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lion trophy Archives - Rhino Review

Emmy-winning film could change what you believe about the hunting industry

By Antipoaching

Moshe Gilad, Haaretz  | October 8, 2019

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The American rancher Philip Glass, who raises sheep in Texas and hunts big game for recreational purposes, is seen on the screen shooting and killing a lion. The viewer’s heart sinks at the sight of the large animal collapsing on a pile of branches in the middle of a thicket.

Glass’ fellow hunters pat him on the back and complement him on the excellent shot. He sits down near his prey, pets the lion’s gold fur and begins sobbing. It’s hard to know whether he’s crying because of a surge of excitement, a sudden fit of remorse, an adrenaline boost or sheer happiness.

No Sugarcoating the Gory Process

Schwarz and Clusiau’s film was released in 2017 and was shown at the Sundance and Jerusalem film festivals. In conversation with Haaretz, Schwarz acknowledges that he and Clusiau had undergone a transformation in making “Trophy.”

“We went into it as nature lovers. Hunting seemed horrific to us. We attended a hunters’ convention in Las Vegas and came back shocked, but then we went to Africa and understood that the subject was a thousand times more complicated than what we thought. In the United States, it’s very easy to say: ‘Save the lions and the elephants. They are so cute.’ In Africa, things look different.

You understand there that an elephant is a very dangerous animal that causes a huge amount of damage and that there may be logic in hunting permits. You also understand that you need to motivate residents to protect the animals. Five years after this journey began, I can’t tell you flat out what I think about hunting, other than that it’s more complicated than what people think. We’ve chosen to be frank in the film, presenting what we were feeling and letting the viewer decide what’s right.”

“We don’t have a definitive answer,” Schwarz says. “The clearest thing is that we have changed while working on the film. That’s a development that we’re proud of. That’s important for journalists. We need to be very leery of becoming people who don’t listen. In this film, we have chosen to listen, even if it doesn’t make us popular.”

Schwarz, who has lived in the United States for the past 20 years, previously worked as a photographer for Israeli daily Maariv and for Reuters. He has also done photography work for major American publications such as National Geographic and the New York Times. Six years ago, he decided to make the switch to documentary filmmaking “to tell the story more completely, but I still wear a journalist’s hat. I haven’t taken it off for a moment.” His prior film dealt with drug trafficking in Mexico.

The photography in “Trophy” is outstanding, shocking and moving. It doesn’t try to sugarcoat the process. Rather, it documents it in its entirety — from seeking the animal out to the hit, followed by the stuffing of the victim by a taxidermist. It’s not always easy to watch, but the presentation is impressive.

Original photo as published by Haaretz: A frame from the film ‘Trophy’ Credit: Courtesy of Yes Docu

The major shift in the perspective of the creators of “Trophy” began after meeting up in South Africa with John Hume, the owner of a ranch with 1,400 rhinoceroses. Hume touts an unconventional approach. In endless succession, he anesthetizes the animals and cuts off their valuable horns. Somewhat similar to finger nails, the horns grow back after a few years.

Hume says that he is storing the horns until he can sell them legally. He has several thousand of them and they’re worth millions. A real treasure.

As Hume would have it, his is the only way to protect the rhinos from illegal hunting. And he says that if he were able to, he would free the rhinos that are shorn of their horns into the wild. Without horns, they are not a desirable target of illegal hunting.

‘In Africa, Things Look Different’

A hundred years ago, the earth was home to half a million rhinos, but now there are only 30,000. Philip Glass, the Texas rancher, paid $35,000 to hunt a rhinoceros. Seventy percent of hunters come to Africa from the United States and Canada.

Shockingly, they hunt down everything. In 1900, there were 10 million elephants in the world. Now there are just 300,000. Most of the hunting has been carried out illegally and without a permit.

What changed during your meeting with Hume?

“We came with the approach of ‘what’s screwed up here?’ But we became convinced there that this man wasn’t lying. He wasn’t bluffing. He was offering a solution that he believes in. We understood that if we continued down the current path, there was no chance that we could see rhinos in another 20 years. He was offering a practical direction that would permit returning them into the wild. In other words, he’s saying that if we saw off and legitimately sell rhino horns, the illegal hunters wouldn’t hunt them. That’s how we will save the rhinos’ lives, but we need to be allowed to do it legally — trading in rhino horns. It’s not easy to see rhinos at a ranch dealt with like a herd of cattle, but we became convinced that he loves animals.”

The sense of the viewer of the film is that you fell in love with the characters.

