AN OPEN LETTER TO THE
US FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE
Ref. The US Fish and Wildlife Service suspension (ban) on importation of elephant trophies hunted in 2014 by sport hunters in Tanzania and Zimbabwe into the USA.
Yes, Africa has a serious poaching problem, fuelled by recent unprecedented demand. Your suspension is in fact causing a ‘ban’ on American citizens hunting elephant in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Even though governments of both countries see the need to allow continued licensed hunting, no hunter will go all the way to Africa on an expensive safari if they can’t take their trophy home. Safari hunters, unlike poachers, are selective - they are not killers bent on a quick financial return - on the contrary, they are prepared to pay large sums of money for the privilege of legally hunting and keeping the trophy of a selected animal.
Bans don’t work. Bans are not a solution. Rather encourage better management and anti-poaching. More importantly, find a solution to dealing with the end users who are the cause of the poaching problem in the first place.
I have witnessed firsthand the negative results of three African hunting bans. Having been first licensed in Tanzania as a Professional Hunter in 1963, I have been a full-time professional hunter ever since, not only in Tanzania, but at one time or another in most African countries that allowed hunting. I state this in the interests of sharing the changes I have seen caused by hunting bans.
Briefly, safari hunting is an important wildlife management tool in Africa. It produces important revenue from legitimate, licensed hunting take-off of surplus game animals to governments, conservancies and safari operators. It hugely contributes to the financial well-being and food supply of people who live on a day-to-day basis with wild animals, in and around wildlife areas. It helps fund and pay for anti-poaching efforts by both safari companies and governments. It mostly utilizes old animals, often beyond breeding age. American safari hunting clients contribute about 60% of the revenue earned through sport hunting in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Your suspension will seriously erode revenue that is so badly needed in Zimbabwe and Tanzania to help fund anti-poaching. The cancellations following will cause financial loss to conservancies where the local people will not understand your reasoning for the suspension - some will simply just turn to poaching to compensate their losses.
You know all this. But what you may or may not know is the negative results of prior hunting bans. Namely:
TANZANIA IN 1973 - At that time there were an estimated 380,000 elephant and 18,000 black rhino. By the time the government reopened hunting in 1983, the elephant population had declined to about 80,000 and rhino to less than 100 animals. The Tanzanian government realized that the ban was a mistake, leaving the wilderness wide open to commercial poaching, and reopened safari hunting in 1983. The elephant population immediately started to recover, increasing up to an estimated 130,000 animals in 2009, prior to the current poaching. No doubt this number has dropped, but your suspension will only serve to exacerbate the problem.
KENYA IN 1977 - At that time there were an estimated 176,000 elephant and over 8,000 black rhino. Today there are various estimates, but probably an accurate one would be somewhere in the region of 20,000+ elephant and about 500+ rhino. Kenya remains closed to safari hunting and has the embarrassment of losing over 150,000 elephant and 7,500 black rhino! All in a period of no legal hunting. Poaching is, and continues to be, rife.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (FORMERLY ZAIRE) - Formerly the largest stronghold of the forest elephant, safari hunting was banned in 1984. It remains closed to this day. Since that closure, the northern white rhino has completely disappeared and is probably extinct. Forest elephant are now a rarity in that country. Again, all in a period of NO legal hunting. There is a message here. Taking legal hunters who are legitimate managers of wildlife out of the bush creates a vacuum of empty wilderness that is soon filled by illegal thieves of wildlife - poachers.
Yes, there is a huge poaching problem in Africa today, wherever there are elephant and rhino; not only Tanzania and Zimbabwe. But, I can assure you that if you remove the legal presence of safari hunters from the bush, which is what will happen as a side effect of your suspension, poaching will increase at an alarming rate. That could threaten the very existence of elephant in Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
All of us have the common interest of the well-being of all wildlife, not just elephant. A professional hunter is most motivated to look after and steward his or her wildlife. Their very livelihood and way of life depends on this.
A remedy to counteract poaching? The following may be worth considering:
• Instead of an outright punitive suspension, encourage proper management practices. Liaise with African governments, work with them and assist them rather than antagonize them with importation bans. Part of the problem is that often legal hunting and wildlife theft through poaching are lumped together under one ‘umbrella’ because of misinformation. Legal, licensed hunting is conservation; poaching is simply stealing.
• Target and punish the end-users and dealers who, after all, are the villains and cause of this poaching scourge. It often seems to be the legal hunters who are targeted, yet the real criminals seem to get away scot free - this needs to change!
• Help fund anti-poaching. Tanzania and Zimbabwe have limited resources. Anti-poaching is hugely expensive. The US can make a huge difference by helping to fund anti-poaching programs in the field.
• Educate and involve local human communities in the value of conserving wildlife, whether through wise sustainable use or photographic safaris. Both are equally important in giving wild animals real long-term value.
Lastly, if the US importation suspension on sport-hunted elephant is not lifted, then an undoubted increase of poaching will be the result in both Zimbabwe and Tanzania. Who will then accept the responsibility for that? The US Fish and Wildlife Service?