Priscilla Feral, Opinion / The Times Union | January 28, 2020
President Donald Trump’s idea of “Make America Great Again” is making it easier for wealthy American trophy hunters like his sons, who are unfazed by six-digit price tags, to slaughter vulnerable, threatened and endangered wildlife. It is more than time for New York state — the biggest port of entry for wildlife trophies — to take steps towards ending this cruel industry.
Donald Trump Jr.’s latest hunting escapade in Mongolia — where he shot a rare endangered Argali sheep, and only received a permit to do so after the kill, on a trip last August that also included some schmoozing with the Mongolian president — is evidence of the unfair system that leaves vulnerable animal species prey to wealthy Americans, including New Yorkers who hunt African wildlife.
From 2005 to 2014, 159,144 animals were imported into New York as trophies — including 1,541 lions; 1,130 elephants and 83 pairs of tusks; 1,169 leopards, and 110 white rhinos and three pairs of horns.
Last year the state Senate passed the Big 5 African Trophies Act, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Luis Sepulveda, D-Bronx, and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan. It would ban the importation, possession, sale or transportation of the trophies of African giraffes, leopards, lions, elephants, and black and white rhinos and their body parts throughout New York — all threatened and endangered species.
The thousands of dollars in fees hunters pay to safari companies does little to help protect these animals. Studies show that less than 3 percent of revenue from trophy hunting returns to the communities. Meanwhile, the population of elephants has declined by 90 percent in the past century, with losses attributed to the commodification of elephants for their ivory and skin. This is in addition to the challenges they face from habitat destruction and climate change. There are fewer than 23,000 lions left in Africa, according to a recent study by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford, The number of Argali sheep has plummeted more than 60 percent, with just 18,000 remaining in Mongolia.
And while permits by countries that allow the hunting, and permits issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency to hunt threatened and endangered species and import the dead body parts of the animals killed overseas, are supposed to regulate the industry to ensure a species’ survival, the truth is obtaining the permits are often a matter of political influence and the only difference between “illegal” poachers and trophy hunters with permits is wealth and political connections.
New York City Councilman Keith Powers has introduced a resolution supporting the state trophy ban legislation. The council should approve it, and the state Assembly should act in its upcoming session to end the imports here. New York should lead the nation in standing up for vulnerable species who belong in the wild, not on walls.
Priscilla Feral is the president of Friends of Animals, an international, nonprofit animal advocacy organization.