The number of Chinese going abroad for trophy hunting has grown tenfold in the past five years, as wealthy Chinese travellers increasingly seek out wild and exotic experiences.
Scott Lupien, CEO of 52 Safari International Hunting Club, a leading outbound hunting company based in Beijing, said that few people went abroad to hunt before 2010, and now the number is increasing. Destination countries include Tanzania, South Africa, Mexico, New Zealand and Canada.
"In 2009, there were only two groups, in total seven people went on safari. Last year, we got 25 groups with 68 people," he said.
Lupien predicted that the number is going to be higher this year.
Travel agency Jiananmd in Nanjing, which focuses on hunting trips to New Zealand, confirmed the rapid growth.
"When we started in 2008, only a few clients showed an interest in hunting, and we had to work hard to develop the market," said Keith Wang, Jiananmd's general manager. "Now, driven by strong domestic demand, we have more diversified travel products."
For a minimum of 69,800 yuan (S$14,000), Chinese tourists can join a 10-day safari-hunting trip to South Africa and bring back four trophies: a Baikal corner antelope, zebra, warthog and high oryx. For 960,000 yuan (S$193,000), they can hunt a 4.5-ton white rhinoceros.
According to New Weekly, in Guangzhou, Chinese tourists started hunting abroad around 2004. Trophy hunting is an old sport in the West, and is now being welcomed in China, where the use of guns is tightly controlled and hunting is a rare experience.
Lupien said his targeted clients are primarily affluent people who can afford to go on trips and are allowed to travel abroad.
They range in age from 16 to 63 years old, and they receive training from professional hunters.
Hunting rights are purchased from the host countries, and they obtain a permit from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora if the animal is rare.
But along with more media exposure has come a lot of criticism.
Public debate about trophy hunting centers on the morality of sport hunting and the extent to which the money paid by trophy hunters benefits the game animals and the local economy.
Lupien said the wildlife ranches where they hunt, which are dedicated to sustainable hunting, have proliferated in some African countries, notably Namibia and South Africa.
Wang from Jiananmd also said they set a cap on how many animals Chinese tourists can hunt per day.
Wang Zhenyao, director of the Public Welfare Institute at Beijing Normal University, said trophy hunting is acceptable if it abides by the law and heedssuggestions from local animal protection organisations.
Opponents, on the other hand, think that it is morally wrong to hunt animals.
Sun Quanhui, a science adviser with World Animal Protection in Beijing, said that although trophy hunting could to a certain extent give an incentive to increase the number of game animals, it is not morally acceptable to kill a living thing for pleasure and hobby.
No permits since 2006 Trophy hunting of protected animals in China has effectively been banned since 2006.
Na Chunfeng, media officer with the State Forestry Administration, said that China has not approved a single case of protected-animal trophy hunting in the past eight years.
Because demand from foreigners for trophy hunting in China had far outpaced the annual quota that existed before 2006, the administration tried to establish a fairer permit system and let licensed agents bid for the limited quota slots in August 2006. According to the Administrative License Law of China, such a government auction must be publicized a few weeks before taking place.
Facing strong opposition from public and government sectors, the administration then declared that it would postpone the hunting license auction only two days before the scheduled auction date of Aug 15, 2006. The State wildlife watchdog controls the right to issue hunting permissions of endangered animals which are listed on the protection list; while the provincial level administrations can still issue permits to hunt non-protected animals.