The footage is so graphic, the crimes so egregious that the Dallas Safari Club, in a letter to Tanzania’s minister of natural resources and tourism, said “without question, the video depicts some of the most abhorrent displays of unethical hunting behavior and animal abuse ever recorded.”
When it’s done correctly, in an ethical, monitored way, there’s an argument to be made that controlled hunting can actually be good for conservation. African hunting blocks are often located in the some of the poorest areas of the continent, where agriculture is impossible and where poachers often run rampant (or, in many cases, the poachers are locals themselves).
Hunting inherently brings in an influx of money and law enforcement, so the thinking goes that poaching and monetary burden of endangered animals can be reduced with the practice.
That’s not what’s happening here.
Representatives of Green Mile, owned by Awadh Ally Abdullah and Abdullah Bin Butti Alhamed of the United Arab Emirates (its website is also hosted in the UAE), can be seen in the 2012 “highlight” video above—which is somehow promotional material for the company, and which sources say is cut from a larger, two-hour raw video—shooting wildlife from jeeps, running over a baby gazelle with the jeep, allowing young children to shoot at animals, and capturing a baby zebra and torturing it while it cries and tries to get away.
Repeatedly, hunters on Green Mile Safari trips watch animals writhe as they slowly die. At one point, a hunter shoots a writhing zebra with a rifle attached to a tripod from several feet away.
“What you see here are hunters treating this like their personal playground,” Mary Rice, the executive director of the Environmental Investigation Agency, told me. “We condemn the abuse that’s taking place.”
The abuses originally came to light back in March, but Green Mile Safari, which several Tanzanian media outlets have suggested is well-connected politically, retained its hunting license until July, when Lazaro Nyalandu, the country’s minister of natural resources and tourism revoked its permission to hunt. The footage itself has been seen by the Dallas Safari Club and members of Tanzania’s parliament, but has not, until now, been released to the public.
“Our country and its resources are owned by all Tanzanians. It is strictly prohibited for any person or company both local and foreign to sabotage the country’s economy by destroying the resources,” Peter Msigwa, Tanzania’s shadow minister of natural resources and tourism said at the time.
But Green Mile is fighting that decision: It has threatened to sue the government for revoking its licenses, and there’s a chance it could win. After the video was initially shown to Tanzania’s parliament, no action was taken, perhaps because Green Mile is well-backed financially from its owners in the UAE. It wasn’t until Nyalandu unilaterally revoked the license that hunting tours stopped.
Msigwa and Nyalandu did not respond to a Motherboard request for comment, but a representative with Green Mile told me that the government—and the Dallas Safari Club—are to blame for the abuses, which is a fairly dubious claim.
“Green Mile Safari Co. Ltd is also wondering why such abuses could have happened in the presence of professional hunters and Government Game Officers!,” the company told me in an email. “The so called ‘wild animals abuses’ as seen in the hunting video were well planned by our business rivals from USA, for reasons best known to them! One will wonder why Dallas Safari Club praised the Minister shortly after he had punished the Green Mile Safari Company.”
The Dallas Safari Club received a spate of negative attention recently for auctioning off the chance to hunt a black rhino, but there has been no evidence that the club has been involved in any abuses of the magnitude shown in the Green Mile video (or any abuses, really).
“It’s a video they created and produced of their hunt,” Ben Carter, Dallas Safari Club’s executive director, told me. “We don’t think that paints a very good picture of the hunting community, and that’s not what’s hunting’s about. Anytime we see something like this happening, we’re going to speak out about it.”
The Green Mile representative did not deny that the abuses occurred during Green Mile Safari-sponsored trips, and didn’t deny that the abuses happened. The company said that it “learned about the said video through [Dallas Safari Club’s] letter.”
The EIA’s Rice, meanwhile, told me that, at the end of the day, Green Mile is responsible for its actions.
“Although the clients are involved in the abuse, the hunting company itself are the ones who are liable,” she said. “If it’s done with integrity and professionalism, the animal is tracked on foot and dispatched with a single shot. There will be a professional hunter will be there to dispatch the animal quickly if the client has been unable to do that.”
That, clearly, is not what happened here. And it shows the perils and pitfalls of poorly regulating an activity that will inevitably, in the minds of many, be linked to poaching and animal abuse, even when it’s done with the utmost care.
The problem isn’t limited to Tanzania. While there are well-managed safari hunting operations, limited regulation and enforcement has led to corruption and abuses throughout the industry. In one notable case, a rhino horn dealer was arrested after he paid prostitutes to pose as hunters to skirt South African hunting regulations in a bid to quasi-legally export rhino horn from the country.
Regardless, allegations of hunting abuse have a long history in Tanzania, and there have been anecdotal stories of things like what you see here happening, but this is the rare, and perhaps first, case in which solid evidence of hunters screwing with and torturing animals has come out.
It probably won’t be the last. “We now suspect that many other firms are involved in this illegal practice,” Msigwa said last month.