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Trophy Hunters Exposed: Inside the Big Game Industry

An interview with Eduardo Gonçalves about his explosive book on trophy hunting.

I recently read an excellent book by investigative journalist Eduardo Gonçalves called Trophy Hunters Exposed: Inside the Big game Industry.1 In his landmark book, Mr. Gonçalves writes about "his 2-year investigation into the trophy hunting industry, its donors, how it seeks to influence elections and government policies, and the rise of hunting groups calling themselves 'conservation' organisations while trying to take away the few protections endangered wildlife still enjoy."

Soon after I read the book I saw an essay published in The Telegraph (UK) called "Trophy hunting imports to be banned in UK." Because of my long-standing interest in this egregious and violent global activity and my work in the field of compassionate conservation, I was pleased Eduardo could take the time to answer a few questions about his latest book.2,3 Here's what he had to say.

Marc Bekoff: Why did you write Trophy Hunting Exposed?

Eduardo Gonçalves: Trophy hunting is almost universally loathed. The fall-out from the slaying of Cecil the lion was one of the world’s biggest-ever stories. Yet little has changed. The British government said it would ban lion trophies, and then did a u-turn. Something didn’t add up. Reporting of trophy hunting suggests it is just a series of aberrant individuals. That doesn’t explain the political "blockages."

Eduardo Gonçalves, with permission
Source: Eduardo Gonçalves, with permission

Since Cecil was killed, another 6000 lions have been shot by trophy hunters. There are now just 20,000 left in the wild. The U.S. government says wild lions could be extinct by 2050. Many animals classed as threatened with extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) are legally shot by trophy hunters. Many animals protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the wildlife trade regulator, are also shot. Appendix I of CITES says trade in these species is prohibited save in “exceptional circumstances.” Yet if you’re a trophy hunter, you are allowed to shoot them because this is "non-commercial" and they are "personal and household effects." So you can kill endangered animals if you want to turn them into furniture or fashion items.

Trophy hunting has already led to wildlife population collapses and the extinction of several species. Large numbers of threatened species are still being shot for "sport." Together with the increasingly-evident results of artificial selection, trophy hunting is helping put a number of species including lions and African elephants on a fast-track to extinction.

Study after study shows the devastating consequences of trophy hunting on wildlife. They also show that if you stop trophy hunting then populations bounce back. Moratoria on trophy hunting have been introduced in a number of countries because of the impacts of trophy hunting. The evidence of the purported benefits in terms of funding conservation or supporting local communities is thin at best.

MB: How does your book relate to your background and general areas of interest?

EG: I used to be a journalist. The majority of my investigations in The Guardian and other newspapers were conservation-related stories. I worked for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for many years and was heavily involved in an initiative to prevent the first-ever extinction of a wild cat on earth in the early 2000s, the Iberian Lynx.1

MB: What are some of the topics you weave into the text and what are some of your major messages?

EG: In Trophy Hunters Exposed, I try to give readers an insight into the industry. You get to see the breathless marketing by companies and the hunting packages where you can shoot multiple animals. You learn about the awards which encourage hunters to shoot dozens and even hundreds of animals around the world.

You meet the lobby groups who pour millions of dollars into campaigns to protect “hunters’ rights,” including contributions to pro-hunting politicians’ election campaigns, and the campaigns to stop animals such as lions being classed as "endangered"–this would make it harder to legally hunt them and bring home trophies. You find out who the industry’s major corporate and individual donors are. You get an insight into some of their more extraordinary campaigns, such as the drive to get U.S. states to lower the legal age limit that children can hunt.

You also learn their big "secret" which is key to their survival and growth strategy–namely, they’re rebranding themselves as "conservationists." The NRA, which works closely with Safari Club International (SCI), today calls itself a conservation organisation, as does SCI. The industry has set up a series of conservation "front groups" with wildlife-friendly names such as Conservation Force, Conservation Visions, Conservation Frontlines, etc. They are led by some of the world’s leading hunters. The True Green Alliance for instance was set up by Ron Thomson, a hunter who has shot nearly 6000 animals, the majority of them elephants.

The industry has been successful in selling this conservation hoax. Just last year, trophy hunters were given permission to shoot twice as many critically endangered black rhinos. Dallas Safari Club has been admitted as a member of IUCN, the global conservation organisation. Several directors of Conservation Force sit on IUCN committees. Conservation Force has official status within CITES.

In Trophy Hunters Exposed, we also meet some of the world’s top hunters. They come from all over the world–the U.S., Britain, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Some have literally killed thousands of animals. Tony Sanchez Arino has shot over 1,300 elephants, 340 lions, and thousands of buffaloes, rhinos, and leopards. He has at least 4,000 confirmed kills, and he’s not even top of the list.

The Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting was set up in the UK 18 months ago. There is now a big coalition of conservation and animal welfare groups working on this issue. Members of Parliament of all parties in the House of Commons support the campaign. Opinion polls show 86% of voters want trophy hunting banned. The Times newspaper and the Catholic Church of England and Wales have thrown their weight behind the campaign, as has the Daily Mirror tabloid newspaper which has run a series of hard-hitting front-page stories.

