Brave enough to shoot a cage-raised lion, but not enough to face the public
WASHINGTON, D.C.––Ruling that trophy hunters’ right to privacy trumps the public right to know what animals they kill, even though the goal of trophy hunting is showing off, U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly on August 19, 2019 ruled that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service may conceal the identities of hunting trophy import and export permit holders.
Judge Kelly was a September 2017 appointee of U.S. President Donald Trump. The Kelly decision was only the latest of many by Trump appointees to favor trophy hunters.
Trump appointee reversed bans on elephant & lion trophy imports
“Under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke,” who was U.S. Secretary of the Interior from March 1, 2017 to January 2, 2019, summarized New Republic staff writer Emily Atkin on August 14, 2019, “the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reversed a host of bans on big-game imports, including elephant and lion carcasses from several African countries including Zimbabwe and Zambia,” after Trump himself hinted that the bans would be kept in place.
“Zinke has granted more than three dozen import permits for dead lions,” Atkin noted, “some from previously banned countries, during his tenure. Zinke also created an wildlife conservation council for the sole purpose of promoting trophy hunting, and stacked it with trophy hunters and gun advocates.”
Zinke’s successor, former oil industry lobbyist David Bernhardt, on June 5, 2019 announced that by early September he expects to finalize plans to expand hunting opportunities on 1.4 million acres of federal public land, including 74 national wildlife refuges.
Trump sons may benefit
Beneficiaries of the Kelly verdict may include the president’s sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., should they reprise their 2012 trophy killings of African wildlife. Photos of the Trump sons posing with a dead elephant, dead leopard, dead crocodile, and other species have prominently circulated ever since.
Trophy hunters whose identities might have been hidden by the Kelly verdict, had it come five years earlier, include:
- Billionaire Jimmy John Liautaud, 55, whose Jimmy John’s restaurant chain is under boycott for his African trophy hunting exploits undertaken between 2011 and 2015;
- Former Minneapolis dentist Walter Palmer, 60, who infamously killed Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe in 2015;
- Tess Thompson Talley, 39, a Texas trophy hunter notorious for killing and posing with the remains of an 18-year-old giraffe in 2017, and a kangaroo in 2018;
- Guy Gorney, 64, of Manhattan, Illinois, unmasked earlier in 2019 as the trophy hunter who in 2011 was videotaped in the act of shooting a sleeping lion, among more than 70 other animals also including an elephant, a rhino, a leopard, and a Cape buffalo;
- Mike Jines, 60, of Alpharetta, Georgia, a partner in TopGen Energy, who shot two baby elephants in Zimbabwe in 2018, claiming that it was in self-defense after they charged him;
- Larysa Switlyk, 33, of Sarasota, Florida, who outraged much of Scotland in 2018 after shooting a wild goat on the island of Islay and posing for photos with the dead goat and a sex toy.
- Bowhunting equipment maker Blake Owen Fischer, 41, of Meridian, Idaho, who massacred a baboon family in Namibia in 2018, arranged tableaus of the remains, then emailed photos of the tableaus to more than 100 friends, including fellow members of the Idaho Fish & Game Commission. Idaho Governor Butch Otter announced Fischer’s resignation from the commission a month later.
Trophy hunters exposed themselves
In truth, though, not one of those now notorious trophy hunters was exposed by diligent investigators pursuing Freedom of Information Act requests, nor by any action of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Each exposed himself or herself quite voluntarily, by posting boasts to social media, usually amply illustrated by photos and video.
Their “unsporting” and often downright sadistic conduct, in each case, was noticed first and brought to news media attention by message recipients who did not find the behavior depicted as praiseworthy as the trophy hunters imagined it to be.
“These individuals have an interest in keeping their names from being disclosed”
Wrote Judge Kelly, in rejecting a Freedom of Information Act request from Humane Society International for hunting trophy importer and exporter permit holder data, “These individuals have an interest in keeping their names from being disclosed to the public alongside the details of their private activity importing or exporting wildlife.
Kelly citied Freedom of Information Act exemption 7(C), pertaining to records “compiled for law enforcement purposes” if they could “reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
Claimed Kelly, “Exemption 7(C) therefore requires courts to protect, in the proper degree, the personal privacy of citizens against the uncontrolled release of information compiled through the power of the State. Simply because these individuals have decided to engage in a regulated activity does not mean they have no privacy interest in the information they must provide the government in connection with that activity.”
99,996 animal trophies imported into U.S.
Explained Greenwire reporter Michael Doyle, “The permit holder data is held in the Fish & Wildlife Service’s Law Enforcement Management Information System. In 2014 the database showed 99,996 animal trophies imported into the United States.
“Through Freedom of Information Act requests filed in 2014, Humane Society International sought information including “class, genus, species, subspecies, generic name, specific name, wildlife description, quantity, unit, country of origin, U.S. Importer/Exporter, [and] Foreign Importer/Exporter.
“The Fish & Wildlife Service provided some but not all of the information sought.”
Humane Society International is the global arm of the Humane Society of the United States.
The CECIL Act
Opposing the Humane Society International information request as an intervenor was Safari Club International, acting, Doyle wrote, “to prevent the disclosure of the names of its members.”
Added Doyle, “Kelly kept alive Humane Society International’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for the declared monetary value of the wildlife imports and exports, which the Fish & Wildlife Service currently withholds as confidential business information.
“Around 80% of trophy hunters worldwide are Americans,” reported Taylor Mooney for CBC News on July 19, 2019, following a Congressional hearing on a bill by Representative Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona, which “would prohibit all importation and exportation of species listed under the Endangered Species Act, including species proposed to be listed, in order to prevent a surge in hunting of the animal prior to its official listing,” Mooney summarized.
