ALBERTA

Calgary Zoo Won't Host Fundraiser For Safari Club Hunting Group

09/08/2015 06:13 EDT | Updated 09/08/2016 05:12 EDT

CALGARY — The local chapter of an international hunting group with ties to the American hunter who killed Cecil the lion has decided to move a scheduled fundraiser away from the Calgary Zoo.

Animal rights groups criticized the zoo earlier this summer for allowing the Calgary chapter of Safari Club International to hold a fundraiser at the zoo next April.

Trophy hunting has come under intense pressure since U.S. dentist Walter Palmer killed a protected lion named Cecil while on a guided hunt in Zimbabwe.

Palmer and his guide have had their memberships in Safari Club indefinitely suspended. The group, which promotes big-game hunting worldwide, has approximately 55,000 members.

The fundraiser involves auctions for several hunting trips including a 10-day safari in Africa with the chance to hunt 23 different species such as impalas, gazelles and leopards.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals applauded the move in a news release Tuesday, claiming public pressure led the zoo to cancel the event.

"The Calgary Zoo has made the right call in cutting ties with a group that celebrates and enables the massacre of majestic animals who want only to be left in peace," said PETA's Brittany Peet.

"PETA is calling on other businesses to follow the zoo's lead and show the despicable Safari Club International the door."

But David Little, the director of Safari Club's Calgary chapter, said it was the group that made the call.

"It was this unfair pillorying of the Calgary Zoo that made us decide to move it," said Little. "It was our decision — in spite of the fantasy that PETA put forward in a press release. It was not the zoo's decision."

Zoo spokeswoman Trish Exton-Parder confirmed it was the club that pulled out.

"We have had numerous conversations with SCI Calgary and they have decided to move their event to another venue," she said. "This decision is in the best interest of all and it allows us to put this matter behind us and focus on our conservation projects around the world."

Little said it is disappointing that the Calgary Zoo took the brunt of the criticism. He said his group hasn't had any more flak than usual over the fundraiser.

"We've got pretty thick skin because there always is a lack of understanding between those fringe groups that would pillory the zoo and the conservation groups like ours that include hunting and fishing," he said.

Little said a new venue for the fundraiser hasn't been secured and he isn't ruling out a return to the zoo once things cool down.

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