There is an amazing array of things one can purchase on EBay, from used lawn furniture to vintage dolls to bongs allegedly used by Olympic athletes. Among the myriad items being sold on EBay are guided hunts of North America’s grizzly bears, black bears, wolves and cougars. It’s hard to believe, but these recreational killing opportunities are now bought and sold on the world’s largest internet auction site; EBay has become an online marketplace peddling the trophy hunting of the continent’s top-level predator species.
When EBay announced a global ban last year on sales of ivory products after a report revealed the online auction site was helping to fuel illegal trade in wildlife products, conservation and animal welfare groups were encouraged by EBay’s action. However, a subsequent review of the EBay website found hunting sales of not only the aforementioned North American large carnivores, but of African lions and leopards as well.
In February, Raincoast Conservation and our campaign partner Big Wildlife approached EBay to request they end of sales of carnivore sport hunting on their website, citing that such sales glorify and promote profound animal suffering for fun and profit, as these hunts are not for food or subsistence, but purely for trophy. Due to EBay’s hesitation, we arranged for one of Raincoast’s wildlife scientists, Dr. Chris Darimont. to meet with them at their Silicon Valley, California headquarters to present additional evidence of the ecological, evolutionary, economic and ethical arguments against the trophy hunting of carnivores. Further talks ensued. Still nothing. In response, we received a letter from EBay Vice President and Deputy General Counsel Tod Cohen informing us that the company had no interest in halting trophy hunt sales. It is disappointing that EBay has decided to hide behind the rationale that trophy hunting of large carnivores is legal; just because something is legal doesn’t mean it is ethical or sustainable.
Tod Cohen of EBay wrote in the letter, “While these decisions are never easy for us to make, the conclusion to this broad decision-making process is that we will not be expanding the scope of hunting experiences prohibited at this time. EBay is an open marketplace based on the principle that anyone can buy or sell just about anything, as long as those sales comply with applicable laws and our policies.” In his letter, Mr. Cohen clarified that EBay has refused to post the sale of items the company and the general public find “offensive.”
Most people find pursuing cougars with dogs, treeing the frightened animals and then blasting them out of trees offensive. Most people believe gunning down a wolf for sport and a trophy is offensive. Most people think killing a grizzly so that the bear ends up as a rug in someone’s living room is offensive. If EBay prohibits the sale of offensive material, then why does the company promote the gratuitous killing of large carnivores?
Trophy hunting of top predators ignores the importance these species play in natural systems. For instance, top predators help regulate the food web, sustain ecological integrity and preserve species diversity. Their disappearance triggers changes in abundance of other species and the intricate connections among the remaining residents can unravel.
British Columbia’s grizzly bears—especially coastal grizzlies—face a suite of threats to their survival from habitat loss, declining salmon, mortality from recreational killing, poaching and lethal predator control. There is also now the spectre of climate change. Destruction of the grizzly’s habitat and overexploitation of the salmon on which their very lives depend may be complicated, multifaceted issues to address. But one threat is not: trophy hunting. A record 430 grizzlies were killed in BC in 2007, and the provincial government continues to permit grizzly bears, and other large carnivores, to be shot and killed for sport in our parks and protected areas.
In Alberta, it took a plunge in the grizzly bear population to the point where less than 500 are estimated to still exist before a halt to the grizzly hunt was implemented. Even with the species teetering on the brink in Alberta, elements within both the provincial government and sport hunting lobby are pushing for a resumption of the hunt.
In an interview with the Lethbridge Herald last fall Calgary-based wildlife scientist Dr. Brian Horejsi was not caught unawares by the latest population figures from Alberta’s grizzly bear recovery team.
“These numbers don’t surprise me at all,” Horejsi said. “I have been watching bear habitat, bears and the absolutely fraudulent antics of this government for pretty close to 40 years. And so I am not at all surprised. I have been saying that there may be as low as 400 bears and perhaps as many as 500 since 1990. It was evident to any trained observer who was independent of either special interests or government that there was something seriously awry way back then.”
One wonders how low the Alberta government will stoop to rationalize its continued refusal to adequately protect the province’s imperiled grizzly bears. Could there be any more stunning example of bureaucratic obtuseness than Sustainable Resource Development Minister Ted Morton’s suggestion that anecdotal evidence from sport hunting interests regarding grizzly bear numbers is on par with a $2 million scientific study sponsored by his own government?
From the Herald interview with Horejsi: “We have to remove the intensive human use of grizzly bear habitat that has simply drowned bear populations with mortality and reduced so dramatically their habitat that they’re not safe anywhere. There are very few security areas for bears or for any wildlife in Alberta. So even if you’re not hunting them legally, there are so many people out there who are armed, who are hunting deer and elk and coyotes, and chasing down wolves or squirrels, that they keep on encountering grizzly bears…And they keep killing them.”
The fact is that you can kill bears quickly via trophy hunting or kill them slowly through destruction of their habitat. The Alberta government has done virtually nothing to address the habitat issue and with Morton’s anti-science posturing it is clearly attempting to set the stage to rescind the hunting moratorium as well.
While hunters, governments, and conservationists continue to argue about the population status of grizzlies and other top-level predators in western Canada, the inescapable truth is that killing these magnificent animals for sport, trophy and profit has no place in today’s society.
The question remains for EBay users is whether they find it “offensive” that EBay is facilitating the recreational killing of large carnivores by allowing guided hunts to be auctioned on their site.
CHRIS GENOVALI is executive director of Raincoast Conservation.