Trophy hunting has plagued wildlife for generations and, it is a hot topic that elicits intense reactions from people regardless of what side you are on. While people tend to associate trophy hunting with African wildlife like lions, many are shocked to find out that right here in North America our own wildcats like the mountain lion continue to experience heavy and often extreme persecution. Despite the fact that we now have the knowledge, science, and the common sense to know that the practice of hunting undermines true conservation and wildlife protection, in many places these animals continue to be viewed and treated in the same manner as they were centuries ago.
Early photo shows a cougar hunter when a bounty was paid for killing the cats in the U.S. Photo is undated but possibly from the early 1900’s.
There are those that cling to the idea that it is their right or part of their culture to kill for sport and, any move made to end the practice or even discuss ending it, is seen as a threat. The other side looks at it as evolving and adapting to the times we live in, when it makes sense to end a particular tradition or practice that no longer serves us or wildlife. For example, in Kenya it was a long-held tradition and part of the culture for a young Maasai Warrior to spear a lion as proof of his manhood. Today the Maasai have acknowledged that Africa’s lions are on the verge of disappearing, there are only an estimated 15,000-20,000 left, and have made the move to partake in the Maasai Olympics instead of killing lions.
Even though the true status of mountain lion populations is unknown, some will argue that they are not endangered or in danger of extinction, but must we wait until they are in the same predicament as the African lion before we do something? Do we not have a moral obligation to end a cruel practice that is clearly not beneficial to the species?
The time has come to make the move towards ending hunting and trapping of mountain lions and all wildcats. Here in North America we have seen some progress made in places like Colorado where a federal wildlife killing program, that called for the death of bears and mountain lions, has been halted and more recently in California where the U.S. Appeals Court upheld the States ban on killing mountain lions for trophies. Now, in Arizona, a new ballot initiative has been introduced in hopes of restricting trophy hunting and trapping of Arizona’s wildcats including bobcats, mountain lions, jaguars, lynx and ocelots.
Arizonans for Wildlife is spearheaded by The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and is backed by numerous organizations, groups and individuals who support progress and conservation that does not involve the killing of their wildlife. Advocates of the proposed initiative will have to gather more than 150,642 valid signatures on petitions to get the issue on the ballot by July 5, 2018 to quality for the November 2018 election.
While the Arizona ballot has a tremendous amount of support behind it, it also faces opposition by those who will do everything in their power to keep the status quo. To find out more about the ballot, and address some of the misinformation being spread, I interviewed Kellye Pinkleton, the Arizona State Director for the HSUS and project lead on the Arizona ballot initiative.
What are the origins of the Arizona ballot and how did the coalition, Arizonans for Wildlife, come together?
Due to the lax hunting regulations around mountain lions and bobcats in Arizona, we began looking at this issue long before filing the committee. We do not move forward with a statewide initiative without listening to the concerns of Arizonans and groups that protect wildlife. We ensure that it is given thoughtful consideration, we gauge in-state support as well as citizen attitude’s and current legislative culture. In addition, significant time is also spent reviewing the best available science and talking with experts on the issue well in advance. More on the state of the mountain lion can be read in a thorough commissioned study that was published by the HSUS in 2017.
Polling was conducted and we met with groups that were also concerned about this issue. We strongly supported a bill introduced in the state legislature this past 2017 session that would prohibit the trophy hunting of wildcats, but it did not even receive a committee hearing. The legislature was not willing to open a process for hearings or public comment to consider the measure.
“What we overwhelmingly found was that the current AZ model of hounding and trapping of our wildcats was not supported.” Image – Arizona Game & Fish Department
We found that in recent years wildlife groups, conservation nonprofits and outside (in-state) interest groups that wanted to protect our state’s wildlife from cruelty have been consistently ignored by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the state agency. There seems to be a reluctance for the department to actively work with groups beyond hunting and sportsmen organizations. Additionally, the best available science was found not to support the current management plans being implemented in AZ.
Discussions and polling demonstrated that Arizonans do NOT approve of the cruel hounding and trapping of our wildcats currently permitted in the state. Over two-thirds support prohibition on hunting wildcats and interestingly, 65% thought it was illegal. In general, we know that nationally, the public does not support senseless trophy hunting or killing primarily for the purpose of displaying a body or body parts or simply for bragging rights. Finally in late Sept, 2017, the Arizonans for Wildlife committee filed with the AZ Secretary of State’s office.
What is the main reason mountain lions and other wildcats are targeted in Arizona?
Hunters that hunt our wildcats are not hunting them merely for subsistence. These cats are hunted for several reasons, primarily as trophies whether for their bodies/heads or with bobcats, for their fur. Livestock predation is rare, as well as any attacks on humans.
Why it is so important to address the inherent cruelty of trophy hunting, trapping and hounding of wildcats in Arizona?
