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Missing the Mark: African trophy hunting fails to show consistent conservation benefits

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A report by the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Natural Resources

Executive Summary

Hunting of imperiled animals can save species from extinction. It is a claim that is counterintuitive to some and makes perfect sense to others. It is also the official position of the United States government, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service claiming that “well-managed wildlife programs that include limited, sustainable sport hunting can and have provided significant long-term benefits to the populations of many species.”1 However, the debate has reached a fever pitch since the 2015 death of Zimbabwe’s famed Cecil the Lion at the hands of American dentist and trophy hunting hobbyist, Water Palmer. This report evaluates that claim as it pertains to prized species in popular hunting locations, and examines the conditions under which trophy hunting may contribute to conservation.

Many governments and a number of private and non-profit groups, including conservation organizations, have long viewed well-regulated hunting as an important conservation tool. Indeed, much of the North American system of wildlife management is based on the principle that most hunters want healthy populations of game animals so that they will always have something to hunt. In places like the United States, where laws against wildlife poaching are generally well respected and enforced and transparent mechanisms funnel taxes and fees generated by hunters to effective conservation programs, hunting has helped restore populations of some prized game species when quotas are based on sound science. In places where hunting is poorly managed, as is the case in some parts of Africa, the claim that trophy hunting provides conservation benefits is much harder to prove, especially for species with populations that have already been depleted.

By definition, trophy hunters hunt to bring home a trophy for display consisting of all or part of their kill. In order to help ensure trophy hunting does not contribute to the extinction of a species, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) requires that hunting trophies of wildlife listed as endangered or threatened may only be brought into the United States if their importation – and by extension, the hunt – enhances the survival of the species. This high threshold is an important and appropriate safeguard against extinction.

An analysis of five major threatened or endangered game species (African elephant, African lion, black rhinoceros, southern white rhinoceros, and leopard) in four African countries (Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe) found that trophy hunting is managed well in some areas and poorly in others. In many cases, the laws, institutions, and capacity necessary to make trophy hunting benefit conservation are lacking. The analysis also found that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) – the agency responsible for allowing or prohibiting protected species imports – could make significant improvements to its permitting process that would help ensure that only trophies which truly do enhance species survival are allowed into the country. The report makes the following recommendations:

 Ensure that trophy hunts benefit conservation.
 Close regulatory loopholes that harm protected species.
 Tighten trophy import permitting requirements.
 Increase fees for trophy imports to fund science and conservation.
 Allow only imports taken using fair chase hunting methods.

Read full report here: https://conservationaction.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Missing-the-Mark.pdf

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