The emergence of a video showing Wayne LaPierre, the polarizing head of the National Rifle Association, shooting but struggling to kill an African bush elephant during a 2013 hunting trip in Botswana drew criticism Tuesday from conservation groups.
The awkward display — in which LaPierre shoots at the elephant three times at close range with a rifle while it is still alive after wounding it with an initial shot — was recorded for an outdoor television show that the NRA once sponsored, but the video was never aired. (In the end, the host of the program fired the fatal shot.)
The video was obtained by The New Yorker and The Trace, a nonprofit website funded by Everytown for Gun Safety, a group co-founded by Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor who has donated tens of millions of dollars to gun-control groups.
Later in the footage, LaPierre’s wife, Susan, can be seen shooting another elephant right between the eyes as it approaches her and the guides, who instruct her to fire a second round between its legs to make sure it is dead. She later cuts off part of the elephant’s tail to keep as a memento of the kill.
Just last month, African bush elephants, also known as savanna elephants, were declared endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, on the group’s Red List of threatened species. They were previously classified as vulnerable.
“It’s sickening to see LaPierre’s brutal, clumsy slaughter of this beautiful creature,” Tanya Sanerib, the international legal director and a senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement Tuesday night. “No animal should suffer like this.”
Andrew Arulanandam, a managing director of NRA Public Affairs, confirmed the authenticity of the video in a statement Tuesday night.
“The hunt was fully permitted and conducted in accordance with all rules and regulations,” Arulanandam said. “The video offers an incomplete portrayal of the experience — and fails to express the many ways this activity benefits the local community and habitat. Such hunts are celebrated in Botswana, where they feed villages, contribute to the economy and culture, and are part of the fabric of the region.”
Sanerib said that despite the endangered status of African bush elephants, it is legal to hunt them, with a license, in certain areas of Botswana.
“We’re in the midst of a poaching epidemic,” Sanerib said, “and rich trophy hunters like the NRA chief are blasting away at elephants while the international community calls for stiffer penalties for poachers — what message does that send? We need to halt all elephant killings or they’ll vanish forever.”
Kathleen Gobush, an affiliate assistant professor of biology at the University of Washington and a member of the African Elephant Specialist Group within the International Union for Conservation of Nature, also condemned Wayne LaPierre’s hunting of the elephant.
“There’s got to be a better way to conserve an endangered species than this — an inhumane show of dominance, and poorly executed at that,” Gobush said in an email Tuesday night.
The surfacing of the video came just weeks after LaPierre, testifying in federal bankruptcy court, acknowledged that he had secretly taken the NRA into bankruptcy as a way to thwart the New York attorney general’s attempt to shut down the organization. It also follows a recent spate of mass shootings and efforts by the Biden administration to curb gun violence.
In the video, LaPierre, dressed in an NRA baseball cap, is led by guides through Botswana’s Okavango Delta toward an elephant. A guide tells him to wait before shooting, but he fires one round, seemingly unable to hear because he is wearing ear plugs.
The guides point to where he should fire another round to kill the elephant. LaPierre fires three more times at close range. But the fatal shot is fired by the program’s host.
Later in the video, after Susan LaPierre successfully kills an elephant, she tells the video crew and the guides that she could see how old it was and how wrinkled it was.
“Victory,” she says, after following a guide’s suggestion that she cut off part of the elephant’s tail and keep it as a memento. “That’s my elephant tail. Way cool.”