In a Tweet the evening of November 17th, U.S. President Donald Trump appears to have bowed to pressure from the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and the global conservation community, stating: “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.”
This announcement comes only hours after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) posted its official justification for the controversial decision on trophy hunting in the Federal Register, referencing plans and commitments received over the last two years from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Agency (ZPWMA). The report asserted that hunting could be well-managed based on the development of the Zimbabwe National Elephant Management Plan (2015-2020), coupled with an expectation that sufficient budget resources would be available to properly protect wildlife.
While ZPWMA has done excellent work in developing the elephant management plan, AWF is concerned that ZPWMA lacks the necessary funding to operationalize it. ZPWMA staff and rangers work tirelessly, often putting their lives at risk to defend wildlife from poachers. However, ZPWMA is terribly under-funded. They lack vehicles, fuel, ammunition, and even rations. While it is true that hunting can provide revenue for conservation, it is false to assume it will come close to meeting the urgent needs of ZPWMA. Elephant hunting is already happening in Zimbabwe, so this action by the Trump administration would have only incrementally increased hunting revenue.
"This action was just an early Christmas gift to Donald Trump Jr., and we will continue to keep up the pressure until this change is made official,” said Jeff Chrisfield, chief operating officer of the African Wildlife Foundation. “If the Trump administration is serious about conservation in Zimbabwe, it should immediately and fully fund the implementation of Zimbabwe’s National Elephant Management Plan. A plan is just a plan without the resources to implement it, and the additional revenue from U.S. trophy hunting would represent only a drop in the bucket compared to the needs."
Trophy hunting can only be an effective tool for conservation when decisions are transparent, and the necessary resources are available to ensure hunting is properly managed. Based on the information received to date, AWF does not feel these standards have been met. Further, given the ongoing poaching crisis in Africa, now is not the time to be promoting the hunting of elephants and lions.
AWF is relieved to see President Trump backing down on this issue, and urges the Trump administration to focus instead on reducing international demand for illegal wildlife products, and direct support of wildlife conservation in Zimbabwe and other elephant and lion range states.
President Trump's proposed budget cuts vital funding for programs that protect some of the world's most vulnerable species and ecosystems.
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