Thursday, May 8, 2014

US SUSPENSION OF SPORT HUNTED ELEPHANT TROPHIES CONTROVERSY

 

Controversy Swirls Around the Recent U.S. Suspension of Sport-Hunted Elephant Trophies
Christina Russo, A Voice for Elephants, National Geographic
May 6, 2014

Battle lines are being drawn after the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) announcement last month to suspend import of elephant trophies from Tanzania and Zimbabwe for the remainder of 2014.

The decision was spurred by the catastrophic poaching of Africa’s elephants and the fact that in these two countries, according to FWS, “additional killing of elephants…even if legal, is not sustainable.”

The announcement comes on the heels of a U.S. ban on the commercial trade of elephant ivory. That ban includes a new rule, expected to come into force in June, that limits the number of African elephant trophies that can be imported into the U.S. to two per hunter per year.

FWS still allows imports of elephant trophies from other African nations, including Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa—although Botswana has banned sport hunting, as has Zambia. (See: No Trophy Hunting in Botswana and Zambia?)

In Tanzania, “questionable management practices, a lack of effective law enforcement, and weak governance have resulted in uncontrolled poaching and catastrophic population declines.” For example, the Selous—Africa’s largest protected area—“has lost 66 percent of its elephants in the past five years,” according to FWS.

In Zimbabwe, FWS points to the 2013 killing of upwards of 300 elephants by cyanide poisoning—a widely publicized slaughter that took place in Hwange National Park. “Information on the status of Zimbabwe’s elephant population, management plans, hunting polices and regulations is limited,” FWS notes. The information available raises “significant concerns about the long-term survival of [its] elephants.”

“Rash Decision”

A number of hunting organizations have protested the suspension. Safari Club International (SCI), an influential hunting advocacy group, has filed a lawsuit and a preliminary injunction to lift the importation ban. SCI says its lawsuit “attacks the inadequacy of the information on which the FWS based its decision and the Service’s failure to consider the beneficial impacts that U.S. hunters and sport hunting have on African elephant conservation.”

SCI has also called upon its members to lobby on Capitol Hill May 8 to protest the suspension. Meanwhile, SCI also says that hunting, park, and safari representatives from Zimbabwe and Tanzania will meet with U.S. officials to discuss the suspension.

Conservation Force (CF), a Louisiana-based hunting advocacy group, responded similarly. John Jackson III, the chairman and president, calls the suspension “wholly irresponsible” and says the move came by surprise. “There was no warning of notice to the two countries, the CITES Secretariat, the African Elephant Specialist Group of IUCN or the hunting community, only a press release after the fact that gives too little explanation.”

Furthermore, Jackson believes that the number of elephants poisoned in Hwange is highly exaggerated and points out that the poaching was “discovered, reported and acted upon by the hunting community… and thanks to the hunting operator in the area… the poachers were caught and are serving stiff prison sentences!”

What is a Trophy?

Many Americans might be shocked to learn that U.S. hunters still kill African elephants for sport.

In fact, several hundred sport-hunted elephant trophies have been imported into the U.S. each year during the past decade, according to FWS. Trophies consist of almost any elephant part, including the head, tusks, skull, feet, tails, belly skins, and femur bones.

CF’s Jackson says more than 11 million big-game hunting licenses are issued in the U.S. annually. About one thousand hunters received a permit to kill elephants.

Whether or not a trophy can be imported into the U.S. depends on the conservation status of the country’s elephants. For trophies from CITES Appendix I elephants (populations in danger of extinction, such as in Tanzania and Zambia), FWS must issue a CITES import permit and “make the additional finding that the import is not detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild.” (Although there are now limitations on trophy imports, there are no limitations on hunting elephants).

Elephants in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa fall under Appendix II, meaning that those populations are not currently considered in danger of extinction. For Appendix II elephant trophies, only a CITES export permit is required. FWS must determine, however, that the import of an elephant trophy would “enhance the survival or propagation of the species,” says Tim Van Norman, chief of FWS’s permits branch.

Van Norman says this determination is made by reviewing such factors as possible threats to populations, current population estimates, management plans, local community involvement, and if any funds are generated by the import, how they’ll be used to bolster conservation. “Obtaining the information on management programs may entail a lengthy collaborative process between the country of export and the Service,” Van Norman says. FULL STORY HERE

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