FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Adventures in the Endangered Skin Trade

This is an excerpt from JEFFREY ST. CLAIR’s new environmental history, Born Under a Bad Sky, now available from AK Press / CounterPunch Books.

All through the Reagan-Bush years, greens thundered their indignation at the Republicans’ indifference to endangered species (other than beleaguered executives looking for a federal bail-out or for an indictment to be quashed). Nothing roused more passion than the slaughter of the world’s few remaining elephants, leopards, rhinos and kindred species dear to the big game hunters’ hearts.

And indeed both Reagan and Bush did thwart efforts to strengthen international protection for rare wildlife species. With the return to power of the Democrats in 1993, many environmentalists looked to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to end the international trade in exotic animal trophies. By the end of 1993, deeds—as so often was the case in Clintontime—turned out to differ markedly from the promises.

A range of regulations govern big game hunting and the taking of trophies. These include the US Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild fauna and Flora.

In theory, the Endangered Species Act allows only for import of listed species for scientific research or enhancement/survival of species. Under the threat of lawsuits from green groups, both Reagan and Bush more or less stuck to the letter of the law, with the corpses of such rare species being admitted primarily on the grounds (dubious or not) of scientific research. The relevant agency here is the Fish and Wildlife Service in the Interior Department. Its officials decide which listed species may be imported and whether these species are from approved countries. Between 1981 and 1992—the twelve years of Republican tenure of the White House—an average of 2,000 trophy animals belonging to species listed under the International Convention were imported each year.

With the arrival of the Democrats in 1993 came a new philosophy based on inane neo-liberal dogma. Theory here took the form of our old friend, the cash carrot. The idea has been that if the Fish and Wildlife Service charges hefty permit fees for the hunting of these species, it will provide a financial incentive to preserve their habitat. Some of the money is remitted to the relevant countries, which are meant to remit the money to their environmental bureaucracies, which in turn, crack down on poachers and protect existing stocks.

All of this twaddle betrays staggering ignorance of Third World conditions, where corruption means that the money is often immediately stolen, and where the governments themselves are broke. Mozambique, which has the famous Maputo Elephant Reserve, has been forced to lease the 3-million-acre eco-system to James Blanchard, the right-wing financier from Louisiana, who proposes to transform the preserve into a themed hunting park. Blanchard once financed RENAMO, the mercenary guerrilla force backed by the CIA and South Africa, which as part of its destruction of Mozambique in the 1980s, killed off 80 percent of the elephant population.

In the first year of Bruce Babbitt’s supervision, imports of exotic species shot up from an average of 2,000 during the Reagan-Bush years to 17,953. The following year the number rose again, to 21,000. In 1992, Bush’s last year, the Fish and Wildlife Service authorized the importation of 400 African elephant and leopard trophies. In 1994, the Clinton administration allowed 1,200 trophy imports of these two species.

Trophy hunting is a multi-billion dollar industry, where large white-owned safari outfits charge rich white people thousands of dollars to hunt rare wildlife in Africa. A typical trophy-hunting safari in Tanzania, for example, costs between $40,000 and $60,000. Little, if any, of this money stays in Tanzania. Most of it goes to the outfitters, which are often owned by American, European, or South African companies. For example, the Gellini outfitting company of Italy promises its clients “exclusive camps near the favorite hunting areas of Ernest Hemingway, led by first class professional hunters. Our luxury camps feature the best Italian cuisine served by waiters dressed in crisp whites, carrying fresh drinks.” According to one survey, more than 60 percent of the clients of American safari outfitters are millionaires.

The typical safari hunt is neither exhausting nor dangerous. Most African elephants are shot from trucks near the borders of national parks. The favored method of hunting leopards and lions is to shoot them from blinds at night, as the animals are attracted to bait (usually zebra or impala) hung from trees. Bright spotlights are flashed on the cats to freeze them before the hunter makes the kill.

Many of the trophy imports into the United States come from South Africa, where endangered species, such as African lion, bontebok, and elephants are slaughtered on large privately-owned game ranches, some of which are more than a half million acres in size. Many of the rare animals offered for hunting in these places are trapped from the wild and then transported to enclosures in the game reserves. The Kido Game Ranch in South Africa advertises the opportunity to kill scimitar-horned oryx ($4,500), letchwe Kafue ($1,600), addax ($4,700), and Pere David deer ($1,650)—not including taxidermy and gratuity.

The taxidermy costs are almost as expensive as the hunting permits themselves. A life-sized leopard mount costs nearly $2,500, the crafting of a zebra skin runs $1,500, a whole baboon costs $2,000, and the tab for a shoulder mounting of white rhino is about $4,000. Even animal novelties are not cheap. The stuffed penis of a cape buffalo (called a “pizzle cane”) costs $225, an elephant footstool sells for $600, a map of Africa on an elephant ear goes for $925, a lion scrotum pouch costs $150, while a warthog skin beer mug can be made for $125.

