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On November 14, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it had completed an assessment and, as a result, would be allowing hunters who kill elephants in Zimbabwe and Zambia to import their trophies into the United States. To say the decision was met with both disbelief and outrage is an understatement. 

Many citizens, particularly in the United States, were frustrated by the development. This is because the African elephant is expected to go extinct within the next 10 years. Furthermore, there used to be 10 million elephants in Africa in the early 1900s. Today, there are just a few hundred thousand — and those numbers are dwindling due to human conflict and poaching.

Former President Barack Obama passed the ban on the import of elephant trophies in 2014 to protect the land mammal. But that achievement was recently undone in November, resulting in the Trump administration receiving hoards of criticism. In the face of backlash, US President Donald Trump announced that he would put the decision on hold, pending a review of “all conservation facts.” He later tweeted that he’d “be very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal.”

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As Michael Doyle of E&E News pointed out, President Trump’s response was surprising, considering both of his adult sons, Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump, are avid hunters.

Fortunately, the world didn’t need to wait for the world leader to decide whether or not it is acceptable to condone the killing of elephants — one of the most intelligent and empathetic mammals on the planet. This is because, shortly before Christmas, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit upheld the conservation mandate of the Endangered Species Act. As a result, elephant and lion trophies are prohibited from being imported into the United States.

The Humane Society of the United States wrote:

“This federal court order, coming only weeks after President Trump tweeted that he was reconsidering the agency’s decision to allow imports of elephant and lion trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia, means that those recent decisions by the agency are invalid.”

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Said Anna Frostic, the managing attorney for wildlife litigation for The Humane Society of the United States:

“The federal government must carefully consider the science demonstrating that trophy hunting negatively impacts the conservation of imperiled species. We strongly urge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take immediate action to rescind its unlawful decisions to liberalize elephant and lion trophy imports.”

It is also pertinent to note that the Court held that the agency must take public comment on any “blanket decisions to allow or prohibit trophy imports based on individual countries management plans.”

Does killing animals actually protect them?

The argument that killing animals might save entire species makes some sense on paper. But as many activists  including Jeffery Flocken — have pointed out, it is morally, economically, and biologically wrong.

In an opinion piece published by CNN, Flocken asserted that the “benefits” of trophy hunting are largely exaggerated. He wrote,

“Economically, the actual benefits accrued by local people from the hunts have been found to be exaggerated or practically non-existent in the case of trophy hunted animals like polar bears in Canada, according to a report for IFAW by Economists at Large. And in Tanzania — one of Africa’s top sport-hunting destinations — an estimated 3-5% of hunting revenues are actually shared with fringe communities, according to a report by Hassanali Thomas Sachedina of St. Anthony’s College, University of Oxford.”

A study on the economic benefit of lion hunting in Africa supports this. The researchers concluded: “The suggestion that trophy hunting plays a significant role in African economic development is misguided…Revenues constitute only a fraction of a percent of GDP and almost none of that ever reaches rural communities.”

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In Flocken’s opinion piece, he went on to explain that from a biological perspective, as well, trophy hunting makes no sense.

“The long-term survival of an imperiled species is extremely complicated; trophy hunting not only flies in the face of a precautionary approach to wildlife management, but in some cases it has also been found to undermine it,” Flocken wrote. “A case in point: hunters are not like natural predators. They target the largest specimens; those with the biggest tusks, manes, antlers or horns.”

In a piece published by National Geographic, Flocken also wrote that trophy hunting can “destabilize” entire species.

“Approximately 600 lions are killed every year on trophy hunts, including lions in populations that are already declining from other threats…” Flocken declared. “The adult male lion is the most sought-after trophy by wealthy foreign hunters. And when an adult male lion is killed, the destabilization of that lion’s pride can lead to more lion deaths as outside males compete to take over the pride.”

The arguments for and against trophy hunting abound. At the end of the day, you need to decide if it is “right” or “wrong” to kill animals  whether for their “trophies,” or at all.

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