How do Exotics End Up in Canned Hunts?

Mar 20, 2022

Canned Hunt victim

This past week saw the release of my second novel in the Nick Tanner series, Canned Hunt. It takes place primarily in the truly awe-inspiring Book Cliffs of Utah and along Green River, with stops in the decidedly less inspiring (IMO, anyway) Las Vegas, Nevada and Sandpoint, Idaho.

The main focus of Tanner’s investigation this time around is illegal outfitting; outfitters and hunting guides who conduct hunts out of season, or hunts without “tags,” The purchase of tags is how game officials control each year’s take of a given species. Tags are limited in number, and once they’re gone, if you don’t have one, you don’t hunt…unless you find an unscrupulous outfitter. In Canned Hunt, the outfitter is not only running illegal hunts, he’s also “canning” the hunts. In this case, that means catching, holding, and intentionally wounding the animal prior to releasing it for the hunt, making it much easier to track and kill.

However, this is not the MO for all canned hunts. In the majority of cases, animals are simply released into fenced areas to be shot. Some are even shot upon exiting the cage! Lions, gazelles, springboks, rhinos, tigers, Cape buffalo–all are fair game at canned hunt ranches across the nation (a preponderance of which are in Texas). And get this: in all but 20 states, IT’S LEGAL.

So, how does an African lion end up on a canned hunt ranch in Texas? One way is through wildlife auctions. Go ahead, do an internet search (I’m not going to post any URLs here). Right now, as I scan one site, I see I can buy a Blackbuck, native to India, shown huddled in a Texas horse stall, for $2300. That price may go up, the bidding doesn’t end until tomorrow. I won’t be checking. On the same site, a Scimitar Oryx, a native of the fringes of the Sahara Desert, is also up for auction, also in Texas, and currently priced at $760. “Add him to your ranch!” the seller says. This is an species that has TWICE been declared extinct! Only through controlled breeding and replenishment has it regained some marginal footing in its natural habitat. But if you like, you can pay a Texas rancher for the privilege of shooting one trapped in an enclosure.

How did these animals end up in an auction in the first place? Some are captive born and bred specifically for profit. Some are the result of offloading by roadside zoos, private owners who don’t want them anymore, and even–usually through intermediaries, for the sake of anonymity–prominent, popular zoos who need a way to dispose of excess stock. The zoo-going public is enthralled by babies of all species, and young, healthy animals. They don’t want to take their kids to see an old, tired ibex limp around on arthritic legs. So, away the obsolete animal goes, occasionally to rescue facilities, but all too often to dealers who sell them to auction houses and canned hunt ranches.

And I’ll say it again: in 30 states, this is LEGAL. And the topper: as I point out in Canned Hunt, there is NO Federal law against canned hunts. But there oughta be, don’t you think?