As reported by ABC News, the US Department of the Interior is going to allow hunters to import the trophies of elephants they killed in both Zimbabwe and Zambia. This reverses a ban put in place by the Obama administration back in 2014, and at present, it’s not clear why this decision has been made.
Lest we forget, elephants remain threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Their numbers have fallen from around 10 million to less than 400,000 today. You’ve also probably noticed that Zimbabwe is in the middle of a military coup right now.
Both factors strongly suggest that reversing a ban on importing trophies is not the best of ideas – and yet, here we are.
A provision in the ESA does allow the import of trophies if it can be definitively shown that legal hunting is beneficial for local conversation efforts. The 2014 ban was put in place because both countries failed to demonstrate that this was the case.
However, the federal government now claims that they’ve been given “new information” from officials in those countries that support nixing the ban.
A spokesperson for the US Fish and Wildlife Service told reporters: “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.”
It’s also worth pointing out that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) also supports the principles of legal trophy hunting, which is often the main source of a country’s conservation funding. It’s fair to say, however, that this is often shown to not work when put into practice.
The Trump boys would argue that high $$$ trophy hunting funds elephant conservation while culling dangerous old bulls. But they could save 1000x more by helping China crack down on ivory. A tusk is worth more than it's weight in gold so people poach to survive. https://t.co/YPgx3iWIvX
— Bill Weir (@BillWeirCNN) November 16, 2017
Firstly, if the best solution to zoological conservation is to kill the animals you’re trying to save, it does suggest that the general state of affairs has reached something of a grim nadir.
More importantly, however, the idea that the money goes to poor villagers in order to deter them from poaching big game to make ends meet is often untrue too. Corruption, combined with poor investment in rural communities, means that the money simply isn’t getting to where it’s needed.
A report from 1997 showed that in Zimbabwe, for example, eco-tourism would be a far better alternative to trophy hunting in all regards – with the added bonus that no elephants have to be shot by heavily armed wealthy hunters.
In any case, it’s safe to say that the evidence for the benefits of trophy hunting isn’t at all substantial right now, so the Trump administration’s reversal of the 2014 ban is, at best, premature. It’ll be interesting to see what this “new information” is, exactly, but for now, you’d be right to be skeptical.