In the U.S., Canada or Africa, wealthy Chinese hunt for social prestige

A number of wealthy Chinese, who have likely vanquished their business competitors or perhaps fantasize about doing so, have taken up big game hunting and are spending small fortunes to kill a giraffe, a lion or even a rhinoceros. 

At least 100 super-rich Chinese have taken safaris to foreign countries, mostly to Africa. These are not sissy-foot tourist adventures where participants merely snap photos of wildlife. These guys are out to bag a trophy and bring it home, even if it’s an endangered species.

”Most hunters are rich businessmen who are in their 40s or 50s. They have a lot of spare time, enjoy the outdoors, drive big SUVs, and have no trouble shooting,” said Wang Wei, general manager of Zheng’an Safari Club, in an interview with New Weekly.

Wang started his business in 2004 when he took the boss of a real estate company on a hunting safari to Africa. Since then he has taken 20 to 30 Chinese abroad to hunt big game. 

W. Scott Lupien has taken 20 Chinese hunters to Africa since his first group of four went to South Africa in 2009. “Most of the Chinese hunters in my club are green, some have only hunted pheasants or boars in China,” said Lupien, the American CEO of 52Safari Club.

Most of the hunters who have joined his safaris take down seven or eight big game, said Lupien, adding that the animals are taken to a taxidermist and then shipped home.

In Africa, Chinese tycoons are paying exorbitant license fees to kill: a giraffe costs $3,000; to shoot a lioness costs $15,000 and to bag a male lion they pay $50,000. The cost of taking down a rhinoceros is $100,000.

Wang said the total cost to hunt down and kill a leopard is almost 300,000 yuan ($47,557) in Mozambique, while its pelt is only worth 50,000 yuan locally. The fee for taking down an elephant in Botswana is 480,000 yuan.

All the hunts are legally sanctioned by the hunters’ host country. 

Africa is the favorite destination of Chinese hunters who seek to become members of the Big Five club – hunters who have killed an elephant, rhinoceros, Cape buffalo, lion and leopard.

Canada is another destination for Chinese hunters who pay 500,000 yuan for a 14-day expedition to kill a male bear.

Foreigners have been coming to China to hunt long before Chinese were going on safaris in Africa. In 1987, the Qinghai Dulan Hunting Ground was approved and it has received over 700 foreign hunters, reported Xinhua.

In August 2011, the State Forestry Administration approved the applications of two groups of foreigners who applied via Chinese tourism agencies to hunt Tibetan antelopes and blue sheep.

Hunting is a huge global industry that is permitted in about 100 countries. In the US, over 300,000 wild animals are killed by 10 million hunters who spend $20 billion annually.

Wang says his clients prefer Tanzania because it is cheaper and is home to a wide variety of big game. In the US, local hunting regulations often don’t allow foreign citizens from obtaining required permits to hunt, Lupien told News Weekly.

“There is no reason people should be hunting in this day and age, unless people have to live on it,” said Feng Yongfeng, a researcher with Green Beagle, an environmental NGO in Beijing.

“There are no spare species for human beings to stalk or kill in nature,” wrote Feng on his blog, adding that he blames man’s sense of superiority over the animal kingdom for the continuing inhumane killing big game for trophies.

“These wealthy people are just showing off,” said Jiang Jinsong, an associate professor with Tsinghua University and animal rights activist. Jiang says big game hunting cannot be ethically justified.

“It is local people who have the right to hunt animals, not the rich,” said Jiang who worries foreign hunters may be upsetting the balance of nature that could affect locals who rely on it for their life.

Jiang says the hunters’ creed of “hunting the male and old, not the female or young” cannot justify their actions. He believes hunters are in it to show off their masculinity.

“Hunting is popular overseas doesn’t mean it is a good habit for Chinese people to follow,” said Jiang, who suggests it’s an uncultured Western tradition.

“Hunting itself is boring. Hunters just pull the trigger and all the important preparation jobs have been done by their guides,” said Jiang sarcastically.

Jiang is also worried that Chinese hunters might create a negative image of China among local Africans.

“In Africa there are local cultural taboos and it is dangerous for rich Chinese who know nothing about them,” said Jiang.

“Hunting must be strictly managed and regulations followed. Objective, long-term and dynamic monitoring of the animal populations need to be practiced. Revenues from hunting should be used to benefit locals who help protect the wildlife,” Kang Aili, the executive director of the Wildlife Conservation Society China, told the Global Times.

“Modern hunting won’t affect wildlife reproduction as it follows designed plans, not like poaching or traditional hunting,” said Li Feng, a professor with Wildlife Resources Institute of Northeast Forestry University.

“There won’t be any problem so long as it is properly managed,” said Li, explaining that the high income from hunting can be distributed to local people and used for animal protection.

People have a misunderstanding of how to use wildlife resources rationally, according to Li. “Mineral products and petroleum can be exploited, why can’t wildlife?”

“Hunting animals doesn’t mean their lives not being respected,” said Li, suggesting that the natural order is to eat or be eaten.

“It is good that people have become more aware of wildlife protection, but it cannot be too irrational,” said Li, who suggests hunting is helping the process of natural selection.

“If they’re not hunted, the weak will be eliminated by nature sooner or later,” said Li.

Li says hunting is more than just pulling the trigger. In most hunting grounds vehicles are not allowed and hunters need to ride a horse, which is a strength-consuming activity.

The premise for modern hunting is that it must be sustainable and so a scientific and ongoing survey of the animal population must be conducted.

“Theoretically, hunting quotas cannot exceed 15 to 20 percent of the existing wildlife population,” said Li, adding a census is usually done every two years.

Strict regulations are usually followed. Hunters must pay when they pull the trigger and hit the animal and it doesn’t matter if it’s dead or not.

Li suggests as members of the logistics team, hunting guides must be strictly supervised because they play a key role between hunters and the local government.

“As for wealthy Chinese, it’s actually trophy hunting and a high-level commercial activity,” said Jiang Zhigang, a researcher with the Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, suggesting the trophies usually form part of a hunter’s personal collection and are not sold for profit.

Namibia and South Africa have been allowed by Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to hunt up to five black rhinos each year.

Local media reports say the beast is no longer seriously threatened in the two countries, though badly endangered outside Southern Africa. South African wildlife authorities have also demonstrated that revenues from trophy hunting can improve conservation efforts and thus increase the black rhino’s population.

Jiang says hunting is more popular abroad than in China, because there are fewer remaining wildlife resources.

“Some animals are reproducing too much, and they can consume many resources and cause conflicts with local people,” said Jiang, adding that there are too many deer in the US. In East Africa the human population is increasing quickly and encroaching on protected wildlife areas that are turned into cultivated land. It is not uncommon for wild elephants to leave their habitat and hurt local people.

The wolf population in US’ Montana increased by 15 percent to at least 653 animals though the state has extended the hunting season to reduce its population, reported Great Falls Tribune in late February.

In countries like the US, Canada, Australia and South Africa, hunting quotas can be a source of funds for wildlife protection. Ninety percent of the $56 million budget of the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Commission comes from selling hunting permits. It’s estimated 100,000 people participate in the annual deer hunting in Montana which has a population of 800,000 people.

Strict rules dictate the sex, age and number of deer that can be taken.

“We are living in a diverse society, and we should be open-minded and tolerant about hunting as a hobby,” said zoologist Jiang.