The United States remains the biggest importer of trophy-hunted endangered animals in the world in spite of Donald Trump’s recent public comments overturning a decision by the US Department of Interior to allow elephant trophies into the United States.
In 2016 alone the US imported 3,249 or 60% of the animal trophies from just six African countries – Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. According to the trade database of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
One of the most popular big game mammals for trophy hunters to kill are elephants. Donald Trump has made specific reference to the horror of elephant trophy hunting before, yet hundreds of American hunters, including the President’s own sons, have on average imported around 200 elephant trophies annually. This excludes the approximate annual haul of 150 tusks and hundreds of feet, ears, teeth, skin pieces, and other elephant derivatives.
In countries like Zimbabwe and Tanzania, the elephant trophy hunting carnage became so great that in 2014 the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) imposed a ban on American hunters importing elephant trophies. There were concerns that elephant hunting in these two countries, which currently allows annual elephant hunting quotas of 500 and 50 elephants respectively, were poorly regulated and have not contributed to the conservation of the species.
Last year, the US Department of Interior attempted to overturn the ban but Trump stepped in to uphold it.
Yet, in the three years since the ban came into effect, over 600 elephants from other African countries were shot, and their trophies imported into the US.
Elephants are not the only animal favoured by American trophy hunters. Over 1,000 leopard trophies were imported into the US from southern Africa between 2014 and 2016 even though the animal is listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. The Red List cites trophy hunting as a key factor for the continent-wide decline in leopard populations. South Africa has been forced to impose a moratorium on all leopard trophy hunting since 2016 because of unsustainable hunting practices.
The list of trophies of endangered wildlife imported into the US goes on. In 2016, according to the CITES trade database, 182 wild lion trophies (excluding the 276 captive-bred lion trophies) were imported. The Red List says lion populations in Africa, which are also listed as Vulnerable, have declined by 43%. The Red List once again draws attention to poorly managed trophy hunting as one of the causes for the decline.
Also in 2016, the latest figures on the CITES trade database, 581 rare Hartmann’s zebras, 186 hippos, hundreds of crocodiles, half a dozen rhino, dozens of baboons, monkeys and even bush babies, honey badgers and grey-crowned cranes have been shot, stuffed and shipped off.
Dan Ashe, former director of the USFWS and current President and CEO of the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) recently pointed out that while American hunters flock to Africa to hunt a menagerie of wild animals, endangered species are not allowed to be hunted within the United States.
“Species like alligator, grizzly bear, wolf, and whooping crane, are protected from hunting if listed as endangered or threatened,” said Ashe. “If elephants were native to the U.S., they would not be hunted. And neither would lions, rhinos, or leopards.”
Trophy hunters, however, have long claimed that hunting even of endangered animals is good for conservation. Pro-hunting group Safari Club International (SCI) recently published a paper stating simply that trophy hunting supports conservation of African wildlife and habitat.
This study estimated the economic benefits of trophy hunting in eight African countries. They claim that the overall economic benefit from their estimated 18,815 trophy hunter visits is $USD 426 million to the studied eight countries, and that trophy hunting, directly and indirectly, supports 53,000 jobs.
However, a review of that study prepared by Economists at Large for Humane Society International says in fact that “trophy hunting contributes significantly less to the eight study economies, job markets, and African conservation.” The review states that a more realistic estimate is less than $USD 132 million per year, that the contribution from trophy hunting to employment is likely in the range of 7,500 – 15,500 jobs, the total economic contribution of trophy hunters is at most about 0.03% of GDP, and that foreign trophy hunters make up less than 0.1% of tourists on average.
Trump himself said he does not believe the fees that hunters pay to hunt elephants and other species actually go toward conservation efforts, and instead are pocketed by corrupt government officials.
Alejandro Nadal, a professor of economics at El Colegio in Mexico, and a world expert in environmental trade markets and trends agrees but only to a point. “Where Trump’s utterances are insufficient,” says Nadal “is the money generated through trophy hunting is totally insufficient for sustainable conservation, even if there is no corruption.”