Around 1.7m animal “trophies” have been exported across borders by hunters in the last decade, with at least 200,000 of them endangered species, according to a new report.
US hunters are by far the largest killers of trophy animals, including half of all the 11,000 lions shot in the last decade, the report found. The issue came to global attention in July 2015, after a US dentist paid more than $50,000 to kill a lion called Cecil, who was being tracked by conservation scientists.
The report from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw), based on official records, sheds new light on the scale of the international trophy-hunting industry.
It found the number of lions hunted for trophies tripled to 1,500 a year in the last decade, while the number of elephants killed by hunters more than doubled to 1,600. The total number of animal trophies may be much higher as those that remain in the country where they were killed are not recorded.
“The trophy-hunting industry is driven by demand and, sadly, demand for animal trophies is prevalent worldwide,” said Philip Mansbridge, director of Ifaw UK. “Even in the face of extinction, imperilled species are still being hunted every day in order to serve as the centrepiece of someone’s decor. It is unconscionable in this modern day where species are under so many threats to survive.”
Three of Africa’s “big five” – elephants, lions and leopards – were in the top six targets for trophy hunters. More than 10,000 elephants and the same number of leopards were killed as trophies in the last decade, along with more than 8,000 lions.
The most popular target was the American black bear, of which 93,000 were hunted in the last decade, with the Hartmann’s mountain zebra the second biggest target with 13,000 deaths. Large numbers of baboons (9,500) and hippopotamuses (6,000) were also hunted as trophies in the last decade.
Trophy hunting is expensive: hunters pay $25,000-$60,000 to kill an elephant, $8,500-$50,000 for a lion and $15,000-$35,000 for a leopard. Supporters of the industry argue that the money raised can fund conservation efforts and Prince William has argued it can be justified in some circumstances.
In April, the International Union for Conservation of Nature said: “Legal, well-regulated trophy hunting programmes can – and do – play an important role in delivering benefits for both wildlife conservation and for the livelihoods and wellbeing of indigenous and local communities living with wildlife.”
But others strongly disagree. “Many scientists and organisations reject the ‘killing them to save them’ philosophy that hunters tout as their justification,” said Azzedine Downes, president of Ifaw.
One species that is being hunted less frequently today is polar bears, of which just 20,000 survive in the wild. The US banned the import of polar bear trophies in 2008 and the number hunted each year in Canada fell from 360 to 210, although the two countries have continued to clash over the issue.
The Ifaw report is based on records from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), the legal treaty agreed by 182 nations, but these do not include trophies that are not exported. The Ifaw analysis is in line with previous research: in February, the Humane Society International estimated that 1.2m animal trophies were imported into the US alone over the last decade.
Ifaw found the biggest sources of trophy animals were Canada (35%), due to the many black bears killed, followed by South Africa (23%) and Namibia (11%).
After the US, hunters from Germany and Spain take the most animal trophies home, with about 10,000 entering each country over the last decade. The UK imported less than 500 over the same period, but Mansbridge is still calling on its government to follow France and other countries and ban the practice.
Mansbridge added: “It could be argued that the concept of trophy hunting as we know it today was invented by the British empire during Victorian times. We started this cruel practice – now we should lead the world in stopping it.”
This article was first published by The Guardian on 14 Jun 2016.
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