On Thursday, news broke that the Trump administration had reversed an Obama-era regulation and will begin allowing big game hunters to import trophies from hunts in the African countries of Zimbabwe and Zambia.
In today's media environment, everything that politicians do is examined under a microscope and critiqued. Media outlets even found issue with how Donald Trump fed Koi fish
during his trip to Japan. This latest regulatory roll-back was no different, with many criticizing the administration for opening the door for big game hunters to import their trophies into the United States.
People on social media pointed to the fact that the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., is an avid hunter who would directly benefit from the policy change.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals compared the policy change to reversing the ban on child molestation (really).
PETA has been challenging this policy for years and will continue to do so until the government recognizes that selling a threatened animal’s life to raise money for 'conservation' is like selling a child on the black market to raise money to fight child molestation."
However, the decision to allow big game trophies to be imported from select countries is actually being applauded by sportsmen and conservationists alike.
In 2014, the Obama administration enacted a ban on the importation of many different types of hunting trophies from Africa. The goal was to deter American hunters from hunting threatened and endangered species or contributing to corrupt and mismanaged wildlife programs. A Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesperson explained the reasoning behind the decision to reverse that previous decision.
Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve those species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the hunting and management programs for African elephants in Zimbabwe and Zambia will enhance the survival of the species in the wild."
That last sentence is important. The ban is being lifted for trophies harvested in these two countries because it has been determined that the countries' conservation and wildlife management programs are working efficiently.
Many do not understand just how much a big-game hunt costs in Africa. It is not uncommon for permitting alone to cost more than $40,000 for an elephant hunt. That doesn't include airfare or lodging. This revenue primarily goes towards wildlife management programs. Guides then bring the hunter to the oldest, sickest animal on the reservation. Usually, these elephants, rhinos, or lions are too old to reproduce and are actually intimidating younger males out of reproducing with the pack's females. After these aged animals are killed, they are harvested. The meat, bones, and hides go to local villages. Hunters are typically only allowed to keep the animal's head to mount as a trophy.
United States hunters spend an estimated $217 million on big game hunts in Africa. Banning the importation of trophies not only reduced funding for African wildlife conservation programs, but it has also been connected to hurting the very species that bans attempt to protect. Some of this revenue is directed towards biodiversity programs, which are crucial to the long-term survival of these species. Not only do big game hunts remove sterile, aging animals from populations, but the revenue also allows wildlife organizations to breed animals specifically for biodiversity. On top of that, a reduction in American big game hunts would mean less food and resources for local villages, which have come to rely on this revenue stream to survive.
The biggest critique of big game hunts in Africa is that the money raised does not always reach the wildlife and conservation programs. This is true. Many countries have had big game hunting programs that are plagued by corruption and mismanagement. Where big game hunting is actually found to be hurting wildlife conservation, it should absolutely be discouraged. However, both Zimbabwe and Zambia were identified as countries with wildlife programs deserving of support.
A competent wildlife conservation strategy focuses on data, not just emotions. As appalling as the sight of a lion or elephant hunt may be, these hunts are actually quite beneficial to maintaining the species. By all means, when big game hunting programs in Africa are discovered to be corrupt or mismanaged, the United States should develop regulations to dissuade hunters from participating in them. But when these programs are successful, it makes little sense to implement bans on trophy imports, lest we end up hurting the very endangered species that we are intending to help.
What do you think? Is the decision to lift the ban on importing elephant hunting trophies a good or bad idea? Let us know in the comment section below!