By George Pangeti
Late last month, U.S. Representative Vern Buchanan (R-FL-16) decided to use Congress’ budget process as a vessel for his own legislative agenda by attaching an appropriations rider to H.R 3055, which would prohibit the import of sport-hunted elephant and lion from Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe to the U.S. Sadly, this is only the most recent effort by misinformed legislators to try to manage wildlife populations that they are neither responsible for, nor know enough about.
As the former Deputy Director of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, I have not only seen the bigger threats facing animals such as elephants and lions, but I have also seen the solutions to these threats that big game hunting has helped to create.
The biggest threats facing lion species, for example, are loss of habitat, loss of food sources and retaliatory killings. While all of these threats are intertwined, the biggest and “most powerful” threat to African lions is habitat loss. Enormous game hunting preserves, however, ensure that lions and other wildlife species have protected habitats in which they can sustain themselves without fear of agricultural encroachment from local communities. In Tanzania in particular, approximately 57 percent of the country’s lion population can be found in protected hunting areas that would not exist but for the land conservation incentives provided by big game hunting.
American hunters who pay large sums of money to local African communities to hunt on these game preserves will be radically disincentivized if the importation of trophies is banned, as Representative Buchanan’s amendment would do. The Congressman claims that banning the importation of trophies will help these species “on the verge of extinction.” Yet, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), lion populations have increased in countries that allow big game hunting. Bans like these, the IUCN goes on to say, are “blunt instruments that risk undermining important benefits for both conservation and local livelihoods, thus exacerbating rather than addressing the prevailing major threats of habitat loss and poaching.”
Poaching is another widespread threat to African wildlife, especially to elephants whose tusks fetch high prices on the illicit ivory market. In a press release regarding his trophy ban, Congressman Buchanan stated that “over 30,000 elephants are slaughtered for their tusks every year” as if to egregiously imply that all these deaths are at the hands of American hunters and not poachers. In reality, over 60 percent of the significant revenues from small elephant hunting quotas maintained by countries like Zimbabwe are reinvested towards anti-poaching efforts. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species’ (CITES) has published data showing that these efforts have helped “reduce the overall impact of poaching on elephant populations across a wide range of land tenures.”
As pointed out by former SCI President Paul Babaz, the wildlife management authorities of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe; the 183 Parties to CITES; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS); and the IUCN all credit licensed, regulated hunting as the cornerstone of successful conservation and wildlife management programs. As a result, these three countries are recognized by the IUCN as having some of the world’s largest populations of elephant and lion. It is clear that Representative Buchanan is unwilling to look at the conservation science supporting big game hunting and is, instead, pursuing passage of a law that will subject lions and elephants to tighter habitat restrictions and increased vulnerability to poaching. It is my hope that Senators and conference committee appointees see fit to overrule and discard his dangerously misguided amendment as the legislative process for H.R. 3055 wears on.
George Pangeti is a Wildlife Management and Environmental Conservation Consultant in Zimbabwe. He is the former Deputy Director and Chairman of Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.