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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 31 October 2001 Issue

Canned Hunts: The Other Side of the Fence

A hunter paid a $275 bounty for the head of a black Hawaiian ram.  After a guide drove the ram directly into the path of his client, the hunter shot the trapped animal with an arrow at point-blank range.  The wounded ram, with an arrow sticking out of his hindquarters, backed up against the fence that forced him to stay close to his killers.  A shot to the head might have meant a quick kill, but would have spoiled the eventual trophy.  So the hunter repeatedly took aim at the ram's body, and the animal writhed in pain for four minutes before dying.1  The Fund for Animals' hallmark has been our fight to end atrocious hunts such as the one described above.  Perhaps no recent victory has meant more to us than the Texas ban on shooting bears, lions, elephants, rhinoceroses, and other large mammals on fenced-in preserves, which we achieved with the Texas Humane Legislative Network.  No bill to restrict hunting of any kind -- no matter how indefensible a hunt -- had ever made its way through the Texas legislature before this historic achievement.


From Asian sheep to African lions to European boars, exotic and native animals are shot for trophies at thousands of "canned" hunting preserves scattered across the US.  A canned hunt takes place on a fenced piece of private property where a hunter can pay a fee to shoot a captive animal.  Nearly any animal is unfair game, receiving not only a prison sentence on a fenced-in preserve, but also a firing squad.   While most canned hunts on the East Coast are less than 100 acres in size, some in the South and the West are larger.  The Exotic Wildlife Association, an umbrella group for canned hunt operators, testified before Congress that its largest member has a 650 acre game ranch.

Prices for a hunt may range from several hundred to several thousand dollars per kill.  The Renegade Ranch in Michigan, for example, charges $350 for a Corsican ram, $450 for a Russian boar, $750 for a blackbuck antelope, $3,000 for a buffalo, and $5,500 for a trophy elk.  According to its brochure, "Many exotic animals not listed are available upon request."2  Some shooting preserves charge up to $20,000 for a lion or a rhinoceros.

Either bred in captivity, purchased from animal dealers, or retired from zoos and circuses, these tame animals do not even run when approached by weapon-wielding hunters.   Shooting preserves offer guaranteed trophies and advertise as "No Kill, No Pay."  The animals are so tame, in fact, that one hunter stated, "Before being harvested, African lions raised as pets would amble over and lick your hand."3   There may be as much so-called sport in shooting caged animals at the local zoo.


Many zoos -- even the nation's most prestigious -- sell their "surplus" animals either directly to canned hunting preserves or to middlemen and dealers who later sell to the hunts.  Because baby animals are popular, zoos continue to breed their animals.  But space is limited, and for every baby born an adult animal must leave.   Zoos generally claim they do not know what happens to the animals they sell.   But some, such as the San Antonio Zoo, sell their animals openly and even include owners of canned hunting facilities on their board of directors.  San Antonio Zoological Society board member Betty S. Kelso and her husband Robert own the Auerhahn Ranch in Texas, and have purchased exotic animals directly from the zoo for years.4

The official guidelines of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) state, "The AZA strongly opposes the sale, trade, or transfer of animals from zoos and aquariums to organizations or individuals which allow the hunting of animals directly from or bred at zoos or aquariums."  But the policy is meaningless since all shooting preserves or dealer middlemen can claim their clients do not hunt animals "directly from or bred at zoos," but rather hunt the offspring of those animals.   Moreover, there are more than 15,000 animal exhibitors in the US and only 160 belong to the AZA.5 The thousands of petting zoos, roadside zoos, and smaller exhibitors have no reason to adhere to the AZA's suggestions.


Because most rank-and-file hunters cannot afford hundreds of dollars per trophy, canned hunts have become the privileged playgrounds of the wealthy elite.  Doctors and lawyers trek from the suburbs for a weekend killing spree, and high-priced lobbyists entertain politicians on shooting preserves.  Canned hunting preserves have begun to rival golf courses as favorite landscapes while wheeling and dealing.  President George Bush celebrated his victory after the 1988 election at the Lazy F Ranch near Beeville, Texas.  "These aren't animals, these are wild quail," he later responded to criticism.6 President Bush apparently never studied the Animal Kingdom, and has an odd definition of "wild" that includes captive birds who were hand-fed and raised in pens.

President Bill Clinton, too, has hunted on shooting preserves during his presidency.  Two days after Christmas in 1993, President Clinton killed a captive-bred mallard duck on a Maryland shooting preserve owned by lobbyist John W. Tieder, Jr.  Tieder is the treasurer of DUCPAC, a pro-hunting political action committee that has given over $35,000 in campaign contributions to political candidates.7

These "regulated shooting areas," or RSAs, raise and hand-feed ducks and release them to be shot by the thousands.  President Clinton's own US Fish and Wildlife Service is considering proposals to restrict or possibly ban the release of captive ducks for fear of spreading diseases to wild bird populations.  Forty-nine state wildlife agencies -- all but Maryland's -- have condemned the release of captive waterfowl.

