US lifts ban on trophy hunting

HARARE - The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has finally lifted a ban on elephant trophies imported from Zimbabwe.

American press reported yesterday that FWS said it will now grant permits for sport-hunted elephant trophies on a “case-by-case basis”.

This is a radical retreat by US President Donald Trump, who only last November appeared to indicate that he was keen on keeping the Barrack Obama-era blanket ban in place.

The ban was put in place in 2015 following the illegal slaying of the iconic lion, Cecil by American bow-hunter, Charles Palmer which courted global controversy.

The FWS announced last week in a formal memorandum that it was revoking certain “enhancement findings” of the US law, the Endangered Species Act, which relate to the import of dead elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia.

The service also said it was withdrawing bans pertaining to the import of elephant, lion trophies from other African countries, including Zimbabwe, South Africa, Tanzania and Botswana.

The Endangered Species Act of the US stipulates that in order for such trophies to be approved, exporting countries must demonstrate that hunting enhances survival of a particular species in the wild; by reinvesting the money into conservation, for example, and by supporting local communities.

The Daily News has also established that in December last year, President Emmerson Mnangagwa wrote to Trump beseeching him to lift the ban on elephant trophies on the basis that the jumbos have dramatically increased in number to unsustainable levels and were destroying their own habitats while competing for food as well as causing human-wildlife conflicts.

Government sources said Trump had not responded to Mnangagwa’s correspondence and it was thus not immediately clear if the lifting of the ban had to do with the letter, upon which a tight lid is being maintained.

The news has been received joyfully by the expectant local safari industry, but attracted disdain from animal rights groups and environmentalist who believe there are greater economic benefits in conservation, particularly from ecotourism as opposed to trophy hunting.

The Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe (SOAZ), which has been lobbying for the lifting of the ban for almost three years, is celebrating the development, which it perceives to be a “tremendous success for the Zimbabwean economy”.

“This is a victory for the Zimbabwean economy and the Zimbabwean community, particularly those people who live closer to wildlife sanctuaries, in terms of how livelihoods of more than 800 000 families will benefit directly from this,” said SOAZ president, Emmanuel Fundira.

“This means exploitation of wildlife resources will continue and this can also help us in our conservation programmes,” he said.

Fundira also said the lifting of the ban offers “an exciting period for the safari industry at a time when other parts of the economy are in crisis”.

“According to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe statistics, and here we are talking of credible figures, hunting directly benefits the country over $40 million revenue per year. Then, indirectly, it’s not unlikely that it will benefit the country an upward of $100 million annually. This is an incredible cash cow,” he said.

The US provides the largest market for African trophy hunts, although there are other markets in Europe and Asia.

It is a preserve for the affluent, who can afford to purchase trophies and bring backs animal body parts to hang in their lounges and fireplaces.

Overall, it was a pastime for older men, but there has been growing interest now among the wealthy young generation.

But to the conservationists and animal rights activists, frivolous killings involved cannot be ethical.

They have declared that the role of hunting has always been to obtain protein for some populations living in areas infested with wild animals.

“It’s not something we would encourage because it’s not in the best interest of the animals,” said animal welfare manager for the Veterinarians for Animal Welfare of Zimbabwe (VAWZ), Mel Hood.

VAWZ is a trust organisation dedicated to improving animal welfare in Zimbabwe, dealing with welfare issues in domestic animals, livestock and wildlife throughout the country.

Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals general manager, Mark Beru, said the organisation was opposed to shooting of animals for thrill.

“The society believes that nothing justifies the causing of suffering to animals, and therefore the society is opposed to the shooting of any animal for fun.

“A lack of adequate controls on the manufacture, sales and use of these weapons leads to their use in inappropriate circumstances, which results in considerable animal suffering,” he said.

In an email response yesterday, Glenn Kirk of the California-based organisation, Animals Voice’s, said sport hunting “causes immense suffering to individual wild animals and is gratuitously cruel because unlike natural predation, hunters kill for pleasure”.

He said despite hunters’ claims that hunting keeps wildlife populations in balance, hunters’ license fees are used to “manipulate a few game species into overpopulation at the expense of a much larger number of non-game species, resulting in the loss of biological diversity, genetic integrity and ecological balance”.

The same sentiments were echoed by another American group known as the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which is vehemently opposed to the sport.

While safari operators say hunting earns the country substantial revenue, environment lobbyists on the contrary argue that instead there is more money in ecotourism, which thrives on conservation.

Lion hunting is the biggest contributor to trophy hunting in the country. A 10-day trophy lion safari inclusive of trophy fees and baits, costs as much as $50 000, but the amount can even rise to $60 000 for big males.

A similar elephant trophy costs $20 000 per animal, although large bulls can top $25 000, according to SOAZ figures.

Other members of the big five cost $9 000 and $10 000 for the buffalo and leopard, respectively.

The rhinoceros, which completes the big five, fetches the most at $70 000, but its hunting is completely banned since it is extremely endangered.

But despite the apparently impressive figures, research indicates that only a fraction is going into communities, something which had agitated the US government when it introduced the ban in 2015.

Currently, local communities are getting proceeds between $1 million and $1,5 million a year or $2 million in a good year.

 

 

 

 

 

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