The irony of the slaughter of elephants and other mammals for trophies is subject to debate as it is thought that the funds accrued from trophy-hunting or ivory are miniscule in comparison to the value of these animals as eco-tourist-drawing cards.
ViewPoint with Wisdom Mdzungairi
The debate was fuelled by the temporary ban on all imports of elephant ivory hunting trophies from Tanzania and Zimbabwe on April 4 by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The USFWS reasoned that “additional killing of elephants in Zimbabwe and Tanzania, even if legal, is not sustainable and is not currently supporting conservation efforts that contribute towards the recovery of the species”.
It might be pertinent to point out that over the 10 years — 2003-2012 — US hunters imported an average of about 160 elephants per year from Zimbabwe.
In Zimbabwe and Tanzania, US hunters outnumbered hunters from any other nation, and the ban is likely to significantly affect the income of the trophy-hunting operators. So does that imply that the USFWS is not a great believer in the “killing for conservation” message that the hunters are putting out there? Because if they did, they would allow the trophy hunters to continue and after all isn’t their presence in hunting areas supposed to deter poachers?
The USFWS statement turned full circle when they said they would still allow imports of ivory hunting trophies from Namibia and South Africa because sport hunting can benefit the conservation of listed species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation. One wonders whether the European Union will ignore the USFWS ban or join forces with regards to hunting in this country.
As expected, the USFWS has come under sustained attack from trophy hunters to more fully explain a decision that seems to have been taken abruptly.
Community Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (Campfire) director Charles Jonga argued that due to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species controls in trade in elephant and its specimens, all ivory from Campfire districts, Forestry and Parks estate is stockpiled within Zimbabwe Parks and Management Authority (Zimparks) stores.
Jonga said of the current stock that the Zimparks stores hold about 16% belongs to Campfire communities. The current value of the Campfire ivory stockpile is estimated at $2,5 million.
According to Jonga, 45% of the gross hunting revenue goes to the Campfire whilst 55% goes to safari operators. Key stakeholders including safari operators realised a cumulative $89 million between 1989 and 2006. There is no doubt that trophy hunting for big game is a controversial blood sport.
And, as well as lions, African elephants, zebras, giraffes, cheetahs and leopards are also all fair game for trophy hunters who bring millions of dollars to Zimbabwe and most of its neighbours annually.
Unlike South Africa, where even species classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as critically endangered such as the black rhino, or vulnerable, such as hippos, are also hunted, Zimbabwe’s hunting is mainly focused on the big five minus the rhino — black and white.
Advocates of trophy-hunting claim the fees paid by tourists pays for wildlife conservation, create an incentive to protect natural habitats, boost tourism, prevent poaching and control numbers.
Yet, critics say the blood sport is cruel and point out that Kenya, the only African country where trophy-hunting is completely outlawed, enjoys a vibrant safari industry, worth nearly $1 billion to the annual economy.
Beginning this year, Botswana has banned hunting to promote eco-tourism.
In Kenya, a 1989 analysis on the viewing value of elephants found that between $25 and $30 million per year was earned in tourist dollars from people attracted to the elephants alone. Reports say, a new project provides a local Maasai tribe with about $23 000 a year from tour operators who camp there primarily to show visitors the big bull elephants that are now so rare in East Africa.
It is thought that during the long life of an African elephant, it may produce tourist revenue worth $1 million, distributed to a wide range of recipients, from airlines to travel companies, and to local economies. By contrast, a trophy-hunted elephant brings a one-time fee of $4 000 to $20 000. Estimates for African Lions are similar. A fully maned male Lion, according to other reports, is worth $500 000 as a tourist attraction, whereas a lion shot for sport or trophy is worth between $3 500 and
$8 500, and its skin about $1 000.
Botswana, which banned hunting beginning this year, reportedly earns over $100 million per year from tourism and only a tiny fraction from trophy hunting, yet the government actively promotes the latter activity and has failed to give national park status to its crowning jewel, the Okavango Delta.
Hence, in Zimbabwe’s terms, the loss of this income stream will certainly increase the loss of confidence by communities in wildlife management, and consequently threaten tolerance and survival of the elephant.
Community antipathy to wildlife and the reciprocal costs to wildlife is set to increase, especially through retaliatory killing or self-help problem animal control and commercial poaching to feed international syndicates.
Clearly, communities are disillusioned with the suspension of elephant trophy imports into the US and are more likely than ever before to succumb to the temptation to open up more land for rain-fed agriculture in areas generally unsuitable for cropping leading to massive land degradation.
The disruption of hunting revenue inflows and investment into the protection of wildlife and direct incentives at community level in Zimbabwe is a sure way to increase elephant poaching and human encroachment into wildlife areas, Jonga said.