“The director of a documentary uses his characters to tell something bigger. The participants in the film are very human. They have allowed us to film them even during their most difficult, moving and intimate movements. The barriers came down and we clearly became closer. Chris Moore, for example, is in my view the most interesting example because he is a wonderful man who works with the locals to protect nature and acknowledges that in this context, they some-times need to kill animals. He describes the conflict very well. He hates killing animals and is forced to do so, despite the fact that he can’t sleep afterwards. He proves that it’s not black and white.

“The reality is more complicated than what we wanted to see, and Chris’ is the best solution because he is always looking for value for the locals. It’s a fine balance: How to make the locals feel that hunting and the entire system is theirs. From the moment that we give them value, we have won. We need to acknowledge that it’s impossible to do that only through tourism. Safari tourism is maybe two percent of the tourist revenue in Africa. What happens with the great mass? We need to provide more than that. That’s the point that environmental groups don’t want to hear. During my time in Africa, I understood that we need to cause everyone to talk to one another. The environmentalists and hunters need to talk so that there are also wild animals in Africa in the future. It’s currently very difficult to encourage a dialogue because there is a chasm of hatred between the hunters and environmentalists. We tried to create joint panels and the two sides blasted us.

At the moment, the feeling is that everybody hates everybody. The environmentalists expected the film to be very harsh with the hunters. Classic nature films are propaganda films, but they’re too pretty and light. In Africa things look different.”

Were you surprised that your film won?

“I thought we had the strongest film in the category but I knew that we were in no way politically correct, particularly in the American context. That’s why I didn’t think we would win, and I was surprised. Winning an Emmy is my second surprise with this film. The first came when Yes Docu decided to participate in funding it. This isn’t a film about Israel or about the conflict in the country but nevertheless, they had the courage, and maybe also the faith in me as a director, to support us. That can’t at all be taken for granted.”

Lion trophy approved for import into U.S., stirring controversy. Here’s why that matters.

By Conservation
Rachel Fobar, National Geographic | September 16, 2019

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A Florida trophy hunter has permission to import what is thought to be the first lion trophy from Tanzania since January 2016, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, an Arizona-based nonprofit that advocates for endangered species.

In that year, two subspecies of African lions were listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, meaning that those lions can be killed for trophies only if it can be shown that the hunts would enhance the survival of the species in the wild.

In May, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency that oversees trophy hunting imports to the United States, approved a hunter’s application to import the skin, skull, claws, and teeth of a lion killed in Lukwati North Game Reserve, a hunting concession leased from the government and run by Tanzanian safari operator McCallum Safaris. That’s according to records obtained from a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by Tanya Sanerib, international legal director for the Center for Biological Diversity. (See more from FOIA: We asked the government why animal welfare records disappeared.)

The hunter, whose identity could not be confirmed by National Geographic, originally applied to import a lion trophy from Tanzania in November 2016. It’s unclear exactly when he killed the lion. Nor is it clear whether the trophy has been imported. The permit to do so, issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service, expires in May 2020, a year after it was issued.

African lions have disappeared from 94 percent of their historic range, and populations have halved, to fewer than 25,000 since the early 1990s, according to the nonprofit Wildlife Conservation Network. The main causes of the decline are retaliatory killings of lions that attack villagers and depletion of their prey animals. Tanzania is home to 40 percent of Africa’s lions.

Sanerib, who calls the country a “stronghold” for lions, worries that the decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service could be a signal that the Trump administration will “open the floodgates” for future Tanzanian trophy imports for lions and other species, including elephants. The news of this approval of a lion import comes on the heels of a decision last week to allow a U.S. hunter to import a black rhino trophy killed last year in Namibia.

According to Laury Marshall Parramore, a spokeswoman with the Fish and Wildlife Service, “Legal, well-regulated hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation.”

Sanerib says she’s concerned about the lack of detail in the Fish and Wildlife Service’s determination that this hunt enhances lion conservation in Tanzania. She claims that the service didn’t do due diligence when approving the import permit. As part of her FOIA request, she says she obtained emails in which the service asked general questions of Tanzanian government officials, such as whether they were monitoring trophy hunting.

“Those are not the basic questions that I think that our government should be asking before we approve these types of practices. We should be way down in the weeds, getting all of the details to ensure that these programs are actually going to enhance the survival of species.”

