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The US allows hunters to import some elephant trophies from African countries

The US Fish and Wildlife Service informed some hunters last month that it would allow six elephant trophies to be imported into the United States from Zimbabwe. The African elephant carcasses will be the first to be allowed into the country in five years.

The decision lifts an agency-wide ban on processing elephant trophy import permits that was introduced during the Trump administration in November 2017 and has since prevented elephant tusks, tails or feet from being brought into the country.

The reversal follows a September 2021 settlement with the Dallas Safari Club, a big game hunting organization that sued the Trump administration in December 2019 for suspending processing of trophy permits. The Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism was also a plaintiff in the case. The Fish and Wildlife Service is required under the settlement to process the permits of the 11 hunters named in the lawsuit, as well as 73 other pending permit requests. This could potentially lead to additional trophies being brought to the United States from countries that allow limited hunting of elephants for sport.

According to a spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, both parties have “negotiated what they believe to be a settlement that is in the public interest and a just, fair, reasonable and equitable resolution of the disputes set forth in the plaintiffs’ complaint.”

The service’s decision to settle the lawsuit continues a long-standing dispute between hunters and biodiversity experts over whether trophy hunting is beneficial or detrimental to big game species, particularly vulnerable animals like the two species of African elephant. It has also drawn criticism from activists and biodiversity groups who wonder why the agency hasn’t fought the lawsuit or reinstated a similar ban put in place during the Obama administration.

They point out that the move goes against President Biden’s campaign commitment to limit hunt imports. The critics also say this is the latest in a series of confusing moves by the Biden administration to agree to lawsuits left over from the Trump administration and a failure to invest in more protections under the Endangered Species Act, such as e.g. B. Conservation of more gray wolves. They argue that these actions show Mr Biden has not kept his word on environmental priorities.

“We expected that the Biden administration would have stopped everything and looked closely and made some tough decisions that maybe we shouldn’t do in light of the biodiversity crisis,” said Tanya Sanerib, senior counsel for the Center for Biodiversity. “When the reality is the exact opposite of that, it feels like whiplash.”

For trophy hunters and big game groups, the reversal came as a long-delayed victory.

“It’s a victory for conservation because in a lot of these places where elephants live, the habitat is only made available because of the hunting money,” said Lane Easter, 57, an equine veterinarian in Texas whose trophy approval was part of the settlement for a Zimbabwe he hunted in 2017.

The majority of trophy hunters are from the United States. According to the Federal Species Protection Act, before importing a trophy, hunters must prove that the killing of the animal has contributed to the “positive upgrading” of a species.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s perspective, which predates Mr. Biden’s election, is that trophy hunting can qualify as species enhancement if it is “legal, well-regulated hunting as part of a sound management program,” the agency spokesman said .

Big game hunters say the money they spend hunting is later reinvested in the species’ rehabilitation and benefits surrounding communities economically to help prevent poaching. They also say that hunting certain animals, such as elephants and lions, can benefit overall herd health.

Hunters can spend upwards of $40,000 on an African hunt in Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Zambia and Namibia, and many win the rights through bidding wars held at national conferences such as the annual Safari Club International convention.

However, groups like Humane Society International say that hunting a species is not beneficial to its survival and that the Fish and Wildlife Service should not allow paid hunting to be considered a method of improving the species, particularly in animals native to the United States consider threatened. The International Union for Conservation of Nature revised its list for both species of African elephant in 2021 to highlight that both are critically endangered.

Critics also say there is little evidence that money paid for a hunt ultimately helps the species recover, especially when corruption has been found to be rife in several countries where African elephants live is.

“There is no evidence that trophy hunting promotes conservation,” said Teresa Telecky, zoologist and vice president for wildlife at Humane Society International.

When Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, big game hunters expected it would be easier to import elephant trophies. In the week leading up to Thanksgiving in 2017, the Fish and Wildlife Service lifted an Obama-era ban allowing hunters to import elephant trophies from several African countries. The news sparked a storm of disapproval and criticism, with even staunch allies of Mr Trump warning that the move would “cruel poaching of elephants.”

Just 24 hours later, Mr. Trump tweeted that he would “put the decision on hold.” After this tweet, not a single elephant trophy was approved for import into the United States.

“Because the president found trophy hunting distasteful, he essentially overrode the law with a tweet,” said George Lyon, the attorney representing the Dallas Safari Club, “and that’s not how the administrative process should go.”

According to the wildlife service, it has processed eight permits so far. It rejected two in addition to the six allowed, and is expected to rule on more in the coming months. Mr. Lyon estimated that nearly 300 elephant trophy permits from various African countries were awaiting processing last September.

Mr. Easter says he wastes no time basking in his legal victory. His elephant’s tusks are already being prepared for transport to him in Texas.

“They will hang in the living room of my house and I will remember this elephant for the rest of my life,” he said.

He has booked another trophy hunt in Africa for August.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/01/science/elephant-trophies-hunting.html The US allows hunters to import some elephant trophies from African countries

Brian Ashcraft

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