Canned Hunting in the United States
Imagine an animal running fearfully from a hunter, and quickly finding that everywhere it turns, there is a fence. Or, imagine an animal trustingly approaching a person after a lifetime of human interaction, only to be shot with a bullet or arrow, then suffering a slow, agonizing death. These scenes capture the manipulative "game" of a canned hunt.
Canned, "captive," "high-fence" hunts, "game ranches," or "fenced-in shooting preserves" are essentially private or commercial trophy hunts in which animals are raised or captured from the wild and released into a confined area to be hunted. Hunters usually pay the ranch operator for a guaranteed successful hunt. Hunters may perch safely in tree blinds or huddle in vehicles, targeting animals that are caged, lured to feeding stations, or drugged before they are killed. Most disturbing is that fact that these canned hunts often include exotic and endangered species.
Where is this happening? Asia? Africa? ...Right here in the United States of America. African antelopes and lions are bred and hunted in Texas, wild red foxes are caught, released, and chased down by dogs in Virginia, and elk in Colorado are born, raised and shot in a pen. Sadly, there are more than a thousand captive hunts in at least 28 states in the U.S. Of the 12 U.S. ranches holding current or recent government-issued endangered species permits, 11 are located in Texas and 1 is in Florida. The animal most commonly hunted at these ranches is the barasingha, or "swamp deer," native to India and Nepal. Other targeted endangered or threatened species include Eld's bow-antlered deer, red lechwe, Arabian oryx, and several species of antelope. The going rate for a canned hunt varies; one ranch website advertises a guaranteed kill of a barasingha for $4,0001.
The ranch owners or operators often acquire these animals from breeders, dealers, auctions, or even zoos or circuses. While operations claim to offer only non-endangered exotic animals, illicit dealers in the exotic "pet" trade often enable the acquisition of endangered animals for hunting.
Another appalling truth is that there is currently no federal U.S. law that specifically bans, oversees, or regulates these activities. Discretion and authority over these private hunting activities are left to state wildlife agencies. Because canned hunts most often take place on private property, such as game reserves that are not governed by the same wildlife laws as public lands, requirements and restrictions are loose and vague. On private lands, for example, there are no "bag limits" or caps on numbers of kills; canned hunters are not required to carry hunting licenses; and they do not need firearm experience. These lax requirements allow people with little experience to participate, often exacerbating the agony of the animals when multiple shots are required to kill them.
The only federal laws that touch on these activities are the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act, and solely in the context of endangered and protected animals. The U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA), passed in 1973, prohibits taking, importing or exporting, selling, or offering to sell any listed endangered or threatened species. The Act defines "taking" as harassing, harming, pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding, killing, trapping, capturing, or collecting, or attempting to engage in any such conduct. An exception is made by allowing the issuance of a permit authorizing otherwise-prohibited activities for scientific purposes. Often, canned hunt owners or operators will have a permit for importation, captivity, breeding, and hunting of these endangered species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) issues all such permits, and grants canned hunting ranches permission to kill endangered and threatened species as trophy animals based on "the propagation of the survival of the species" exception.
Canned hunts are not only appalling because of the cruelty involved, but also dangerous because of the health risks they pose. When exotic animals are transported long distances to canned hunt facilities or housed under unregulated conditions, diseases such as tuberculosis, brucellosis, and chronic wasting disease (which is similar to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as "Mad Cow Disease") can spread to nearby cattle, to local wildlife, and even to humans.
This is not just an American problem. Canned hunts are happening all across the globe. South Africa is making a name for itself as the canned hunting capital of the world. (link to our UK site) Private ranches are freely breeding lions and other animals, often hand-rearing and bottle-feeding them until the day they are released to an enclosure to be killed by paying patrons. Currently, in Africa, far more lions live in captivity — often on game ranches — than remain in the wild.
Back in America, Born Free USA recently scored a major victory against this unsporting practice with a lawsuit that reversed a detrimental decision from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). In September 2005, USFWS listed three species of imperiled African antelope — Scimitar-Horned Oryx, the Addax and the Dama Gazelle — as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Concurrently, however, the agency also created a sweeping exemption to allow canned hunting of the three species by trophy hunters on private ranches in the U.S. This contradictory ruling simultaneously protects the species while allowing these pay-to-play operations to kill them after obtaining a federal permit. As part of a coalition of wildlife protection groups, Born Free USA filed a lawsuit arguing that this violated the ESA — and the won the case. Although hunting of captive-bred endangered wildlife may still occur, rescinding this "Antelope Rule" avoids the dangerous precedent of permitting commercial exploitation of listed species.
Despite this important victory, we have a lot of work to do. Wildlife, including endangered animals, suffers immensely for this unsporting form of entertainment. As long as animals are trapped and denied "fair chase" in canned hunts, we need to remain vigilant for opportunities to combat this practice. Born Free USA will continue to fight until these canned hunts are canned!
Captive Hunting Facts:
- Animals in captive hunts are stocked inside fenced enclosures, often allowing ranches to offer guaranteed trophies, "100 percent success" rates, and advertise "no kill, no pay" policies.
- Captive hunts are generally reviled by the hunting community nationwide for violating the principle of fair chase. Hunting groups, such as the Boone and Crockett Club and the Pope and Young Club, which maintain trophy records for big game hunting, will not consider animals shot at captive hunts for inclusion on their record lists.
- At more than 1,000 commercial captive hunt operations in the United States, trophy hunters pay to shoot native and exotic mammals — from zebra to endangered Scimitar-Horned Oryx — confined in fenced enclosures.
- Many of the animals on these ranches have become accustomed to humans, making them easy targets for shooters.