Wednesday, August 5, 2015

"Stuffed Animals with an Agenda": Inside the [Safari Club] International Wildlife Museum

Back in April, NY Times op-ed writer Lydia Millet, reported on her visit to this museum located in Tucson's Gates Pass area. Jim Nintzel at Tucson Weekly/The Range has a summary. The full article is here or here for mobile devices.

Millet's reporting saves us all the trip out there.

The wildlife museum contains, like its more pedigreed natural-history cousins in cities like New York and Washington, dioramas composed of the stuffed bodies of animals posed in sculpted woodlands or prairies with painted backdrops. These dioramas — as the scholar Donna Haraway has shown — have roots as colonial-era gardens of Eden in miniature. Some are very beautiful, too, with sublime and tragic qualities that captivate adults and children alike. And the dioramas have more to recommend them than the McElroy Hall, where hundreds of disembodied heads, many from animals shot by the museum’s founder, are lined up in long rows on knotty pine walls. The room is a monument to the scale of these kills. (Mr. McElroy reportedly took more than 100 safaris on six continents; his obituary says he claimed 425 trophies in the safari club’s record book.)

SCI vigorously defends trophy hunting. It is a big business that wields political clout.

Behind this surface of poor spelling, outdated information and missing science lies the power of big money and big politics. Safari Club International is no N.R.A. leviathan; it claims a mere 50,000 members and in 2014 reported revenues of about $24 million, more than half from its annual convention. (The museum draws some 70,000 visitors a year.) But its members have included prominent leaders like Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf and the first President Bush, whose son presented himself as down home and authentic, just as this minor cultural outpost in Tucson does.

Trophy hunters are not Everyman. These world-traveling endangered-species shooters are a far cry from the hunters who spend weekends in the American outback near their suburban or rural homes. In the 1970s, Safari Club International asked the federal government to approve its import of 1,125 not-yet-killed trophies of 40 endangered species, including gorillas, orangutans and tigers, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

Just this morning on NPR I listened to an interview with a representative from the Dallas Safari Club. He defended the proposition that trophy hunting was confined to mature males past their breeding prime and thus good for the survival of the species. I guess the now famous dentist made such a determination about Cecil. Read on.

The club still promotes the "Big Five" African safaris of the colonial great white hunters of yesteryear; even today the richest of the rich can kill the "big five" (leopard, Cape buffalo, elephant, lion and rhino). In Namibia, for instance, you can bag a rhino — but only if you find you have $350,000 burning a hole in your pocket. The Dallas Safari Club recently auctioned a permit to kill a black rhino and as recently as this January attempted to sell a permit to hunt an elephant.

Black rhinos are almost extinct and these guys want to kill them for their head to mount on a wall in some millionaires' trophy room.

... None of the group’s expensive back-room campaigns are mentioned on the museum’s halls.

[For example:] The Safari Club International has worked the legal system hard to try to keep polar bears — threatened primarily by climate change, but also by hunting — on the list of creatures people can import as trophies after shooting. It sued the federal government because native Alaskans, who traditionally hunted to survive, were given preference for polar-bear hunting permits over out-of-state trophy seekers. ...

SCI might dodge some scorn if they were to open their books and expose convincing evidence that they spend a significant amount of their revenue on conservation of endangered species. But then they would expose any legal and lobbying costs. I am not holding my breath.

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