Cecil the lion killing raises issues about trophy hunting in Canada

Walter Palmer's hunting trip to Zimbabwe, and the death of Cecil the lion, certainly brought attention to trophy hunting in Africa. But what about in Canada?

What about fenced-in hunting, or Canada's unique polar bear sport hunt?

Defending trophy hunting

8 years ago
Duration 2:21
Trophy hunting is a way to preserve the animal population and has economic benefits for local villages, its defenders say

If canned hunting — where wild animals bred in captivity are hunted in enclosed, usually privately-owned areas — is your fancy, you don't need to go to Africa. 

Come to Canada.

Walter Palmer apparently did, although not necessarily for fenced-in hunting. The Minnesota dentist who hunted Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, is listed in the bowhunting records as killing the 187th-largest mule deer ever bagged in Alberta. That was in 2006 and Canadian Press cites a report that Palmer killed a black bear in Quebec in 2007.

Trophy hunters, overwhelmingly from the United States, today can take advantage of the diminished Canadian dollar and spend their money at a "high fence" hunting facility in Canada. The fence prevents the animals from escaping the hunters. advertises "elk hunting on an estate" in Saskatchewan at "Canada's largest, oldest, most established managed high fence elk hunting ranch." The ranch specializes in corporate hunting groups.

And you get a 100 per cent guarantee you will get your trophy animal, or your money back.

Walter Palmer's hunting trip to Zimbabwe, and the death of Cecil the lion, certainly brought attention to trophy hunting in Africa. But what about in Canada? (J. F. Walker/Shutterstock)

Trophys Unlimited will pick you up at the Edmonton airport for a "trophy elk hunt" for dates starting Aug. 25. "Whether you arrive on a private jet or drive your own vehicle from the USA, we are confident that the lodge and ranch will be more than you expected," they say on their website.

It will cost $14,500 US or more to kill a fenced-in large elk or $15,500 US or more to bag a large whitetail deer, according to their online price list, which may not have changed since 2004.

Of course, not all trophy hunting in Canada, or the U.S., is "canned" and much opposition to canned hunting comes from fair-chase hunters. During a referendum campaign in Montana in 2000, the fair-chase hunters' group successfully campaigned under the slogan, "Real hunters don't shoot pets."

In Canada, canned hunting represents a tiny portion of hunting overall.

The 'huge problem' with canned hunting in Canada

Jericho, brother to the famous slain lion Cecil, shown in this photo, is alive and well despite reports to the contrary, a researcher monitoring the pride says. (Nature Encounter Tours & Travel Ltd/Carol Petersen)

The killing of Cecil the lion has highlighted controversies around hunting in Africa but hunting has Canadian controversies, too. Canned hunting and disease, polar bear trophy hunting in the north and the grizzly hunt in B.C. are examples. 

Canned hunting may have ethical issues but the real killer is the spread of disease it causes. Valerius Geist, a professor emeritus of environmental design at the University of Calgary, had been warning about this danger since before game farms came to Canada. And for him "meat and trophies were never separate." Farms that would raise non-domesticated animals for meat also raised them for trophy hunting.

Within three years after the industry became legal in Canada in the 1980s, the first in a series of epidemics hit the game farms, spreading to wildlife. Most serious was chronic wasting disease, CWD, brought here by animals imported from the U.S.. But CWD didn't stay confined to the confined elk and deer but spread to animals beyond the fences.

For Calgary businessman Darrel Rowledge, who's also the author of No Accident: Public Policy and Chronic Wasting Disease in Canada, the "huge problem" with canned hunting is not the ethical issues but "that when you have this industry you end up with massive diseases."

Fenced-in white-tail deer have spread chronic wasting disease to deer in the wild. (Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park and Zoo)

The situation is insane, he says. He points to 77 game farms in Saskatchewan infected with CWD, with 20 under permanent quarantine at taxpayer's expense.

"Taxpayers are maintaining the fences so public wildlife can't get in there and get the disease but it spilled over repeatedly, according to the Expert Scientific Panel on Chronic Wasting Disease, into Canada's wildlife and the industry is not being held accountable."

For Rowledge, game farms and canned hunting "privatize, domesticate and commercialize wildlife, in complete contrast to the North American principles of wildlife conservation," which sees wildlife as a public resource, even on private land. The North American model, which dates back a century, was "probably the greatest environmental success" ever, Rowledge says, as it replenished an entire continent of wildlife after the commerce in those creatures had nearly completely eliminated many of them from the continent.

Hunting polar bears and grizzlies

Canada is the only country that allows polar bear hunting for sport. A polar bear cub nuzzles its mother in Wapusk National Park on the shore of Hudson Bay near Churchill, Man. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Canada is the only country that permits hunting polar bears for sport. The decreasing global polar bear population -- 30 per cent in three generations (45 years), according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in 2008 -- has led other countries to ban the hunt for other than subsistence purposes.

The planet has 20,000-25,000 polar bears.

Sport hunting polar bears brings in $1.3 million/year based on 2009 estimates, while the cost of a single polar bear hunts ranges from $20,000-$60,000.

Geist recommends being selective about what to do in different areas. In the southern parts of their Canadian habitat, polar bears "are in very real trouble" but in some northern areas they are doing quite well.

Both polar bears and B.C. grizzly bears are listed as a "species of special concern" by the federal Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

In the last 100 years the B.C. grizzly bear population fell from an estimated 35,000 to possibly as low as 6,000.

While polls suggest the vast majority of people in B.C. oppose trophy hunting of bears, the Liberal government has been criticized by some hunters and the B.C. Wildlife Federation for increasing the proportion of bear allocations it makes available for non-resident hunters.

Hunting by the numbers

B.C. grizzly bears are listed as a "species of special concern" by the federal Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. (Conrad Olson)

According to the Canadian Federation of Outfitter Associations, their industry employs more than 20,000 people, with an economic impact worth $1 billion a year.

National data is sketchy, in part because hunting is provincially regulated, but a detailed 2014 study in Alberta, commissioned by the Alberta Professional Outfitters Society, offers insight into the trophy hunting scene. Canned hunting is not allowed in Alberta.

In 2013, outfitters served 7,255 hunting clients (plus 1,170 of their non-hunting companions).

The industry created 460 full-time equivalent jobs in Alberta and $105 million of economic activity in 2013.

Most outfitters are small operations with over two-thirds reporting revenues below $100,000. Only seven per cent of the outfitters participating in the survey showed revenues over $300,000.

Almost all the industry's clients come from the U.S., 81 per cent. Four per cent are from outside North America, four per cent from the rest of Canada and 11 per cent from Alberta, according to the study.

Older studies in B.C., Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador found similar numbers for the share of clients from outside Canada.

The largest number of allocations issued for APOS members were whitetail deer, black bears, mule deer and moose.

In B.C., which has a bigger outfitting industry than Alberta, the top allocations are for mule deer, whitetail deer, moose, elk and black bears.