So you’ve managed to get you and your rifle to South Africa or some other territory known for its plethora of easily baitable big game and bribable officials. And like the mighty hunter you are, you’ve had your guides lure a big fella in, line up the shot for you, and step back as you pulled the trigger, felling the beast with (hopefully) a single round.
Champagne! Happiness! Your position in the long line of apex predators that came before you secure, it is now time to pack it in and fly home to the United States and your middle management cubicle job before dying alone.
But one question remains: logistics. How are you getting that fearsome lion/elephant/primate/golden retriever’s head back to your own home, where it can display your virility to all who dare enter your den?
Lucky for you, Mr. Hemingway, it’s far too simple to do it.
First of all, you probably went online and booked yourself a safari right there on the ol’ Internet, right? The options are plentiful, if expensive.
Did we mention it’s not cheap? But hey, whoever said “Life ain’t cheap” might well have been talking about capping a wildebeest—which, incidentally, will run you about $1,100 in trophy fees alone.
To start with, you’re gonna drop around $450 per night to be out there with a guide. Then, should you manage to actually kill something, the price to keep said dead animal varies—from $350 for the common warthog (sorry, Pumba) to $42,000 for an elephant, which seems a little steep since, let’s be honest, it’s not like they’re hard to catch, right?
Once you’ve felled an animal, your prey has to be properly processed, packaged, and permitted to make the journey from the savannah to the suburbs, which can range from $1,100 for a lion’s head rug to $18,800 for a full hippo.
And it’s not just the foreign officials you’ll have to wrangle with. Here in the United States, you’re going to need to deal with more than a few official acronyms, from the CDC, USDA and CPB to the FWS—each of which has their finger in the pie of trophy importing.
But once you’ve established that whatever carcass you care to display isn’t crawling with Ebola, hiding bugs or rodents, or on the endangered species list, you should be fine, provided you filled out the forms right.
With all that done, the only thing left at risk after all this is your pride. And apparently, since you’re hanging dead, exotic animals on the wall, you have none of that anyway. And, of course, provided you don’t get scammed or wind up with a cranky official.
“I will tell you that every Fish and Wildlife office, every USDA office, every Customs office—if you have somebody that woke up on the right side of the bed, you’re not going to have any issue. They can make your life pleasant or miserable. But there’s a lot of moving parts,” explains Rosella Quartarone, one of the owners of Safari Specialty Importers Inc., which exists solely for the purpose of getting hunter’s trophies home safely.
“We’re the only ones in this country that do what we do, as personal importers. But is it hard? It is time-consuming and very detail-oriented,” says Quartarone.
Sometimes it’s best to just work with the experts.
“The biggest complaint we hear is how hard it is to get shipments to come into the United States, and the difficulty here lies in that the people who are working on this side here don’t know what to do,” says Quartarone. “The brokers here are programmed to work with Fish and Wildlife and Customs. Traditionally, when shipments come in, if something goes wrong, they throw their hands up and say, ‘Oops, sorry!’ The onus is on the hunter.”
Moving parts may be something of an understatement.
Lots of major airlines have banned the shipping-through of hunting trophies like so much extra luggage, most of them focusing on species most likely to be poached, such as elephants, lions, tigers, and rhinos. It’s a surprisingly enlightened view for profit-driven corporations to take, banning dead exotic animal cargo even though the right to kill them is protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a multinational treaty.
The bloodthirsty tourist must be vigilant, as airline rules are ever-changing. For example, South African Airlines, the continent’s largest airline, made headlines a few months ago for banning trophy shipment on their flights. The airline just reversed this decision a few days ago.
American companies, such as Delta and Alaska Air, welcome your professionally crated giraffe bodies, but with pressure on from an animal-loving public, this could change at any moment. For a semi-full list of who will and who won’t tolerate shipping slaughtered critters, click here.
There are other hurdles to clear, like corruption. Turns out the same folks who are willing to take you hunting for big game for big money are also, at times, a little on the shady side.
“You’re assuming that everyone who is involved—from the outfitter to the dipper (or taxidermist)—is doing their job,” Quartarone continues, her voice transcending motherly sweetness. “But, unfortunately, in most cases, they’re all working in silos. You go ahead and pay your outfitter for the beautiful safari, then the trophies go to dip and packer and they will hit you up for money. And then it gets thrown over the fence to the shipper, and you get hit again, and the cost of which we have found to be unbelievably high. People have a tendency of getting ripped off.”
Quarterone says that the process “works by being paid off by the next person.”
“The taxidermist will got to the outfitter and say, ‘Hey, I’ll send you all my clients but you’ve got to give me back 5 percent,’” she says. “And that cuts down the whole line.”
Luckily, Rosella et al can handle this for you from right here in the U.S.-of-A. Turns out all it really takes to bag a lion is writing a few checks, getting a malaria shot, and pulling a trigger. Then just wait a few weeks, and you’ll be humblebragging your way through cocktail parties as admiring friends and family plough appetizers and pat you on the back. Just don’t forget to post your victory pose to social media. Everyone loves a good “posing with a dead animal” shot.