In the last decade American hunters have killed and brought home approximately 508,000 “wildlife trophies” from Canada.
The hunters seemingly shot just about anything that moved, killing mountain lions, caribou, mountain goats, mule deer, moose, white-tailed deer, elk, black and grizzly bears, and wolves among others.
“Canada is the number one country from which the U.S. sources wildlife trophies,” Masha Kalinia, an international trade policy specialist with Humane Society International (HSI) told a conference call on Wednesday.
Kalinia also pointed out that Canada features prominently in Safari Club International’s award contest, offering an award, for instance, for iconic North American species that can be killed throughout the northern country.
The reason for the conference call was to provide an alternative perspective to the opening day of the world’s largest trophy hunting convention, this year taking place in Las Vegas.
The Safari Club International’s Ultimate World Hunter’s Market will host tens of thousands of hunters over a three day period. Headquartered in Tuscon, Arizona, Safari Club International is a membership organization that advocates for expanded access to wildlife by trophy hunters.
“It encourages its members to kill more and more animals to add to their personal trophy collection,” Teresa Telecky, director of HSI’s wildlife department told the conference call.
The club has a record book containing the names of the hunters who have killed the largest animals of each type and hands out awards to members who have completed “hit lists” of animals.
For example, the Africa Big Five Award goes to a member who kills a lion, an elephant, a rhino and a buffalo. The club has some 45 similar contests for things such as bears of the world or cats of the world.
To earn the top prize, a hunter must kill over 300 animals.
The killing of Cecil the Lion sparked an international firestorm
Telecky told the conference call that the convention features hundreds of outfitters selling hunts to tens of thousands of members. They also donate hunts, which are then auctioned off with the revenue going to support the club’s work.
At its 2015 convention, the club earned $2.7 million from the auction of 315 mammal hunts. This year’s offers over 300 mammal hunt auctions that will result in the deaths of over 600 animals.
“After Cecil the Lion was lured out of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park last year and shot with an arrow by a Minnesota dentist, Americans woke up to the awful reality of trophy hunting,” Telecky said.
Nicole Paquette, vice-president of wildlife protection for the Humane Society of the U.S., (HSUS) said the killing of Cecil sparked “an international firestorm on the ethics of trophy hunting.”
She said in recent years a trend is emerging where state wildlife management agencies are rushing to increase the trophy hunting of animals, in the process ignoring the best available science.
Coinciding with the call, HSI and HSUS jointly released a new report on mountain lion hunting in the U.S. which shows that approximately 29,000 of the wild cats have been legally hunted over the past decade in that country.
Additionally, in the same period of time, nearly 2,700 more mountain lions were killed in other countries and their body parts traded internationally.
The report noted that most mountain lions are killed using hounding, where hunters and guides use packs of radio-collared dogs to pursue mountain lions until they climb a tree and can be easily shot.
Some states such as Nevada, New Mexico and Texas also permit trapping of mountain lions, resulting in even more being maimed or killed.
Thirty years of research shows that trophy hunts don't help with wildlife management
During the call several scientists shared their research and perspectives on trophy hunting.
Rob Wielgus, the professor and director of the Large Carnivore Conservation Laboratory at Washington State University told the call that they’ve studied grizzly and black bears, cougars and wolves since 1982. More recently the lab has started studying leopards as well.
Wieglus said one thing they’ve learned is that when dominant males are killed in a trophy hunt it sets off a chain of events. New immigrant males come in and populate the vacant territory. With bears and big cats, those new males will kill the cubs to bring the female into estrus.
“It increases the mortality rate of a kitten or cub by about 50 per cent,” Wielgus said.
In response to the influx of new males, females will move to new areas they wouldn't normally occupy, including to populated regions and they begin eating prey they normally wouldn’t eat.
The result is increased complaints from people; increased livestock killing; and increased predation of threatened and endangered animals such as mountain caribou.
“Basically the new guy finally establishes a territory and then he gets killed and the whole thing starts over again,” Wielgus said. “So you don’t end up with fewer carnivores. You just end up with a bunch of teenage carnivores wrecking havoc on the system and a bunch of dead cubs and starving females.”
Wielgus said that 30 years of research shows that using trophy hunts to help with wildlife management simply doesn’t work, adding that the lab has published 32 peer-reviewed papers on the topic.
Recent studies show killing wolves to cut down on livestock deaths is ineffective
Bradley Bergstrom, a professor of biology and a member of the American Society of Mammalogists, built on what Wielgus had to say when he spoke about the wolf hunt in North America.
He said state governments are supposedly making science-based arguments for the management of the resource and saying that “control or this management - which means killing - is necessary.”
However, Bergstrom pointed to recent studies that have shown that killing wolves to reduce depredation on livestock has no effect.
He noted that another problem is that when a state sets a bag limit, it assumes it knows how many wolves are being legally killed. But the problem is a great number are also killed illegally or accidentally.
A recent study from Wisconsin showed that 34 per cent of deaths in the grey wolf population in that state came from poaching. Bergstrom said poaching is hard to track. “There’s a lot of unknown mortality.”
Nor do those numbers include road kill. Another study from 2015 reported that in Yellowstone National Park there was an 8.4 per cent mortality rate in the grey wolf from road kill.
“There’s a lot unknown mortality that adds to the known mortality,” Bergstrom said. “There’s a series of studies now that show this [rate of] mortality is unsustainable.”