“Organizationally, we’re opposed to trophy hunting—we don’t think we should be killing threatened and endangered species,” Sanerib says. “But if we are going to do it, if it is going to happen, Fish and Wildlife Service needs to follow the law, and they really need to ensure—and this is their own regulatory requirements—that this program has all the adequate safeguards to ensure that it’s going to be sustainable for the lion population.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service did not respond to a request for specific information about how this hunt benefits lions in Tanzania and for reaction to Sanerib’s concerns.

The lion decision is particularly troubling given Tanzania’s history of mismanaging trophy hunting, Sanerib says. In 2017, Hamisi Kigwangalla, Tanzania’s minister for natural resources and tourism, revoked hunting concession lease permits that previously had been issued to companies for a low set fee, citing a need for greater transparency about the process. The government then began auctioning off concession leases instead. But according to biologist Craig Packer, who had studied lions in Tanzania since the late 1970s, only undesirable concessions were put up for auction, a move he calls a “halfhearted” effort to reform.

Kigwangalla did not respond to a request for comment.

In 2015, Packer was barred from entering the country after he characterized the nation’s trophy hunting industry as corrupt. Trophy hunters are supposed to target only older male lions, thought to be less crucial to reproduction, but Packer says there was no accountability or oversight by Tanzania to ensure that this was happening. As trophy hunting declined in popularity, Packer says, concession operators charged hunters fees so low that they couldn’t possibly be providing enough revenue to maintain roads, hire rangers, and prevent illegal farming or grazing in the hunting reserves.

Whether this particular trophy import is good or bad depends on whether the hunt was shown to have a conservation benefit, Packer says. If the U.S. is rewarding responsible hunting operators, it will incentivize others to follow suit. “As long as the sport hunters are showing that they’re making a positive impact, good on them,” he says. “It would be great if the system is actually forcing some kind of reform.” But, he adds, the Fish and Wildlife Service “has no way of confirming whether Tanzania’s well-meaning policies are really being implemented.”

Representatives from the Tanzania Wildlife Authority, which implements the country’s Wildlife Conservation Act, the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, an organization under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism that conducts wildlife research, and the Tanzania Tourist Board did not respond to requests for comment about how the country manages its trophy hunting.

John Jackson, a member of the International Wildlife Conservation Council, an advisory group to the Secretary of Interior, is the Florida hunter’s attorney. Jackson welcomes more frequent trophy imports from Tanzania and says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been “too slow” to issue these permits—a pace Jackson calls “inexcusable.” Since 2016, he says, many hunting operators have had to surrender their lands because of a lack of revenue, which leaves the animals in those lands unprotected. More frequent trophy hunts would allow concession operators to afford anti-poaching safety measures. “Hunting is the single most important mechanism to save lion,” he argues.

Jackson disagrees that Tanzania’s trophy hunting is mismanaged. As home to about 40 percent of Africa’s lions, he says, the country has “managed to save more lions than anybody else.”

“I wish there was another country equal to it,” he says. “It’s easy to criticize people, but it’s much more important to work with them and support them.”

Sanerib says Tanzania deserves credit for having a “phenomenal system” of protected areas but that its lion conservation success has been despite trophy hunting rather than because of it.

Elephants Too?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s findings for lions also could apply to elephants, Sanerib says. In 2014, the Obama administration effectively banned trophy imports of elephants from Tanzania because of a poaching crisis in the country and concerns about the management of its trophy hunting industry. Sanerib says this lion trophy import decision may indicate that the Trump administration plans to overturn that ban.

In 2017, the service reversed the ban on elephant trophy imports from Zimbabwe. “So we have some history—some very recent history—to point to as evidence of them, I would say, leaping before they take a look,” Sanerib says. (After President Trump tweeted his dissatisfaction with the Zimbabwe decision, the service reversed course and decided to evaluate applications on a case-by-case basis. Since then, no elephant trophies are known to have been imported from Zimbabwe.)

Anna Frostic, the managing wildlife attorney for the Humane Society, says the decisions to issue lion and black rhino trophy import permits indicate that there are more to come. She says the Fish and Wildlife Service “is making these decisions behind closed doors and without the input of independent scientists and the public.”

“The issuance of this one lion trophy import from Tanzania will likely be replicated and applied to the more than 40 other applications for Tanzania lion trophies that are pending,” she says.

Even though Tanzania is a stronghold for lions, she says the fact that overall lion numbers are dwindling means this potential new pattern is “extremely concerning.”

“The decision to legitimize that type of activity,” Frostic says, “is not only unethical and scientifically unjustifiable but is unlawful” based on the decision’s merits and because of the service’s lack of transparency in its decision making.