Author: Louzel Lombard Steyn
US President Donald Trump and his Department of Interior Affairs Secretary Ryan Zinke have halted the reversal of a ban on importation of elephant hunt trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia. The sudden decision follows global outcry and protests from animal rights groups.
The announcement was first tweeted by the American President, saying, “[I’ve] put big game trophy decision on hold until such time as I review all conservation facts. Understudy for years. Will update soon with Secretary Zinke. Thank you!”
Just two days before, the United States’ Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) lifted the ban to import elephant trophies, stating that they would expand efforts to promote trophy hunting as a form of conservation.
This reversal of ex-President Obama’s 2014 ban was criticized as being “a backward step for ethical conservation efforts,” by The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, amongst others, especially considering African elephants ‘threatened’ listing under the Endangered Species Act.
Global conservation authorities feared that it would damage the global momentum in ending the ivory trade and poaching. Wayne Pacelle, The Humane Society of the United States president and CEO said that the reversing of the trophy and ivory import laws is “a venal and nefarious, pay-to-slay arrangement that Zimbabwe has set up with the trophy hunting industry.”
Jeff Chrisfield, African Wildlife Foundation’s CEO also told The Guardian that the US has been a global leader in the fight to reverse the dangerous declines among Africa’s most iconic species, and that it would be unfortunate if the Trump administration would sacrifice that leadership.
The announcement struck a nerve across the globe, with even celebrities speaking out. A day after the news, Ellen DeGeneres announced that she was launching a funding drive for elephants, which she said show “compassion, sympathy, social intelligence, self-awareness… all the things I have yet to see in this president.”
The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation too, called the ban reversal a “reprehensible” move that would cause the US to lose its “global leadership position in putting an end to the ivory trade”.
In an interview following the announcement to reverse the ban, Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder and senior scientist at the Nairobi-based Save the Elephants, said that it was ironic that Africans are being told not to kill elephants, while rich Americans are being allowed to come and do it.
In 2014, the USFWS implemented the import ban on the basis that Zimbabwe had failed to manage its elephant population sustainably. And an ongoing anemic enforcement of wildlife laws has been widely criticized in Zim. Just last year, the country was shunned for exporting baby elephants caught in the wild, some of which died in transit to a zoo in China. The year before, international outcry ensued after one of the most beloved and well-studied African lions, Cecil, was lured out of a national park and shot by a US hunter.
The USFWS consideration to reverse the ban also applies to trophies from Zambia, where, according to the Great Elephant Census, the elephant population dropped from more than 200 000 elephants in 1972 to just a little over 21 000 in 2016.
According to The Washington Post, the USFWS has also been reviewing whether to allow elephant trophy imports from Tanzania, where poaching is rampant and elephants numbers have suffered a sharp decline in recent decades.
In Zimbabwe, the elephant population has declined 6% overall since 2001.
According to HSUS, Zimbabwe’s elephant management plan is still severely flawed, with poaching, corruption and a lack of government support dominating conservation efforts. The organisation welcomed Trump’s decision to ‘review all conservation facts’, saying “this is the kind of trade we don’t need.”
For more, visit the Conservation Action Trust website.