5 min read

This Country Just Banned Trophy Hunting

It's going to save hundreds of brown bears, wolves and wildcats.

With a single, surprise stroke of legislation, Romania has eliminated one of the biggest threats to its wildlife population: humans.

Specifically, trophy hunters, who for years have used the country as a private stalking ground to catch, kill and selfie its large carnivores.

On Tuesday, the government announced a ban on trophy hunting - an industry that sees thousands of animals killed for little more than thrills and souvenirs - giving Europe's biggest population of brown bears, lynx, wolves and wildcats a welcome reprieve.

Since Romania joined the European Union in 2007, trophy hunting has been a massive windfall for the country's private tour operators. Sport hunters pay as much as 10,000 euros, or $11,000, to haul a brown bear carcass home as a trophy, the Guardian reports.

But criticism from conservation groups like the World Wildlife Fund Romania and the Association for the Conservation of Biological Diversity (ACDB) may have led the government to reverse course.

Even the most optimistic animal lover couldn't have seen this coming. For decades, Romania had been sending all the opposite signals, steadily ratcheting up its allowable quota for brown bear kills in the country.

As recently as 2014, the government actually raised the number of bears that could be killed to 550 annually - two-thirds more than the previous year. By 2016, Romania's annual kill allowance stood at 550 bears, 600 wolves and 500 big cats.

Or, as the journal ZME Science puts it, "That's equivalent to killing the entire brown bear population in Slovenia, the population of wolves living in France, Norway, and Sweden, and four Poland-worths of lynxes - in one country, in a single year."

Much of the rising quota was fuelled by complaints, especially in rural areas, that the animals damaged property and killed livestock - although some suggested the damages were inflated by tour operators to fuel the sport hunting industry.

In any case, the complaints allowed Romania to circumvent a European Union directive that protects large carnivores - unless the animals are deemed a threat to people and property.

"Hunting for money was already illegal, but it was given a green light anyway," Romania's environment minister, Cristiana Pasca-Palmer, told the Guardian.

It's a loophole that won't be entirely closed under the ban. While hunting bears, wolves and wildlife is now illegal, a newly minted agency called Wildlife Emergency Service will be able to kill animals deemed a threat.

But it's a vital step in the right direction - and one other countries, like South Africa, which hosts 9,000 trophy hunters every year, could take a lesson from.

If you think no animal deserves to be hunted for sport, join the worldwide fight against trophy hunting.

You can sign a petition here. And support the World Wildlife Fund's efforts to end this brutal sport.