SCI President Higgins Addresses Airline Embargoes On Blog

Larry Higgins, President Safari Club International
Larry Higgins, President Safari Club International

In an article published in The Hill’s Congress Blog July 22, SCI President Larry Higgins discussed recent airline embargoes of hunting trophy shipments, and how those actions have far-reaching consequences.

That article states:

Foreign airlines want Open Skies but are closing to hunters

By Larry Higgins

It may seem counterintuitive, but the U.S. government recognizes that well-regulated hunting benefits wildlife.  Why?  Hunters are conservationists.  The funds that hunters pay in taxes, permits and fees go directly toward the conservation of wildlife and habitat.  That money – record sums in the past few years – is shared with state agencies for management of all wildlife, not just game species.

Hunters’ dollars go much farther into the economy as well.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has estimated that hunters spend more than $38 billion annually in the United States, and support more than 680,000 jobs. These economic principles also apply to hunting abroad, and that’s why many countries welcome the influx of dollars that traveling hunters bring into foreign nations.

Anti-hunting zealots are nonetheless pushing the corporate world to adopt policies that would discourage hunting.  Under pressure from online petitions, several international airlines have recently announced arbitrary decisions to cease the shipment of legally hunted game specimens.

Let’s be clear.  This is not limited to illegal trafficking.  The airlines have explicitly said they will refuse all legal shipments.  They are denying service to lawful hunters who have followed every rule and regulation.  It’s the equivalent of a restaurant deciding it won’t serve alcohol to any patron, in order to ensure that no one under age is served.

leopard-8-051515Those who seek to take animals outside the law are not hunters – they’re poachers.  Legal hunters observe every rule and regulation.  Poaching is the illegal taking of an animal.  SCI believes that convicted poachers should be penalized as harshly as the law allows.  But to truly protect and preserve species throughout the globe for future generations, penalties should be focused on those breaking the law, not people following the law.

The corporate executives making these decisions may believe that they are helping to combat wildlife poaching.  But just the opposite is true.  The snap decisions being made by the airlines defy the science-based wildlife management strategies that have been deployed by the U.S. government for decades.

For example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will only issue import permits for elephants and rhinos when they determine that hunting for the species is well-regulated, sustainable and benefits conservation of the species in general.  In other words, the FWS approves import permits only when hunting will benefit the species.  By denying cargo carriage to hunters who hold such permits, the airlines are effectively saying that they know better.  But, clearly, airline executives are not equipped to make such decisions.

The consequences extend beyond wildlife management.  Should these cargo embargos remain in place, fewer hunters will travel to Africa, and those communities will lose critical tourism and conservation revenue.  When corporations adopt policies that discourage hunters from traveling, they jeopardize the funding on which many communities have come to depend.

grey-ghost-capebuffaloSome of the foreign airlines that have adopted these anti-hunting policies are the same ones clamoring for Open Skies.  SCI has historically taken no position in aviation disputes, but that may have to change if foreign airlines continue to exhibit such cultural disdain for paying customers who are in full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.  SCI is also appreciative of Delta Airlines, which has come under pressure from this campaign.  In response, Delta has said simply that it will continue to accept hunting trophies in accordance with all applicable rules and regulations.  That’s all a hunter can ask for.

Poaching will not be solved by corporate policies that treat hunters as criminals.  Hunters know very well which countries and companies welcome their business, and they will not patronize businesses and communities that adopt anti-hunting policies.  When airlines cave to anti-hunting groups, they are jeopardizing not only their own customer base, but also the funding that travelers inject into the communities that the airlines serve.

Numerous laws and international treaties regulate the international management of wildlife.  The airlines are not equipped to make policy decisions that supersede this carefully balanced management system.   Pandering to anti-hunting zealots may seem “progressive,” but the airlines are effectively allowing anti-hunting groups to impose their agenda on all paying customers.

The airlines need to understand that their decisions can have disastrous consequences on the very funding that’s necessary to conserve the wildlife that we all care about, as well as the other businesses that depend on the tourism dollars that hunters bring.  The world’s airlines should leave wildlife management to the experts, and refrain from intervening in issues where misguided actions will do more harm than good.

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