6 min read

There's Something Shocking At This Creepy Festival For Trophy Hunters

You'll never guess what that's painted on.

Taxidermied lions with their mouths fixed in open roars. A glass table with a base made from the large white skull of a dead hippo. Pictures of African wildlife painted on elephant ear canvasses.

These were just a few items displayed for sale at the Safari Club International (SCI) annual hunters’ convention, which took place two weeks ago in Reno, Nevada. Guests could also book special hunting trips to kill elephants, lions, cheetahs or rhinos, and take home the animals’ taxidermied bodies as trophies.

Table made from hippo skull
A hippo skull table that was for sale at SCI's convention this year | HSUS

These animal trophies and hunting trips were certainly controversial to animal lovers — but many items were also being sold illegally, according to an investigation by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Humane Society International (HSI).

As of January 1, 2018, Nevada state law made it illegal for anyone to “purchase, sell, offer for sale or possess with intent to sell any item that is, wholly, or partially, made of an animal part or byproduct derived from a shark fin, a lion of the species Panthera leo [lion] or any species of elephant, rhinoceros, tiger, leopard, cheetah, jaguar, pangolin, sea turtle, ray, mammoth, narwhal, walrus or hippopotamus.”

Mammoth tooth being sold at hunting convention
A tusk from an extinct mammoth for sale at the SCI convention | HSUS

Yet many banned items were openly for sale at the convention, according to HSUS and HSI, who sent undercover investigators to the convention. For instance, there was a bench made out of elephant skin, as well as elephant leather boots and saddles, an entire mammoth tusk, boxes of hippo teeth, shark skin belts and a knife with a handle made from a narwhal tusk.

To Kitty Block, president and CEO of HSUS, the most shocking items were the paintings that used an elephant ear and other parts of elephant skin as the canvas.

Painting on elephant ear
A painting that used an elephant ear as a canvas | HSUS

“That is not art,” Block told The Dodo. “I cannot fathom someone wanting to display that in their home, or any artist thinking that it is OK to paint on [that].”

Unfortunately, SCI didn’t seem to be monitoring the vendors or making sure they complied with the local law, Block said. However, HSI and HSUS reported their findings to the Nevada Department of Wildlife and Reno Police Department, and a state investigation is currently underway.

Boot made out of elephant leather
A boot made out of elephant leather | HSUS

The HSI and HSUS investigators were also surprised to see that canned hunts — where animals are bred in captivity so that hunters can pay to kill their babies — were being sold at the convention. While these hunts aren’t specifically illegal under Nevada law, SCI has previously claimed that it does not allow them to be sold at its conventions.

SCI did not immediately respond to The Dodo’s request for comment.

Box of hippo teeth
A box of hippo teeth being sold at the SCI convention | HSUS

While Block is very encouraged by Nevada’s new law, which takes a strict stance on wildlife trafficking, she believes a lot more needs to be done to protect animals.

“The illegal wildlife trade is a 20 billion dollar industry,” Block said. “It pushes many iconic animals to the brink of extinction while increasing global instability, and the United States is a huge contributor to this industry.”

A narwhal handled knife
A narwhal-handled knife for sale at the SCI convention | HSUS

“The selling of these items fuels consumer demand, which in turn provides an incentive for poachers to kill protected wild animals, and for traffickers to take risks to make a profit,” she added. “Wildlife populations around the world have been decimated due to climate change, habitat loss and degradation, [and] poaching, and the commercial trade in the parts and products of these vulnerable animals further threatens their survival.”

To help protect endangered animals like lions and elephants, you can contact both your state and federal elected officials and urge them not to support trophy hunting. You can also support wildlife trafficking investigations by making a donation.