Humane Society Legislative Fund, Michael Markarian
Hunting advocate and environmental writer Ted Williams recently wrote a feature story for Audubon magazine, titled “Real Hunters Don’t Shoot Pets,” exploring the so-called “canned hunts” that allow paying customers to shoot tame animals stocked in fenced pens for guaranteed trophies. He spoke with leaders of the fair-chase hunting community who passed a Montana ballot initiative to ban canned hunts in 2000, wildlife biologists who are concerned about captive wildlife spreading deadly diseases to native deer and elk populations, and outdoor writer David Petersen who said “contract execution” and “pay-to-slay” are more appropriate terms “since there is no hunting involved.” Williams exposed the fake hunters at Safari Club International who drive this canned hunt mania by offering trophy awards and record book listings for the shooting of captive, exotic animals.
Animals in captive hunts often come from private breeders, exotic animal dealers, or roadside zoos. Frequently, these animals have been hand-raised and bottle fed, so they have lost their natural fear of people. The animals are often accustomed to eating at a feeding station at regular intervals—a setup that guarantees a kill for paying customers. The odds are so stacked in favor of the trophy seeker for a pre-determined outcome that even if the animals were not trapped inside a fence, they wouldn’t even bother to flee from people or the sounds of gunfire. Fortunately, as animal advocates, responsible hunters, and wildlife biologists speak out against these drive-thru killing operations, about half the states now ban or restrict them. Most recently, in 2009, Tennessee banned new canned hunts from opening but grandfathered in existing ones; in Vermont, wildlife managers and legislators are working to stop the last canned hunts in the state and make sure that wildlife remains in the public trust.
But some state legislatures are moving in the opposite direction, and are considering harmful bills to promote canned hunts—threatening to turn back the clock on fair-chase hunting and jeopardizing the health and safety of native wildlife. Canned hunt proponents and their politician allies are even getting creative, using the bad economy as an excuse to claim that opening more faux hunting ranches will provide jobs and income to the states. There is a movement afoot by opponents of animal protection to treat wildlife as livestock—bred on game farms for enclosure behind fences and as targets to be ranched, shot, and killed at close range.
They are penny-wise and pound-foolish, of course, as an outbreak of Chronic Wasting Disease or tuberculosis from just one of these canned hunts to the native wildlife population can cost states millions of dollars in wildlife disease management, and lost tourism and hunting license revenue. CWD outbreaks have been reported in 19 states—in 11 of these states, CWD was present in captive wildlife populations. New cases of CWD have been reported in Illinois, West Virginia, Minnesota, Maryland, Nebraska, South Dakota and Kansas already this year. Although there must legally be fencing around canned hunts, animals often can and sometimes do escape from these facilities, and can even establish wild populations. Once present, CWD becomes increasingly difficult to control. Attempts to halt the spread of the disease can cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
On Wednesday, a bill in Georgia (SB 188) that sought to allow the killing of endangered species at captive hunts was defeated. Additionally, bills to promote canned hunting were defeated in Mississippi (SB 2530/HB 927), West Virginia (HB 2527/SB 351), and Indiana (HB 1299). Humane advocates are also working to defeat harmful canned hunting legislation pending in Tennessee (HB 1112/SB 1568) and Michigan (SB 27). On the other hand, a positive bill is now pending in New York (AB 4475/SB 3157) that would prohibit the canned hunting of exotic mammals in the state—a long overdue measure that should have been enacted in 2003 had it not been for the veto of then-Gov. George Pataki. State lawmakers around the country should shoot down these bills to expand canned hunts under the guise of economic development, and should end this inhumane, unsporting, and biologically reckless practice by putting the lid on canned hunts where they still exist.
Michael Markarian is the president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization that lobbies for animal welfare legislation and works to elect humane-minded candidates to public office.