Safari Club International (SCI), America’s most powerful hunting lobby group, will auction the lives of 280 South African animals to raise funds to lobby the Trump Administration against measures to protect threatened species like elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo and leopard.
At a trophy hunting convention that SCI is hosting in Las Vegas this week, the hunting lobby group expects the estimated 25 000 hunters to bid on at least 60 South African hunting trips. Apart from the Big 5, American hunters are offered the chance to kill all of South Africa’s iconic species. Successful bidders will be able to shoot giraffe, hippo, zebra, baboon, wildebeest, sable antelope, warthog, greater kudu, impala, springbok, blesbok, caracal, African wildcat, with 119 other animals proffered as ‘upgrades’ for an additional cost.
The South African hunts are valued at $1.01 million, from an estimated total of $5.3 million from other hunts on auction, which include the hunting of some 1 000 mammals internationally, including highly endangered polar bears.
All profits from the trophy hunts will go directly toward funding SCI to actively lobby the US government towards a pro-hunting stance. The group will wield considerable influence on the Trump Administration, especially the Department of the Interior, which manages natural resources.
SCI has already filed a lawsuit against the US Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this year defending the practice of aerial hunting and other inhumane predator-killing practices in natural refuges in Alaska. They also financially support US political action committees (PACs) like the Hunter Defence Fund, which actively work to elect pro-trophy hunting politicians to Congress. According to SCI, 94% of SCI-supported candidates won in the 2014 US Congressional election and 147 pro-hunting candidates have been elected to Congress.
With the new administration under Donald Trump, SCI’s influence is set to increase even further.
“We are worried that, with the new US administration in power, pro-trophy hunting advocacy groups like SCI will have undue negative influence on key wildlife conservation issues,” says Masha Kalinina, International Trade Policy Specialist at the Wildlife Department of Humane Society International. “This is why it’s troubling that the lives of innocent South African mammals are helping finance this agenda far across the globe,” she said.
President Donald Trump’s sons – Donald Jr. and Eric – are both avid trophy hunters and images of their African safari kills angered conservationists and wildlife-lovers.
SCI also heavily influences government policies to a number of African nations.
In 2010, SCI forced Namibia to reverse its ban on leopard and cheetah hunting while a similar scenario occurred in Zambia when the powerful lobby group persuaded the Zambian government to reverse its ban on hunting lions and leopards.
In September 2015, SCI and other pro-hunting organisations met behind closed doors with the South African Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and representatives of other African nations in Polokwane to discuss the ‘benefits’ of trophy hunting. Journalists and non-hunting conservation groups were barred access from the meeting, which generated suspicion as to the exact involvement of SCI with the DEA.
This week, as part of the online auction, there will be two South Africa hunts valued at $16 500 and $15 000 each – from Thaba Mmoyo Safaris and Melody Safaris – that offer to hunt wildlife with dogs, a controversial practice known as ‘hounding’, where an animal is chased until exhausted, trapped, and easily shot. The auctions can be seen here and here.
One auction from Watts Trophy Hunting offers an upgrade to kill an elephant and an African lion. Extremely high levels of poaching are already endangering both species and hunting them will only exacerbate the problem.
Most controversially, some of the auctions offer canned hunting – the cruel practice in which animals are hunted within a fenced area without any opportunity to escape.
“It’s time to bust the myth that killing for kicks helps conservation in any significant way at all, it simply doesn’t,” explains Kalinina, “by allowing US hunters to kill South Africa’s iconic species, South Africa is boosting the coffers of a powerful US organisation that instead threatens global wildlife. The South African public should be seriously concerned.”
Humane Society International is calling on South African citizens to oppose callous killing of wildlife for entertainment by signing a pledge to end trophy hunting.
Watch HSI's footage from the undercover investigation of the 2016 Safari Club International convention here.