by Nicole Rivard
“Why would anyone want to kill a giraffe?”
That was the question we at Friends of Animals (FoA) heard again and again last fall as the photo of Blake Fischer, one of Idaho’s Fish and Game commissioners at the time, grinning over a dead giraffe went viral along with photos of other African wildlife he slaughtered on his trophy hunting trip to Namibia.
We were shocked to learn that sickos like Fischer, who was forced to resign, are numerous in the U.S. According to data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the U.S. is a major importer of giraffe parts and derivatives, and American trophy hunters are the ones supplying the market with giraffe trophies and parts, including skins and bones.
Between 2006 and 2016, the U.S. imported 21,402 bone carvings, 3,008 skin pieces and 3,744 hunting trophies. South Africa and Zimbabwe were the biggest exporters. The data shows there’s been an increase in commercial imports of giraffe bone carvings, skin pieces and shoes in recent years as well as hunting trophies. Unbelievably, Americans are buying giraffe products such as Western boots, knives, pillows, rugs and furniture.
Giraffes currently have no protection under U.S. law and are not listed on the Appendices of the Conventions on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
That’s why FoA has added giraffes to the species protected by Big Five African Trophies Act, which is legislation we drafted that has been introduced in New York by co-sponsors Senator Luis Sepulveda and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal. It has been introduced in Connecticut by State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff.
FoA’s Big Five African Trophies Act would ban the importation, possession, sale or transportation of the trophies of African giraffes, leopards, lions, elephants, and black and white rhinos and their body parts throughout New York and CT. They are all vulnerable, threatened and endangered species.
“Having passed many animal friendly laws in the New York State Assembly, I’m thrilled to now also be sponsoring the Big 5 African Trophies Act,” said Rosenthal. “While many African species are seeing drastic declines in population, the Trump administration is simultaneously lifting bans on importing these trophies into the country. It’s now up to the individual states to step in and protect these species from being hunted for human greed before it becomes too late. New York State remains a major hub for the importation of African wildlife trophies and we have an obligation to ensure we’re not contributing to the problem.”
Of the 18 designated ports that wildlife parts and products can come through in the U.S., New York is the busiest. From 2005-2014, 159,144 animals were imported into New York, according to FWS. Connecticut also supplies customers to this grave industry.
From 2005-2015, 59 trophy hunting permits were issued to Connecticut residents by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service so people could hunt and kill leopards. Six additional permits were provided to CT residents to kill African elephants in Botswana, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Connecticut residents killed 39 lions and one giraffe and imported their trophies between 2005-2016.
THE SILENT EXTINCTION
While FoA supports the federal ProTECT Act, which was introduced in May 2018 and would prohibit the killing of any threatened or endangered species in the U.S. or the importation of any such trophy, we know all too well that the current administration caters to trophy hunters and federal legislation may stall. Our state legislation is more important than ever because the latest research shows giraffes can’t wait for a new administration to come in and pass a federal ban or for FWS to provide Endangered Species Act protections.
Although animal advocacy groups filed a petition urging FWS to list giraffes as endangered in 2017, the agency failed to respond. In 2016, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which recognizes one species of giraffe and nine subspecies, elevated the threat level of giraffes two categories to “vulnerable to extinction,” estimating that giraffes have undergone a 36 to 40 percent population decline over the past 30 years.
In 2018 IUCN, reiterated that only about 97,500 giraffes remain in Africa compared to more than 150,000 in 1985. The IUCN lists habitat destruction and fragmentation, livestock farming, hunting , trapping, war and civil unrest as threats to giraffes.
Giraffes are already gone from seven countries—Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Guinea, Malawi, Mauritania, Nigeria and Senegal. And for the first time ever, two giraffe subspecies have been listed as critically endangered, according to the latest report of the IUCN released in November.
There are only just over 4,000 Kordofan and Nubian giraffes left in the wild—meaning they are just a stage away from becoming extinct. And the reticulated giraffe was listed as “endangered.”
It’s troubling to FoA that Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF), which is known for its research and working with partners across Africa to save giraffes, including the relocation of 20 Nubian giraffes across the Nile to a safe location, has not taken a stance against trophy hunting.
Despite how clear it is that the U.S. is contributing to giraffe population decline, GCF, which calls what’s happening to giraffe a silent extinction, is only concerned about poaching and illegal trade of giraffe parts, claiming there is no evidence that trophy hunting is contributing to the rapid decline of giraffes in Africa.
But that isn’t true.
“As soon as you put a price tag on vulnerable, threatened and endangered animals, you send a mixed message about whether or not they need to be protected at all, and that’s detrimental to actual conservation,” said Priscilla Feral, president of FoA. “Shooting animals full of bullets does not increase their population or expand their habitat.
Compounding the problem is you have places like the Copenhagen zoo who shot Marius, the reticulated giraffe, because staff decided his genes were well represented among the captive giraffe population in European zoos. You don’t get a mixed message with the Big Five African Trophies Act, it clearly demonstrates killing is not conservation.”
The truth is, the only difference between poachers and trophy hunters is wealth and public perception.
While poachers are willing to slaughter magnificent animals to make a buck, well-heeled vainglorious trophy hunters like Fischer spend lots of money to hunt for bragging rights and prizes. In either instance, money doesn’t make killing ok.
The Safari Club International has a well-oiled PR machine perpetuating the myth that trophy hunters are conservationists. But you only have to visit SCI’s website to see proof that trophy hunters are competitors hoping to get the biggest trophy so they can show it off and receive awards. SCI offers awards in dozens of categories.
A study released this year by researchers at Queen Mary University of London revealed that trophy hunters and poachers could drive extinctions.
Killing the most impressive animals, the big males—antelopes and deer with the largest horns and antlers, elephants with the longest tusks, or lions with the most impressive manes—weakens the species ability to survive climate change. Trophy animals tend to be the most evolutionarily fit and possess the high-quality genes a population of animals need to adapt quickly to a changing environment, the authors say.
There is also growing scientific evidence that the legal trade of trophy hunted species enables poaching by providing poachers a legal market to launder their contraband.
One example is South Africa—the country has seen a marked rise in illegal rhino poaching since it began selling permits for trophy hunted rhinos in 2004. Poaching has increased 5,000 percent since 2007.
TROPHY HUNTERS ARE POACHERS WITH PERMITS
In addition to killing a giraffe, Fischer killed an entire baboon family, a leopard, impala and waterbuck while in Africa. Then he bragged about it in an email to more than 100 people, according to the Idaho State Journal.
“Fellas,” Fischer wrote in the Sept. 17 email, “My wife and I went to Namibia for a week … first, she wanted to watch me and ‘get a feel’ of Africa … so, I shot a whole family of baboons. I think she got the idea quick. “She also let me shoot a giraffe. These things are HUGE. The photo doesn’t do it justice. When we walked up on it, it was shocking how big it was.”
His comments, which never mention conservation, underscore that trophy hunters are just as bad as poachers. They are just poachers with permits. It’s infuriating that American trophy hunters dupe the public into thinking that without their money, conservation efforts in Africa would not exist.
Last fall, FoA attended a presentation about new strategies to combat wildlife trafficking at Grace Farms Foundation, which is located near our Connecticut headquarters. It was uplifting to hear about a unique collaboration between the foundation and the National Anti-Poaching Task Force in Tanzania and its successes.
They include the 2016 arrest of Yang Fenglan, the “ivory queen” accused of smuggling more than 700 tusks worth $1.7 million out of the country. Another operation nabbed 12 members of the “triple six gang” – so-called because of the 666 pieces of ivory they were caught with. All of the speakers talked about the rampant corruption in African countries that can be an unwieldy obstacle to convicting poachers.
What we realized during the presentation is that any money from trophy hunting supposedly going towards so-called conservation could just as easily be funding organized crime and poaching because of the corruption.
But you won’t hear that from trophy hunters.
They also don’t want the public to know about a study that revealed that only a measly 3 percent of trophy hunting expenditures actually goes back to the local communities for conservation or development.
The vast majority of their expenditures accrues to local firms, government agencies and individuals located internationally or in national capitals.
With legislation like the Big Five African Trophies Act, U.S. hunters won’t be able to bring their trophies into U.S.’s busiest port to brag about, so the lives of these animals will be saved because the incentive to hunt will be taken away. FoA is looking forward to the legislation being passed so all those egotistical grins are wiped from the faces of trophy hunters.