Emmanuel Koro Correspondent
The Trump administration’s move to lift a ban on elephant trophy hunts recently will certainly help to improve revenue streams for Zimbabwe and Zambia’s conservation efforts. The lifting of the elephant trophies import ban and the revenue to be gained will improve the socioeconomic well-being of the two Southern African countries’ poor rural communities and through this, create an incentive to conserve elephants.
Southern African countries have always argued for the use of their natural resources through activities such as elephant trophy hunting, trade in ivory, including rhino horn and warned that if this does not happen then communities neighbouring the national parks and game reserves would not see the need to conserve elephants and other wild species because they would associate them with costs and not benefits — literally view them as pest.
Therefore, the lifting of the elephant trophy import bans into the US has also brought with it future conservation benefits that should no doubt lead to a decline in elephant poaching in the two Southern African countries as soon as their rural communities begin to get the benefits from the US elephant hunting trophy exports and as more funds become available to the two countries; to improve elephant anti-poaching activities.
Zambian and Zimbabwean poor rural communities have endured only the costs of living side by side with elephants with no benefits from trophy hunting income from the US hunters since the Obama Administration ban on Zambia and Zimbabwe’s elephant imports into the US in 2014.
In 2014, US big game elephant hunters in Zambia and Zimbabwe were banned from bringing their trophies home, because the Obama Administration felt that the two Southern African countries had failed to show they were taking elephant management seriously.
Meanwhile, the lifting of the ban is widely welcomed by the pro-sustainable use non-governmental organisations worldwide and no doubt the governments of Zambia and Zimbabwe who need the trophy hunting proceeds from the lucrative US hunting market to better manage their elephants and the environment.
The pro-sustainable use NGOs have welcomed both the elephant conservation and rural socioeconomic benefits that the lift on the elephant trophy imports ban from Zambia and Zimbabwe is going to bring. They also see this decision as a sound defeat for the animal rights groups (most of them based in the US), who had lobbied for the 2014 US ban on elephant trophy imports from Zambia and Zimbabwe.
However, the animal rights groups had already started calling for the imposition of another USA government ban on the elephant trophies, hours after it had been lifted, further threatening better elephant conservation and rural communities’ socioeconomic well-being.
“The animal rights groups are racist (in lamenting the loss of US influence over African wildlife policy) and anti-cultural (in insisting that a ban on elephant hunting and even ivory trade is the only way to stop poaching,” said the Los Angeles-based head of the Ivory Education Institute that supports sustainable use in elephant products as well as trophy hunting imports into the USA, Mr Godfrey Harris.
The United States Fish and Wild Service decision to lift the ban was announced at the African Wildlife Consultative Forum in Tanzania — an event co-hosted by Safari Club International (SCI), a hunting rights group.
Meanwhile, one of the biggest animal rights groups in the USA, the US Humane Society of the United Sates said the announcement to lift the ban on Zambia and Zimbabwe’s elephant hunting trophy imports into the US showed an “uncomfortably cozy” relationship between SCI and the Trump administration.
On the contrary, Paul Babaz, the president of SCI, said the decision shows the administration “recognises that hunting is beneficial to wildlife and that these range countries know how to manage their elephant populations”.
The National Rifle Association (NRA), which joined with Safari Club International (SCI) to challenge the elephant trophy ban in court, also praised the lifting of the ban of elephant hunting trophies in the USA.
“This is a significant step forward in having hunting receive the recognition it deserves as a tool of sound wildlife management, which had been all but buried in the previous administration,” said Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action.
Hunting elephants is legal under strict permit systems in several African countries, and the revenue is crucial, some argue, for supporting conservation efforts. The large fees that trophy hunters pay to be allowed to hunt elephants, lions and leopards can be a significant source of revenue. In Zimbabwe, according to the Safari Operators Association, the annual revenue from trophy hunting this year could be as much as $130m, mainly from the US market.
In 2015, there was an international backlash against hunting practice especially after the hunting of Cecil the lion by the USA-based dentist, Dr Walter Palmer. There were even calls for the dentist to be jailed, and trophy hunters are now regularly named and shamed by campaign groups. A petition to ban trophy hunting currently has 146 000 signatures but this did not stop the Trump administration from lifting the elephant hunting trophy imports ban on Zambia and Zimbabwe.
A statement from the South Africa-based pro-sustainable use (including ivory and rhino products as well as pro-hunting) NGO, the True Green Alliance (TGA) said, “. . . The Trump Administration can in the future help us lift the rhino horn and ivory trade bans. They understand that trade, not aid, serves as a better incentive for poor African rural communities settled next to national parks to see the need to conserve both the rhinos and elephants.”
The TGA said that without benefits from trade in rhino horn and ivory (and by implication elephant trophy hunting), rural communities settled near national parks and game reserves would rather collaborate with poachers as is currently happening at the expense of both the rhino and elephant conservation.
“Therefore, by lifting the ban on Zambia and Zimbabwe’s elephant trophies the Trump administration has sent a clear message that if we present our case well, motivating further for them to lift the ban on rhino and ivory they will lift it,” said the TGA. “Considering the US Government’s lifting of the ban on elephant trophies without being told by another government or even animal rights groups to do so, the Chinese Government might just not ban trade in ivory products.”
Meanwhile, a USFWS spokesman was quoted in the media saying: “Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management programme 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. The USFWS has determined that the hunting and management programmes for African elephants in Zimbabwe will enhance the survival of the species in the wild.”
Elsewhere, in a CNN news broadcast, one of Donald Trump’s sons who recently undertook trophy hunting in Zimbabwe spoke in support of the US Government’s lifting of elephant hunting trophy imports into the US.
“I have been there (referring to his recent hunting trip to Zimbabwe) to understand how it works (trophy hunting industry),” said Trump’s son. “The hunters are feeding the homeless.”
The statement by Trump’s son suggests that the animal rights groups’ opposition to hunting might be based on lack of knowledge on how this industry works. Known for issuing commands on how Africa’s wildlife management and trade in its products should be conducted without listening to scientific facts that justify this and without having travelled to Africa to see for themselves what is happening on the ground, animal rights groups are increasingly being referred to as desktop and armchair ‘conservationists’.
Meanwhile, the chief executive officer of the TGA, Ron Thomson said that when one views wild animals as “products of the land” and not as “sacred cows” (as the animal rightists – for their own selfish purposes – project them to be) one would start to look at wildlife management (also known as conservation) in a very different light.
“You harvest tame products of the land” by sending them to the abattoir for slaughter,” he said, drawing comparison between daily cattle slaughter in their millions, for beef but they never get extinct and similarly the hunting of wildlife should not lead to extinction if well-managed. “You harvest wild products of the land by hunting them – and the landowner can get added value by selling the hunting rights. Hunting, therefore, when done wisely and sustainably, is able to maintain the desirable balance between the soil, the plants and the animals on any piece of ground – which, under wild conditions, also creates a stable ecosystem.”
Emmanuel Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning environmental journalist.