It has been more than a month since an American Dentist killed Cecil the lion, Zimbabwe’s most famous feline, but public uproar regarding the lion’s death is certainly still alive.
On Monday, three major U.S. airlines added their names to a growing list of carriers limiting, and in some cases eliminating altogether, the transport of hunting trophies.
“Effective immediately, Delta will officially ban shipment of all lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo trophies worldwide as freight,” Delta announced in a press release Monday. United Airlines and American Airlines released similar statements the same day, joining several other international carriers — some of whom started banning hunting trophies as early as April.
Alaska Airlines has no intention to implement any such ban. The Seattle-based company has made clear that it will continue allowing the transport of hunting trophies as long as they meet the airline’s existing guidelines.
“Our existing policy works well for the people in the Lower 48 and in Alaska, and we’re not making any policy changes,” said Bobbie Egan, a spokesperson for Alaska Airlines.
Though most carriers’ hunting-trophy bans primarily target trophies taken in Africa, Delta went on to say that it “will also review acceptance policies of other hunting trophies,” potentially impacting trophy hunting in Alaska. Delta is engaged in tight competition with Alaska Airlines for service to and from the 49th state, having added year-round service to Fairbanks, Juneau and several other communities in recent years.
Nonetheless, many of Alaska’s top sport-hunting officials are not worried that these bans will hurt the state’s robust big-game hunting industry, which drew in $3.9 million from hunting-tag fees in 2014.
Since the 1960s, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has awarded and sold thousands of hunting tags annually to Outside visitors seeking to hunt the biggest state’s biggest game. Caribou, moose, black bears and grizzly bears are the animals most sought after by out-of-state sport hunters.
None of the major U.S. airlines banning hunting trophies have added these animals to their no-fly lists and bison, available in Alaska, are hunted in extremely small numbers. However, even if the airlines banned all shipments, the Alaskan big-game hunting industry likely wouldn’t be impacted, said Kelly Vrem, chair of the Alaska Big Game Commercial Services Board.
Vrem has been a guiding big-game hunts for more than four decades and hunting even longer. The way he sees it, the bans are hardly more than a publicity stunt by airlines.
“This is kind of grandstanding on the airlines’ part,” Vrem said. “It’s is nothing but an opportunity to get some free advertising.”
Most out-of-state hunters who are coming to Alaska and taking trophies home are not transporting them on commercial airlines, he said. Instead, these hunters use regular freight companies or specialty expeditors to ship their trophies home, and that has been the case here for more than 20 years.
“For a fair amount of time now, it has really been impractical to ship trophies by air,” Vrem said. “It was a hassle for them, and it was a hassle for us, too. It was just a nuisance for everyone.”
Such a nuisance, in fact, that Vrem’s business, Kelly Vrem’s Rough and Ready Guide Service, officially changed its policy regarding shipment of trophies in 1993 to recommend against using commercial airlines for shipping.
The airlines didn’t like dealing with trophies because they are typically large and heavy, he said. They take up a lot of space, and can be damaging to other luggage. If packaged improperly, for example, caribou horns are sharp enough to puncture soft luggage stacked on top of them, he said.
Back then, Vrem never had a problem with the airlines. It was simply easier for both parties if hunters shipped their trophies using freight services. However, now Vrem said he plans to avoid flying with any airlines imposing hunting-trophy bans, which he sees as useless if not insulting. He’s not the only one.
Thor Stacey, a hunting guide and member of the Alaska Professional Hunters Association, said the hunting trophy bans are useless in protecting animals and offensive to hunters.
“We feel, in a way, very picked on,” Stacey said. “It’s akin to the person who doesn’t want to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples who are getting married.”
Stacey said animals would be better protected if these airlines would impose a tariff on the transport of trophies rather than a ban. The extra money raised by the tariff could then be put toward habitat protection and conservation, he said. “Now that would be something we could understand.”
Delta and United did not respond to the Empire by press time. American issued the following statement, “Even though we do not serve the continent of Africa, we will no longer transport buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion or rhinoceros trophies.”
• Contact reporter Sam DeGrave at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 523-2279.