By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
At the Safari Club International’s annual convention each year, wealth, privilege and power come together with a revolting goal: mowing down the world’s rarest and most beloved wildlife. This year’s event in Reno was no different. Trophy hunters heard speeches from guest of honor Donald Trump Jr. and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Aurelia Skipwith, shelled out tens of thousands of dollars to kill endangered rhinos, lions and polar bears, and kicked back to the music of the Beach Boys.
But, as our undercover investigators who were on site discovered, there were potentially illegal goings-on at the event as well. Exhibitors peddled boots and belts made with elephant, hippo and stingray skins in what appears to be a violation of Nevada’s law on wildlife trafficking. The state forbids trade in the body parts and products of these endangered and threatened animals.
Customers could also get accessories made to order with the animal skins, some dyed in garish colors. The going rate for giraffe skin boots was nearly $1,400 and kangaroo skin boots were nearly $1,100.
It wasn’t just dead animal parts on sale. The lives of 860 animals were auctioned off at the four-day event. As you can see in our undercover footage, vendors glibly offered canned lion hunts, where trophy hunters can pick out and kill defenseless animals bred in captivity with nowhere to run. Also on offer was a $6,000 hunt for any six animals that a customer can choose to kill in South Africa, including zebras, wildebeest, warthogs, impalas, hartebeest, gemsbok, nyala and waterbuck. A polar bear hunt in Canada was offered for $35,000.
Also on offer: a critically endangered black rhino hunt for $350,000, and an Asiatic black bear hunt for $15,000 in Russia, among others. There even was a “Trump special” for $25,000 to kill buffalo, sable, roan and crocodiles. An outfitter peddling a giraffe hunt told our investigator the hunt costs “only” $1,200 because they have “too many giraffes” and need to “get rid of the animals.” This at a time when the U.S. is considering listing the giraffe under the Endangered Species Act and two giraffe subspecies were recently listed as critically endangered under the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
By the time the convention wrapped up on Saturday, two winners had paid a total of $340,000 for a “dream hunt” on a luxury yacht in Alaska with Trump Jr. to kill back-tailed deer and sea ducks.
The HSUS and HSI send undercover investigators to the convention each year so that we can shine a global spotlight on this grisly world. As you can see from our video footage, this is not an event most people would want to frequent. In addition to the vendors carrying out a callous trade in animal lives, everywhere you look are the stuffed carcasses of lions, Cape buffalo, bears, wolves, mountain lions and leopards. This year’s displays included an ibex mountain goat killed by Trump, Jr. On the walls are portraits of hunters grinning alongside their kills or posing proudly holding open the mouths of the dead animals.
Many of these species on offer for the killing already face multiple threats from poachers or are falling victim to climate change and habitat loss. But for the SCI and its members, the rarer the animals are, the greater the thrill of killing them.
Fortunately, the tide is turning, as Americans lose their patience with the havoc trophy hunters wreak on our planet. Earlier this week we announced that in response to a lawsuit brought by the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International, the Trump administration shut down a sham trophy hunters’ panel that was advising the government on wildlife trade policy. Last month, a Canadian chapter of SCI was forced to shut down its auction for an elephant hunt in Botswana—the first since the country reopened trophy hunting elephants last year. Attendance at the SCI convention itself is dropping each year. And increasingly, Americans and people the world over are sharing their disgust of trophy hunters and their exploits on social media.
We look forward to the day when we won’t have to send our investigators to the SCI convention, because there won’t be one. But until that day comes, our fight to stop industry groups like the SCI will continue. American trophy hunters kill more endangered and threatened animals around the globe than hunters anywhere in the world, and we will hold them to account. We are pushing for Congress to pass two bills, the CECIL Act and the ProTECT Act, that would rein in trophy imports of such species from overseas. No one needs to decorate their walls with the heads and hides of endangered or other at-risk animals, and it’s time we, as a nation, stop this unnecessary killing for good.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.