Penned lions still on offer at US trophy hunting convention

The Humane Society of the United States captured this image of a four-lion taxidermy mount at the Safari Club International’s 2020 annual convention, held Feb. 5-8 in Reno, Nevada. An undercover video recorded by the group appears to show vendors at the convention promoting trips to shoot captive-bred lions in Africa.

WASHINGTON (AP) — An undercover video recorded by animal welfare activists shows vendors at a recent trophy-hunting convention promoting trips to shoot captive-bred lions in Africa, despite past public assurances by the event’s organizers that so-called canned hunts wouldn’t be sold.

Investigators for the Humane Society of the United States captured the footage last week at the annual convention of Safari Club International in Reno, Nevada. SCI is among the nation’s largest trophy-hunting groups.

In the video taken by the Humane Society last week, tour operators said the lions in the hunts being marketed were bred in captivity. Typically, the lions are raised in cages and small pens before being released into a larger fenced enclosure. Once the lions reach young adulthood, customers pay to shoot and kill them.

“They’re bred in captivity. They’re born in captivity, and then they’re released,” a salesman for Bush Africa Safaris, a South African tour operator, says on the video. “There’s guys who are going to tell you something different on the floor, they’re going to bulls--t you, that is what it is.”

Schalk and Terina van Heerden, the owners of Bush Africa Safaris in Ellisras, South Africa, did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Salesmen from two other safari operators also confirmed that they had captive-bred lions for hunting. One advertised a bargain rate of $8,000. Multiday safaris for hunting wild lions can easily cost 10 times that — money that hunting advocates say helps support conservation and anti-poaching efforts in cash-strapped African nations.

“Canned lion hunts have no conservation value and are unethical,” said Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. “Lions bred for the sole purpose of being hunted for a trophy is an industry built on a conveyor belt of exploitation and animal cruelty.”

In 2018, SCI issued a policy opposing the hunting of African lions bred in captivity. After the Humane Society captured video of canned hunts being sold at the SCI convention last year, SCI issued a statement pledging not to accept advertising from any operator selling such hunts, nor allow their sale in the vendor booths rented out at its annual convention.

In a statement Wednesday, SCI said its policy against captive-bred hunts had not changed and that it would investigate the issue.

“Safari Club International proudly supports the right to hunt; however, SCI does not condone the practice of canned hunting by our members, outfitters or other partners,” said Robert Brooks, a spokesman for the group. “As sportsmen, we believe hunting is best enjoyed when certain fair chase criteria are met.”

In addition to the canned hunts on offer, vendors at the SCI convention were advertising a $350,000 hunt for a critically endangered black rhino in Namibia and a guided polar bear hunt in Canada for $35,000. One safari outfitter from Africa was offering a $25,000 “Trump Special,” inviting hunters to “make your own drone strike” by shooting a buffalo, sable, roan antelope and crocodile in a single trip.

“This convention does nothing other than celebrate senseless violence toward wildlife,” Block said. “Wild animals are not commodities to be sold, with their deaths something to celebrate.

“This needs to end.”

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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