Sorry We’re Not Sorry: U.S. Bans Elephant Trophy Imports from Tanzania & Zimbabwe

And the exciting news of this week: the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) has temporarily banned elephant trophy imports from Tanzania and Zimbabwe, citing (among other problems), “Questionable management practices, a lack of effective law enforcement and weak governance.”

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You may remember our good friends at the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism from such exciting conservation actions as:
Poachers Decimate Tanzania’s Elephant Herds” (2012)
Hunter Exposes Elephant Poaching in Tanzania” (2012)
Ranger corruption ‘impeding global fight against poaching’” (2013)
Corruption, immorality behind alarming elephant poaching in Tanzania” (2013)
Tanzania: Corruption in High Office Nourishes Poaching” (2014)
Tanzania Suspends 21 in Ministry of Natural Resources an Tourism Over Poaching Claims” (2014)
and
Tanzania slaughters 11,000 elephants a year for the bloody trade in tusks” (2014)

You might also remember them from our previous post on Why Lion Hunts Are A Bad Idea.

There’s not much to say here — the US Fish & Wildlife Service is spot-on with their assessment: it’s not that hunting is fundamentally wrong, it’s that it’s trophy hunting in most of Africa is fundamentally corrupt (and wildly mismanaged). If this is a first swing from a recently-empowered USFWS under the banner of the new National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking? If so, then I’m happy to see Fish & Wildlife show some teeth.

Teeth are important, because Zimbabwe’s hunting season kicks off next month, and would-be trophy holders who’ve had their plans cut short aren’t happy:

“Dear Director [Dan] Ashe:

On behalf of Safari Club International and millions of conservationists worldwide, we were shocked at your decision on Friday, April 4, 2014 to unilaterally ban the importation of sport-hunted elephants from Zimbabwe and Tanzania. This decision in and of itself shows a fundamental abandonment of the stated goal of “scientific excellence” for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) because this announcement relied solely on anecdotal evidence to make a rash decision with no basis in law, science, or conservation policy. We respectfully request that the FWS rescind its decision banning 2014 sport-hunted elephant trophy imports from Zimbabwe and Tanzania. …

The FWS decision will do nothing to prevent poaching in Africa. If anything, removing the U.S. hunter from the landscape of Africa’s great outdoors will permanently handicap government bodies and communal wildlife administrators in their fight against poachers. Problems with poaching in either Zimbabwe or Tanzania will be exacerbated by this ill-advised ban by the FWS.”

In other words, “NOW what am I supposed to do with that $62,000 one-on-one I booked?!”

Well, after reading through some of the cancellation policies on these safari bookings (see: ‘force majeure’ clause) it looks like your best bet will be to hold fast to your ankles a staunch belief in the rightness of your endeavor. Be strong in the face of science, reason, humanity, the direct pleas of international groups, and the clear and immediate suffering of local communities. Carry on to Tanzania, complete your hunt, smuggle your trophy home, and we’ll see you at the border.

And should you decide that discretion is the better part of valor, don’t worry; we here at WildlifeSNPiTs will still be playing the world’s saddest song on the world’s smallest ivory piano for you guys. Hang in there.

The full USFWS press release is here. The full Safari Club International open letter of response is here. Cute pictures of elephants are below.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Lisa Janssen says:

    Because there are poachers, legal hunters can no longer bring home trophies? What a dumb idea. The ban will not stop poaching but will reduce the funds available to stop poachers. Will the US Wildlife and Fisheries Department now supply the millions of dollars that US hunters would normally spend in fees to hunt elephants? Will the US now support the families and their employees that make a living from legal hunting of game elephants? Will the Department supply meat to the villages? When the overpopulation of elephants dessimates all the trees, killing the undergrowth upon which other animals feed will you celebrate their deaths by starvation?

    1. Hi, Lisa! Thanks for your comment (and for reading the blog!) — but you’ve fundamentally misunderstood what’s happening here. Actually, the ban is not directed toward redressing poachers (who operate in the illegal hunting sphere) — it’s meant to remand (by refusing to be complicit with) corruption within the legal hunting sphere. The Tanzanian and Zimbabwean Ministries responsible for overseeing legal hunting to be sure it’s safe, sustainable, and ethical have essentially become so overridden with wildlife trafficking-related corruption that to continue to treat them as functioning entities is unreasonable and dangerous.

      That type of corruption ruins everything in a country — it devastates wildlife populations, it creates dangerous conditions for otherwise responsible and legal hunters, it undermines a nation’s governmental authority and endangers its security — and it starves, harms, and threatens local people. Further, it directly threatens the lives of safari hunting guides and companions, as you can read from the harrowing personalized stories of people who have seen this first hand.

      Also, to be clear, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has not banned elephant hunts from taking place within Tanzania or Zimbabwe. That is neither possible, nor within their realm of authority in any way (as it would be a gross violation of national self-determination and authority). They are still going on, and will still be going on, likely as long as this ban is in place — neither employees nor the families of those employees are at risk of losing their employment (or, although not applicable to many places, their meat subsidies). What the U.S. Fish & Wildlife has banned is the import of trophies — effectively saying “If you want to participate in this dangerous, corrupt, and therefore harmful practice, you keep it out of our country.” — which is a perfectly fair and reasoned response to such a glaring and well-documented problem.

      But Lisa, I appreciate your concern for the welfare of the elephants! Goodness knows we need more passionate people who don’t want to see elephants die slow, agonizing deaths, right?? Definitely. Anyway, that said, again, to be clear: the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has not banned hunting in Tanzania. You’re welcome to go on your hunt — you just can’t bring your trophy back with you. But no worries — I’m sure the memories will last a lifetime!

      Thanks for reading!

    2. pride says:

      1000% agree

    3. Janet says:

      Over population of elephants? I would imagine that once elephants go from endangered/vulnerable status to over-populated that many bans surrounding elephant hunting will be lifted. Overpopulation isn’t going to be the result of this ban on Elephant Trophies by USWF, though. Perhaps this ban will reduce the money coming into these corrupt governments and eventually lead them to recognize the errors of their behavior…one can only hope.

  2. As a hunter and a wildlife biologist, I’m saddened by this reality but I get it. I’m really disappointed (and perhaps should be less surprised) that this type of corruption is going on with regards to these (legal) hunts, which by themselves are controversial enough. To keep this ban permanent, I do agree that USFWS should have to “show cause” that indeed, stastistically significant numbers of rubber-stamped poaching are going on in these nations. Indeed, this won’t slow poaching or elephant loss one bit. But……I get it.

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