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August 9, 2005 > Canned hunts - this is sportsmanship?

Canned hunts - this is sportsmanship?

by Nancy Lyon

There are several views on hunting-vehemently opposed to it, seeing it as a challenging "sport," or as a way to sustain life on Earth. But they all find common ground against so called "canned hunts," a detestable and unsporting practice that kills tamed or even captured animals in fenced-in enclosures.

Canned hunting operations also referred to as "shooting preserves" or "game ranches," are private trophy hunting facilities that offer their customers the opportunity to kill exotic and native animals that are trapped within enclosures. Of course, the fee for this opportunity to kill in a cowardly manner often carries a hefty price.

According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other animal welfare organizations, canned hunting is a lucrative and expanding industry. It is estimated that more than 1,000 captive mammal hunting operations are operating in at least 28 states. Several factors feed into that expansion. The overbreeding of captive exotic animals, the desire by some hunters with plenty of cash for a quick and easy kill, and the incentive to bag exotic mammals provided by Safari Club International's "Introduced Trophy Game Animals of North America" trophy hunting achievement award.

The exotic species bred to be killed in canned hunts include many varieties of goats and sheep, several species of deer and antelope, Russian boar, and exotic animals like lions, tigers, zebras, Corsican rams, and others. The native species include deer, elk, bison, and bear. Prices for a hunt may range from several hundred to several thousand dollars per kill. A ranch in Michigan, for example, charges $350 and up for a Corsican ram, $450 for a Russian boar, $750 and up for a blackbuck antelope, $3,000 for a buffalo, and $5,500 for a trophy elk. According to the brochure, "Many exotic animals not listed are available upon request."

Canned hunt facilities may range from a few to thousands of acres, but there is always a fence. On large ranches, guides drive hunters out to feed plots or bait stations that the animals are known to visit at certain times of the day. Small ranches offer animals in fenced areas where the hunter may approach the animals on foot, pick his target up close, take aim, and shoot. Animals who have lost their fear of humans are easy targets, which make it easy for canned hunt operators to offer a guaranteed kill.

Many zoos, even some of the most prestigious, sell their "surplus" animals either directly to canned hunting preserves or to middlemen and dealers who later sell to the hunts. Baby animals are popular and zoos continue to breed their animals. But space is limited, and for every baby born an adult animal must leave. Zoos generally claim they do not know what happens to the animals they sell. But some sell their older animals openly.

They also come from private breeders, animal dealers, or circuses and animal theme parks. They are frequently hand-raised and bottle-fed, so they have lost their natural protection and have little or no fear of humans. These trusting animals expect to be fed at regular times by familiar people-and the shooters will be there waiting for them.

Besides shooting animals in cages or within fenced enclosures, others may be shot at feeding stations. Sometimes they are tied to a stake or drugged before they are shot. Whatever the scheme, canned hunts fix the odds against the animal and any concept of a "fair chase" is defunct.

Vilified by animal protectionists and objected to by many hunters -- there is no federal law that bans canned hunting. Only 10 states, including California, do not allow it. In other states, operations are sprouting up.

The regulations implementing the federal Animal Welfare Act do not apply to game preserves, hunting preserves, or canned hunts. Although the Endangered Species Act protects animals listed as endangered or threatened, the Fish and Wildlife Service does not prohibit private ownership of these animals and even allows the canned hunting of endangered species.

Because the object of the hunt is a trophy, these brave hunters generally aim at an animal's non-vital organs in order to leave the head and chest unscathed. This makes for a more attractive trophy but condemns the animal to a slow and painful death.
As public land for hunting decreases, private canned hunting operations increase and canned hunts have become a topic of heated debate even among hunters.

Powerful hunting lobbyist groups such as the National Rifle Association and Safari Club International fight tooth and nail against any measure that would restrict any type of hunting, canned or not no matter how debauched. Besides being unsporting and inhumane, canned hunts are also aiding the spread of serious wildlife diseases -- most notably, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in deer and elk. Animals are often bred on separate ranches and shipped across state lines to the hunting facilities. Although some states have closed their borders to certain species, black market shipping still occurs.

Either bred in captivity, purchased from animal dealers, or retired from zoos and circuses, these basically tame animals do not even run when approached by weapon-wielding hunters. Shooting preserves offer guaranteed trophies and advertise as "No Kill, No Pay." The animals are so docile, in fact, that one hunter stated, "Before being harvested, African lions raised as pets would amble over and lick your hand."

This unsporting practice of killing tamed animals in fenced-in enclosures should be stopped. The Sportsmanship in Hunting Act, SB 304 and HR1688 have been introduced in the U.S. Congress. They seek to halt the interstate transport of exotic animals for use in canned hunts - a first step in banning the canned hunting.

It important to urge your U.S. Senators and Representatives to co-sponsor Senate Bill 304, introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and its companion House of Representative's Bill 1688, introduced by Representative Sam Farr (D-CA). Both seek to stop the interstate traffic of exotic animals for the purpose of hunting and trophy collecting.

Californians can be proud that many of the co-sponsors are from our state. House Representatives Stark, Miller, Lee, Honda, and Eshoo, are among California legislators who have signed on as co-sponsors. While Senator Dianne Feinstein has joined the growing ranks of co-sponsors, surprisingly, Senator Barbara Boxer normally very supportive of animal welfare legislation has not.

OHS asks Senator Boxer's constituents to contact her San Francisco office at
(415) 403-0100 - where you can actually reach a live person - and urge her to co-sponsor SB 304.

These animals need your voice.

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