Endangered Species Handbook

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Persecution and Hunting

Effects of Trophy Hunting on Animals

Among the most coveted of the "Grand Slam," or the most prestigious trophy animals, is the Brown Bear. The Kodiak Bear (Ursus arctos middendorffi) of Alaska represents a major trophy for hunters who come from all around the world to kill large males. This bear exceeds other subspecies in size, weight and skull size. These bears have been isolated since the end of the last Ice Age, and the abundant food supply of salmon runs, berry bushes and other edible plants in their habitat has produced this giant bear (Chadwick 1990). Trophy hunters pay $20,000 or more to private hunting guides for the privilege of shooting these bears. A recent study has revealed a potentially disastrous effect on the species of this trophy hunting. According to The Kingdom. Wildlife in North America, by the respected author and National Geographic Society correspondent Douglas Chadwick, "Continued harvesting of the biggest animals by trophy hunters has caused a decline in the average size of Kodiak Bears over the years" (Chadwick 1990). Thus, this record-size animal is gradually becoming smaller and smaller as a result of trophy hunting.
The pressure of hunters on some populations of Alaskan bears is so intense that it has altered the behavior of males, preventing their normal feeding on salmon runs. On Admiralty Island in southeastern Alaska, part of the Tongass National Forest, tourists watch female Brown Bears fishing with their cubs, but rarely see males because they have become so wary of people after years of being hunted; even females without cubs can be hunted on Admiralty Island (Crittenden 1997). The rich salmon rivers on this island are among the world's most productive, and since clearcutting of timber has been banned, salmon thrive in the clear water. Salmon is an important portion of the diet of male bears, yielding a great deal of protein and helping to fatten them for the winter. By frightening the male bears from the salmon rivers, which they have fished for thousands of years, humans may be affecting the health, survivability and size of these bears. Each year more than 40 Brown Bears are killed on Admiralty, and hunters are lobbying to reopen hunting in areas such as Pack Creek that are now closed to protect the fishing spots (Hanson 1998). This island deserves to be declared a National Park, which would protect these bears from hunting.
Another effect of hunting male bears has recently been documented by Swedish and Norwegian biologists, who found that in areas where resident adult male Brown Bears had been killed to thin the population, bear cubs suffered very high mortality for several years until dominant males reoccupied the territory (O'Neil 1997). Male bears, who have traditionally been considered threats to cubs, may be a danger only to cubs they have not fathered. Thus, the killing of bears by sport and trophy hunters may also result in the deaths of hundreds of bear cubs.
Russian Brown Bears have been hunted heavily in recent years. When a prominent government official, Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, announced early in 1997 that he wanted to trophy hunt a Brown Bear, local guides bulldozed a path to the den of a sleeping female bear (Filipov 1997). Tractors plowed a campsite for a large tent with mobile kitchen and cafeteria, and the Prime Minister flew in by helicopter (Filipov 1997). Chernomyrdin, accompanied by 12 hunters, rode a skimobile to the site, roused the bear and killed her two cubs and the mother. This incident received much adverse publicity in Russia. When the Prime Minister was criticized for his lack of sportsmanship, he replied: "What's wrong with that? Hunting of bears is not banned; it's a normal thing . . . I'd like to watch those who are writing about this meet those bears eye to eye to see their reaction" (Filipov 1997).
In Greece and Turkey, where Brown Bears are avidly hunted in spite of their dwindling numbers, cubs orphaned when their mothers are killed are often sold to zoos or to gypsies who treat them abusively. This trade is illegal in both countries, and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) has saved many of these gypsy bears, who are dragged through the streets with nose rings and made to perform tricks. WSPA has placed several hundred of these abused bears in large wooded compounds, unfettered for the first time in their lives. Some had to be euthanized because of severe infections that had caused them extreme pain and serious physical disabilities that they had endured for many years without veterinary treatment. The majority suffered the effects of malnutrition.
The animals trophy hunters seek--the finest specimens--are the very ones that should be left in the wild to maintain the species. Killing the largest specimens of a species, subspecies or population is likely to diminish it in size and survivability. This would seem elementary, but trophy hunters, state game departments, many in the Fish and Wildlife Service, the World Wildlife Fund and other organizations in favor of trophy hunting do not discuss or acknowledge this fact. Claims are made on behalf of trophy hunters that only old and non-breeding adults are killed, but this contention has been proven wrong in case after case. Brown and Grizzly Bears continue to breed until an advanced age. Other trophy animals have also been shown to be at their prime when shot.
Lions are a prime target of trophy hunters, who select the largest male specimens, especially those with enormous manes. Two filmmakers, Derek and Beverly Joubert, in producing their dramatic series, “Lions of Darkness” for the National Geographic Society, followed three exceptionally large males for a long period. These magnificent Lions spent most of their lives in a national park in Botswana, but made the fatal mistake of leaving the park and entering a wildlife management area where trophy hunting was allowed. All were shot within a short time at the prime of their lives by trophy hunters.
