SCI and the SCI Foundation are working together to respond to the latest attempt by anti-hunting groups to interfere with sustainable use conservation. Most recently, these animal rights groups have focused their efforts on African leopards.
In response to a petition filed in July 2016 by the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, Center for Biological Diversity, International Fund for Animal Welfare and Fund for Animals, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a 90-day finding that an endangered listing for all African leopards currently listed as threatened “may be warranted.” Continue reading The Latest Information About African Leopards→
Big game hunting with dogs is under serious fire today, considered by many to be unsporting and, I suppose, too much of a sure thing. I can understand why the anti-hunters are against it; they’re against everything we do. I can almost understand why non-hunters question the practice; they have no background or experience, and, unfortunately, we hunters often lack the forums to properly explain it. What I really don’t get is why so many of us—we hunters—are against big game hunting with dogs. Here’s the really odd thing: Many of the most outspoken love hunting birds with retrievers and pointing breeds! I guess there is validity to Ernest Hemingway’s line that “birds and fish lie weightless on the conscience.”
Man’s best friend, Canis lupus familiaris, is actually a subspecies of wolf, and thus no matter how cuddly and fluffy, must be considered a predator. After centuries of selective breeding, dogs have the greatest morphological differences of any mammal on Earth, varying dramatically in size, color, coat…even skeletal structure and behavior. That said, man’s first domestication of the wolf was almost certainly to take advantage of the animals’ greater speed, keener senses and perhaps ferocity to aid in hunting. Early by-products were probably defense and early-warning systems for homes and villages and, later, defense of livestock.
Today, the dog remains man’s best friend, divided into hundreds of breeds for dozens of useful purposes ranging from simple companionship to highly specialized and trained service dogs. Among these, hunting remains a primary function for millions of this world’s estimated 400 million dogs. Dogs are used to assist the hunt literally throughout the world, a human trait that has transcended all cultures and ethnic origins.
Even in this arena, hunting dogs are highly specialized, a result of both breeding and training. In Europe single dogs are often used at heel for their keen senses, to literally “point” roebuck and other game. Blood-trailing dogs are in common use around the world and, where used, greatly reduce the incidence of unrecovered game. Hounds, terriers and an amazing array of mixed breeds are used to course, bay and tree a wide assortment of game depending on the area. Perhaps the most specialized dogs I have ever hunted with were Eastern Cape farmer Adrian Ford’s pack of cute little terriers, developed and trained to course only the tiny blue duiker through the dense coastal bush.
In much of the world, including North America, the tradition of hunting with dogs stems from Europe where dog hunting remains strong. Local sportsmen often hunt with a single canine companion, but that’s just the beginning. In Scandinavia moose are almost always hunted with dogs, both in organized drives and bringing individual animals to bay. The driven hunt remains a strong European tradition, with humans assisted by keen-nosed and noisier canine friends. In Germany last year, I participated in a large drive conducted by some 50 drivers and more than 70 dogs! Continent-wide wild boars are often hunted with dogs and in Croatia I hunted jackal with dogs.
Canine assistance in hunting wild boars seems almost universal—I’ve done it for bushpigs in South Africa; feral hogs in New Zealand, Argentina and the US; and for the real deal in Europe. It seems like the anti-hound folks have less trouble with that, perhaps because wild hogs aren’t cute and cuddly like bears and cats, and are certainly prolific and destructive.
Coursing deer with hounds was once extremely popular in the United States, especially in the thick southern swamps that, at the end of the 19th Century, held some of our last concentrations of whitetails. Although dog hunting is still practiced in the South, it’s not nearly as popular as it once was. Today’s deer populations have expanded out of the swamps into farm country, and properties are much smaller today, making it more difficult to manage and contain drives with hounds.
Hound hunting has a long tradition in this country, and was the preferred technique for such famous hunters as Daniel Boone, David Crockett…and, more recently, Theodore Roosevelt. During his Presidency, Roosevelt hunted bear and mountain lion with hounds, so he probably wasn’t in the least surprised when, in Africa in 1909, he hunted both lion and leopard with hounds. At that time, hunting the great cats with hounds was the preferred and most accepted technique, and Teddy thought it was “bully.”
