Just two days after Zimbabwe was thrown into political turmoil by a military coup, President Trump made the controversial decision to remove the Obama-era rule that prevents Americans from importing elephant trophies — body parts of hunted animals, including trunks and skulls — from the country. And then, two days later, he changed his mind.
African elephants are listed as a threatened species. Until Obama changed the policy in 2015, elephant trophy importation was allowed in South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe; it is still allowed in the two former countries. The former administration’s decision to end allowances in Zimbabwe stemmed from political turmoil and poor law enforcement that resulted in mismanagement and improper protection of elephant populations. Amid new and far more significant political turmoil, Trump and Ryan Zinke, the Secretary of the Interior, made (and quickly repealed the decision) to put a halt to these bans.
The elephant population in Zimbabwe dropped 6 percent over recent years, and 30 percent across Africa as a whole, but many supporters of open trophy hunting say that it enhances the survival of the species in the wild. Zinke has claimed that the large sums of money that hunters pay to shoot and dismember African elephants can go toward conservation of elephants, and that the trade is fair and reasonable. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) supports trophy hunting because, “legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation.”
Unfortunately, this popular concept does not play out well in real life situations due to political corruption and other issues.
Zimbabwe is a country with a strong history of corruption, and this misconduct by no means excludes elephant hunting regulations: the president, Robert Mugabe, once celebrated his birthday by dining on an elephant. No matter what they may say, Zimbabwe does not allot the proper funding to conservation, nor does it make the efforts it may say it does to protect elephants (in 2015 the FWS determined that the country was unable to instate any laws to protect elephants). But it is not just the country of Zimbabwe that is the true issue here — it is American government officials that allow trophy hunters to patronize the corrupt tourist industries of any country that allows the greedy and excessive poaching of threatened and endangered species.
The FWS has also considered instating a similar ban in Tanzania, where elephants population are declining at an concerning rate. Edward R. Royce, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, said, “Elephants and other big game in Africa are blood currency for terrorist organizations, and they are being killed at an alarming rate. Stopping poaching isn’t just about saving the world’s most majestic animals for the future — it’s about our national security.”
Corrupt countries do not make decisions in the interest of their endangered wildlife, no matter what they may say: they make them in the interest of earning money. If the United States continues to collaborate with corrupt nations under the false guise of supporting the conservation of threatened species, it won’t be long until those species are more than threatened, and soon gone forever.