Odd as it sounds, there are places in the world where animal species considered “vulnerable” or even “endangered” may legally be hunted. The first image that comes to mind is probably the African safari, but some of the places where endangered animals have been hunted are a lot closer to home than you might imagine.
In Texas, for example, the breeding of exotic animals for hunting purposes is a billion-dollar industry employing over 14,000 people. Some of these exotic species are endangered, but for several years were exempted from hunting restrictions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) if captive-bred. The rationale behind this industry is that there is an incentive for private industry to breed and repopulate these species if profit can be made from “captive hunting” a small number of them.
Here are few of the magnificent vulnerable or endangered animals that may still be hunted:
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers the African lion to be a “vulnerable” species. The USFWS is currently considering whether to list the African lion as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Over the last three lion generations, the IUCN estimates that the lion population has fallen by 30 percent. They may number as few as 39,000. African lions may legally be hunted in various locations on the African continent, including Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Senegal. They are also specially bred in South Africa for captive or “canned” hunting by tourists on paid safaris.
The polar bear is a “threatened” species under the ESA and a “depleted” species under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. About 20,000 to 25,000 are left in the wild. The polar bear can, however, be hunted legally in some parts of Canada. A recent federal court decision prohibited importing polar bear trophies from Canada to the U.S., making it less likely that American hunters will hunt the bears there in the future.
Trophy hunting of the African elephant is permitted in many African countries, including Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Cameroon, Gabon, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe. African elephants are considered a “threatened” species under the ESA and “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List.
The elegant cheetah is the fastest land animal in the world. Only about 10,000 exist, and they are now considered “endangered” by the ESA. The IUCN considers them “vulnerable” across their range and “critically endangered” in North Africa and Asia.
Up to 150 cheetahs per year may be legally hunted in Namibia. They may also legally be hunted in Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Considered “critically endangered” by the IUCN since 1996 and protected by the Endangered Species Act since 1980, there are only an estimated 4,880 black rhinos left. Nonetheless, the black rhinoceros may be legally hunted to a limited extent in Namibia and South Africa. An American hunter recently received permission from the USFWS to import his sport-hunted black rhino trophy from Namibia. It was the first such import permit issued in 33 years and was based on the Service’s determination that the rhino was taken “as part of a well-managed conservation program that enhances the long-term survival of the species.”
Scimitar Horned Oryx, Dama Gazelle and Addax
Until recently, hunters flocked to Texas to shoot captive-bred Scimitar Horned Oryx, Dama Gazelle and Addax. USFWS protected these three species under the ESA in 2005, but provided an exemption allowing private ranches to breed them for hunting purposes. That exemption was overturned in 2012. USFWS now requires special permits to hunt these Texas-bred animals, which has caused much consternation in hunting circles. Ranchers who raise these species for sport hunting allege that driving them out of business will in fact doom the last of these species to extinction.
Grizzly bears were listed as “threatened” by the USFWS in 1975, but were removed from the list in 2007. By court order, the Yellowstone Area population of grizzlies was re-listed as threatened in 2010. Only about 1,000 to 2,000 grizzly bears are left in the lower 48 states, and about 30,000 remain in Alaska. In their heyday, they could be found from Canada to Mexico and in the U.S. as far east as Ohio. Grizzly bears can be hunted legally in Alaska and Canada.
The Common Hippopotamus is considered a “vulnerable” species by the IUCN. It was once found throughout western Africa and the Nile region, but now is found in significant numbers only in East Africa. Estimates indicate that only 125,000 to 148,000 common hippos are left. They can be legally hunted in Tanzania and Ethiopia.
Sadly, it seems that almost anywhere you go in the world, it is the rarest of creatures that are most greatly prized as hunting trophies.
Photo Credit: Thinkstock