In September 3, 2009, International Affairs of USF&WS denied the longstanding applications to import elephant hunting trophies from the Niassa Reserve of Mozambique. Both the Management and Scientific divisions made negative findings. The denials are a shock because Niassa is one of the most promising reserves in the world today with exemplary management. Something is clearly awry.
International Affairs only processed the longstanding permits in response to Conservation Force’s Mozambique elephant lawsuit filed in March, 2009. Incredibly, the denial rests upon a Division of Scientific Authority (DSA) “general advice” dated April 8, 2005, which predated the opening of Niassa and the date of the two particular hunts in issue. In short, the DSA’s CITES advice that it could not make a non-detriment finding did not consider the Niassa information attached to the permit application at all, nor could it because the advice was rendered before the Niassa hunting was opened or the application was made.
The information about Niassa and where the hunts occurred seems to have been immaterial to the Service during the years the applications languished. Neither Division made any inquiry or effort. They did not even consider the application attachments.
The Division of Management Authority (DMA) also made a negative enhancement finding under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The DMA said that “[t]o enhance the survival of the species, the importation must be associated with activities that provide a direct benefit to the species being hunted. Such benefits could include the use of revenue generated by the hunt to support conservation projects or to manage the species. Other benefits that could result from activities that enhance the survival of the species include improving human-wildlife conflicts, anti-poaching efforts, or habitat conservation.”
This working definition of “enhancement” under the ESA is very important to know. Such an explanation has been hard to find in the past. Regrettably, it was not applied in this case at all because the elephant hunting in the Niassa Reserve and the immediately surrounding buffer zone is the epitome of every particular of that definition. Both the DMA and DSA ignored the particulars of the Reserve in which the elephant were taken. Had the DSA and DMA made up-to-date findings covering the Niassa Reserve, positive determinations should have been made.
The denial letter states, “[W]e realize it has taken much longer than usual to act on your application and apologize for the extreme delay in responding to your request.” That is quite an admission for an agency being sued for taking too long. In reality, it took more than three full years and a lawsuit. The scientific opinion itself was five years late when rendered and did not include Niassa or the 2005 and 2006 seasons when and where the applicants’ hunts took place. No inquiry was made of the hunters or the Mozambique authorities about the hunt period or the hunt in issue. The applications were clearly ignored until suit was filed.
The denial also rests upon August, 2007 USF&WS regulations that were not even in effect during the 2005 and 2006 hunts. Those regulations self-authorize the USF&WS to disregard the non-detriment finding made by Mozambique authorities and also self-authorize review of both the biological status and the management of the population rather than the purpose of the imports. The failure to take into consideration the particular program and status of the elephant population in Niassa is exasperating and puzzling. Both DMA and DSA also chose to disregard Mozambique’s quota and non-detriment finding lodged with the CITES Secretariat.
Niassa Reserve is managed as a standalone unit and forms part of an extremely large and continuous ecosystem with the Selous Reserve in Tanzania. The Reserve alone spans two provinces, is over 9 million acres and has between 13,000 and 16,000 elephant. It is separately managed by SRN (Society for the Reserve of Niassa) and was funding 83 game scouts in 2005 at 19 control outposts. Neither the outdated DSA negative non-detriment advice, nor the DMA negative enhancement determination treated Niassa as distinct. Rather, the permit application denial conspicuously disregards the improving status and exemplary management of elephant where and when the hunting took place, Niassa Reserve. The denial calls for more reliable national surveys of the elephant population, but ignores the state-of-the-art Niassa surveys completed every two years since 1999 that document a continuing elephant population increase. The elephant population has doubled over the past decade, but the denial makes no notice of it. Niassa has one of the best and most regulated elephant populations in the world. If the countrywide quota of 40 elephant were all taken in Niassa Reserve instead of across the whole country of Mozambique, the quota would be less than one-third of one percent of Niassa’s elephant population alone. Moreover, Niassa had a quota of less than 10 of those on the national quota. Let them explain that to the Judge – the same Judge who heard the original elephant suit in the early 1990s.
So, where does that leave us? We will amend the District of Columbia Federal Court lawsuit to change the allegations of failing to process the import permit applications into a claim alleging irrational, arbitrary and capricious denial of the applications. Second, we will continue our effort to downlist Mozambique elephant to Appendix II of CITES with an annotation that it is for trophy hunting purposes only, which would eliminate the need for import permits. If we are unable to do it in time for CITES CoP15, to be held in March 2010, that effort will have to wait three more years for CoP16.
In the meantime, Mozambique is coincidentally planning a workshop to complete an up-to-date national action/management plan for the whole of the country, though that has just been delayed. That drafting workshop was scheduled for September and may have at least satisfied the persistent USF&WS demand for a more particularized action plan than the National Elephant Strategy adopted in 1999 which DMA states was just a “first step.” Of course, that workshop is not expected to improve Niassa’s management, which is already intensive and state-of-the-art.
In the interval, we can no longer recommend elephant hunting in the Niassa Reserve, much less anywhere in Mozambique. It may be four or more years before we can establish the import of elephant from anywhere within the country. Rest assured we are doing all that can be done. Please continue your support.