An African trophy hunting show that was expecting to bring hundreds of hunters from across the globe to a venue north of Toronto this weekend is scrambling to find a new host.
African Events Canada, the organizer of The Africa Show, says it's looking for a new host after Borgata Wedding Event Venue cancelled the booking Friday afternoon, citing "threats" from animal rights activists.
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The show was set to offer customers at the two-day event in Vaughan, Ont., an opportunity to book trips to Africa to hunt animals such as lions, leopards, elephants and hippopotamuses.
Birgit Johnstone, who owns African Events Canada, says the news came as nearly 30 of her exhibitors were setting up their booths after flying in from Africa.
Johnstone says Borgata's owner told her the venue was cancelling the event space for safety reasons. Borgata said in a statement on Facebook that it had decided to cancel its agreement with African Events but declined to give a reason.
Animal Justice spokeswoman Camille Labchuk says the group applauds Borgata Events for taking a strong stance against what she called "the cruel trophy hunting industry."
"It's critical that companies refuse to play any role in the senseless slaughter of majestic African animals," Labchuk added.
African Events Canada has been "up front about the nature of our show and I have been open with the activists about trying to educate them about hunting in Africa," Johnstone said.
"I'm really upset about it."
Organizers claim hunting provides some benefits
The show has had trouble finding venues.
'It's hard to know where to start. If they're serious about wanting to protect animals they should start by not killing them.' - Anna Pippus, spokesperson with Animal Justice
She said protests from animal rights group Animal Justice forced resulted in Holiday Inn near Toronto Pearson International Airport, where the show was originally scheduled to take place, cancelling the booking.
Animal Justice had previously launched online petitions against the event and is vowing to protest outside the venue if organizers go ahead with the show.
Johnstone said animal rights activists don't understand that trophy hunting has economical and ecological benefits for the local population in Africa.
"Trophy hunting brings in more money than plain meat hunting because you have the trophy hunter who pays for his trophy, pays for accommodation, pays for his flights, pays staff tips, pays for other excursions in the country and taxidermy work and that's just him," Johnstone said.
Without trophy hunting, she said, the locals would turn to poaching to earn a living.
Animal Justice spokeswoman Anna Pippus called those claims "outrageous."
"It's hard to know where to start. If they're serious about wanting to protect animals they should start by not killing them," she said.
African Events Canada had to find a new venue for a second show set for Saskatoon on Jan. 23-24 after a similar petition by Animal Justice led to the cancellation of the event by the Saskatoon Inn, Johnston said. A third show is scheduled to take place in Calgary on Jan. 30-31.
Now Johnstone is trying to find a space at the last minute to host the show, but said even if she finds one, it will be a challenge to get the word out to potential customers.
Trophy hunting has come under the magnifying glass after a worldwide uproar over the death last summer of Cecil the lion, a famous animal in Zimbabwe that was killed by an American after it was lured out of a national park.