Other politicians and celebrities have been known to spend their leisure time shooting tame animals. Massachusetts Governor William Weld killed a boar "in a fenced hunting club where basic membership costs $100,000."8  And waning rock star Ted Nugent owns a shooting preserve, Sunrize Acres in Michigan, where he can kill captive animals to his heart's content.


With hunter education instructors and outdoor columnists talking more and more about "hunting ethics," canned hunts have become a topic of heated debate.   According to Maitland Sharpe, then executive director of the Izaak Walton League of America, a national hunting organization, "I had the experience of taking part in a 'hunt' on a commercial game preserve in California.  We paid our money, watched while the 'wild' turkeys were taken from their pen, and followed along as the birds were set loose along a brushy hillside for us to hunt.  The bird my buddy and I were assigned flew straight toward us and took cover in a dense bush only yards away. We tried to flush it, but the panicked bird wouldn't budge.  I reached into the tangle and pulled it out by its neck, feeling as foolish as the turkey was scared.  We repeated this embarrassing sequence three or four times before putting the bird out of its misery and bringing this caricature of hunting to a pitiful close."9  Hunter Craig Boddington wrote that he was "shocked" by a 60 Minutes "video of a 'hunt' for a black leopard purchased from an animal park and released so it could be shot."10  And Sports Afield columnist Ted Kerasote has repeatedly criticized that "ignoring the cancer within our ranks is indefensible and makes us hypocrites in the eyes of nonhunters."11

If even hunters speak out against this unsporting slaughter, why have canned hunts not been eliminated?  Because powerful hunting lobbyist groups such as the National Rifle Association and Safari Club International -- which erroneously claim to represent the interests of all hunters -- fight tooth and nail against any measure that would restrict any type of hunting, no matter how repugnant.


While many states prohibit canned hunts, states that allow canned hunts can purchase exotic animals from any state.  Federal legislation is needed to stop the interstate commerce in animals for the purpose of shooting them on fenced-in preserves.   Ask your U.S. Representative to support H.R. 1202 to ban the canned hunting of exotic mammals, and ask your two U.S. Senators to support the companion bill, S. 1345.   Visit the House and Senate web sites to find out who represents you and to send them email messages.  Please contact The Fund for Animals for updates on federal and state legislation and what you can do to help.  For more information contact us at [email protected] .

According to an investigation by The Humane Society of the United States, the following zoos have sold animals either directly to canned hunts or to dealers who have done business with auctions or hunts:

Buffalo Zoological Gardens (NY)
Busch Gardens (FL)
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (CO)
Great Adventure (NJ)
Kansas City Zoo (MO)
Lake George Zoological Park (NY)
Lincoln Park Zoo (IL)
Los Angeles Zoo (CA)
Lowry Park Zoo (FL)
Memphis Zoo (TN)
National Zoo (DC)
Oklahoma City Zoo (OK)
San Antonio Zoo (TX)
San Diego Zoo (CA)
San Francisco Zoo (CA)
Seneca Park Zoo (NY)
St. Louis Zoo (MO)
Suwannee Valley Zoo (FL)

The following states have banned or restricted canned hunts or prohibited the use of certain species:

New Jersey
New York
Rhode Island

References for article on AIP website.


1. "To Love or Kill: Man vs. Animal," America Undercover, Home Box Office, April 1996.

2. Alfred Lubrano, "The trophy fields: 'Canned hunts' become target of controversy," The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 4, 1996.

3. Ted Williams, "Canned Hunts," Audubon, January/February 1992.

4. Michael Winikoff, "Blowing the Lid off Canned Hunts," HSUS News, Summer 1994.

5. Ted Williams, Op cit.

6. Merritt Clifton, "Killing the Captives," The Animals' Agenda, September 1991.

7. William Thompson and John B. O'Donnell, "Clinton bags one: Third shot is the charm as president hunts on Shore," The Baltimore Sun, December 28, 1993.

8. Bob Hohler, "Weld bagged wild boar in exclusive NH hunting preserve," The Boston Globe, May 3, 1992.

9. Maitland Sharpe, "Questioning commercial hunting preserves," Outdoors Unlimited, April 1994.

10. Craig Boddington, "When is a Hunt 'Canned'?" Petersen's Hunting, January 1993.

11. Ted Kerasote, "The Future of Hunting," Sports Afield, September 1992.

Source: Hunting Fact Sheet #3
The Fund for Animals

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