“The bill would impose a total ban on importing hunting trophies of elephants or lions taken in Tanzania, Zimbabwe or Zambia,” Mooney continued. “It would also ban the import of other sport-hunted trophies of ‘threatened species or endangered species’ unless the country where it was hunted adequately provides for the species’ conservation.”
The bill, called by Grijalva the “Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing Importation of Large Animal Species Act,” or the CECIL Act for short, has no realistic chance of advancing through the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, and would likely be vetoed by U.S. President Donald Trump even if it did.
Trophy hunting vs. non-consumptive wildlife tourism
But the Congressional hearing did bring out some key statistics about the current economic value of trophy hunting relative to non-consumptive wildlife-based tourism.
Testified Humane Society International wildlife program manager Iris Ho, “Trophy hunting contributes just 0.6% of the annual GDP of eight countries surveyed in 2017, supporting only 7,500 jobs,” compared to 24 million jobs, generating $48 billion, created by non-consumptive wildlife tourism.
Responded Catherine Semcer, a research fellow at the pro-hunting Property & Environment Research Center in Montana, “The trophy hunting programs of African nations have a demonstrated track record of making wildlife habitat an economically competitive land use, and preventing conversion to agriculture. These programs conserve nearly 350 million acres of habitat, a figure that exceeds the total area of sub-Saharan Africa’s national parks by 22%.”
Trophy hunting vs. habitat
But that argument in itself explains why African nations long favored by trophy hunters, including South Africa and Zimbabwe, have embarked on land distribution schemes targeting ranchers of European descent who have long avoided employing people of African descent––and having people of African descent as close neighbors––by converting farms that once produced food into private trophy hunting preserves, which are just as lucrative for the owners, but require relatively little labor to manage.
The same argument also explains why in those nations, and many others, subsistence farmers of African descent frequently encroach upon national park land, and/or engage in the often violent “land invasions” that have characterized Zimbabwe for more than 20 years.
Simply put, “conservation” that is really just managing vast tracts of potentially suitable farm land for the exclusive benefit of rich land owners and foreign trophy hunters is not actually conserving wildlife. Nor is keeping the indigenous African majority in hunger and poverty an effective conservation strategy anywhere.
Instead, “conserving” trophy hunting preserves is intensifying both agricultural encroachment and poaching pressure on authentic wildlife habitat, to the detriment of practically all species not bred, sold, and stocked specifically to be hunted.
“Trophy hunting is in a state of decline”
Wildlife veterinarian and management consultant Bertrand Chardonnet in a recent report to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature entitled “Reconfiguring the protected area in Africa” pointed out that as Africa Geographic editorially summarized on March 8, 2019, “Trophy hunting is in a state of decline and is no longer able to pay for its ecological footprint, leading to poaching and habitat loss in hunting concessions.
“Due to farming activities linked to population growth,” Africa Geographic explained, “Countries such as Senegal, Niger, Chad, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Malawi and Angola,” most of which never had large trophy hunting industries but have experienced prolonged warfare, “have lost 90% of the land formerly available to big game hunting.”
Hunting depletes habitat
But hosting trophy hunting has not preserved very much more habitat.
“Amongst countries still offering big game hunting, ecosystem degradation and decline of game species has led to the non-use of significant portions of former big game hunting areas: 72% in Tanzania and 40% in Zambia,” Africa Geographic continued.
“In Tanzania, 110 out of 154 hunting zones have been abandoned because they are no longer profitable for big game/trophy hunting. This represents a surface area of four times the size of Tanzania’s national parks.
“Tanzania is Africa’s leading country for big game hunting in unfenced areas,” Africa Geographic noted, “yet the numbers of lions and elephants shot have plummeted over the last six years.
“Lack of suitable lions left to hunt”
“Despite a six-year age limit on lions (only lions older than six years may be shot), in 2015 66,7% of the lions shot were five years old, or younger. Aside from the issue of the hunting of under-age lions, this statistic demonstrates the lack of suitable lions left to hunt.
“The dramatic surge in ivory poaching in Tanzania has led to the collapse of elephants available for hunting, as big game hunters target the same large-tusked individuals that poachers target.”
Observed Africa Geographic, “The number of hunters in countries that provide trophy hunters to Africa have dropped dramatically. For example, in the U.S., the number of hunters dropped by 18.5% between 1991 and 2016. In France, the drop was 50% in 40 years. When it comes to big game hunters visiting African countries,” the Africa Geographic editors found, the numbers are not as easy to access, but South Africa,” which reputedly attracts the most trophy hunters, has seen a 60.5% drop in eight years, from 16,594 in 2008 to 6,539 in 2016.”
Private anti-poaching efforts less effective
While trophy hunting ranchers claim to protect wildlife from poaching, Chardonnet and Africa Geographic discovered that private investment in anti-poaching efforts runs as low as 2% of government expenditure per hectare to protect wildlife in national parks.
This in turn explains such statistics as 7,100 rhinos poached in South Africa over the past decade, with private owners hit proportionately far harder than national parks, which have twice as many rhinos. Indeed, of 300 South African ranchers permitted to keep rhinos, 70 have lost their entire rhino herds.
Concluded Africa Geographic, “Big game / trophy hunting has seen a rapid decline in Africa over several years; does not protect the natural habitat from habitat loss and poaching; can only finance a small percentage of the sum required for its conservation; and does not provide sufficient socio-economic benefits” to justify its continued existence.