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US climbs down on trophy hunting. . . move to boost Zim elephant conservation

US climbs down on trophy hunting. . . move to boost Zim elephant conservation
The Great Elephant Census says the number of jumbos in the country dropped 6 000 to 82 000 due to poaching

The Great Elephant Census says the number of jumbos in the country dropped 6 000 to 82 000 due to poaching

Jeffrey Gogo Climate Story
The US has lifted a ban on elephant trophies from here and Zambia, three years after outlawing the practice that allowed American hunters to bring the trophies home.

But the key question has always centred on whether trophy hunting was good or bad for elephant conservation in Zimbabwe, and elsewhere in Africa.

The ban was lifted on November 13 following a conference in Tanzania last week jointly hosted by the African Wildlife Consultative Forum, a coalition of governments, conservationists, NGOs and safari operators from across the world, and the pro-hunting Safari Club International Foundation.

However, the ban is effective January 2016 and extends to another endangered species, the African lion, officials from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) told the Tanzania meeting.

Emmanuel Fundira, head of the Safari Operators Association here, who attended the conference, decried the back-dated ban “as a black-hole” that cost Zimbabwe money.

“It means we have lost almost two years of revenues from trophy hunting,” Fundura told The Herald Business by phone Friday.

His Association is this year expecting income of $130 million from hunting, several times the wildlife authority ZimParks’ annual spending allocation from Treasury.

Climb down

In 2014, the US stopped Americans who hunt elephant and lion in Zimbabwe for fun from bringing back home their trophies – a collection of particular animal parts such as the head, skin or horns as memorabilia.

Officials said sport hunting was bad for endangered animal species like elephant, as that speeded up their disappearance from the wild.

They used findings from the 2016 Great Elephant Census, which reported a 6,8 percent decline in the elephant population in Zimbabwe, to impose the ban, listing trophies from here under the US’ Endangered Species Act.

But the US Fish and Wildlife Service is now reading from a different script.

It said in a statement last week that money raised from big game hunting could help boost elephant conservation.

“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,” said the USFWS.

“To support conservation, hunters should choose to hunt only in countries that have strong governance, sound management practices, and healthy wildlife populations,” it added.

This is a huge climb down by the United States, which only a year ago at the CITES meeting in South Africa strongly opposed the lifting of a ban on the commercial trade of ivory.

If that sounds like double standards, that’s because it is. The Americans seem to have taken on a selective approach as to what qualifies as good or bad conservation, as long as it suits their interests.

The latest developments are a clear admission that elephant conservation in Zimbabwe, even without the regular financial aid often extended to other countries, was a success. The US agency said so itself.

Fundira said the suspension of the ban on elephant and lion trophy hunting by the US, a major source market, was a “milestone achievement.”

He said Zimbabwe had presented its case through a comprehensive Non Detrimental Findings report to US officials.

“The lifting of the ban. . . confirms that our conservation methods both on elephant and lion are indeed successful,” he said, in a text message.

Carrying the world’s burden

Zimbabwe boasts the world’s second largest elephant herd after Botswana, much of it crowded beyond capacity at the Hwange National Park in the country’s south-west.

A CITES study notes that elephants in Zimbabwe have climbed sharply in the past 40 years due to prudent conservation.

Aerial surveys show there was an estimated 46 000 elephants in the country in 1980; at least 58 600 in 1989; and some 64 000 in 1995. These figures are, however, disputed by other conservationists.

But the Great Elephant Census says the number of elephants in the country dropped 6 000 to 82 000 in the three years to 2014 due to poaching.

The animals have become difficult to manage, often destroying homes and food crops. Deaths from conflict with humans living near conservancies and parks have been reported, as habitat gives way to urban development and agriculture.

Now, squeezed for cash, Zimbabwe’s wildlife authority ZimParks has often called for a suspension in the ban on ivory, as well on trophy hunting.

The Authority argues how levies from such activities could help aid wildlife conservation, particularly of the endangered elephant, which “…at our own expense as a country, we have burdened ourselves with the huge costs of managing abnormal elephant populations for the benefit of the entire world,” it says.

ZimParks has in the past sold elephants overseas, to China and Dubai specifically, to raise money for conservation, a move that drew worldwide condemnation from animal protection groups.

The latest US policy change on elephant trophies hasn’t pleased everyone, however.

Respected conservationist Charlene Hewat, chief executive of local environmental charity Environment Africa, told The Herald Business “the ban ought to have remained in place, as efforts are made to end poaching.”

She said the US move will only lead to a decline in the elephant population.

God is faithful.

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