Trophy hunting is a recreational activity in which hunters target specific animals. The goal is to keep the animal as a souvenir for later display. Some countries offer hunting packages to visitors as a means of promoting its tourism industry. These packages provide a hunting experience to tourists with a guarantee of going home with a trophy. US hunters hoping for exotic trophies travel as far away as Africa for the experience although there are many opportunities available in North and South America. The cost of these trips or the required big game permits can range from $10,000 to upwards of $100,000 depending on the animal. In some areas, this industry accounts for as much as 2% of all tourism-related income. This article looks at where the majority of hunting trophies in the US originated.
Origin of Hunting Trophies in the US
Canada provides the largest number of hunting trophies taken to the US and offers both wild and “canned hunting” experiences (where animals are released into an enclosed area). Common animals here include mule deer, moose, elk, black bear, grizzly bear, and polar bear. Hunters took home 508,325 trophies between 2004 and 2015. The grizzly bear population is on the decline and over the last century has gone from 35,000 to 6,000. Canada is the single nation that permits hunting polar bear for sport. In just 45 years, the polar bear population has declined by 30% which has caused other countries to ban killing for anything other than sustenance. In 2008, the US government banned importing the species as trophies.
The second biggest provider of hunting trophy imports to the US is South Africa. This country contributed 383,982 trophies to US collectors over an 11-year span. Rhinoceros, lion, leopard, hippos, giraffes, and elephants are some of the most sought after animals. Some experts believe hunting these endangered animals is leading to an even greater decline in the population, especially in rhinos, and that the government does not actually control the quotas allotted for each permit. Criminals have also taken advantage of the opportunity to access normally protected animals and illegally trade the horns from their kill. In addition, some individuals capture these animals from protected, public land and use them for hunting on private land. The situation is similar for other African countries that supply large quantities of hunting trophies: Namibia (76,347), Zimbabwe (44,740), Tanzania (36,028), Zambia (10,694), and Mozambique (5,704).
Latin American countries like Mexico and Argentina are also big destination spots for US trophy hunters. Mexico supplied 47,026 animals from 2004 to 2015. The majority of hunting in Mexico also takes place on ranches like the previously mentioned countries. Hunters come here for black bear, mountain lion, whitetail deer, and wild pig (among others). This trophy hunting industry is a $200 million industry for the country, and most ranches are based in the northern part of the country, close to the US border.
Argentina is a popular sport for hunters hoping for red stag, boar, wild goat, and antelope. Imports to the US totaled 28,419 over 11 years. The country did ban the export of native species in 2010 although it is still legal to hunt them.
Pros and Cons of Trophy Hunting
The practice of trophy hunting has both supporters and opponents. Proponents of the practice suggest that the money generated supports wildlife conservation efforts. Opponents agree that trophy hunting can generate significant income for countries but that the animal can actually earn more money over its natural lifetime by attracting a larger number of ecotourists. They also suggest that it contributes to rapidly declining populations. The majority opinion in the US is against trophy hunting. This fact is ironic, however, given that the country also imports more hunting trophies than any other nation.