It is important for citizens of the state know how their wildlife is being “managed” and often, we find, citizens just do not realize the methods and the cruelty involved. 65% of Arizonans thought the practice of hunting wildcats was illegal and we find people are shocked when they learn how mountain lions and bobcats are hunted. Wildlife is not just the property of a state agency, it is a resource for all citizens and we all have an obligation to protect wildlife and not needlessly or cruelly kill them. Hunters represent a very small portion of the population in AZ and nationally, yet wildlife management is geared towards the hunting community.
Currently, Arizona places NO limits on the number of bobcats that can be killed. In fact, an average of over 4,000 bobcats have been killed each year over the past five years. Although Arizona voters resoundingly said “no” to the use of steel-jawed leghold traps, body-crushing traps, and snares on public land with Proposition 201 in 1994, thousands of bobcats are still trapped every year using these barbaric devices on private land, and with cage traps on public land. Trapping mountain lions is prohibited in Arizona, but records show that mountain lions are routinely trapped inadvertently in other states where trapping them is illegal because these devices do not discriminate between species. While in the trap, animals sustain serious injuries, including broken limbs and broken teeth, dislocated shoulders, lacerations, fractures, amputation of paws or whole legs, or even chew off their limbs trying to escape, or die from exposure. Because trappers are only required to check the traps once a day, animals could be stuck in excruciating pain for hours.
Bobcat in trap. A quick internet search will bring up numerous disturbing images of bobcats and other animals suffering in traps – Image Wyoming Untrapped
Mountain lion mothers spend up to 24 months raising and provisioning for their kittens. If a mother is killed by a trophy hunter, her kittens will likely die from predation, dehydration, starvation or exposure. As biologists have found, kittens are unlikely capable of dispatching prey until they are 12 months of age. This means that trophy hunters routinely kill not only the mother, but also her orphaned young kittens, who cannot survive on their own until they are one year old.
“I do want to address the cruelty and set up the context. Specifically, that mountain lions and bobcats are legally killed using extremely cruel and inhumane methods.”
The Arizona Game and Fish Department also permits hounding of our wild cats. An unlimited number of radio-collared, trailing hounds are permitted to chase mountain lions or bobcats. Both the hunted animal and the dogs can be exhausted by the extreme heat in Arizona during the high-stress chase. In addition to being cruel, this method of hunting puts the dogs at risk of being mauled, and if dogs get lost during a hunt, they are often abandoned and left to be killed by other animals or dumped into shelters.
Mountain lion hunting with hounds, a cruel and sadistic practice. Click here to see video and images of hounding by an Arizona outfitter. One look and you will understand why this blood sport must be banned.
The intention of this ballot is not only to protect mountain lions and bobcats, but also other wildlife like the ocelot, jaguar, and the Canada lynx
Ocelots and jaguars are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and lynx are listed as threatened. While these cats have federal protections, they still face serious threats from trophy hunting and trapping. Some hunting dogs will target species other than mountain lions or bobcats. Arizona’s rare cats may also be accidentally chased or killed by hounds during state-sanctioned mountain lion and bobcat-hunting seasons along with other vulnerable wildlife, like ungulates such as elk or mule deer, who are killed or startled and flushed by hounds. As hounds do not understand boundaries, many stray on to lands where they do not belong including private property or on National Park Service lands.
Traps are notoriously indiscriminate and often catch other non-target animals, including endangered species or even livestock or wild ungulates. Because of the inherently indiscriminate and cruel nature of hounds and traps, jaguars, ocelots and lynx remain at imminent risk of being accidentally caught and/or killed by hounds or in steel-jawed leghold traps set for bobcats on private lands.
Additionally, we wanted to ensure protection of these animals and not simply leave their potential delisting up to the whim or politics of any federal administration. By including them it will help uphold the ban on killing them.
Why is it important for all Arizonans, not just those who hunt or trap, to have their say in wildcat conservation?
Wildlife in Arizona is for ALL citizens. Every Arizonan has an interest in protecting our rich resources, including the animals that inhabit our lands. Wildlife watching far outweighs hunting in participation and revenue generated so there is a financial incentive to citizens to protect wild animals. We find in poll after poll in the state, whether on trophy hunting or general animal issues, that Arizonans care deeply about our animals. Non hunters are the majority of citizens in this state.
The campaign is still in the early stages, what has the response been like to date from the community?
Yes, we just launched at the end of September and held public kick-off events in October. We have been overwhelmed with the response, especially from many organizations in the state and nationally. We currently have over 75 endorsers and daily we are hearing from groups that believe in this campaign and want to help. We are hearing from folks across Arizona that want to not only support this measure, but to actively volunteer to gather signatures to get this on the ballot in Nov. 2018. As we talk to citizens, we find they are outraged that hounding is actually legal. Like us, they view this type of hunting as un-sportsman and unethical. People are shocked that steel-jawed leg hold traps are permitted on private land. They recognize that this is a cruel method of hunting and support the prohibition of this type of hunting.
