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Animal Rights Group Questions Calgary Zoo's Connection To Hunting Group

07/31/2015 11:35 EDT | Updated 07/31/2015 11:59 EDT

CALGARY — An animal rights group is questioning the Calgary Zoo's connection to a hunting organization that has in the past included Walter Palmer, the American dentist who killed a protected lion while on a guided hunt in Zimbabwe.

Safari Club International has suspended the memberships of Palmer and his hunting guide pending the result of an investigation, calling for the prosecution of anyone who hunts illegally.

The Calgary chapter of Safari Club International is set to host a fundraiser at the zoo next April, which will include auctions for several hunting trips including a 10-day safari in Africa with the chance to hunt 23 different species including impalas, gazelles and leopards.

Michael Alvarez-Toye of the Calgary Animal Rights Coalition says the zoo shouldn't be renting its property to groups that promote the killing of wildlife.

Calgary Zoo representatives say the money from rentals provides a large portion of its annual revenue.

David Little of Safari Club International says conservation is a goal of many hunters.

"They're not incompatible,'' said Little. "I think more dialogue would help make that clear.''

Little condemns Palmer's killing of a lion named Cecil, calling him "a tame animal that was poached.''

Little, who describes himself as an animal lover, is himself a trophy hunter who has killed a lion while bow-hunting a leopard in Africa.

He said the money made from legal hunts helps save the species.

"The lion hunt that I took in Mozambique effectively conserved a million acres of Mozambique from animal poachers and log poachers for two months,'' he told CTV Calgary.

The zoo said it does not meddle in the affairs of those who book venues.

"Our message is we want people to go out and appreciate nature in the way that we communicate and bring people down here and learn about the conservation the way we do it,'' said Calgary Zoo spokeswoman Trish Exton-Parder.

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