African Elephant: US Import Suspension for Hunting Trophies from Zimbabwe and Tanzania
July 2014, Volume 12-4

On 4th April 2014, the US Fish and Wildlife Service  (USF&WS) announced a suspension on imports of sport-hunted African elephant ivory taken during calendar year 2014 in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. In Tanzania, USF&WS cited catastrophic elephant population declines resulting from uncontrolled poaching, questionable management practices, a lack of effective law enforcement and weak governance. For Zimbabwe the Service relied on what was called “available, though limited data which indicated [sic] a significant elephant population decline”. Ironically, the Service mentioned in the same announcement that “legal, well-regulated sport hunting, as part of a sound management program, can benefit the conservation of listed species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation”.

Estimates of the elephant population in Zimbabwe (listed on CITES Appendix II) put the total number at over 100,000 individuals. Professor Nigel Leader-Williams in a letter to Science magazine pointed out already in 2011 that controlled hunting was beneficial for Zimbabwe’s elephants. “Implementing trophy hunting has doubled the area of the country under wildlife management relative to the 13% in state protected areas, thanks to the inclusion of private lands” Leader-Williams said. “As a result, the area of suitable land available to elephants and other wildlife has increased, reversing the problem of habitat loss and helping to maintain a sustained population increase in Zimbabwe’s already large elephant population.

In Tanzania elephant are listed on CITES Appendix I.  The elephant poaching situation in the country is bad, with the number of elephants in Selous and Ruaha reportedly having dropped from 74,416 in 2009 to 33,084 in 2013. Nevertheless, the Tanzania National Ivory Action Plan was judged largely positive and on track by the CITES Secretariat (SC65 Doc. 42.2) and will be discussed at the CITES Standing Committee in July. Already in December 2013 a mission to the Selous Game Reserve (SGR) by the UNESCO World Heritage Center and IUCN concluded that “voices questioning hunting are becoming louder at a time of a poaching crisis … [however elephant] hunting can make a significant contribution to conservation through revenue generation [and] through the presence of actors with an incentive to maintain the resource underpinning their business. Given the substantial contribution of hunting revenues to the management and conservation of SGR [Note: the retention scheme by which the SGR can retain 50% of hunting income for management and conservation], the banning of hunting in SGR would be ill-advised and counterproductive.

The USF&WS decision came without prior consultations with representatives of the two countries, elephant specialist scientists in Africa, or experts from international hunting associations. Yet, US President Obama had stated in July 2013 during a Joint Press Conference with Tanzanian President Kikwete that his new executive order explicitly requested “to better organize U.S. government efforts [so] that we can cooperate further with the Tanzanian government and others”.  The USF&WS apparently also did not consult with the International Conservation Caucus Foundation (ICCF). This organization educates US policy makers on international issues of natural resource management throughout the legislative process. ICCF represented by ICCF Vice Chairman [and CIC Vice President] Dr. Kaush Arha had signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Dar es Salaam in March 2014 with Tanzanian Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism Lazaro Nyalandu and UNDP’s Philippe Poinsot. These partners, including the Global Environment Facility and World Bank held a summit in May 2014 to combat wildlife crime and advance wildlife conservation. CIC members John J Jackson III (Conservation Force) and Dr. Ali Kaka also participated on invitation of Minister Nyalandu.

The International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC) is concerned that the unilateral banning of elephant trophy imports to the US from both countries was made arbitrarily, with disregard for science and the rural citizens in the affected countries, and with ignorance of on-the-ground realities of conservation in Africa. USF&WS should have first consulted with African, US and international partners as well as the major international hunting associations on adaptive elephant management processes and best practice parameters in elephant conservation and sustainable use. What has to be jointly looked at are: adequate and motivating benefit-sharing with hard-pressed rural residents, expansion of poaching control at grass-root level, transparent reinvestment of revenues in elephant conservation and surveys, strict compliance with sustainable use principles, scientifically sound and independently set quotas and periodic reviews of age limits, minimum tusk weights and lengths. A blanket import ban is counterproductive.

The CIC is at the forefront in combatting wildlife poaching and trafficking. The recent Global Summit “Hunters United against Wildlife Crime”, held on the 24 April  in Milan, Italy during the 61st CIC General Assembly, adopted the Milan Declaration Hunters United Against Wildlife Crime. The members of the Collaborative Partnership on Sustainable Wildlife Management (CPW) consisting of 12 member global organizations also held its third meeting in the fringes to prioritize actions in its core working areas which include legal hunting as well as wildlife crime.

Hunters have their boots on the ground in most of the heavily threatened areas in Africa, and are for many years funding dedicated anti-poaching efforts in cooperation with conservation and law enforcement bodies” said CIC President Lozé at the conclusion of the Milan Summit.

The CIC calls on the USF&WS to lift the elephant trophy suspension. “[This] suspension on import of elephant trophies from Tanzania and Zimbabwe is not a solution, but a problem for elephant conservation”, said CIC President Bernard Lozé in Brussels during the launch of the EU Platform on Coexistence with Large Carnivores in June. “Revenue loss from trophy hunting and, consequently underfunding of wildlife sectors will undermine the capacity of governments to undertake conservation work including population counts and law enforcement, and will deprive rural communities and community-based conservation programs from one of their few legal sources of income”, Lozé added, “the USF&WS action constitutes an unilateral and uninformed decision that will have disastrous effects on elephants and other wildlife in both countries”.

Author: Gerhard Damm