The US Fish and Wildlife Service last week placed a temporary ban on all imports of elephant ivory hunting trophies from Zimbabwe and Tanzania.
Wisdom Mdzungairi Viewpoint
Its reasoning was that additional killing of elephants in these countries, even if legal, is not sustainable and is not currently supporting conservation efforts that contribute towards the recovery of the species.
I am not sure about that. Between 2003-2012, US hunters imported an average of 52 elephant trophies per year from Tanzania. From Zimbabwe, US hunters imported an average of 160 elephants per year. There is some uncertainty about this number though as Zimbabwe lists exports as ‘tusks’, ‘trophies’ and to complicate matters also exports trophy tusks by the kilo.
But, in both countries, US hunters outnumbered hunters from any other country hence the ban will likely affect the income of the trophy hunting operators.
And the reason given for the temporary import ban was that additional killing of elephants in Zimbabwe, even if legal, is not sustainable and is not currently supporting conservation efforts that contribute towards the recovery of the species.
But does that imply that the USFWS is not a great believer in the ‘killing for conservation’ message that the hunters are putting out there? Because if they did, they would allow the trophy hunters to continue because, after all, isn’t their presence in hunting areas supposed to deter poachers; and benefit communities?
What of the elephant meat the communities will now be deprived of as a result of the embargo?
Regrettably, the USFWS will still allow imports of ivory hunting trophies from Namibia and South Africa because sport hunting can benefit the conservation of listed species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation.
So does that imply, by extension of that same argument, that the USFWS will place an import ban on all trophy hunted species where additional killing is not contributing towards the recovery of the species? Does that mean that lions, now in great decline across Africa because of a diversity of factors like habitat loss, human/wildlife conflict, illegal wildlife trade will also not benefit from additional killing by trophy hunters?
It is also important for the safari industry to ask – will the EU ignore the USFWS or join forces to ban ivory imports?
For Zimbabwe, it is does not pay to recoil. Politics should not play any role in this particular case but diplomacy to save the industry.
In its statement, the USFWS said the suspension on imports of sport-hunted African elephant trophies applied to the 2014 hunting season which begins in May and run through November.
Without guaranteed exports, there is no need to hunt. The reasons for the ban were cited as questionable management practices, a lack of effective law enforcement and weak governance resulting in uncontrolled poaching and catastrophic population declines of African elephants. According to the USFWS, in Zimbabwe, available data, though limited, indicates a significant decline in the elephant population.
Anecdotal evidence, such as the widely publicised poisoning last year of 300 elephants in Hwange National Park, suggests that Zimbabwe’s elephants are also under siege.
Given the current situation on the ground in both Tanzania and Zimbabwe, the USFWS is unable to make positive findings required under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) to allow import of elephant trophies.
The USFWS says it will re-evaluate this suspension for calendar year 2015 or upon receipt of new information that demonstrates an improved situation for elephants in Zimbabwe.
It is important therefore for the country to self introspect in order to move forward.
Precisely, can trophy hunting ever be a useful tool in the conservationist’s toolbox? On the surface, the answer would appear obvious.
It seems as if the killing of an animal – especially an endangered one – for sport is directly contradictory to the goal of ensuring the survival of a species. The answer, as usual, is more complicated.
The issues are complex and highly politicised. There are several questions that science can’t help address, primary of which is whether or not the money raised from the sale of hunting permits is used for conservation, something often promised by hunting tour operators. But empirical findings can help to elucidate several other questions, such as whether hunting can ever help drive conservation efforts.
Better evidence would come from proof that hunting can be consistent with actual, measurable conservation-related benefits for a species.
Is there such evidence? Zimbabwe’s Community Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (Campfire) is the hallmark for wildlife conservation in Africa and beyond. Hence the ban of elephant trophies will be felt throughout the country not least the areas that benefitted from the wildlife resource.
Instead of wildlife authorities burying their heads in shame in the sand, it is imperative for stakeholders to engage the USFWS and prove that the jumbos are not in danger if indeed they are not.
It is not time hide from a storm, but learns to dance in the storm.
If an endangered species as charismatic as the elephant is under such extreme threat from poaching, then perhaps the message that the species needs saving has a larger problem to address than the relatively limited loss of animals to wealthy hunters.
The real tragedy here is that the one elephant that will be killed as a result could receive a disproportionate amount of media attention compared to the hundreds of others lost to poaching each year, which remain largely invisible. And while there remains at least a possibility that sanctioned trophy hunts can benefit the elephant, there is only one possible consequence of continued poaching. It’s one that conservationists and hunters alike will lament.
Potential of trophy hunting to create incentives for wildlife conservation in Africa where alternative wildlife-based land uses may not be viable.
The irony of the slaughter of elephants and other large mammals for trophies is that the funds accrued from trophy hunting or ivory may perhaps be miniscule in comparison to the value of these animals as eco-tourist drawing cards.