A significant player in this story is Safari Club International, at whose annual convention in 1994 Babbitt was a speaker. These tour operators naturally relish the possibility of sharply raising the number of animals they can legally kill and import. Much of the recent increase in trophy hunting of threatened and endangered species can be attributed to Safari Club trophy competitions, where gold and diamond awards are presented to those hunters who have killed the greatest number of listed species. The 1995 winner was Dr. Gerald Wamock, MD, a radiologist from Portland, Oregon, who has bragged of killing 278 different species. During his acceptance speech, Dr. Wamock said he is now “going back to kill the same species with a muzzle loader.”

Some of the Safari Club’s high profile clients include General Chuck Yeagar, actor Steven Seagal, Rep. Billy Tauzin, Rep. Richard Pombo, Dan Quayle, General Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, and the country singer Glen Campbell. The Safari Club is a powerful force in Washington, where its interests are advanced by lobbyist Ron Marlenee, the former congressman from Montana known for his extreme anti-environmental positions. The Club’s political action committee doles out nearly a quarter of a million dollars a year. Its top recipient is the wild man from Alaska, Don Young who raked in more than $14,000 over the past two years. Young is working sedulously to forge new loopholes in the Endangered Species Act that will allow increased importation of trophy hunted endangered species.

In his speech before the Safari Club, Babbitt spoke favorably of the idea of auctioning exotic hunting permits to the highest bidder, saying “these auctions promise much needed currency benefits to argali habitat [the argali are endangered sheep in Khirgistan] and enlist area residents in on-the-ground effort to conserve the species.”

Only Babbitt could babble such imbecilities with a hopeful countenance.

JEFFREY ST. CLAIR is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon. His newest book, Born Under a Bad Sky, is just out from AK Press / CounterPunch books. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

 

Your Ad Here
 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent books are Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution and The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink (with Joshua Frank) He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter  @JSCCounterPunch

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
December 13, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
The  FBI: Another Worry in the National Security State
Rob Urie
Establishment Politics are for the Rich
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: That’s Neoliberalism for You
Paul Street
Midnight Ramble: A Fascist Rally in Hershey, Pennsylvania
Joan Roelofs
The Science of Lethality
Joyce Nelson
Buttigieg and McKinsey
Joseph Natoli
Equally Determined: To Impeach/To Support
Charles Pierson
The National Defense Authorization Act Perpetuates the Destruction of Yemen
REZA FIYOUZAT
An Outrageous Proposal: Peace Boats to Iran
Andrew Levine
A Plague on Both Their Houses, Plus a Dozen Poxes on Trump’s
David Rosen
Mortality Rising: Trump and the Death of the “American Dream”
Lee Hall
Donald Trump Jr., Mongolian Sheep Killer
Dave Lindorff
The Perils of Embedded Journalism: ‘Afghan Papers’ Wouldn’t Be Needed If We Had a Real Independent News Media
Brian Cloughley
Human Rights and Humbug in Washington
Stephen Leas
Hungry for a Livable Planet: Why I Occupied Pelosi’s Office for 13 Days
Saad Hafiz
Pakistan Must Face Its Past
Lawrence Davidson
Deteriorating Climates: Home and Abroad
Cal Winslow
The End of the Era: Nineteen Nineteen
Louis Proyect
If Time Magazine Celebrates Greta Thunberg, Why Should We?
Thomas Drake
Kafka Down Under: the Threat to Whistleblowers and Press Freedom in Australia
Thomas Knapp
JEDI Mind Tricks: Amazon Versus the Pentagon and Trump
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s War on the Poor
Michael Welton
Seeing the World Without Shadows: the Enlightenment Dream
Ron Jacobs
The Wind That Shook the Barley: the Politics of the IRA
Rivera Sun
Beyond Changing Light Bulbs: 21 Ways You Can Stop the Climate Crisis
Binoy Kampmark
The Bloomberg Factor: Authoritarianism, Money and US Presidential Politics
Nick Pemberton
Ideology Shall Have No Resurrection
Rev. Susan K. Williams Smith
What Trump and the GOP Learned From Obama
Ramzy Baroud
‘Elected by Donors’: the University of Cape Town Fails Palestine, Embraces Israel
Cesar Chelala
Unsuccessful U.S. Policy on Cuba Should End
Harry Blain
The Conservatism of Impeachment
Jill Richardson
Standardized Tests are Biased and Unhelpful
Norman Solomon
Will the Democratic Presidential Nomination Be Bought?
Howard Lisnoff
The One Thing That US Leaders Seem to Do Well is Lie
Jeff Cohen
Warren vs. Buttigieg Clash Offers Contrast with Sanders’ Consistency
Mel Gurtov
The Afghanistan Pentagon Papers
Gaither Stewart
Landslide … to Totalitarianism
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
How Blaming Nader in 2000 Paved the Way for Today’s Neo-Fascism
Steve Early
In Re-Run Election: LA Times Journalist Wins Presidency of NewsGuild 
David Swanson
If You’re Not Busy Plotting Nonviolent Revolution for Peace and Climate, You’re Busy Dying
Nicky Reid
Sorry Lefties, Your Impeachment is Bullshit
John Kendall Hawkins
The Terror Report You Weren’t Meant to See
Susan Block
Krampus Trumpus Rumpus
Martin Billheimer
Knight Crawlers
Elliot Sperber
Dollar Store 
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail