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Canned Hunting

Canned Hunting
An American Atrocity

What exactly is a canned hunt?  Have you ever even heard the term?  Likely not, and it happens legally all over our country.  Captive hunts, which are also known as “canned or trophy hunts”, are the killing of a confined or restrained wild animal simply for amusement’s sake and to obtain a trophy.  Shooters of this barbaric sport pay handsome fees to slay animals, even endangered species, simply for the thrill of the kill.  Most targets have been hand-raised and bottle-fed so they are not afraid of humans. They are then trapped behind fences with no means to escape and turned into a “guaranteed kill” for whoever is willing to pay the price.   Unlike situations in which natural instincts kick in to escape predation, a canned hunt affords no such opportunity for the victims.  The animals are typically fed by the canned hunting operation owners or breeders in the same areas at certain times.  They become conditioned to being around humans and accustomed to hearing the voices and vehicles of the owners.  They willingly come running to them each day to eat.  On the day of the hunt, the owner’s vehicle will arrive with hunters and weapons instead of food.   

The Humane Society of the United States estimates there are over a thousand captive hunts in America with operations in at least 28 states.  They are most common in Texas, but can be found throughout the continental United States and Hawaii.  The only states that have a complete ban on canned hunts are Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.  The sale of exotic mammals to canned hunting ranches is a big money-making business for animal dealers, private breeders, zoos and even some game parks.  And...when it comes to money, animals have no rights.  

There is a huge problem of over-breeding which only fuels the dilemma, creating surplus animals which are then sold, traded or “disposed of” to game ranches, animal dealers, circuses, zoos or private individuals.  Canned hunting ranches provide a dumping ground for surplus animals and a financial justification for obtaining them.   The pet tiger which so many tourists have their photos taken with for a price will possibly end up with arrows in it.  The luckier ones might be shot.  Canned hunt animals are sometimes exotic (high ticket) and sometimes native but they are almost always bred and born in captivity, completely dependent on humans for food and whose natural fears have been eliminated in order to expedite their easy slaughter. The targets of choice are the most exotic species such as lions, tigers, leopards, zebra, antelope, deer with big horns, rhinoceros and elephants.  The practice of canned hunting dates back to at least the seventh century B.C. when the Assyrians captured lions and then released them to be hunted to the death, for amusement.

The price a hunter pays is pre-set for a given trophy animal and the more rare and endangered, the more expensive. Some facilities even allow their clients to kill animals remotely via the internet.  Hunters can pay $2,ooo dollars to shoot a hand-fed, docile gazelle or zebra through the head at close range.  Or, they can kill a lion or tiger for as much as $20,000 per execution.  The rarer the species the more expensive the cost.  Many of the canned hunt animals are bred specifically for killing.  According to Wildlife Extra some have even paid $40,000 to hunt an elephant in Africa and import the ivory legally into the United Kingdom.  Some areas of Zambia, Botswana and Tanzania raise upwards of $100,000 for a trophy kill from the native land.   The United States is the largest importer of exotic and endangered animals from Africa.  The trophy hunting industry from Africa alone brings in $91.2 billion annually based on a study by the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa.  

The hunters order the animal they wish to kill, choose the weapon of choice and then are led on an expedition to their “guaranteed kill”.  Tamed animals from zoos, backyard breeders and those who mistakenly purchased them as pets are the favorite targets because they are psychologically conditioned to being around people and won’t run with the hunter walks up to them to take a shot.   Wilder, more dangerous animals are many times shot right in their transport cages or in the backs of the trailers in which they arrived.  Many are from exotic animal auctions, where the animals being auctioned off are destined to the life of confinement, thousands of miles away from their homeland (Africa, Australia, and India-to name a few) and inevitably hand-picked and killed at point blank range for a very high price to end up as a trophy on someone’s wall.  Many wild animals are killed purely for their fur or parts.  Some of the most common wildlife commodities are hides from tigers, leopards and other big cats; fur from mink, foxes, rabbits, bears and seals; rhinoceros horns, reindeer antlers, shark fins, bear gall bladders, snake blood; bones, claws, tails, eyeballs brains and fangs from Tigers for use in traditional Asian medicines; bile from wild boars bears and snakes; bear paws and elephant tusks. 

In canned hunting there is no skill or patience involved and the only reason for the kill is to obtain a trophy, not because its feeding a family.   It is a hobby of those who have the money and the desire to take the life of a defenseless creature just to boost their egos.  Not everyone can afford to fly off to Africa to hunt in the wild so they find local ranches to get their thrills.  There are as many as 500 hunting ranches in the state of Texas alone that offer canned hunts of exotic game.  There is no legislation prohibiting or monitoring canned hunting in the United States so if an animal can be acquired, it can be shot.   Ranches are opening up all over Texas because of the financial enticement and animal surplus because of over-breeding continues to worsen.  

One strategy employed by the ranchers is to get celebrities and influential wealthy people involved in support of the “sport”.  Even many government officials, such as former Vice-President Dick Cheney, are avid lovers of the so-called American Safari and take their friends and colleagues on hunts quite often.  Wealthy American hunters perpetuate the decline of endangered species not only in the United States, but also in South Africa.  Many of them conspire with landowners to build up a vast inventory of lions, all bred for the bullet, in an effort to exploit them for the Chinese traditional medicine industry for lion bones.  Many of the American canned hunting ranches are now also considering farming lions for their bones and parts as well.  The lions would be raised to a certain age, usually around one year old, and then slaughtered.  Their bones would then be exported to China in the underground black market as an alternative to tiger bone, which has been in extremely high demand for decades. 

A common misconception is that zoo animals live in their habitats at the zoo for their entire lives.  This, however, is not the case.  Zoo directors must constantly find ways to sell tickets and attract the public and it is well-known that baby animals on display raise lots of money.  In order to make room for new arrivals the older animals are sold to brokers as surplus.  They sell to animals dealers who then may sell to individual collectors, roadside zoos, and canned hunting ranches.   They may also end up at animal auctions and sold to the highest bidder.   Trophy animals are plied with drugs, vitamins, specially processed foods, and growth hormones so they are much larger than any animals in the wild.  Many are drugged on the day of the hunt to assure they will not be aggressive or be able to run far. 

There is no federal law governing canned hunting operations in the United States nor does the Animal Welfare Act regulate game preserves or canned hunts.  The Endangered Species Act even allows for the hunting of endangered species with an appropriate permit.  Canned hunting is brutal, cruel, unfair, unnecessary and should be abolished. The animals haven’t got a chance of survival when facing high-tech firearms and archery equipment while in confinement.  Please speak out against canned hunting by writing to your Congressional Representative and Senators urging them to reintroduce a bill called H.R. 2308 “The Sportsmanship in Hunting Act” to halt the practice of canned hunting, the interstate shipment of captive non-indigenous mammals for the sole purpose of being shot in a fenced enclosure for entertainment or trophy.  The bill would also prohibit hunting via the internet.  More than 20 states have now passed a full or partial ban on captive hunts and more than 35 states have banned internet hunting. This activity violates the hunters ethic of “fair chase” and captive animals at canned shoots also can spread dangerous diseases to our native wildlife populations.  

Article & most images by Christina Bush