Namibian

Does hunting elephants help conserve the species?

JUMBO TROPHY … Elephant in the wild.

• STEPHANIE EBBS
THE Donald Trump administration had planned to start accepting permits two weeks ago for hunters to bring trophies from elephants hunted in Zimbabwe and Zambia into the United States, saying that new information shows that trophy hunting actually helps the survival of the endangered species in the wild.

But Trump tweeted soon after that lifting the ban was on hold, but only as the administration further reviews the facts.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service and hunting advocates say that hunting big animals like elephants and lions brings in money that countries use for conservation and anti-poaching programmes and that wildlife authorities in Zimbabwe had provided enough information to support reversing the 2014 ban.

“The service will continue to monitor the status of the elephant population, the management programme for elephants in the country to ensure that the programme is promoting the conservation of the species, and whether the participation of US hunters in the programme provides a clear benefit to the species,” Fish and Wildlife Service says in the official notice.

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White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was asked about the new policy in the White House briefing and defended the agency’s decision based on a review that wildlife officials were conducting since the ban was announced in 2014.

“This review established that both Zambia and Zimbabwe had met strict international conservation standards that allowed Americans to resume hunting in those countries,” Sanders said.

The announcement that US Fish and Wildlife would start granting permits to import elephant trophies again was made by US officials at a conservation conference in Tanzania this week hosted by Safari Club International, a hunting and conservation advocacy group.

“These positive findings for Zimbabwe and Zambia demonstrate that the Fish and Wildlife Service recognises that hunting is beneficial to wildlife and that these range countries know how to manage their elephant populations,” said the organisation’s president, Paul Babaz, in a Safari Club blog post.”We appreciate the efforts of the Service and the US department of the interior to remove barriers to sustainable use conservation for African wildlife.”

The Safari Club filed a lawsuit with the National Rifle Association of America to block the ban on elephant trophy imports when it was announced in 2014, according to the blog post.

Hunting excursions in Zimbabwe can cost more than US$37 000 and hunters also have to pay up to US$14 500 for each elephant killed, according to safari hunting websites. A portion of the cost of a hunting trip led by guides goes to that country’s government to be used for conservation. The ivory from an elephant’s tusks is estimated to be worth US$21 000 but it is still illegal to import ivory into the US from any country.

Another argument in favour of trophy hunting is that allowing people to hunt animals makes them more valuable and gives local farmers or landowners a reason to care for them.

In 2015 Melville Saayman, a tourism and economics professor from North-West University in South Africa wrote that wildlife populations actually increased in countries that allow hunting like South Africa and Namibia and face more threats from poaching in areas where hunting is not allowed.

“From a conservation point of view wildlife is not doing well and one of the reasons for this is because hunting creates huge value. People protect what is valuable to them. And if hunting helps them get money and other goods from the animal, it is certainly in their best interests to look after the animals,” Saayman wrote.

But conservation advocates say that elephants bring in much more revenue from tourists who want to see them alive. A report from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust estimates that an elephant brings in US$23 000 a year, or US$1,6 million over its lifetime.

Animal advocates also say that hunting endangered species is unethical and should not be used to generate money for the government.

“It’s impossible to sustainably harvest a species that’s declining,” Sebastian Troeng, executive vice president of Conservation International said. “The notion that killing elephants is helping elephants doesn’t hold water.”

Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of United States, says using conservation to support hunting doesn’t make any sense because people travel to these countries to see live animals in the wild.

Savanna elephant populations declined by 30% across 18 countries in Africa from 2007 to 2014, according to the Great Elephant Census published last year, which put their remaining numbers at just over 350 000.