By the 1920s the practice almost vanished, only to return in recent years. Here’s my spin on why: Dogs cannot survive in tsetse fly areas. As Kenya’s hospitable plains became settled, the great cats—and their hunting—moved deeper into fly country where neither livestock nor dogs could follow. That remained the status quo until fairly recently when leopard populations rebounded in the tsetse-free ranch country of arid Namibia and southern Zimbabwe. Ranch leopards in southern Africa have been hunted hard for a century, and are notoriously difficult to get on bait in daylight. Hunting with hounds provides a viable alternative to hunting at night, which is legal in some areas but has its own set of challenges.
At this writing, leopard hunting with hounds is no longer legal in Namibia, but remains an option on private and communal lands in Zimbabwe, and is also commonly practiced in Mozambique. Interestingly, it is also not legal in South Africa…but most of the packs that were used in Namibia and are still used in Zimbabwe and Mozambique come out of South Africa where they are trained on lynx and other small predators that are the bane of sheep ranchers. Hunting bushpigs with dogs is also a favorite weekend pastime for many local South African hunters of all races and tribes.
Elsewhere on the continent, the tsetse fly has provided an effective barrier against dog hunting, but there are exceptions. In the fly-free forest zone the pygmies have long hunted with dogs, and they are used today for bongo and other forest game. Likewise in Ethiopia and other parts of the continent, local hunters use dogs that may not look like much to our eyes—but they know how to hunt, and their masters know how to train them.
Come to think of it, Theodore and Kermit Roosevelt also hunted jaguar with dogs on their 1913-1914 Brazilian expedition. Although calling and baiting were also practiced, the majority of jaguar hunting was done with dogs and, in remote areas, remains the preferred method for dealing with cattle-killing tigres. In Argentina, and I suppose elsewhere on the continent, the puma is primarily hunted with hounds just like up here. Feral hogs, as everywhere, are often hunted with dogs, but down there dogs are also used for capybara and peccary. I hunted both with dogs in northern Argentina, and on one little drive for peccary was surprised—and delighted—when a good brocket deer burst out in front of me.
In Australia, the Aboriginals continue to hunt with their dogs, and the European settlers use dogs as did their European ancestors. Unlike North America, there are no native large predators, so in Australia and New Zealand the primary uses for sporting dogs are birds, small game and of course the plentiful feral hogs. I must admit little knowledge and almost no experience with dog hunting in Asia—but it’s certainly present. Bird dogs are commonly employed (including for birds up to capercaille), and in Russia lynx, bear and wild boar are hunted with dogs.
SELECTIVE…BUT NOT A SURE THING
There seem to be two primary arguments against using dogs for big game: First, that it’s somehow not “sporting” or fair chase. Second, that it’s cruel for both the dogs and their prey. I’ll try to answer the first one now, but before I do that, let me raise a third objection. Hunting with hounds is different, and it isn’t for everyone. I am not a houndsman. Raising, training and maintaining an effective pack is more than a hobby; it’s both vocation and avocation, and almost a lifestyle. You and I, as the “hunters,” are not really the hunters at all. The hunt belongs first to the dogs, and second to the people who trained them. In this kind of a hunt we are more observers than active participants.
Despite what its opponents say, hound hunting is not universally successful. I haven’t taken a cougar over hounds since 1980 and have no great desire to take another, but I have a great spot for one in our Kansas place, and Donna would like to take one. We’ve tried twice recently, once in Nevada and once in British Columbia, both good cat areas…but so far, no cats. Sometimes scent conditions aren’t right, sometimes a good track can’t be found…and no matter the game, when a fresh track is started there is no guarantee that the animal can’t outwit or evade the dogs. Leopard hunting with dogs is especially under attack, but those are done on dry ground where scent conditions are the most difficult. I’ve had leopard chases that failed, and I’ve been on unsuccessful hunts. Likewise with black bear hunts with dogs.
There is one other aspect to hound hunting that its opponents tend to overlook: Done properly, legally, and ethically it is one of the most selective of all hunting techniques. Unlike most methods, there are actually two clear chances to walk away: First, when you see the track. “Strike dogs,” typically with the keenest scent, are kept leashed until a track is found and evaluated. There is simply no reason to turn the dogs loose on the track of an animal one doesn’t want to take. Second, when the animal is treed or bayed. It is always possible for a pack to cross tracks, and it’s also possible for a “medium-sized male track” to turn into an oversized female—but it’s also possible to gather the dogs and walk away. That is admittedly more difficult when an animal bays on the ground rather than trees, but with a well-trained pack it can be done (and, no, it won’t ruin the dogs).