The campaign is endorsed by some very well respected organizations like the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Born Free USA, The Cougar Fund, Jane Goodall Institute and Panthera – just to name a few
We are grateful to the support we have received from so many well respected organizations. We recognized early on that to launch a successful campaign, we needed a broad coalition of supportive groups and leaders. To have these groups lend their name and provide resources, such as volunteers, or whatever they can was critical to this effort. We have a broad spectrum of groups nationally and in Arizona that represent wildlife interests, environmental, companion animals, wildcats specifically and boast memberships of all types of citizens and supporters. We are so thankful to the groups that have already supported this and know that many more will continue to join this effort.
Do you feel that local politicians are generally receptive to the campaign and what it is trying to accomplish?
We are honored to have the support of some of our local elected officials. We know that some will not support this because they fear the retribution of hunting groups and the NRA during election time. We also know, that as the campaign moves forward, to expect others to join whether during the signature gathering phase or once we qualify for the ballot. We have some State Representatives, State Senators and a few local officials/candidates that very early on endorsed us and said, “Yes, I believe in this.” Politicians can face extreme pressure from pro-trophy-hunting lobby groups and the NRA (which opposes this effort) and other well-financed special interest organizations. To have elected officials and candidates this early in the campaign step up to support us speaks to their willingness to stand firm on the right side of history and not bow down to a small, but vocal community.
“We celebrate more citizens becoming engaged in animal protection issues and believe that it is our obligation to raise awareness, educate and whenever possible be a conduit to push for changes in policy that reflect these values when they are also matched by sound science.” A mountain lion in Arizona – Image Arizonans for Wildlife
Many of those who oppose the campaign are saying it is simply based on emotions, but organizations backing the initiative are clearly knowledgeable about the species and the science
Frankly, these are typical tactics used by opponents of common-sense measures like what we are proposing. Their consistent argument is that wildlife should be managed by the state only and that we are merely being emotional. What this argument fails to realize is that ALL citizens have a responsibility to our wildlife, and when the state is not appropriately managing wildlife or sanctioning cruel practices, it is imperative that we seek alternatives and actively engage communities that have an interest in protecting our wildcats.
It also doesn’t hold up when we look at the best available science, which we have made available on this issue to anyone that cares to read it. To paint supporters of this measure as simply “emotional,” attempts to ignore the science that supports ending trophy hunting but it also seeks to diminish citizen voices and values. This measure also upholds the public safety concerns of Arizonans – there are exemptions for personal safety, property and legitimate conservation purposes.
Our opponents will use fear, they will use misinformation and they will seek to delegitimize supporters by any means necessary. They recognize that public support of cruel, unsporting and unethical hunting practices is not on their side and they also know that the numbers of hunters, especially big-game hunters, are declining. They are protecting their own interests, certainly not the interests of the state’s wild cats. Surely they know that trophy hunting is increasingly coming under scrutiny and as Americans become educated on this issue, they will not support the killing for parts, bragging rights, or a selfie with a hunter and carcass from a mountain lion from a recent kill.
Do you see the ballot being part of a movement towards a more compassionate conservation model in AZ?
Yes, I think we definitely see that in Arizona, nationally and certainly internationally. When Cecil the lion was mercilessly killed by a wealthy American in Zimbabwe in 2015, we recognized that this was a transformational moment and the horrors of trophy hunting were becoming much more known by everyday Americans. People could not fathom this type of cruelty inflicted of our majestic creatures. It propelled people to become more educated not only of trophy hunting abroad, but also right here in their own backyards. Collectively, the citizenry seems much more aware of these issues and no longer will stand idly by as animals suffer from cruel hunting practices so that someone can have bragging rights or take the head or hide of an animal. It is not sustainable, it is not ethical and it goes against the values of many.
Do you believe that if this ballot passes it can help set a precedent to reform hunting and trapping policies outside of Arizona?
Certainly, our focus is on Arizona, but we do know that nationally, there is a movement from scientists, advocates and American citizens who want to change current hunting practices and put an end to the needless suffering of animals, specifically they want policies that do not support hunting for trophies.
How can people help support this initiative?
Currently, we need 150,642 VALID signatures to qualify for the Nov 2018 ballot which means we have to gather more signatures to ensure we have enough. We are building an army of volunteers but need more help. People can:
- Sign up to Volunteer
- Visit and like our Facebook page
- Donate – an initiative like this take significant resources to be successful
- Share information about the campaign with friends, family, circles of influence- especially those in Arizona.
- Endorse – we would love the support of more organizations that wish to join this movement.
- For anyone outside of Arizona, they can donate, share, endorse us or contact the campaign at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or ways to help