The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) confirmed that it intends to lift the ban on importation of elephant and lion trophies from Zambia and Zimbabwe. While the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) acknowledges that well-managed hunting can play a role in financing conservation, we are opposed to the hunting of elephants, lions, and rhinos due to the ongoing poaching crisis and plummeting population numbers. Africa’s elephant population has declined by 30 percent in seven years, and according to the IUCN Red List there could be as few as 20,000 lions.
This decision by the Trump administration forfeits the leadership role of the United States in the critical fight against illegal wildlife trafficking. China has historically been the largest market for ivory globally, and its decision to end trade in ivory resulted in a 65 percent drop in ivory’s market value. With this decision by the USFWS, AWF expects that the United States may soon give up its leadership role, and that China will replace the U.S. as the global leader in the fight against poaching for ivory.
Trophy hunting can only be an effective tool for conservation when associated decisions and financial flows are transparent. Unfortunately, this decision by the Trump administration has been anything but transparent, and reinforces AWF’s stated concerns about the proposed International Wildlife Conservation Council (IWCC) recently announced by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. With membership to be dominated by hunters and the U.S. gun lobby, the IWCC’s mandate is to promote hunting, expedite trophy permits, and weaken the Endangered Species Act. AWF renews its call for all responsible conservation organizations to exclude themselves from this council until such time that stakeholders with a commercial interest in loosening hunting restrictions are removed.
“With the creation of the International Wildlife Conservation Council by the Trump administration, we are seeing the entrance of Washington, DC, cronyism into the international conservation effort,” said Jeff Chrisfield, African Wildlife Foundation’s Chief Operating Officer. “The U.S. gun lobby should no more have a say in wildlife conservation, than a conservation organization should have a say in the gun debate. I hope no respectable conservation organization lends its credibility to this farce.”
Today, the USFWS has released more information supporting the justification for its decision regarding elephant and lion trophies. AWF will review this data and is hopeful to see genuine and verifiable improvements in the governance of trophy hunting in these countries. However, AWF is currently working on the ground at Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe where the poaching crisis is still very serious. Zimbabwe has been a strong conservation partner with AWF for many years, and we stand with the dedicated staff of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority who risk their lives on a daily basis in defense of wildlife.
If the Trump administration is serious about conservation, AWF encourages the U.S. government to step forward with the necessary financial support to Zimbabwe and other wildlife range states for anti-poaching and associated rural community development. The ongoing wildlife poaching and trafficking crisis will not be solved until the world stands behind Africa in this fight.