I-TEAM: Controversy surrounds trophy hunting trips auctioned off in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS - You may remember the killing of Cecil the lion in 2015 and the outrage it sparked. Just last weekend, a convention wrapped up in Las Vegas where similar exotic hunting trips were auctioned off.

It's big money for big trips to hunt big animals. The auction includes hunting trips like a nearly $23,000 trip to Namibia to kill leopard, an $11,000 trip to South Africa to hunt black rhino and it's even filmed, and a couple of trips to kill elephants -- one of them costing nearly $12,000.

These are animals listed as endangered or threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

I-Team Reporter Vanessa Murphy: "Should we be killing elephants?"
Lennis Janzen: "The thing is, people, we're over here making decisions for over there." 

Lennis Janzen runs a California-based hunting equipment company. He attended the Safari Club International or SCI convention in Las Vegas which wrapped up on Feb. 3. That's where the hunting trips were auctioned off.

"We have the right to do whatever is legal," Lennis said. "OK, it's not your emotional decision or my emotional decision, it's what is a legal opportunity and yes, I feel if there is a reason for it, it's doing a good thing. Absolutely."

"There are other ways to fund conservation efforts that don't involve killing for bragging rights, and to bring home body parts," said Jeff Dixon, Humane Society of the United States. 

Dixon is the Nevada state director for the organization.

Next year, the convention is slated for Reno and Dixon has already sent a letter to the convention and visitors authority there asking board members to withdraw the plans to host it.

An SCI representative would not fulfill 8 News NOW's request to attend the convention this year, so we asked Janzen about it.

"You know the people don't understand the value of the hunting industry and how they are the biggest conservation activists of all time," said Janzen, Crooked Horn Outfitters.

SCI claims it practices ethical hunting, funds wildlife conservation and helps manage wildlife populations.

SCI commissioned a report in 2015 to study the effects of tourism dollars from trophy hunting in eight African countries. After that, so did the humane society.

Here's the difference:

SCI says it created more than 53,000 jobs, but the humane society says it's 15,500. The contribution $426 million annually versus $132 million.

And according to the humane society, tourism to see the animals -- like on a safari tour -- is way more popular than tourism to kill them.

"The trophy hunting industry which has no subsistence value, we would like to see that end," Dixon said.

However, the convention does have its fans.

"I love it, love it. It's like Christmas day over here," said attendee Kelly McClain. 

She's a Georgia resident and says hunting is misunderstood.

"I would say that you ought to be able to hunt an elephant and bring it back. All that money is spent over there is to help all the families and to feed the families over there. If you study the facts about it, you would understand that's good for Africa," McClain said. 

"That's not true," Dixon said. "They don't eat them. Nobody is eating lions, nobody is eating black rhino, this is for body parts and bragging rights." 

In Nevada, a law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2018, banning the purchase, sale, or possession of items made from some of the animals included in those auctions. Animals like rhinoceros, leopard, and elephant.

A Trump official reportedly attended the SCI convention in Las Vegas. President Donald Trump's sons are hunters.

In a surprise move though, the president reviewed the policy on the trophy hunting of elephants and is planning on keeping a ban on the import of trophies from elephant hunts.  
 


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