Trophy hunting took a tragic and highly controversial turn when the government of Tanzania sold trophy hunting rights for African Elephants at more than $4,000 per animal in the early 1990s. The 2000 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classifies this species as Endangered. The government claimed that the largest animals, which for trophy hunters were the most desirable, were not active breeding males, but past the breeding age and, therefore, "excess." Tanzania issued 50 permits a year for trophy-hunted elephants (Brody 1994). At least four very tame bull elephants that had been studied for decades in Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya by biologist Cynthia Moss, author of two classic books, Echo of the Elephants and Elephant Memories, wandered into Tanzania in 1994, where they were shot at point-blank range by trophy hunters (Moss 1995). The hunters had received CITES permits from the Tanzanian government to export the tusks as hunting trophies (Moss 1995). Northern Hunting Enterprises, which organized the Tanzanian elephant hunt, is run by Rick Trappe, a German Tanzanian; the hunters were two Germans and an American (Brody 1994). One of the bulls killed, called "R.B.G.," was 47 years old at the time of his death, based on aging of the jaw--not old in elephant years--and so habituated to vehicles that he could be easily approached to within a few feet (Moss 1995). Cynthia Moss said she was "devastated" by the loss of the animals, who had come to trust researchers, tourists and rangers. She stated: "The message they got from us was, 'It's OK, we're not going to hurt you, you can trust us.' Then one day they walk two kilometers into Tanzania, where they'd been going for most of their lives, and they're blown away . . . I feel as if was lying to them" (Brody 1994). A spokesperson for the African Wildlife Foundation said: "The ethics of shooting these virtually tame animals is appalling. You can't call this a hunt of any kind" (Brody 1994). Had R.B.G. not been shot, he would have lived another 18 years, according to Moss (Brody 1994).
These were among a relatively small number of large, old bull elephants left in East Africa, protected through the ivory slaughters of the 1980s by the presence of field researchers and tourists. The assertion that they were non-breeding males was refuted by Moss, who had documented that they were active breeders and, in fact, among the top breeding bulls in the Amboseli population (Brody 1994). This disputes the view that they were not contributing to the gene pool and were "excess," worthy only of being used as targets. After protests and adverse publicity on television programs that reached the United States and elsewhere, Tanzania announced a ban on trophy hunting of elephants near the Tanzania/Kenya border on December 13, 1994, and initiated an investigation into the granting of permits to shoot the Amboseli bull elephants.
In spite of the supposed ban, two other big bulls of the Amboseli, Sleepy and Beach Ball, both in their 50s, were killed in Tanzania by trophy hunters in 1996. Both had fathered calves that were born after their deaths. The largest bull in Cynthia Moss's study area is the gigantic Dionysus who, at 55 years old, weighs some 6,000 kilograms, with 100-pound tusks. He probably owes his life to Cynthia Moss and other researchers who have deterred poachers, but should he wander into Tanzania, he may be killed. The females in the family, headed by Echo, an old matriarch, prefer Dionysus above all the males, and he has fathered many calves. In a BBC film about her work in Africa, “Echo of the Elephants. The Next Generation” (PBS--WNET 1996), Moss pledged that she would spend the rest of her life watching over these elephants.
Another effect of trophy hunting of elephants and many other animals is an imbalance that is created between the sexes. The largest elephant bulls of both the African and Asian species have been killed off, leaving far too few males for the number of adult females. In some parts of Africa where the ivory massacres were the most intense during the 1970s and 1980s, virtually no adult males remained prior to the 1989 CITES ban on ivory. In Asia, adult male Asian Elephants (Elephas maximus), also listed as an Endangered species by IUCN, have become extremely rare because they were killed by ivory poachers. Females do not have tusks, and most have been spared by ivory hunters. In parts of Asia, males without tusks, a recessive trait, have come to dominate some populations, since they are not valuable for their ivory. This is altering the traits of the species.
After the largest bull African Elephants were killed off, trophy and ivory hunters turned to the older females, who have large tusks. They are essential in maintaining and leading family groups, providing experience, protection and guidance (Moss 1995). These older females, or matriarchs, have accumulated survival lore over many decades, acquired from previous matriarchs and their long life experiences. They also know the location of scarce water holes in the dry season, where to find minerals in clay they need for their nutrition, what plants are poisonous and other bits of survival lore that can mean the difference between life and death of herd members. Yet these matriarchs also were killed in the 1980s, leaving young, traumatized teen-aged females, who wandered in disarray, without the knowledge or authority of the older females. Females as young as 10 years old found themselves matriarchs of bands of orphan calves, many just weaned. Without direction, they often blundered, placing the calves at risk.
Scientists studying elephants over the past 30 years have documented hundreds of cases of trauma and apparent mourning when family members were killed. The elephants that suffer the most are the young who see their mothers and relatives butchered in front of them. Researchers in the 1990s have noted that many of these young elephants fail to develop normally and are extremely shy, unable to find food and cope with predators as effectively as adults. Some young males, who were calves when they watched as their families were slaughtered by poachers or in culls in South Africa, were released in national parks where they later became unruly and destructive to property and to other animals. Only when older elephants were released to lead and discipline them did they calm down and assume the peaceful personality that characterizes the species.
Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia submitted proposals in 1997 to the CITES Conference that the African Elephant's population in their countries be down listed from CITES Appendix I to Appendix II to allow export of trophy-killed elephants. Zimbabwe requested commercial trade in trophies, and Namibia, non-commercial trade. This proposal was amended to read "for non-commercial purposes" and adopted by the CITES members at the 1997 Conference. This is a step in the wrong direction, as hunters will arrive in these countries from around the world to kill the largest, prime elephants as trophies. Shooting elephants in open country where they have no cover is hardly sport, yet the hunting companies tout their massacre as a feat of bravery. Killing them as they come to drink at the few water holes that remain in the dry season in southern Africa is also unsportsmanlike. Matupula Hunters of Texas calls such hunting "exciting and rewarding." Their brochure states, "With the country dry and surface water limited, the elephant bulls can be tracked going to and from water, or in amongst the woodlands and forest where they feed and lay up" (Scully 1997).


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