Arizona organization protects 'canned' hunting

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© Courtesy: Humane Society of the United States © Courtesy: Humane Society of the United States

A hunting organization based in Arizona is under fire for defending a controversial type of hunting that is against the law in Arizona.

Records show the Safari Club International has lobbied Congress and spoken out against bills that would make the practice of hunting exotic game in fenced-in preserves illegal. The organization also accepts trophies from these operations in its prestigious record books.

Safari Club officials deny they support captive or "canned" hunting.

"We don't defend captive hunting. Safari Club International supports preserve or estate hunting," said Dr. Larry Rudolph, who is the chief communications officer for the Safari Club.

Rudolph told CBS 5 News the type of operations his organization supports allow animals a fair chance to escape from the hunters.

But the Humane Society of the United States disagrees.

"The basic premise is animals trapped within a fenced enclosure from which they cannot escape, then people go in and pay a fee to kill those animals," said Andrew Page, who is the senior director of the Humane Society's wildlife abuse campaign.

"You can kill a zebra. You can kill and ibex, an oryx, a black buck antelope. These are animals that are indigenous to Africa or Asia, but they're bred here in the U.S. for this kind of activity," said Page.

According to the Humane Society's own investigation, many of the animals used in canned hunts come from private breeders and zoos.

The practice is against the law or severely restricted in 25 states, including Arizona. Of the estimated 1,000 canned hunting ranches in the United States, roughly half are located in Texas.

"We don't know exactly where those animals go once they enter the state, but we know they don't leave. And they're usually the animals of the huntable variety. The big horns or big antlers. The ones that guys like to hang on their walls to show off to their friends," said Page.

Hidden camera video obtained by the Humane Society shows a hunter with little apparent skill shooting a small ram with a bow and arrow. It takes several minutes for the ram to die, with arrows sticking out of its back, through its hind leg and rear. Finally, someone from off camera shoots the ram but fails to strike the animal in the head, which would have killed it instantly. The hunt took place in a fenced pasture.

Additional video shows a ranch hand talking about tranquilizing animals so hunters can shoot them more easily.

Safari Club officials say they are not to blame for this type of hunting. They point out that ethical hunting lodges actually breed and keep species alive, which are otherwise endangered and extinct in the wild.

"It provided them a possible way where they have grown, thrived and are now expanding in many parts of the country," said Rudolph.

Nearly two dozen members of Congress have co-sponsored a bill known as the Sportsmanship in Hunting Act, which would make it illegal to transport exotic species between states for the purposes of hunting. The Safari Club is registered to lobby on that bill.

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