One shocking picture shows a bloodstained schoolboy grinning as he stands over the antelope he slaughtered just moments before with a military-grade sniper rifle.
A Daily Star Online investigation revealed that he was among dozens of kids taken on “family friendly” hunting trips to the African subcontinent – with trophy hunting firms offering bespoke deals for youngsters in a desperate bid to “inspire the next generation of hunters”.
Some let children under 10 hunt for free, while others throw in free taxidermy so they can mount their conquests on their bedroom walls. Others offer to hire professional videographers to film first kills in HD, or offer huge first-time discounts.
Several of the firms rake in hundreds of thousands by giving punters the chance to kill elephants, lions, leopards and rhinos.The endangered beasts are slaughtered with rifles and crossbows before their corpses are harvested for trophy mounts.
Comedian and animal campaigner Ricky Gervais led condemnation of the brutal trade and blasted our “depressing” findings.
He raged: “I don’t see sport here. I see abuse.
“Serial killers start with animals. Why would any parent take these pointless risks with the psychological wellbeing of their children?
“Kids will do anything to gain approval and respect from their role models – even killing a beautiful wild animal for fun.”
South Africa’s Cheetah Safaris helped the four-year-old to shoot a Kudu from point-blank range.
Sickening pictures posted on Instagram reveal that his eyebrow was split open by the scope’s recoil.
The caption read: “Gerhard became a real hunter and shot his first kudu today at four years old!
“Had to deal with hunter consequences and got a scope eye. Now nothing is safe!”
Founder Pieter Bothma also runs a firm with a “big five” combination deal where millionaires can slaughter an elephant, a lion, a white rhino, and a cape buffalo on the same trip.
The sick offer is so exclusive that the full price is only available on request.
South African hunter Carl van Zyl – who offers millionaires the chance to shoot elephants, lions and white rhinos – offers to cover the fee of any U18 who wants to kill.
His John X Safaris firm lets kids hunt dozens of at-risk species in South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique, Cameroon, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Congo and Ethiopia.
Van Zyl vows to match the “investment” of any parent who wants to hunt with their children.
He wrote: “We’re passionate about the next generation of hunters.
“In fact, we’re so passionate we’ve taken it upon ourselves to match your investment in their hunt, ultimately our hunting future, by matching the cost of getting them to Africa.
“We figured if you were willing to buy the flight we’d be happy to sponsor the day fee.
“As hunters we need more kids out in the field each day. Bring them along on safari to Africa and help us as we inspire the next generation of hunters.”
Texan surgeon Toby Risko booked a ‘spring break’ hunting trip through the company for his family of four last year.
He paid extra for a “state of the art” production company to film his nine-year-old twins slaughtering gazelle and zebra.
Got The Shot productions claim their “broadcast quality” package will ensure each hunt is “immortalised for generations.”
Shocking footage from the resulting 45-minute film shows his daughter gunning down a zebra with a tripod-mounted sniper rifle.
She stands triumphantly on its corpse as a guide gushes: “She’s small but feisty and tough. She’s going to be a great huntress.”
In a testimonial for John X Safaris’ glossy annual magazine, she says: “My favourite part was shooting my zebra stallion because he is so pretty and big.”
Her twin brother added: “I liked that I was able to shoot so many animals and I’m only nine.”
Rival company Rosedale Safaris charges £20,000 to shoot a leopard, £2,100 for a giraffe, and offer “unlimited” monkeys as part of a £2,600 package deal.
Its owners Charl and Julia La Roux helped a five-year-old boy shoot a “huge” Blesbuck for £310.
In a testimonial on the firm’s website, his father gushed: “The highlight of the hunt was when Charl guided my five-year-old son to his first animal ever.”
In 2015 American dentist Walter Palmer sparked international outrage when he paid £35,0000 to kill Cecil the lion.
Two local hunters illegally lured Cecil from a protected area to hand Palmer the kill.
And Golden Safaris put on a 10-day bonding package for dads and their sons.
The “exceptional value” deal includes a stay at the luxury Free State lodge – where hunters can tackle some of Africa’s most endangered wildlife.
The site boasts: “If hunting plains game does not get your heart racing, four of the Big Five (buffalo, elephant, lion and white rhino) are also available.
“The father and son hunting package strives to offer dads wishing to enjoy an African hunting experience with their sons a cost-effective and enjoyable safari experience.
“The trophies in the package are to be shared by fathers and sons.”
Eduardo Goncalves, founder of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, told Daily Star Online: “These pictures are heartbreaking.
“More and more trophy hunting operators are getting children to shoot and pose with animals they’ve killed.
“This is a sick and immoral industry in every way. Somehow, though, they have managed to hit a new low.
“We should not be indoctrinating children that it’s ok to take the life of something for entertainment.
“Some of the world’s worst criminals started out as animal abusers, including Jon Venables – one of the murderers of Jamie Bulger – and Ian Huntley, the Soham killer.
“Trophy hunting has been linked to a host of other violent crimes including domestic violence.
“If we want to breed a new generation of murderers and wife-beaters, then this is the way to go about it.
“Daily Star Online readers will be horrified at these images, and rightly so. These kids are barely old enough to walk and already they’re being brainwashed by bloodthirsty animal killers.”
Downton Abbey actor Peter Egan added: “Trophy hunters are killing huge numbers of animals, many of them threatened with extinction.
“We should be stamping out all forms of abuse and so-called ‘sport’ hunting.”
This article was first published by The Daily Star on 29 February 2020.
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