks to answer the glaring question of why. We face a conservation crisis of cataclysmal proportions. Why is it still legal to kill some of the most endangered animals on earth?
Like “Mainlining on Heroin”
Trophy hunters enjoy what they do. They talk about the thrill of the kill, many referring to it as an addiction. One British hunter recently compared it to “mainlining on heroin.”
And the trophy-hunting industry fuels this addiction through dozens of prestigious prizes, which encourage hunters to shoot huge numbers of animals. One prize presented by Safari Club International (S.C.I.), the world’s largest trophy-hunting group, is the Hunting Achievement Award. To attain this Diamond-level award, one must shoot animals from a minimum of 125 different species.
In my book Trophy Hunters Exposed, I named several hunters who have single-handedly shot thousands of animals. Spanish big-game hunter Tony Sanchez-Arino has killed 1,300 elephants and 340 lions. Zimbabwean hunter Ron Thomson has shot more than 5,000 elephants.
We face a conservation crisis of cataclysmal proportions. Why is it still legal to kill some of the most endangered animals on earth?
Elephants and lions face the very real prospect of going extinct. At the beginning of the 19th century, before modern-day trophy hunting began in earnest, there were an estimated 20 million elephants and 1.2 million lions on earth. Now there are around 400,000 elephants and 20,000 lions (some think this figure could be as low as 10,000). The U.S. government believes lions could be extinct in the wild by 2050.
What about CITES, the global wildlife trade law? It prohibits the killing of many species … except if you’re a trophy hunter. CITES says you can’t shoot elephants or rhinos to sell their tusks or horns. But you can shoot them if you want those tusks or horns as “personal or household effects.”
Wildlife traffickers have run a coach and horses through this exemption. Asian crime syndicates have been putting peasants and prostitutes on planes to South Africa, where they are instructed to pose as trophy hunters and help them make fortunes from the ivory trade. CITES records show that Chinese so-called “trophy hunters” are the world’s biggest killers of rhinos.
CITES has made special allowances for the lion-bone trade. Thousands of lions are bred in shocking conditions and shot by trophy hunters in enclosures. The hunter keeps the head and skin, while the bones are sold to Asian dealers who transform them into a “wine” that is popular among wealthy Chinese businessmen, as both a status symbol and for its purported medicinal benefits. Wild lions are killed so that operators can steal their young and refresh the genetic stock of their captive populations.
How do they get away with it?
Tony Sanchez-Arino has killed 1,300 elephants and 340 lions. Ron Thomson has shot more than 5,000 elephants.
Since 2000, S.C.I. has spent a staggering $140 million on “protecting the freedom to hunt through policy advocacy, litigation and the education of state and federal legislators.” Through its political-action committee, it has poured millions more into the campaign coffers of U.S. election candidates, including senior members of the Trump administration and leaders of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
Then there is the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, a pro-hunting lobbying group set up in part by the former president of S.C.I. Roughly one-half of U.S. Congress members belong to it, as do more than half of America’s state governors.
When scientists and African governments wanted to classify lions as endangered—and hence restrict lion hunting—S.C.I. ran a massive campaign which successfully blocked the move.
Pro-hunting front groups, posing as conservation organizations, have won membership in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (I.U.C.N.), the global body that publishes the Red List of Threatened Species. The head of one such front group, who is also one of the world’s top lion hunters, sits on I.U.C.N.’s African Lion Working Group—despite having no scientific qualifications. His group has official status within CITES too.
At the most recent CITES conference, pro-hunting groups managed to persuade delegates to let them shoot twice as many critically endangered black rhinos as the year before.
I detail some of the industry’s dirty-tricks campaigns in Trophy Leaks, which also reveals that trophy hunters kill on average one animal every three minutes.
Eduardo Gonçalves is one of the United Kingdom’s leaders in the effort to end animal cruelty. Previously he was the C.E.O. of the League Against Cruel Sports, and in 2018 founded the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting
All proceeds from the sale of Trophy Leaks: Trophy Hunters & Industry Secrets Revealed go to the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting