By Michael Satchell
What weighs 21 pounds, contains 2,560 pages, and lists thousands of names and numbers? It's not the New York City telephone directory, but here's a hint: Its listings run from Addax to Zebra.
The answer is Safari Club International's three-volume compendium of trophy hunters who are immortalized in this record book for doing nothing more than killing animals-an entire alphabet of animals-to win SCI awards competitions. The catalog is a macabre scorecard detailing who shot what animal, where and when. Thousands and thousands of animals, covering more than 1,100 species, are figuratively buried between the covers here.
You can learn, for example, that in 1910 in the Sudan, Theodore Roosevelt killed a rhino whose horns measured 24 4/8 inches and 7 4/8 inches, scoring 67 1/8 points to make the former U.S. president the No.1 hunter of Northern white rhino. Or that one Marc Pechenart shot an elephant in the Central African Republic in June 1970, earning a score of 302 points for the biggest pachyderm. The animal's left tusk weighed 154 pounds and the right 148 pounds.
With its photographs of grinning hunters posing with lifeless animals and its meticulous rankings for the biggest tusks, horns, antlers, skulls and bodies, the SCI record book perfectly encapsulates what trophy hunting is all about: killing for killing's sake. The book lays bare the hunters' obsessions: a craving to shoot the largest animal, a desire to kill the most animals and rack up SCI awards, or a fetish to bring home the animal's head and hang it on the wall.
The mother of all these obsessions, though, is the awards competition. SCI members shoot prescribed lists of animals to win so-called Grand Slam and Inner Circle titles. There's the Africa Big Five, (leopard, elephant, lion, rhino, and buffalo); the North American Twenty Nine (all species of bear, bison, sheep, moose, caribou, and deer); and the Antlered Game of the Americas, among many other contests.
To complete all 29 award categories, a hunter must kill a minimum of 322 separate species and sub-species-enough to populate an entire zoo. This is an extremely expensive and lengthy task, and many SCI members take the quick and easy route. They shoot captive animals in canned hunts, both in the United States and overseas, and some engage in other unethical conduct like shooting animals over bait, from vehicles, with spotlights, or on the periphery of national parks.
Wayne Pacelle, HSUS senior vice president for communications and government affairs, captures the essence of SCI members and their motivation:
"It's a perverse and destructive subculture," he says. "Thousands of animals suffer and die for the amusement of wealthy elites who have the means to pursue any form of recreation, but choose to shoot the world's rarest and most beautiful animals. There's no societal value to the exercise, just a selfish all-consuming mentality of killing, collecting, and showing off trophies. They know the price of every animal, but the value of none."
It's easy to parody and criticize Safari Club International, but it's a mistake to underestimate the club's power and influence on shaping policies that are detrimental to wildlife-and beneficial to those members who stand tall over freshly killed animals in the SCI record books.
Since it was founded in 1971, the Tucson-based non-profit has grown to some 40,000 trophy collectors. More than half boast an annual income of more than $100,000 (compared to 6% of hunters nationwide). The average member owns 11 rifles, six shotguns, five handguns and a bow. Two-thirds spend about one month hunting each year, and a quarter of the members more than 50 days.
The club contributes large sums to mostly Republican candidates and, not surprisingly, has been able to ingratiate itself with various administrations, most notably the Bush Administration, and with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). With the help of friendly members of Congress and officials in USFWS, SCI has consistently attempted to navigate around the intent of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and import once-banned trophies of endangered and threatened wildlife. Sometimes, the club has succeeded, sometimes not.
The latest example of SCI's growing influence in Washington is the Bush Administration's initiative to "save" the world's endangered species by killing or selling them, and then using the revenues as an incentive for poor countries to improve their conservation efforts. This scheme to protect rare wildlife is a formula for disaster. It will reverse 30 years of ESA protections for hundreds of exotic creatures who are heading for, or teetering on, the brink of extinction.
The proposal, which conveniently dovetails with SCI's agenda, offers several examples of how wildlife can be exploited for profit. It suggests imports, such as wild-caught Asian elephants for circuses and zoos, Morelet's crocodile skins for luxury leather items like shoes and handbags, and Asian bonytongue tropical fish to supply the aquarium trade. American trophy hunters could shoot and import trophies of straight-horned markhor, a rare goat found in Pakistan, and then head north on a quickie expedition to nail Canadian wood bison.
These are only examples. If approved, the proposal portends open season on many disappearing species, particularly large mammals, the so-called charismatic megafauna. It would also be a huge incentive for poaching and smuggling. Imagine how much rich trophy hunters would offer China to shoot giant pandas-arguably the world's most beloved animal-if they were allowed to import their stuffed remains. Picture furriers importing the hides of endangered snow leopards to swathe the ethically challenged. And now that pet tigers have earned a bad rap, might cheetahs become the newest rage among exotic pet owners?
For three decades and under strict controls, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has allowed only a few rare animals, such as pandas, to be brought in for scientific research and breeding. Until SCI began to push its agenda in Congress and at the Interior Department, USFWS very rarely approved the importation of endangered-species trophies. Now, the agency is proposing not only to ease those trophy import restrictions but also to allow the import of live animals for entertainment (or the pet trade) and the import of skins and hides for luxury apparel.
Such a plan goes against USFWS's historic rationale, which quite correctly notes that fostering a commercial market for disappearing wildlife will inevitably hasten its demise.
No Trickle-Down Economics
Encouraging the sale and import of heads, hides, and live animals to enhance survival efforts in the wild may sound logical-until you examine the sorry history of other purported "sustainable" wildlife-use programs. The record shows that few of the dollars trickle down to benefit either wildlife or local people in the impoverished range states because corrupt officials inevitably divert the money.
During the 1990s, in a well-intentioned-but-misguided conservation effort, the U.S. government spent more than $12 million to underwrite sustainable wildlife-use programs in Zimbabwe. The idea was to give local people the opportunity to raise money for community projects by selling hunting permits for African elephants. The program ended up subsidizing trophy hunting, and little of their trophy fees reached the villages.
USFWS's new endangered species proposal doesn't offer much hope to alter this historical course. Despite agency assurances, the plan isn't the product of careful scientific assessment or innovative thinking. It's driven, in large part, by the working relationship between the Bush Administration and SCI, and by the administration's apparent hostility toward the Endangered Species Act.
SCI's membership includes former President George Herbert Walker Bush, who has lobbied the government of Botswana on the group's behalf to lift the ban on killing the nation's dwindling lion population. What's more, President George W. Bush appointed Matthew J. Hogan, SCI's former Government Affairs Manager, as one of the two current deputy directors of USFWS-a classic example of the fox guarding the hen house. Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton, in turn, has worked to weaken the ESA, from abandoning federal efforts to restore grizzlies in Idaho to undermining a key provision that allows citizens to sue the government to speed up protection of imperiled species.
Aiming High...Shooting Low
SCI got off to a shaky start during its early forays into Washington politics. In 1979, when the organization was not even a decade old, it sought government approval to circumvent the spirit of the law and import an astonishing 1,125 trophies of 40 animals on the endangered species list. They included gorillas, cheetahs, tigers, orangutans, and snow leopards.
With a straight face, SCI said its goal was "scientific research&incentive for propagation&survival of the species." There was one small problem. The trophies weren't dead yet. The prospect of permitting the wholesale slaughter of more than 1,000 rare animals was a bit too much, even for USFWS, and the request was denied.
As its lobbying became more sophisticated, SCI began pouring money into national political campaigns. Since the 1998 election cycle, it has contributed $596,696 to Republican candidates and $92,500 to Democrats. Not coincidentally, Congressional Republicans have made repeated attempts to amend and weaken the ESA, while USFWS, turning its back on decades of precedents, has proposed to allow hunters to import trophies of endangered animals killed in the wild. These import easements are critical to one of SCI's true aims.
All those pictures in the SCI record books, and in the club's glossy magazines like Safari and Hunt Forever, are a form of pornography to the blood sports crowd. Would-be big-game hunters can pore over photos of triumphant and sated trophy collectors holding up the head of a dead ungulate by its horns or standing atop the hulk of a dead elephant or posing with a dead leopard draped around his neck. But like all pornography, the image is never enough. The hunter eventually wants a taste of the real thing. And, of course, he must have a trophy to savor the experience.
As former SCI president John J. Jackson III once wrote: "A trophy of any species attests that its owner has been somewhere and done something, that he has exercised skilled persistence and discrimination in the agile feat of overcoming, outwitting, and reducing game to possession."
Trophy collectors may rhapsodize about their spiritual love for the quarry, the hunter's path to self-actualization, the thrill of the chase, the test of manhood, and other such philosophical jabberwocky. But at the end of the day, and after a $65,000 safari, the only thing that matters is hanging that head on the wall-and the rarer the animal, the better it feels.
An example: Kenneth E. Behring, who donated $100 million to have the Smithsonian memorialize him with the Behring Family Hall of Mammals on the Washington D.C. Mall, went to Kazakhstan in 1997 and paid the government enough to allow him to shoot a Kara Tau argali sheep.
The animal, even SCI acknowledges, is critically endangered; the species is listed on CITES Appendix I and can not be imported into the United States as a trophy without the help of a museum. Behring, who like all SCI members, regards himself as a conservationist, killed his Kara Tau argali when only 100 remained and shipped it to a Canadian taxidermist. The Smithsonian then petitioned USFWS for an import permit, but withdrew the request in the storm of negative publicity that followed.
But Behring isn't the only SCI member with questionable ethics. Back when Teddy Roosevelt was laying waste to Africa's wildlife, hunting may have embraced those mythic elements that SCI still loves to invoke: a Hemingway-esque mantra of danger, romance, bravery, and the thrill of slaying the beast.
On today's safari, however, the customer is coddled in luxury tent camps, replete with flush toilets, hot showers and gourmet dining. All he (or she) has to do is shell out tens of thousands of dollars, pull the trigger when instructed, and pose for the money shot. He doesn't even get blood on his hands. A professional guide stalks the target, lines up the shot, tells the client when to take it, acts as a backup shooter if the animal is wounded, and supervises the gutting, skinning and decapitation.
And that's in the wild. From South Africa to New Zealand to Texas, many of these trophy collectors shoot captive animals in canned hunts staged in fenced paddocks on game ranches, a practice the Boone and Crockett Club calls "unfair and unsportsmanlike." The animals are habituated to humans and are shot at feeding stations, salt licks and watering holes. The "spirit of fair chase," supposedly enshrined in SCI's code of ethics, is conveniently ignored.
SCI's highly flexible "fair chase" code also urges members to "comply with all game laws and demonstrate abiding respect for game, habitat and property." That admonition regularly falls on deaf ears.
In 1998, several top SCI leaders, including Behring and then-president Alfred Donau, reportedly went on a wildlife killing spree in Mozambique. According to a published report, they left animals wounded and dying and shot elephants in alleged violation of national law. Other SCI members have been convicted of killing endangered species and trying to smuggle them into the U.S.
Wealthy hunters, including SCI members, have also been caught in federal tax scams. In one celebrated case, a museum in Raleigh, North Carolina, gave trophy hunters the title of "associate curator," which helped them persuade foreign officials to grant permits to shoot rare animals. Hunters went on to donate low-value trophies to the museum and receive wildly inflated appraisals, which were then deducted from their federal taxes. In some cases, the mounts were reacquired by the donors. Before authorities busted the ring, the museum took in 1,800 specimens and valued them at a whopping $8.4 million. At SCI's 1999 annual convention, members were offered a document titled Secrets of Tax Deductible Hunting, advising them to declare their home trophy rooms as museums, call themselves curators, and "donate your record-book animal for the mouthwatering tax deduction."
Incidents like these fuel the club's negative image. Most Americans are largely ambivalent about hunting wild animals for food, but polls show strong public opposition to killing exotic animals for fun, competition, and bragging rights. To counter this perception and burnish its reputation, the club donates meat to food banks, stages "sensory safaris" where the vision-impaired can touch and feel stuffed animals, and arranges hunting for the disabled.
To Matthew Scully, author of the highly acclaimed book Dominion, such window dressing is humbug. "They practice a socially conscious sadism here," Scully writes. "Ethics at the Safari Club is ordered libertinism, like teaching cannibals to use a table napkin and not take the last portion."
Michael Satchell is a senior consultant for The HSUS.