By Wisdom Mdzungairi
Safari Club International — a not-for-profit conservation organisation — yesterday filed a lawsuit to challenge the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)’s reported abrupt and unwarranted ban on the importation of sport-hunted African elephants from Zimbabwe and Tanzania, NewsDay has learnt.
The matter was filed in the Federal District Court of Columbia, United States, seeking to make every effort to obtain a quick resolution of the matter.
SCI attacked the inadequacy of the information on which the USFWS based its decision and the department’s failure to consider the beneficial impacts that US hunters and sport hunting have on African elephant conservation, including the economic deterrent to poaching that was funded by hunters.
The lawsuit came ahead of a make-or-break indaba in Washington DC on May 7-8 specifically to deal with the matter in which Zimbabwe is expected to make presentations before US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and
USFWS director Daniel Ashe among top US government officials.
The delegations from Zimbabwe and Tanzania would also lobby US congressmen and women to secure a cancellation of the order and support sustainable utilisation of the abundant wildlife resource through hunting and other conservation efforts.
It was not yet clear yesterday whether Environment, Water and Climate minister Saviour Kasukuwere would represent government as he was recently denied a travel visa to the meeting, which will also involve meeting White House officials.
NewsDay understands that invited guests to Capitol Hill included Community Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (Campfire) director Charles Jonga, former Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority officials including Rowan Martin and Safari Operators’ Association of Zimbabwe chairman Emmanuel Fundira among the private sector players.
The USFWS issued the importation ban on April 4 without consulting Zimbabwe and Tanzania on the impact on the communities living alongside wildlife.
SCI also challenged the USFWS’s failure to follow the very procedures the agency set out for announcing and implementing a suspension of sport-hunted elephant importation, as well as its decision to require an enhancement of survival finding before allowing sport-hunted elephant importation.
SCI also argued that the ban would undermine on-the-ground conservation benefits created by US hunters.
For instance, three game management areas alone, such as Gokwe North, Gokwe South or Mbire, produce roughly $500 000 annually and 85% of the income was applied directly back to local projects for villages through Campfire.
This revenue provided local communities with conservation resources and incentives and discouraged poaching. As a result, the loss of this revenue could be devastating to elephant survival, SCI said in its court papers.
“Without sport-hunted elephant importation, that revenue will dry up. Without the ability to import the most significant symbol of their effort and success, many US hunters will not undertake the huge expense of an elephant hunt,” SCI argued.
“The absence of US hunters will undermine the outfitting industry, which often provides the first line of defence against poaching. It will also reduce conservation dollars derived from the hunting fees and community support for elephant conservation. SCI hopes that its lawsuit will reverse the bans and reinstate these positive impacts.”
SCI president Craig Kauffman said: “SCI acted swiftly to develop this lawsuit to correct the errors in the USFWS’s importation ban decision as well as the harm that the bans will cause to elephant conservation.
African elephant hunting is an excellent example of how US hunters can make a powerfully positive contribution to the conservation of a species.
Congress and the USFWS have repeatedly acknowledged that poachers are the threat to elephant conservation, and that hunters offer a solution.”
He added: “It is time for the (USFWS) to stop putting obstacles in the way of the legal hunting that plays an invaluable role in international species conservation. Unless the government reverses these bans, they will do more harm than good. We file this suit in the hope that it will require the Service and the Court to reverse this tragic situation.”