24. THE CANNED HUNT

Hunters say the thrill of hunting comes from the chase not from the kill. The booming canned hunt business tells a different story.

As many as half a million "hunters" pay hundreds and often thousands of dollars to some 4,000 canned hunt promoters in the U.S. alone, to be sure of a kill -- even if the chase is just a matter of finding the best hole in a cage to poke a weapon through. Shooting fish in a barrel may soon be not a metaphor but an option for those who can't afford to kill a captive African lion ($5,995, "with good mane," according to a recent price list).

In the canned hunt scenario, animals are fenced in or kept in cages until a "hunter" calls for the beast's release, at which time the "sport" commences. Often the released animal can only run in circles around an enclosed compound (some smaller than an acre), without an escape route. Some even make desperate runs for safety under parked cars, but to no avail. The animals, including some exotic species, are fired upon at nearly point blank range, ensuring the "sportsman" of a kill. After witnessing a hunt, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agent Bill Talkin said "None of the animals got more than 100 feet from the cage when they were shot."

The typical canned hunter is an older, wealthy man who wants guaranteed success of bringing home a trophy to mount, without the added hassle of trekking into the woods. The ill-fated animals include endangered species such as African leopards, exotic cats, Bengal tigers, grizzly bears, etc. And while most canned hunt promoters know better than to openly advertise opportunities to shoot endangered species, most trophy hunters know how to wangle the deals they want -- shooting a couple of animals legally on initial visits while getting to know the staff, flashing money; dropping hints.

The most popular form of canned hunting in North America is captive bird-shooting. It is estimated that about 55 million tame birds are killed in canned hunts each year in the U.S.

President George Bush celebrated his election in 1988 with a bird-killing spree at the Lazy F Ranch near Beeville, Texas. When questioned about it, he protested "These aren't animals, these are wild quail."

Ironically, the canned hunting boom is encouraged by increasingly financially strapped state and provincial wildlife agencies. Hurt by falling sales of permits to hunt animals in the wild, they see licensing canned hunts as a promising source of revenue.

While there are many hunters who are sportsmen and who enjoy the chase more than the kill, the author's investigation shows that for every hunter who wants to stalk animals at length, dozens will pay as much, or more, to kill a trophy on demand, within yards of a bar, a video camera, and a taxidermist.

SSU CENSORED RESEARCHER: ROBYN O'CONNOR

SOURCE: THE ANIMALS' AGENDA, 456 Monroe Turnpike, Monroe, CT 06468
DATE: September 1991
TITLE: "Killing The Captives"
AUTHOR: Merritt Clifton

COMMENTS: Merritt Clifton, news editor of The Animals' Agenda, has been writing exposes of the endangered species aspect of hunting for various U.S. and Canadian media since 1985. He believes the "mass media completely ignored, and still ignore, clear evidence that killing captive animals is not an aberration but rather a mainstream activity of hunters: over 500,000 of the 14 million U.S. hunters killed captive animals in 1990 alone. The mass media have also completely ignored the involvement of the U.S. power elite in both trophy hunting and killing captive animals (both George Bush and Dan Quayle are involved, to name just two). Finally, with a handful of exceptions, the mass media have completely ignored the perversion of captive breeding programs for endangered species, managed by tax-funded zoos, to produce living targets for trophy hunters."

Clifton charges that the widespread practice of killing captive animals puts the lie to the image of hunters as "sportsmen." In turn, he suggests, "This undermines the disproportionate hold the hunting lobby holds over
management of public lands and wildlife (for instance, as I'm (Clifton) writing this, hunters have just pushed a bill through the House of Representatives to open up all National Parks to hunting, which means that National Parks will be off limits to 97% of Americans who don't hunt for approximately a quarter of the year, if the bill also clears the Senate, as it is expected to do). Second, knowing what some of our national leaders do for sport would permit better understanding of their character, as manifested in more visible areas of national and international affairs. Third, understanding where the trophy target animals come from could help us to re-evaluate and redirect endangered species captive breeding programs, so that the tax funds spent on them really go to protect rare animals, rather than to make more lions and tigers available to trophy hunters."

Clifton concludes "If shooting animals purely for kicks and trophies -- almost none are ever eaten -- is something we as a society are willing to condone, we're pretty much back at the level of the Romans who indulged in gladiator fights among slaves and wild animals while their society disintegrated."