US President Donald Trump and his Department of Interior Affairs Secretary, Ryan Zinke, have halted the reversal of a ban on importation of elephant hunt trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia. The sudden decision follows global outcry and protests from animal rights groups.
The announcement was first tweeted by the American President, saying, “[I’ve] put big game trophy decision on hold until such time as I review all conservation facts. Under study for years. Will update soon with Secretary Zinke. Thank you!”
Just two days before, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) lifted the ban on importation of elephant trophies, stating that they would expand efforts to promote trophy hunting as a form of conservation.
This reversal of ex-President Obama’s 2014 ban was criticised as being “a backward step for ethical conservation efforts,” by The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, amongst others, especially as African elephants have a ‘threatened’ listing under the Endangered Species Act.
Global conservation authorities feared that it would damage the global momentum in ending the ivory trade and poaching. Wayne Pacelle, The Humane Society of the United States President and CEO, said reversing the trophy and ivory import laws was “a venal and nefarious, pay-to-slay arrangement that Zimbabwe has set up with the trophy hunting industry”.
Jeff Chrisfield, African Wildlife Foundation CEO, told The Guardian that the US had been a global leader in the fight to reverse the dangerous decline of Africa’s most iconic species, and that it would be unfortunate if the Trump administration sacrificed that leadership.
In an interview following the announcement to reverse the ban, Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Founder and Senior Scientist at the Nairobi-based Save the Elephants, said it was ironic that Africans were being told not to kill elephants while rich Americans were being allowed to come and do it.
In 2014, the USFWS implemented the ban on importation on the basis that Zimbabwe had failed to manage its elephant population sustainably, and an ongoing anaemic enforcement of wildlife laws was widely criticised in Zimbabwe. Just last year, the country was shunned for exporting baby elephants caught in the wild, some of which died in transit to a zoo in China. The year before, international outcry ensued after one of the most beloved and well-studied African lions, Cecil, was lured out of a national park and shot by a US hunter.
The USFWS consideration to reverse the ban also applies to trophies from Zambia, where, according to the Great Elephant Census, the elephant population has dropped from more than 200 000 elephants in 1972 to just over 21 000 in 2016.
According to The Washington Post, the USFWS has also been reviewing whether to allow elephant trophy imports from Tanzania, where poaching is rampant and elephant numbers have suffered a sharp decline in recent decades.
In Zimbabwe, the elephant population has declined 6% overall since 2001.
According to the Humane Society of the US, Zimbabwe’s elephant management plan is still severely flawed, with poaching, corruption and a lack of government support dominating conservation efforts. The organisation welcomed Trump’s decision to ‘review all conservation facts’, saying “this is the kind of trade we don’t need”.