Connecticut should ban trophy hunting the Big 5

Mar 1, 2020 | News

By Jacqueline Smith, Opinion / The Middletown Press

What do you think about having a lion’s head mounted in your living room? Or an elephant’s in your den? How about a rhino body part on display in your home? I wouldn’t want to. I couldn’t walk into a room every day and see a stuffed trophy leopard and not feel horrible. 

But you could display one if you wanted to, and had a permit. 

This is a big topic right now up in Hartford, which is surprising because it seems all we hear about is tolls, trucks-only tolls, no tolls. 

The Environment Committee has been talking about trophy hunting (among other issues such as aquaculture and wine-making), and came up with a bill to ban the import, sale and possession of African elephants, lions, leopards, black rhinoceros, white rhinoceros and giraffes. It’s called the Connecticut Big 5 African Trophies Act. Museums would be excluded. 

Are you wondering why a state that can’t agree on how to pay for transportation fixes would be putting energy into protecting African wildlife? 

It’s absolutely relevant. I hadn’t realized how much until I started learning more this week. 

From 2005 to 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued 59 trophy hunting permits for Connecticut residents to hunt and kill leopards. In that time, Connecticut residents killed and imported 39 lions. Connecticut residents received six permits to kill and import elephants in Botswana, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. And one giraffe.

Trophy hunting in Africa is an issue for Connecticut. 

State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff of Norwalk refers to the bill, HB 5104, as Cecil’s Law. 

Cecil was an African lion that lived in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, raised a dozen cubs and “was uniquely good-natured and accustomed to people,” Duff said. Researchers studied him, put a collar on him, and let park visitors observe him up close. Then five years ago, an American dentist paid $50,000 to get Cecil lured off the refuge. He hunted, shot and killed the animal for a trophy. The outrage on social media was widespread. 

The “least we can do is to disincentivize this type of murder tourism by forbidding the so-called ‘trophies’ from returning to Connecticut,” Duff said in testimony last week. “By passing this bill Connecticut will be doing our small part to help be better stewards of the planet and the animal kingdom.” 

Apparently, this strikes a chord with the more than 80 people who took the time to testify in an Environment Committee hearing last Friday. 

Christopher Rohland of Danbury is a firearm owner and an advocate for responsible and sustainable hunting. He finds trophy hunting, especially of threatened or endangered species, “reprehensible.” 

“Unlike sustainable hunting, trophy hunting does nothing to advance species health or conservation,” he wrote in support of the bill. “It only serves to boost the egos of the hunters and in no way should the state promote or defend the practice.” 

William Mannetti of Seymour also was eloquent in his support of Cecil’s bill. “To put this bill into law is to choose a morally enlightened position that both recognizes the right of wild-living animals to live their lives unmolested by human hand and rejects the equation that privileges human self-aggrandizement over that right,” he testified.

Scott Firth of Guilford said the animals need our compassion, not “a license for their extinction.” 

“This is just another example of how detached and un-in-touch with the natural world we have become,” he said in written testimony. “Connecticut residents don’t need this kind of frivolity and the State of CT does not need to support it by issuing permits for the barbaric murder of beautiful sentient beings.” 

Exactly why I wouldn’t want a stuffed leopard in my home. 

This column is my opinion. But I don’t want to ignore other viewpoints that differ from mine. 

Howard Baccash of Milford has been to Africa several times, “hunting there and have seen first-hand how the whole hunting industry helps the local people, economy, and wildlife,” he testified. 

“Hunting gives much value to the wildlife and employs locals in the industry … A bigger threat to wildlife is loss of habitat,” he said. “Please let each country manage their own wildlife as we do here in the USA.” 

Advocates for the trophy hunting industry, such as the Safari Club, say the practice supports conservation efforts; opponents, such as the Sierra Club’s Connecticut chapter, say little revenue goes to conservation and most to safari outfitters, associated foreign businesses and governments. 

Priscilla Feral, president of the Darien-based Friends of Animals, put the threat posed by trophy hunting into perspective. The elephant population has declined by 90 percent in the past century “as they face challenges from habitat destruction and climate change as well as commondification from the trophy hunting industry and poachers who’ve put a price tag on their lives.” The giraffe population has declined an estimated 36-40 percent in the past 30 years. Fewer than 23,000 lions are left in Africa.

One of the reasons Connecticut must act is that the federal government, the Department of Interior, has done the opposite and loosened restrictions on trophy imports. 

It’s a big deal. Earlier this month a seven-day hunting trip to Alaska with Donald Trump Jr., billed as a “dream hunt” was auctioned at the annual convention by Safari Club International starting at $10,000. Other prizes to shoot elephants, giraffes, wildebeests, buffalo or crocodiles were offered to the thousands of Reno convention goers.

When my husband, who does not hunt, reads this column, he’ll remind me that Ernest Hemingway (his favorite writer) was a big-game hunter. And I’ll say that I align more with Beach Boys’ founder Brian Wilson and former member Al Jardine, who called for a boycott of the present iteration of the band performing at the convention. They started a “say no to trophy hunting” petition on social media. 

Here’s what we can do in Connecticut — pass Cecil’s bill. New Jersey and Washington have similar bans; New York is debating one. This is the fourth time the bill has been filed in this state’s General Assembly and twice it passed the state Senate, including last year. Get it done.

Other animals on this planet should not be considered trophies, hunted and killed for sport.