By David Jennings, 1L Student, Vermont Law School
Typically, canned hunting involves going to a game ranch or reserve, paying a fee, and hunting the animal(s) of your choice within the convenient confines of that ranch. South Africa is notorious for attracting foreigners to its canned hunts, but this practice is also fairly widespread in the United States. Perhaps surprisingly, various loopholes mean that even endangered species can be killed in canned hunts. Despite ethical objections from both animal welfare and hunting groups, canned hunting remains legal in many states.
In the United States, little legal protection exists for animals raised on game ranches. At the federal level, the Animal Welfare, Endangered Species, and Humane Slaughter Acts ostensibly provide some safeguards for these animals. However, the Animal Welfare Act has limited power in private game reserves, and exceptions to the Endangered Species Act can permit private ownership and hunting of listed species. Further, in some cases hunting regulations can be circumvented by classifying species as livestock rather than wild animals. Protection at the state level also varies. While some states, such as Wyoming, have successfully banned or tightly regulated canned hunting, others such as Texas and Florida still support the practice.
Obviously, canned hunting is beyond harmful for animals on the receiving end of a bullet or arrow. However, the indirect effects of canned hunting on animal welfare and the environment are similarly detrimental. For instance, many of the captive animals are raised under poor conditions and at high population densities, leading to the spread of disease both within ranches and between captive and wild animals. Tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease, among others, have been documented in herds of animals bred for canned hunts. The introduction of these diseases into populations of native wildlife could further cause widespread environmental problems.
Alternatively, traditional hunting can be environmentally beneficial under some circumstances. For instance, it can provide more humane sources of meat than factory farms, and help to control herbivore populations in the absence of natural predators. Canned hunting, however, is entirely different as it provides no ecological benefits, and any meat collected from it can hardly be labelled as “humane”. Proponents often roll out absurd conservation arguments along the lines of “without the ranches the animals would be extinct”–in other words, these species should only exist for humans to have the option to kill them. Arguments for canned hunting outside of the United States are similarly weak, with the purported economic benefits to local communities vastly overstated.
It is not just animal welfare groups that are opposed to canned hunting – even hunting groups have spoken out against the practice, arguing that it contradicts the principles of a “fair chase.” Indeed, some hunting groups refuse to consider any animals killed during canned hunts for their record lists. With renewed attention generated by the recent documentaries “Blood Lions” and “Trophy”, perhaps there will be enough momentum to take steps towards ending this barbaric, unethical, and pointless practice once and for all – not only in the United States but worldwide.