U.S. President Donald Trump has tabled a decision that would have reversed a ban on the import of trophy elephant and lion carcasses from Zambia and Zimbabwe.
“Put big game trophy decision on hold until such time as I review all conservation facts. Under study for years. Will update soon with Secretary Zinke. Thank you!” President Trump said on November 17 on Twitter.
The tweet is in reference to a policy change announced the day prior by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The wildlife service lifted a ban that prevented hunters from importing elephant and lion trophies from the two African nations. After President Trump’s tweet, the Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who manages the Fish and Wildlife Service, confirmed that the policy will undergo further review.
— Secretary Ryan Zinke (@SecretaryZinke) November 18, 2017
The ban, which is now back in effect, was originally implemented under the Obama Administration in 2014 to boost conservation and anti-poaching efforts. The African elephant population in Zimbabwe was an explicit concern in the order.
Before Barack Obama issued the ban, elephant poaching was severe. The elephant population in the savanna of Zambia and Zimbabwe declined by 30 percent between 2007 and 2014 due to poaching, according to the Great Elephant Census. The African elephant has been listed as an endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act since 1978.
Hunting of African elephants in Zambia and Zimbabwe has always been legal with the proper permits. But the ban prevented big-game hunters from importing the trophies into the U.S. as a way to discourage the practice.
Several trophy hunting companies based in Zimbabwe and Zambia already advertise to U.S residents. Nyamazana Safaris, for example, quotes elephant hunting at $1,700 a day, and $17,000 for the carcass as a trophy, before the import ban was lifted.
Why Trump initially lifted the ban
The Trump Administration lifted the ban for two reasons, stating in a report that “facts on the ground have changed and improved” in Zimbabwe. The same report also cited “inadequate information” regarding the country’s elephant population.
The second reason stemmed from the belief that trophy hunting can help with conservation efforts.
“Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation,” reads the initial statement from the Fish and Wildlife Service, which lifted the ban.
This line of argument was met with backlash from conservation groups and public figures. Though many in the conservation community see benefit in trophy hunting, if well-regulated.
Argument for well-regulated hunting
The Trump Administration and advocates of legal trophy hunting claim that that the money from these expeditions helps finance and encourge conservation efforts because they give these elephants value outside of poaching.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature is an example of a conservation organization that supports big-game hunting if it is well-regulated. In a 2012 report, the group wrote that trophy hunting “may assist in furthering conservation objectives by creating the revenue and economic incentives for the management and conservation of the target species and its habitat, as well as supporting local livelihoods.”
African governments are some of the supporters of big-game hunting. The Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism has been particularly vocal in seeing hunting as a means of wildlife conservation.
“There are more elephant in Namibia today than at any time in the past 100 years. One of the reasons for their increase in numbers is that they have a value,” the ministry said in a 2014 statement.
Support for legal hunting of elephants and rhinos has increased as the role of private landowners has grown in conservation discussions. In May 2016, for example, Zimbabwe sold wildlife in public national parks to private buyers after a drought made it impossible for the government to care for all of the animals.
When national parks reach capacity, private landowners should be given a “financial incentive” to protect endangered species, according to Nigel Leaders-Williams, professor of geography at the University of Cambridge, and an advocate for well-regulated hunting.
In a 2005 report in the Journal of International Wildlife Law and Policy, Leader-Williams cited the rhino population growing by 80 percent in Namibia as an example of responsible trophy hunting.
“Legislative changes allowed landowners to benefit directly from managing wildlife on their land,” he wrote.
Argument against trophy hunting
While supporters of trophy hunting point to Namibia, detractors point to Kenya as their success story. Kenya has outlawed big-game hunting and has low poaching rates compared to other African nations.
This is in large part because the country has prioritized funding conservation parks, according to Andrea Crosta, executive director of the Elephant League.
“The benefits of trophy hunting are not even remotely comparable with the benefits that local communities enjoy from millions of tourists that visit Africa every year, without a rifle,” Crosta told WikiTribune via email.
The most significant concern is that trophy hunting lets poachers more easily get their product, ivory in particular, on the black market. News 24, a South-African media outlet, found that a Thai businessman was able to sell ivory on the black market in 2011 from carcasses he said were “trophies”.
“Trophy hunting is the perfect laundering mechanism,” Crosta said. “You legally import ivory, rhino horn or lions as trophies and sell them to the illegal wildlife market.”
Little evidence shows that the revenue generated from foreign trophy hunters actually trickles down to villagers who live near the hunting grounds. An estimated 3 percent of profits from big-game hunting goes towards local communities, according to a report from Hassanali Thomas Sachedina of the University of Oxford. (Study made publicly available by CNN). Similar figures have been cited by the African Lion Coalition.
The conservation and economic benefits of big-game hunting in Africa are exaggerated, said the African Wildlife Federation.
“If the Trump administration is serious about conservation, AWF encourages the U.S. government to step forward with the necessary financial support to Zimbabwe and other wildlife range states for anti-poaching and associated rural community development,” the AWF wrote in a November 16 statement.