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U.S. hunters imported more than 700,000 hunting trophies — including skulls, mounts, and teeth, among others — over the course of 5 years.
According to data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity, from 2016 through 2020 hunting trophies — largely of exotic animals, such as giraffes, rhinos and zebras — were imported to the United States.
“The vast volume of hunting trophies pouring into the United States represents a massive exploitation of wildlife during a global extinction crisis,” Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the center, said in a press release.
Data show a largely “steady and sizable annual increase” of trophy imports between 2016 and 2019, excluding a minor decline in 2017.
2016: 109,579 imports
2017: 108,490 imports
2018: 212,393 imports
2019: 234,532 imports
The center said that the data reveals “disturbing U.S. trophy trends,” noting that some wealthy trophy hunters were still likely traveling during the pandemic.
There was a decline between 2019 and 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic first began and travel restrictions were in place. However, even with coronavirus travel restrictions, 2020 still saw a significant number of imports, with 55,990 hunting trophies brought into the U.S. during this timeframe. Giraffe trophies dipped only slightly in 2020, the group says, despite the pandemic.
“While most people in the United States were on lockdown, with many living paycheck to paycheck, elite trophy hunters were still jet-setting around to kill wildlife for skins, skulls, mounts, bones, wings, teeth and feet,” said Sanerib.
Though the overall number of imports saw a considerable decrease between 2019 and 2020, some species were still significantly affected. For example, there was an increase in zebra trophy imports, with 3,795 imported in 2019 compared to 7,199 in 2020.
According to the Humane Society International, the U.S. is the largest importer of hunting trophies, bringing in roughly 345 trophies per day. Conservationists hope the eye-opening data will spur the U.S. government to enact stronger conservation measures.
“Giraffes, rhinos and other imperiled animals are gunned down for trophies, along with animals from wallabies, zebras and porcupines to birds and lizards,” Sanerib said. “The Biden administration should take a hard look at how greenlighting trophy imports contributes to the biodiversity emergency.”