The public is in uproar over photos of TV personality Melissa Bachman posing with a hunted lion carcass. The backlash comes right as the US considers whether to list the African lion as an endangered species.
Photo from Facebook
Celebrity hunter Melissa Bachman, who stars in "Winchester Deadly Passion" on the Pursuit Channel, posted photos on Facebook of her latest kills – which includes an African lion.
The photo drew heaps of criticism from the Internet, provoking the largest animal-related petition on Change.org.
"Melissa Bachman has made a career out of hunting wildlife for pure sport," petition creator Elan Burman writes. The petition calls on South African officials to deny Bachman future entry into the country and has gathered more than 350,000 signatures.
"She is an absolute contradiction to the culture of conservation this country prides itself on," the petition continues. "Her latest Facebook post features her with a lion she has just executed and murdered in our country."
The backlash comes as the US debates whether to list African lions as an endangered species. The species is protected under an international agreement known as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Because of this, the US requires a permit from the exporting country in order to import a lion carcass. The national Fish and Wildlife Service also requires an import permit for any animal on the CITES list.
But because African lions aren't protected under the Endangered Species Act, it's still perfectly legal to import, own, or even eat lions, as long as you have the right permit. (US restaurants have featured lion tacos and skewers in the past – despite public criticism.)
Last year, the Service announced a year-long status assessment of the animal after a petition highlighted the US as the number one importer of lion parts. Between 1999 and 2008, the US imported 62 percent of all internationally traded lion specimens (parts or whole of a lion that's dead or alive), according to the petition.
The Service will issue a finding as early as January that could ultimately land the lion on an endangered or threatened list. If listed, the lions will gain a few more protections, making it illegal to "kill, trap, capture, or collect" them.
In a statement on a Facebook post that has since been taken down, the conservancy that helped Bachman with the hunt is not apologizing.
"We do ethical hunting and all meat from animals hunted is distrubuted [sic] to the local community," Maroi Conservancy says in the post. "Funds generated from hunting goes towards fixing the border fence that was washed away in the 2013 floods; combating poaching which is excessive in this area due to close proximity to Zimbabwe and running a sustainable conservancy."
The conservancy says it did not receive money for Bachman's hunt, and instead helped her find an outfitter who could set up a lion hunt for her.
Sustainability through population control is a typical argument for proponents of trophy hunting, who also claim other benefits to the host country. GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons was criticized for killing an elephant in Zimbabwe defended his hunt, telling CNN that he helped local farmers whose crops were being destroyed by the animal. And last month, a Texas hunting club auctioned off the opportunity to hunt an endangered black rhino, reasoning that killing one problematic rhino might save the rest of the herd while also raising money for conservation efforts.
Tanzania's department of wildlife also claims that through certain tourist hunting projects, "communities receive tangible economic benefits from the legal utilization of wildlife."
"For tourist hunting conducted within Game Controlled Areas and open areas, the Department sees great potential for providing considerable benefits to local people and involving them more fully in conservation activities," the director of wildlife wrote in a paper.
Yet public outrage in the US still holds significant weight over the practice – a previous Change.org petition called on National Geographic to drop Bachman from its Ultimate Survivor Alaska show because of her reputation as a trophy hunter. In less than 24 hours, the network did.