Cecil the Lion uproar puts target on African hunting expo in Calgary

An African hunting expo is set for the end of the month despite an animal rights group petition to cancel the event. The host hotel has agreed not to host the event in years to come.

African hunting expos have run in Canada since 2009 without incident, say organizers

Despite the recent public upset over African trophy hunting, the expo's organizer Birgit Johnstone thinks the industry will continue to prosper. (J. F. Walker/Shutterstock)

The show must go on, even if the show is an expo that anti-hunting activists are rallying against, the organizer says. 

Birgit Johnstone is the owner of African Events Canada, the company that is hosting an African hunting expo in Calgary Jan. 30-31. She told CBC's The Calgary Eyeopener that the show is scheduled to go on as planned, despite a petition started in December. 

The petition is written to the head of communications at the event's scheduled venue, Calgary's Coast Plaza Hotel and Conference Centre. The petition has garnered nearly 3,500 virtual signatures. 

"I'm a little bit surprised actually. We've been running these events in Toronto since 2009 and have had no feedback from the anti-hunting industry before. So I'm a little bit surprised this year. Especially in Calgary, [in] a province very full of hunters and has a rich hunting heritage," Johnstone said.

Cecil's legacy

Johnstone said it seems likely that the uproar over the hunting expo is fallout from the death of Zimbabwe's Cecil the Lion, who was killed by an American dentist in July.

"I think the emotions are still running high," Johnstone said. "It's unfortunate that people have sort of humanized that lion, you know, given him a name, and sort of given him a Disney character."

Birgit Johnstone thinks emotions are still running high over the illegal hunt of Zimbabwe's Cecil the lion in July 2015. (Andy Loveridge/Wildlife Conservation Research Unit/Associated Press)

She said she laments the connection drawn between her organization and the Cecil incident. Johnstone said African Events Canada does not condone that kill or any illegal hunting.

About morals, not legality

[It] promotes the senseless slaughter of animals that don't deserve to die.- Sarah Ure, spokesperson for Animal Justice

Animal Justice is the group behind the online petition to stop the expo and its spokesperson, Sarah Ure, told CBC it was a protest about the morals of trophy hunting, not its legality. 

"We want to shut it down because we think that trophy hunting is cruel and wasteful and just promotes the senseless slaughter of animals that don't deserve to die," Ure said. 

But to that, Johnstone said that all parts of the animal are used or consumed — including intestines, skin and brains. 

"There's absolutely no waste when it comes to an animal that is hunted in Africa," she said. "It's certainly not indiscriminate either."

Johnstone said hunting is typically targeted at older males in that species, the ones that are past their breeding prime and coming to the end of their lives anyway.

"When she says it's cruel, I think it's a lot less cruel than the alternative which would be poaching, where animals are caught in snares and take days to die."

Coast Hotel will host event

The Coast Plaza Hotel and Conference Centre has said it will host the upcoming event, however, due to the volume of complaints, they will not be hosting the event in the future. 

"As a venue we try to be nonpartisan because we welcome a lot of different groups and events," said Sarah Kirby Yung, the hotel's executive director of marketing and communications. 

"So it's very important to us not to discriminate, whether we're hosting groups of different political affiliations, religious affiliations, lifestyle or other interests. So we're very sensitive to that because it's not our role to judge that."

Similar events across the country have been targeted by animal rights activists. Originally the Saskatoon event was cancelled, but they have since found a new venue and the event is set to go as scheduled on Jan. 23-24. 

As the organizer of these events, Johnstone said she is upset that the groups are "going for the easy target" and bullying the hotels.

"They're in the business of renting out space and selling hotel rooms."

Ultimately, Johnstone said she thinks this will be a blip on the radar for African hunting since she does not believe there will ever be enough social outrage to stop it.


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