On a recent cougar hunt with outfitter Bruce Ambler, we actually walked away from two cougars. The first, on the second day, was actually a big male. But it was getting dark by the time we reached the tree, out of camera light and questionable as to shooting hours. So we gathered the dogs and walked away, hoping to find the track again the next morning. Several inches of fresh snow scotched that notion and at the end of the hunt we had no cougar. But we also did three chases for lynx, only one successful, and two successful chases for big bobcats.
What about the notion that it’s cruel both to the dogs and the animals they pursue? As to the first, this is what these dogs do. It’s what they live for. In any pack, dogs that lack the spirit and the desire are removed. In our world they’re found other homes with other jobs, but a pack is a team effort. They work together and support each other. They do get hurt now and then…and they’re taken care of and go right back to it. Wild boars are among the worst on dogs. They’re fast and courageous, and treeing is not an option. This seems to be okay. Using our war dogs in a variety of roles seems to be okay. Using dogs for cats and bears seems to be less okay. In all cases, that is what the dogs have been bred and trained to do…they love it, or they wouldn’t do it. It’s unfortunate they can’t voice their opinions.
As for cruelty to the prey: Nature is cruel. Starvation is cruel. Like it or not, we humans have impacted all ecosystems and all wildlife populations. Out of necessity we have appointed ourselves stewards of the wild; in our man-altered world a true balance of nature is almost impossible; we have to assist with management of both prey species and predator…and certainly with the feral populations that we have created. Though no more automatically successful than any other technique, hound hunting is especially effective for certain species…and, in most cases, more selective. With a fleeting glance at distance it’s very hard to properly judge a bear or cougar. Up close with dogs, there should be no mistakes and there should be no wounded loss. Those strike me as sound tradeoffs. In today’s world, when a quota or legal season is established, the intent is to harvest a certain number of animals for specific reasons. Hound hunting is thus as effective a management technique as a hunting technique. I am not a houndsman, but I defend it…and I have a real problem understanding hunters who do not.–Craig Boddington
Your leopard hunt was truly “the hunt of a lifetime.” Everything went flawlessly. Your travel to and from Africa proceeded without a hitch. Your Professional Hunter could not have done a better job. The accommodations were beautiful and comfortable. You took an amazing leopard on the 11th day of your 14-day hunt. You hired a broker to make sure that your trophy would meet all export and import requirements. It was perfect…and then it wasn’t.
Months after the hunt, your broker calls. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has seized your leopard trophy. It seems that something is wrong with your CITES Export Permit and tags. Your broker says the problem has to do with “quotas” and “Block 11a.” None of this makes any sense.
How can this happen? The answer is truly complicated. It involves treaties, resolutions, quotas, several different countries and a tremendous amount of paperwork. It boils down to the fact that different people have conflicting opinions about the meaning of the paperwork requirements for the export of leopard trophies.
A leopard trophy cannot be imported from its range country without an export permit. The requirements for export permits are established by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) – an international treaty between 176 countries. CITES recommends specific requirements for the exportation and importation of leopard trophies. Among those requirements are quotas for the number of trophies that can be exported from a range country in a given year. In addition, CITES recommends that importing countries accept only leopard trophies accompanied by documentation showing the annual quota of the range country and “the calendar year to which the quota applies.” CITES Resolution Conf. 4.13.
Unfortunately, not all of the parties to CITES interpret the “calendar year” quota identification requirement in the same way. Some understand the resolution to refer to the quota established for the year the leopard was taken from the wild. Other countries interpret the term to refer to the quota of the year that the trophy is exported from the range country. The quota and calendar year information must be provided in Box 11a of the CITES Export Permit and on the tags attached to the trophy. But due to the confusion over which year applies, many forms include the wrong information in Box 11a and/or on the tags. The confusion is enhanced by the fact that trophies that are hunted during one calendar year often do not leave the range country until the following year. That is due to the length of time it takes for the processing and taxidermy to be completed.
Because the quota informational requirement lends itself to multiple interpretations, not all shippers in the exporting countries are providing the same type of information in the documents and tags they prepare for the exportation of leopard trophies. As a result, the FWS decides that some of the leopards presented for importation into the U.S. lack the correct export documentation. Unfortunately, in the U.S. errors in documentation translate to violations of the law.
