UNITED States President Donald Trump has delayed a rare and early Christmas gift that he recently presented to the Zambian and Zimbabwean people.
By putting a halt on the lifting of the US ban on importing elephant trophies from the two countries into the US he has muddied the US policy waters.
The US is the world’s biggest hunting market and poor rural villagers in Zambia and Zimbabwe see their lives being significantly improved through money that the US hunters pay to hunt elephants.
Hunting elephants is legal under strict permit systems in several African countries, and the revenue is crucial 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 for this year could be as much as $130 million, mainly from the US market.
The southern African countries, including Zambia and Zimbabwe, practise wise and sustainable use of wildlife products such as elephant hunting trophies, ivory and rhino horn trade, to bring wildlife into balance with their habitats.
Therefore, the US Department of Interior’s decision to suspend the US ban on elephant trophies from the two countries into the US was a breath of fresh air and good news for elephant conservation. Sadly, it only took a tweet from President Trump saying the ban would remain, “until such time as I review all conservation facts.”
That review if done responsibly as we anticipate can only result in the reinstatement of his decision to allow imports of elephant hunting trophies into the USA because the motivation facts are strong, scientific and tested.
The US Secretary for the Department of Interior, Ryan Zinke on Friday said: “President Trump and I have talked and both believe that conservation and healthy herds are critical”. “As a result, in a manner compliant with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations, the issuing of permits is put on hold as the decision is being reviewed.”
The US Fish and Wildlife Service had announced the welcome policy shift 48 hours earlier, with officials signalling in a statement that they would expand efforts to promote trophy hunting as a form of conservation.
Pro-hunting non-governmental organisations worldwide do not see any reason why President Trump should at a later stage reverse the honourable, scientifically based, elephant-saving and welcome decision to reinstate the imports of elephant hunting trophies from Zambia and Zimbabwe into the US.
Sadly, President Trump’s decision to put on hold imports might have ended the celebrations of Zambian and Zimbabwean poor villagers that were set benefit from it. Without benefits from elephant hunting money the villagers will not have any incentive to conserve the iconic animals or to protect them from poachers.
Therefore, the fate of Zimbabwe and Zambia’s anticipated successful elephant conservation lies in the hands of President Trump. African and Western conservation organisations have appealed to him to not take too long to get the scientific facts from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to justify imports of hunted elephant trophies into the US. The 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.
They certainly do not think that President Trump’s decision to put the elephant hunting trophies imports on hold was due to the animal rights outcry to reverse the decision because this is the man who unexpectedly pulled out of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Paris Deal; despite worldwide appeals, including those from animal rights groups. They know that President Trump does not share animal rights’ anti-wildlife use values. He and his advisors, who include the USFWS, are also fully aware that the elephant trophy imports into the US would benefit elephant conservation and fight rural poverty. Therefore, these NGOs think that his (President Trump) should be an honest attempt not to rush the elephant hunting trophies imports decision that he should soon reinstate.
Even his two sons, including Donald Trump Jnr- who recently went on an unforgettable hunting trip in Zimbabwe know that hunting revenue benefits wildlife and poor rural communities situated near national parks and game reserves. At a US government level, there is strong support for hunting as 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.”
Explaining the reason why President Trump put the elephant hunting trophy imports decision on hold, the Head of the Los Angeles-based Ivory Education Institute, Godfrey Harris said, “For the announcement of a policy to be official, it must be published in the Federal Register. The publication of an executive order, a rule change, the signing of a piece of legislation in the Register makes it official and gives it the force of law. (It can be then challenged in the courts if it is deficient in anyway.) If it is controversial, the publication is often delayed a day or two to let the storm abate. My guess is that the Interior Department has not published the change and it will sit in limbo until Secretary Zinke and President Trump talk. It may be weeks or it may be days.”
Meanwhile, the chief executive officer of a South Africa-based pro-hunting, ivory and rhino horn trade organisation, the True Green Alliance, Mr Ron Thomson said the original ban on Zimbabwe’s elephant hunting trophies was never justified because the USFWS (at that time under the Obama administration), was greatly under the influence of the American animal rights brigade.
“Indeed, Obama himself, is a fellow traveller and supporter of an animal rights group called People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) — whatever that acronym is supposed to mean,” said Mr Thomson. “The USFWS claimed that they had imposed the ban because Zimbabwe was unable to guarantee the sustainability of its stated annual elephant hunting quota. That is laughable. Those figures were, in fact, far too low. And the ban illustrated just how ignorant of the wildlife management facts pertaining to trophy hunting in Zimbabwe was the USFWS at that time; or has been at any other time.”
Mr Thomson said that like the major elephant populations throughout the whole of Southern Africa, Zimbabwe’s elephant populations were then – and remain now – gigantically in excess of their habitats’ elephant carrying capacities; and they could easily have sustained a hunting quota that was ten times (and more) above the official number.
“And it is because of actions – like the ban on the importation of Zimbabwe’s elephant hunting trophies to America — that the rest of the world has given undeserved credibility to the animal rights’ propaganda proclamations that the elephant in Africa is endangered and that it is facing extinction; which are far from true,” said Mr Thomson.
“The facts of the matter are that Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park now has 40 times as many elephants as its elephant carrying capacity had been previously determined — when the habitats were healthy in 1960. And the country’s Gonarezhou National Park is in much the same situation. Under our very noses these game reserves (and others in southern Africa) are being rapidly reduced to desert status with a constantly diminishing biological diversity.
Why? Because the rest of the world – in a very doctrinaire fashion —believes it has the right to interfere in Africa’s wildlife management affairs. The whole of the Western World (it seems) – like the good neo-colonialists that they all seem to be – believe that we Africans are too stupid to know what is best for our continent, our wildlife and our people.”
“The American Trump administration has now reversed the USFWS’s previously uncalled for, insupportable, unwise, and bullying demands on Zimbabwe’s wildlife management programme,” said Mr Thomson.
“On behalf of the whole of Africa, therefore, I say thank you President Trump. Now the question remains: Will the rest of the First World follow America’s wise and rational decision – and leave Africa alone to work out its own wildlife management salvation? Unfortunately, I doubt it. There are “Big Brothers” everywhere today, and they clearly believe that they know better than us Africans do about what constitutes the “best practice” management of our own wild natural resources. There is a storm brewing. And one of these days the bubble is going to burst.”
I really believe that African elephant range states should not wait for the US President to review this process without engaging him. I think in President Trump’s administration, the African states seem to have found a rare and useful ally for sustainable use.
Therefore, President Trump can bring hope for both improved wildlife conservation and better socio-economic development for poor African rural communities settled near national parks and game reserves.
His sons also support the use of wildlife products and hunting.
In a CNN news broadcast last Friday, one of Donald Trump’s sons, Donald Jnr, who recently undertook trophy hunting in Zimbabwe, spoke in support of the USA 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 one of Trump’s sons, “The hunters are feeding the homeless.”
*Emmanuel Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning environmental journalist who has extensively covered conservation and development issues in African countries.