One of my favorite TV channels is Nat Geo Wild. It’s available on DIRECTV and Dish Network, but not on either of the cable systems serving our area. Quite a few programs on the channel feature African wildlife species, their habits, habitats, life histories, and threats to their survival.

Many species seem to be relatively abundant with stable populations while others have experienced substantial declines. Examples of the latter include lions. In 1900 there were an estimated one million lions in Africa. Currently, authorities estimate the number to be fewer than 21,000, down by one half since 1950. Asiatic lions are considered endangered, with only 350 individuals remaining in the wild.

African elephants, between 1900 and 1989, declined from an estimated ten million to between 500,000 and 600,000. Giraffes, considered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to be “conservation dependent,” were formerly present in herds of over 100 in savannas across Africa, but are now seen in such numbers only in Tanzania and the Serengeti National Park. Cheetahs were once widespread and common across Africa and into Asia. Their numbers have plummeted, and only between 12,000 and 15,000 remain. Although considered threatened, 150 can legally be killed by hunters in Namibia and smaller numbers can be killed in Botswana and Zimbabwe. The U.S. prohibits importation of cheetah trophies into the country.

Black rhinos are considered critically endangered, numbering 2,400, down from 65,000 20 years ago. White rhinos are considered to be near threatened in Africa, vulnerable in India and Nepal, and critically endangered in Java and Sumatra. Leopards are regularly hunted for trophies and their conservation status is unknown.

All the above made me wonder about a hunters’ organization I had heard of, Safari Club International. Below is some information on SCI that some readers may find interesting.

According the Humane Society of the United States, SCI is an international organization catering to the interests of trophy hunters. It was founded in 1973 by C.J. McElroy, who claimed to be the greatest trophy hunter in the world, having hunted in nearly 50 countries in six continents and killed about 400 trophy animals, including some now endangered that can no longer be hunted.

McElroy was forced to resign in 1988. In a book written by SCI past president Bill Quimby, McElroy is rumored to have ignored U.S. hunting laws and even killed a Rocky Mountain bighorn ram in a national park. The H.S.U.S. states that SCI lobbies to hunt as many species as possible regardless of conservation status and seeks to roll back protections on protected species.

SCI presents a World Conservation and Hunting Award. Recipients must have killed more than 300 species of animals on six continents. A Trophy Animals of Africa Award requires the hunter to have killed 79 different African species. An award for Introduced Trophy Animals of North America glorifies hunters who frequent captive animal hunting ranches. (The Boone and Crockett Club, another hunting organization, disallows animals shot on captive ranches to be entered in its record book as does the Pope and Young Club.)

Special consideration is given to hunters who have killed “The Big Five,” African elephants, rhinos, leopards, lions, and Cape buffalos.

In 1979, SCI sought permission to import more than 1,000 specimens of killed endangered animals for trophies, but permission was denied.

African outfitters’ web pages depict hunters posing with animals they have killed, including lions, giraffes, rhinos, leopards, wildebeests, gazelles, and zebras.

I talked to a local member of SCI, and he informed me that most, if not all, of the sub-Saharan countries welcome the wealthy foreigners who come to hunt animals. The fees they pay to the governments and to guides and outfitters they hire benefit their economies. And the natives appreciate the food they get from the carcasses of the animals hunters kill. He told me that he killed a hippo, and that almost within minutes a crowd of locals gathered to secure meat from the dead hippo.

Personally, I have no quarrel with trophy hunters who desire to kill animals for their heads, hides, or whatever if the numbers of the animals in the wild are increasing (e.g. white-tail deer) or stable. Populations of African elephants, giraffes, and lions, on the other hand, are declining. Habitat loss and poaching by natives are probably far more serious threats to declining animals than legitimate hunting is.

But it is a mystery to me why anyone would take pleasure in killing an elephant, lion, a zebra, a rhinoceros, or for that matter a bear, or any large cat for a trophy or just to see it die. Even more mysterious is that killers of such animals are willing to acknowledge the pleasure.

Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn Univ. He is also co-chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.