A trophy-hunting convention in Reno, Nevada, was secretly recorded while vendors were selling safari trips to kill captive-bred lions, AP News reported. Modern safaris have changed greatly over the last century.
According to the AP article, animal welfare activists went undercover and got video of the safaris being offered by vendors at the annual convention of the Safari Club International (SCI) held in Reno this year. Hunting captive-bred lions while on safari is often seen as unethical and inhumane due to the practice of breeding and raising lions in captivity just to release them to be hunted by safari groups.
“Typically, the lions are raised in cages and small pens before being released into a larger fenced enclosure,” the article said. “Once reaching young adulthood, customers pay to shoot them and keep the skins, skulls, claws, and other body parts for trophies.”
Since modern hunting began in the late 1800s, trends like the colonialism of Africa and ecotourism have drastically changed the face of the hunt.
The Scramble for Africa
“To the Africans across Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Rwanda, the word ‘safari’ originally described the great voyages undertaken for trading,” said James Currie, host of Nikon’s Birding Adventures TV. “By the turn of the 20th century, after the arrival of the Europeans, the word ‘safari’ was reinvented to describe adventure and romance in the wild, where lions and elephants ruled the landscape. Animals were seen as trophies, and safari was about big game hunting: Animal skins, horns, and heads were traded as commodities and collected for show in museums.”
Currie said that hunting peaked during the European colonization of Africa, a period from 1881 to 1914 often called the Partition of Africa or the Scramble for Africa.
“Britain controlled areas including modern-day Kenya and South Africa; Germany controlled what is today Namibia and Tanzania,” he said. “The French exerted power in countries from the Ivory Coast to Morocco and Algeria. By the early 1900s, almost the entire continent was under European control, and this opened Africa’s wilderness to Westerners looking for adventure.”
The soaring popularity of hunting depleted wildlife populations greatly, and increasing restrictions have been placed on safaris ever since.
One alternative to hunting has been ecotourism, a relatively recent offshoot of safari born in the 1980s and meant to curb dwindling numbers of animals. Ecotourism is defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.” This can include bird-watching, photographic safari, sightseeing, and other activities with minimal impact on the local ecosystems.
“Managed properly, safaris as a form of ecotourism can benefit not only African wildlife, but indigenous human populations as well,” Currie said. “For example, a recent study by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has shown that the ivory of a single elephant may be worth about $21,000 on the black market, but over that same elephant’s lifetime, that elephant could generate over $1.6 million in ecotourism opportunities like photographic safaris.”
Currie added that where safari was once thought of primarily as a means to hunt and kill exotic wildlife, it is now primarily thought of as a photographic journey.
“Misty mornings and golden afternoons provide inspiring backdrops to professional photographers and novices alike,” he said. “Some of the most prized images are of the so-called Big Five animals: the lion, elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo, and leopard. Shutterbugs relish the opportunity to snap a photo of a leopard dangling its legs from the bough of a tree.”
Seen in this light, trophy hunting—especially of captive-bred lions—can be considered robbing future generations of the chance to see majestic creatures born, raised, and thriving in the wild.
James Currie contributed to this article. Currie is a safari guide with the world-renowned company Wilderness Safaris. He holds a bachelor’s degree in African Languages from the University of Cape Town and a master’s degree in Sustainable Environmental Management from Middlesex University London.