Animals' Agenda:

Canned Hunts

Texas, 1991. A declawed black leopard is released from a cage in the back of a pick-up truck. He is set upon at once by a pack of hounds. Several people watch the dogs tear at the cat, until one person finally shoots the leopard and poses with his kill .

Pennsylvania, 1994. A man armed with a bow, dressed in camouflage clothing, stands in a field, selecting his quarry from a flock of exotic sheep herded toward him. One of the sheep, after being hit by several arrows, collapses along the fence line, only to be hit by more arrows and then by a bullet.

These scenes appear in films that are part of The Humane Society of the United States' (HSUS) campaign against canned hunts, in which hunters pay a fee to stalk and kill an animal in an enclosure. There are hundreds of canned hunts across the United Stat es, from bare-bones, mom-and-pop setups lacking amenities to elaborate resorts that provide food, lodging, entertainment, transportation, guides, dogs, and weapons--and, of course, trophy-handling services. Depending on the scale of the operation, the sh ooting menu may include deer, elk, bison, cattle, swine, big cats, bears, zebra, several species of exotic goats and sheep, Asian and African antelope, and even large mammals. Yet although the setting and the species may vary, the animal is always confin ed, always helpless, and always the victim of someone's ego-driven notion of recreation.

Shooting a confined animal at virtually point-blank range is the most reprehensible form of sport hunting. There is, in fact, no sport involved, no fair chase, and no skill either. Hunters ordinarily claim they are pitting their ability as predators aga inst a wild animal whose instincts for survival are highly developed and constantly in use on its own turf, but in the shabby confines of an enclosure, an animal is reduced to a live target in a shooting gallery for people who are often unskilled with fir earms and unable to make a quick kill.

The animal targets in canned hunts are frequently trained, conditioned, or bred for their fates. They may be tame or hand-reared, fed at regular times at feeding stations, and moved through a system of corrals and paddocks. Such training eliminates the animals' natural fear or flight response elicited by the presence of human beings, and ensures an easy target for canned-hunt clients. Animals may be set up for the kill as they gather at a regular feeding area or move toward a familiar vehicle or person in anticipation of being fed. Once a pattern is well established, even the most wary species of antelope or deer can be manipulated effectively, guaranteeing a kill. In addition to the exotic animals that are bred to be killed, canned hunt victims are acquired from several other sources: animal dealers, brokers, animal auctions, private breeders, wild-animal ranches, and zoos. Although few people would associate zoo s with canned hunts, [name of organization] has documented pervasive and continued connections between zoos and canned hunt operators.

Unfortunately, any time wild animals are bought, sold, traded, or exhibited, there is the risk of a connection, either direct or indirect, to canned hunts. Whenever animals are bred--in a zoo or in a hobbyist's backyard--too many offspring are invariably produced. Breeders dispose of their surplus animals by selling or trading them to brokers, dealers, game ranches, or other individuals. Go-betweens often supply game ranches with animals directly or deliver animals to auctions, where the animals may be purchased by game ranches for hunts.

Despite hunt operators' precautions, animals inevitably escape from ranches and hunts because of human carelessness and natural disasters. Thus, besides the obvious cruelty they inflict on the target animals they produce, canned hunts impose burdens on o ther animals, society, and the environment. Some animals that escape from hunt pens displace native wildlife, disrupt natural communities, and spread disease to livestock, wildlife, and people. Diseases of wildlife, both native and exotic, are much more difficult to control than are livestock diseases. Diagnostic tests and vaccines developed for livestock often prove unreliable or ineffective when applied to other species. What's more, exotic animals may carry diseases largely unknown to domestic stoc k. In 1991 an epidemic of bovine tuberculosis--whose origin had been traced the Wyoming Fish and Game Department to a Montana game ranch--devastated elk ranches in western Canada. Wyoming Fish and Game officials estimated that 80 percent of the 4,200 el k on private ranches in Alberta had been exposed to TB. In the fall of 1991 bovine TB also appeared on a game farm in New York and an elk ranch in Colorado.

Thanks to the canned-hunt industry and the trade in exotic animals of which it is a part, there are now free-ranging populations of blackbuck antelope, sika deer, fallow deer, mouflon, and wild boars in the United States. Native white-tail deer dwindle w here sika and fallow deer are present. Mouflon sheep interbreed with native bighorn sheep, compromising the genetic integrity of the native species. Wyoming Fish and Game reports that wild elk from Yellowstone National Park mixed with the TB-exposed elk on the Montana ranch that initiated the Alberta epidemic.

Game ranches and hunts, which are legal in most states, were once most commonly found in Texas, where exotic game ranches appeared some 40 years ago. Such ranches now have spread throughout the continental United States and Hawaii. The Animal Welfare Ac t does not regulate game preserves, hunting preserves, or hunts. The Endangered Species Act affords some protection to listed endangered or threatened species, but it does not prohibit private ownership of endangered animals, and it may even allow canned hunts of endangered species under certain conditions.

California, Wisconsin, and Indiana have laws that prohibit or restrict canned hunts. Bills that would do the same have been introduced in Virginia, Texas, and New York, and a bill that would ban the shooting of exotics in confined areas soon will be intr oduced soon in the U.S. House of Representatives.

These and additional laws are desperately needed, for canned hunts are nothing more than a form of commercial slaughter. They evoke outrage from animal protection groups, indignation from ethical sportspersons, and horror from the public. Hopefully, the se feelings will translate into calls for legislation on a state-by-state or a federal basis that will ban or regulate leisure-time butchery. To do anything less is to allow people to operate shooting galleries that perpetuate the abuse of animals in ord er to satisfy the egos of "hunters" that do not possess the dignity of the trophies they seek.

Richard Farinato

Director of Captive Wildlife, The Humane Society of the United States

Your Agenda

1 Support efforts to ban or to control canned hunts on a local, state, and federal level.

2 Contact your local zoo and ask for its policy on the production and disposal of exotic animals.

3 Do not support any trade in wild or exotic animals or in their parts or products.

4 For more information contact The HSUS, 2100 L Street, N.W., Washington D.C.20037. Tel: (202) 452-1100.

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