The government also pledged to implement a ban in the Queen's Speech, the British equivalent of the State of the Union address, and it was in the manifestos of all the main political parties at the December general election. In addition, The Daily Telegraph recently ran a front-page story confirming that the ban is going ahead. The Telegraph is the newspaper closest to the Prime Minister. The story quoted a “source close to the Prime Minister.” WWF-UK had previously told the government about its support for trophy hunting projects. It has now done a u-turn and says it supports a total ban on all animal trophy imports.

MB: How does your book differ from others that are concerned with some of the same general topics?

EG: The list of industry donors and sponsors will surprise many. It includes Trump donor Steve Chancellor, Yamaha, the owners of Budweiser, and Michigan taxpayers (presumably unknowingly) and some school boards. It will probably come as an even greater shock that the industry has partnerships with the Boy Scouts Association and the U.S. Salvation Army to encourage young children to take up trophy hunting.

The scale of the industry’s successes in changing policy–to make it easier to hunt endangered species and bring their body parts home–has never been told. They managed to re-open elephant trophy imports from countries where the species is at serious risk. They’ve succeeded in downgrading the conservation status of endangered animals such as the Canadian Wood Bison and the markhor. They have defeated efforts to stop white rhino hunting. Polar bear trophies are now coming back into the U.S. again.

MB: Are you hopeful things will change for the better?

EG: We’re close to a ban in the UK and this could open the door to far-reaching import bans in Europe and possibly North America. It would be hugely symbolic that the country which effectively invented modern-day trophy hunting decides to turn its back to it. It will also force countries like South Africa, who have a close relationship with the UK, to think again.

MB: Is there anything else you'd like to tell readers?

EG: I’ve just written a sequel to Trophy Hunters Exposed called Killing Game: The Extinction Industry. It demonstrates how trophy hunting has led to the dramatic decline in many species, including extinctions. It includes previously unseen hunting industry data which shows that trophy hunting could be putting lions and African elephants on a fast-track to extinction because of the devastating effects of artificial selection. It also reveals the expansion of canned hunting from lions into leopards, tigers, and even zebras and bears and finds that there is extraordinarily little evidence of any direct conservation benefits from trophy hunting, while at the same time there is a very large body of evidence which clearly points in the opposite direction. Both books are available here.



1) Eduardo Gonçalves, founder of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, is author of the best-seller Trophy Hunters Exposed: Inside the Big Game Industry and its sequel Killing Game: The Extinction Industry (foreword: Jane Goodall). Goncalves is a former policy adviser and investigative journalist who in 2000 led a successful campaign to prevent the first-ever extinction of a big cat, the Iberian Lynx, in modern times. He was a campaigner and consultant with WWF for many years, was brought in by Abu Dhabi’s government to help the emirate reduce its ecological footprint, and helped build a coalition of over 1 million companies in support of the Paris climate deal. As CEO of the League Against Cruel Sports, Britain’s oldest anti-bloodsports NGO, he prevented moves to bring back fox-hunting and instead persuaded the government to raise jail sentences for dogfighting and animal cruelty to 5 years. In 2018, he founded the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting which is today supported by some of Britain and the world’s leading public figures, including Ed Sheeran, Liam Gallagher, Judi Dench, and the Catholic Church of England. The Daily Mail calls him “Britain’s most prominent anti-hunting activist”. The Daily Mirror has bestowed its ‘Animal Hero Award’ on him. In an editorial published in May, The Times officially endorsed the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting and Eduardo’s book Trophy Hunters Exposed.

2) Bekoff, Marc. Trophy Hunters Pay More to Kill Larger-Bodied Carnivores.

_____. Trophy Hunting: Confronting the Elephant (Head) in the Room. (Trophy hunting is an immoral and inappropriate conservation practice.)

_____. Why Men Trophy Hunt: Showing Off and the Psychology of Shame.

_____. Should Grizzlies in the Yellowstone Area Be Trophy Hunted?

_____. Trophy Hunters' Smiles Show How Much They Like to Kill.

_____. The Psychology and Thrill of Trophy Hunting: Is it Criminal? (Trophy hunting is gratuitous violence that can justifiably be called murder.)

_____. Trumping Wildlife: Heinous Trophy Hunting, Not Conservation.

_____. Hunting Grizzlies For Fun is Unscientific and Unethical.

3) Bekoff, Marc. Compassionate Conservation Meets Cecil the Slain Lion.

_____. Cecil the Lion: His Life, Death, and Effects on Conservation.

_____. Compassionate Conservation, Sentience, and Personhood. (Conservation efforts should be guided by compassion rather than by killing. Numerous references to compassionate conservation can be found in this essay.)

_____. Compassionate Conservation Matures and Comes of Age.

Kennedy, Dominic. WWF changes stance on trophy hunting after Times exposé. The Times (UK)