In 2014 the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) made a powerful statement to protect elephants when it imposed its "trophy" hunting import bans in Zimbabwe and Tanzania for Americans. But now, we regret to report, these elephants may once again be at risk - unless we raise our voices loudly to support them.
Earlier this year, Elephants DC met with the USFWS and learned that the Agency will be deciding very soon on whether the United States will lift its bans or extend them.
This is a critical decision that will have a direct impact on two of the African nations where elephant populations are most seriously threatened. Given the crisis elephants face worldwide, the impact of this pair of bans is wider reaching than Zimbabwe and Tanzania, as well.
We believe the USFWS should stand firmly behind the ban. We believe they should extend it (and even strengthen it). However, hunters of endangered species at Safari Club International and others strongly disagree. They're demanding the import bans of elephant and rhino corpses be lifted. And although they're a small minority, they're a vocal one - well organized, and with deep pockets.
Let's make sure the trophy hunters don't get the last word on this one. Here are five reasons why the bans should stay in place:
1. The wildlife crisis that prompted the bans is still underway, and the governments of Tanzania and Zimbabwe have failed to stop corruption.
The USFWS had clear, powerful reasons for imposing the ban last year. Elephant populations in those nations were plummeting, while government corruption ran wild, doing little if anything to stop the slaughter. In its announcement of the ban, the USFWS rightly condemned the "questionable management practices, a lack of effective law enforcement and weak governance" in these nations.
Protecting elephants from illegal poaching requires a strong government commitment to fight illegal poachers and protect its wildlife resources. And Zimbabwe and Tanzania have yet to pull their weight. In fact, they've made things worse.
Tanzania has lost half of its elephant population to poaching in the past five years, according to a powerful expose of Tanzanian corruption released by the Environmental Investigation Agency last November. When Chinese officials recently visited Tanzania, they loaded up on illegal ivory products and sent them back home to China in diplomatic bags on the presidential plane.
Meanwhile, in recent months, the Government of Zimbabwe has made it clear that protecting its wildlife is lower than low on its priority list. It's been widely reported that Zimbabwe recently kidnapped more than 80 baby elephants from their mothers from Hwange National Park for export to China and other nations. These kidnapped elephants face a future of miserable confinement, a fate worse than death. And despite the outcry of conservationists across the globe, the Government of Zimbabwe has so far maintained that it is proceeding with these cruel plans.
As if that weren't appalling enough, the Government of Zimbabwe recently served a baby elephant for dinner at a lavish birthday celebration for its president. In an even more bizarre twist, the baby elephant was reportedly killed and eaten as a punishment to elephants who encroached on farmlands. While human-elephant conflict is a real problem, there are better ways to resolve conflict between intelligent animals rather than serving up sentient beings on a dinner platter.
"[Elephants] are highly social animals," explains Professor Andrew Dobson, an ecologist and biologist at Princeton University. "Their abusive treatment accurately matches that handed out to China and Zimbabwe's political prisoners. It causes me to wonder why such Nations are ever invited to attend meetings of international trade and political organizations; they are historical and political anomalies whose people [should] see their leaders and politicians as shallow and greedy manipulators of the truth."
The USFWS was right to ban trophy hunting imports from nations with such deplorable wildlife management practices. And until these governments shape up, the bans should remain in place.