Beginning on Friday, the United States will reverse its ban on importing elephant-hunt trophies from Zambia and Zimbabwe, while keeping the Tanzania ban in place and under review.
It’s a move that’s sparking outrage from wildlife and environmental activists, who question the reversal by President Donald Trump’s administration of a ruling celebrated by U.S. officials just last year as a “bold action” to protect elephants.
The White House refused to comment on the news, with spokeswoman Sarah Sanders referring all inquiries to the relevant wildlife management authorities. At the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, officials said that Zimbabwe’s elephant populations and management plans have improved to levels that support the change, while noting in their statements that “sport hunting, as part of a sound wildlife management program, can provide benefits to conservation.”
Yet the results of the 2014 Great Elephant Census contradict those findings, noting an overall 6 percent decline in Zimbabwe and a decreased ability to manage wildlife populations because of the country’s economic instability. Zambia’s elephant populations showed some stability, but significant declines were noted along the Zambezi River. Michael Chase, founder of Elephants Without Borders in Botswana, said he has no information to suggest that Zambia’s elephant population is growing or safe from poaching.
The census found that Tanzania lost 60 percent of its elephants in just the five years ending in 2014, prompting new poaching and anti-trafficking strategies, but U.S. officials say that ban stays in place because they don’t have information that shows significant improvement to support hunting.
At the same time, the U.S. wildlife agency website still describes a dire scenario for the elephants on its African Elephant Conservation Fund page. That fund is threatened by $1 million cut, a third of its funding, under a 2018 budget proposal that also threatens other African wildlife protection program funding under USAID.
Across 18 countries overall, Africa’s elephant populations dropped 30 percent in seven years, the census found, and they remain protected as an endangered species under both U.S. and international law.
“U.S. trophy hunters shouldn’t be killing elephants when their populations are in decline. There’s no conservation in that,” said Tanya Sanerib, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity in the U.S. “The Trump administration’s decision to greenlight the slaughter of this imperiled species is absolutely unacceptable, and we’ll fight it every way we can.”
Image: Elephants Without Borders