Safari Club International has released a report, "A Stampede of Hypocrisy," that attempts to serve as an exposé accusing animal rights activists of stealing financial donations that were intended for elephants. While SCI may be correct in its claims against the organizations it mentions, it is a rather weak attempt at discrediting those who oppose SCI's methods of conservation and as we will see, their partners are not without their forms of corruption and mismanagement. The impetus for their attack stems from the USFWS's temporary ban on the importation of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Tanzania.
In the background section of their release, SCI states that activists "trumpet" that they are speaking for the interests of elephants, but "are nothing more than jumbo hypocrites." The evidence that SCI uses to indict an entire community as being hypocritical are two stories about organizations that were found to have conducted improper spending and tactics. The actions that SCI highlights, while not acceptable, do not, however, reflect the tacit on-ground work that people in those organizations do, nor should they serve as examples of all activists. There are dozens of legitimate organizations worldwide working to protect elephants with little funding. Not only is the purpose of their report to point fingers, it is poorly constructed and shallow, as it does not present a valid claim that activists are poaching funds from elephants. It merely, although accurately, provides examples of the mismanagement of a few organizations.
Another significant error is that SCI states that animal rights activists "want to impose their ideology on Africa." Yet, the very method of "conservation through hunting" that SCI employs in Africa is an early 20th century western practice that gained popularity in the 1960s. There are many people throughout the continent who disagree with this practice and ask for the westerners to leave the care of the animals with them. It appears that SCI is the one guilty of having "an arrogant attitude rivaling that of the 19th-century colonials," a rather exaggerated charge they accuse their opposition of holding.
The real issue at hand, however, is the banning of elephant trophies. On April 4, 2014 the USFWS imposed a year long ban on the importation of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Tanzania based upon their conservation records and high rate of poaching. Within days, SCI was petitioning congress in protest of this decision and releasing emotionally laden letters that were as lacking in scientific data as they accused the USFWS's decision as being. Such a quick knee-jerk reaction calls into question SCI's true motivation.
SCI claims its interest is in conserving the elephants of those countries, but with such a one-sided adamant position, it is clear it does not have a complete understanding of the elephant crises in the two countries, or it chooses to ignore it. SCI's reaction is more about preserving its members' ability to take home elephant "trophies" than to gain an objective understanding of the dynamics within those countries and conserve their elephant populations.
They make it seem as though they kill, not because they enjoy killing, but for the resulting good that goes to the community and species. Such a concept makes it appear that they are altruistic magnanimous naturalists doing what they can to preserve the bounty, yet when the hunters are not permitted to take home horns, tusks, hides, or heads, their generosity towards the communities and species vanishes. In fact, they have not been denied the opportunity to continue spreading their generosity. They are still permitted to hunt and have those monies and meat go towards protecting the species and aiding the communities. The USFWS has not taken away their hunting privileges or their ability to practice good conservation and aid the communities. They have only been denied trophies for one year.
Under closer examination, it seems SCI is attempting to buy support for its interests. In 2013 the affiliates of SCI contributed or spent $360,511 for their cause, mostly to Republican candidates and the Hunter Defense Fund. As of April 24, 2014 their contributions were at just under $100,000 for the 2014 year.
While there is nothing illegal about what they are doing, they are using their money to influence Congress for their purposes. Much like a child may cry when his toy gun is taken away for dinnertime, SCI has been pouting since the temporary ban was imposed, and is using money to get its toys back. Since it is well-funded, it can afford high priced lawyers while lobbying for an overturn of the ban. SCI can pay the airfare and accommodations for its supporters in Zimbabwe to visit the United States to plead their case. All the while, the tens of thousands they are spending just to revoke a one year ban on the importation of elephant trophies could be going to protect elephants, aid communities, and rectify some of the bad that is occurring in those countries that led to the ban to begin with.
Instead of even acknowledging the possibilities that there are issues in Tanzania and Zimbabwe that are preventing the best conservation from being practiced, SCI selfishly interprets this as a direct attack on its interests. It is upset that there are rules to the playground and someone is finally attempting to enforce them. Is it not possible that Zimbabwe and Tanzania are indeed not exhibiting the best practices when it comes to saving their elephants? In a continent rife with corruption, is SCI asserting that the two countries that happen to be those cited as having issues are both falsely accused? Both of these countries are known for their lack of forthrightness when it comes to elephant population counts and are, or have been, rife with corruption in their environmental agencies, and contain numerous unscrupulous safari operators and professional hunters who are more interested in making a profit than they are in conserving wildlife.
SCI has been operating with impunity in both of those countries for years, and despite its claims that hunting reduces poaching, the killing continues unabated. In countries such as these, where a large percentage of wildlife is being lost to poachers, perhaps it would be best for SCI to allow the professionals to have a chance to correct the wrongs that are occurring there, as their methods have failed to stop poaching and the leaders of the countries themselves are either unable, unwilling, or uninterested in stopping the bloodshed.
Perhaps most interesting of all though is SCI's choice of images in their report including an smiling African child, as though the smile comes as a result of the good that SCI does for the people. Absent are the usually ubiquitous photos of proud hunters posing with their kill. The photo choice is clear propaganda in an attempt to seem like the good guys. The efforts that go into Zimbabwe's CAMPFIRE program are laudable and do more good than anything else, but we can find examples of mismanagement in that program as well.
A cursory look at the Selous elephants in Tanzania illustrates the incredible loss of elephants (67% loss in four years) and other wildlife to poaching in the past few years. Similarly, we can look at the loss of presidential elephants of Zimbabwe:
Is Zimbabwe's Presidential Herd of elephants doomed?
The Fate of the Presidential Elephants of Zimbabwe-A Conversation With Sharon Pincott