The FWS treats any and all errors involved in the exportation and importation of a hunting trophy — including minor, technical and paperwork errors — as violations of the federal Endangered Species Act. It matters not whether anyone has any intention of violating the law. For that reason, when export or import requirements are violated, even if the violation is a result of confusion or ignorance, the FWS can and will seize the trophy involved. What makes the problem even worse is that when such an error occurs, it does not matter who caused the error: shipper, professional hunter, taxidermist or the hunter. The consequences of any exportation or importation error rain down on the hunter and the hunter alone. It is no defense that the hunter placed his trust with others or that the hunter was unaware that another caused a violation. In the eyes of the laws implemented by the FWS, the individual whose trophy is being imported is the one who has breaks the law.
For the above reason, over a period of several months, many leopard trophies arrived at U.S. ports with export documentation that the FWS considered incorrect, prompting law enforcement personnel to seize those trophies. Hunters and brokers were caught completely off guard. It appears that on one day the FWS accepted export documents with one type of quota information and then overnight the same type of information became unacceptable. Shippers and foreign management authority officials were confused about what the FWS would accept as correct documentation.
The hunting community sought help and they received it. Safari Club International met with representatives of the FWS, seeking a solution to what appears to be an unfair consequence of confusion over CITES requirements. SCI facilitated meetings between the FWS and governments of South African countries to try to resolve this confusion and to remedy problems with other export processes. In addition, SCI took the issue to the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council, a federal advisory committee of hunting organizations that advises the Secretary of the Interior and the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service on issues of concern to the hunting community. The Council appointed SCI to an ad hoc committee to meet with representatives of the FWS to work on proposed solutions to the leopard problem and other importation concerns. SCI helped the Council draft a letter to FWS Director Dan Ashe that includes several recommendations for changes in the CITES requirements and in the procedures that FWS Office of Law Enforcement personnel should follow when dealing with procedural or technical violations involved in trophy export and import documentation.
Some brokers recognize that getting information out to shippers in the range countries is the key. For example, Cindy and John Rulon and Lynette Lilley of Well Worldwide Energy Logistics contact shippers, government officials and professional hunting associations to ensure shippers understand exactly what information the U.S. expects to see in Box 11a of the CITES Export Permit and on the tags that must be attached to the leopard skins. As the information reaches the right people and the expectations of the U.S. become clear, Well Worldwide sees fewer and fewer permits coming through with the wrong quota information and fewer and fewer leopard trophies being seized.
Is the crisis over? The answer is an unequivocal “yes and no.“ Thanks to the efforts of the many individuals and organizations, the crisis with leopards may finally be under control. To further reduce the possibility of future leopard export quota problems, the U.S., together with South Africa and Botswana, has proposed a clarification of leopard quota requirements to be considered at the next CITES Conference of the Parties to be held in March of 2013. Unfortunately, leopard quota issues are only one of many technical and procedural exportation violations that result in trophy seizures. Other species have similar quota requirements that can result in confusion. Apart from that, there are many additional export informational obligations that fall prey to inadvertent errors, violations of the law and trophy seizures.
How can unnecessary trophy seizures be prevented? There’s no absolute fix to the problem, but information is and always will be the key. One of the best strategies is to make sure that your PH, taxidermist, or shipper sends a copy of your export paperwork to you and/or your broker in advance of shipping your trophy. You and/or your broker can trouble shoot the documents. You can also ask a representative of the FWS to review the export documentation before the trophy is sent to the U.S. It is generally too late to fix any documentation errors once your trophy is submitted for import at a U.S. port. The FWS will not pre-approve the importation of your trophy if it examines your documents, but agency personnel can help you to identify and possibly correct errors that can result in the seizure of your trophy once it reaches U.S. soil.
Many other simple and important strategies can help you avoid the catastrophic loss of a prized trophy due to an export or import error. To learn more tips, plan to attend one of the “Making Sure Your Trophy Gets Home” seminars at the SCI Convention in Reno, Nevada, in January 2013. Learn these tips from SCI attorneys, representatives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and brokers who deal with importation issues on a daily basis. And don’t come alone. Make sure your PH, outfitter, taxidermist and all of your friends come, too. Panelists will provide you with information as well as valuable online resources that you can access long after the Convention ends. These seminars are held on Tuesday, January 22, 2013 – 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.; Wednesday, January 23, 2013 – 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.; and Saturday, January 26, 2013 – 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. We look forward to seeing you there and to making sure that your trophy makes it home with you.– Anna Seidman