Earlier this week President Trump decided to lift the ban on allowing trophy elephant products – mounts, tusks, hides, etc. — into the United States. You could say this was a gesture to his sons, both of whom are avid trophy hunters. Rage ensued, as anyone could have predicted, and Trump subsequently reversed his decision pending further studies.
While he wasn’t filled with rage like the animal rights freaks around the world, Mark Levin expressed confusion at why anyone would want to shoot an elephant. He and many of his callers expressed this sentiment this week on Levin’s radio show, and it’s not hard to understand. Elephants, rhinoceroses, tigers, lions, and so many exotic animals are amazing creatures. Why would you want to kill them if 1) you don’t need the meat and 2) the animals are threatened or endangered? Both are good questions, and easily answered.
First, what we think of exotic meat in the United States may be in the refrigerator section at a 7-Eleven in Bangkok. People all over the world eat what takes the least effort to acquire, or they pay higher prices for food that may not be so easy to get, but tastes great. See people like Andrew Zimmerman for stories on Kudu, donkeys, and porcupine skin. On this point about Americans shooting animals they don’t intend or need to eat, almost without exception trophy hunters donate the food, hide, and bones to the local populace.
On the second question, of hunting threatened or endangered animals, one of the reasons hunters do this — aside from wanting the challenge of a different hunt — is to provide thousands (sometimes hundreds of thousands) of dollars to build up the local communities that would otherwise poach the animals to survive. Rhinoceros horns and elephant tusks get top dollar around the world, so this is pure economics. It’s not right to decimate an entire animal population for an appendage, but we have to face the uncomfortable truth that people around the world don’t think like we do in the United States. Unfortunately, corruption comes into play, and conservation efforts brought by ethical hunters often get compromised (emphasis mine).
Rural councils in Zimbabwe are notoriously underfunded and almost always have nothing in their coffers to support the communities in their districts. For example, revenue from sport hunting in the Chiredzi Rural District (where the hunter shot that big bull elephant) was negligible, according to a 2014 end-of-year report.
In the report, the council’s chairman suggested it would be better to switch from hunting to more profitable non-consumer-based tourism, such as sightseeing and photography. While a portion of the hunting fees foreigners pay (which can run into the tens of thousands of dollars) is earmarked for community projects such as CAMPFIRE (Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources), Emmanuel Fundira, Chairman of Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe, told CBS News in October that rural councils get “nothing.” In most cases, he said, corrupt government officials take the money.
CAMPFIRE CEO Phindile Ncube told CBS News that his rural district, Hwange, made more than $158,000 in hunting fees during the past year. He claimed that the money goes to infrastructure and food programs for local communities.
But when CBS interviewed local villagers, they said they haven’t received a cent from the council.
Furthermore, hunting operations in wildlife-rich areas are being seized by Zimbabwe’s land-hungry political elite, according to a 2014 report from Born Free, a wildlife conservation nonprofit, and C4ADS, a nonprofit conflict and security analysis firm. Safari and game reserves are one of the few remaining lucrative industries in Zimbabwe, both for legal and illegal hunting.
You can easily make the case that corruption poisons conservation efforts, and only the corrupt would disagree. But that’s an indictment of local politicians than hunters. It means we should weed out the corruption, not permanently ban hunting.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Be grateful.