POLL: Can killing more elephants actually help to save them?

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Is killing an endangered animal for sport the best way to save the species from extinction? The World Bank—one of the largest sources of financing for biodiversity conservation projects in developing countries—thinks it is.

The World Bank approved a U.S. $46 million grant to Mozambique, one of the world’s poorest countries, late last year to bolster tourism and alleviate poverty. Now, $700,000 of that has been earmarked to bolster trophy hunting of elephants and lions.

Mozambique’s elephants, poached for their ivory for the illegal trade to Asia, are in a precipitous decline. Between 2009 and 2014, their numbers fell from an estimated 20,000 to 10,300, according to a survey by the Wildlife Conservation Society as part of the Great Census.

This pregnant elephant died after been trapped in a wire snare, her fate to be hacked apart for her ivory and meat. During the past five years, elephant numbers in Mozambique have fallen by nearly half. Photograph by Peter Johnson, Corbis

In Mozambique—as well as other poor African countries, such as South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania—sport hunting has long been embraced as a way to help finance wildlife protection. (Hunting hasn’t saved Mozambique’s rhinos, however, which were declared locally extinct in 2013.)

By contrast, in the face of losses of their elephants and other animals, Botswana and Kenya have banned big-game sport hunting.

Opinions about sport hunting as a conservation strategy are sharply divided.

“When properly regulated, and when revenues are distributed to communities in and around parks,” says Madji Seck, a spokesperson at the bank’s Washington, D.C. headquarters, hunting “is an important tool for the sustainable management of parks and natural assets.”

Many opponents say that hunting revenue isn’t substantial enough to give poor communities a meaningful boost, especially if corrupt government officials line their own pockets with some of that money.

For Jeffrey Flocken, North American Regional Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), it’s also a moral issue. Given the gravity of the poaching crisis, authorities such as the World Bank, he says, “need to catch on to what the rest of the world already knows—that killing animals to save them is not conservation. It’s just wrong.”

Hunting rhinos saves rhinos, say members of the Dallas Safari Club, whose opponents hold signs at a club event in January 2014. The World Bank has approved money for sport hunting of elephants and lions in Mozambique, where the practice has long been favored as a way to preserve wildlife. Photograph by Tony Gutierrez, AP
Use It or Lose It

Under the World Bank’s Mozambique initiative, 80 hunting permits a year at $11,000 each will be issued for elephants and 55 to 60 for lions at $4,000 each. The bulk of the revenue will go to the Mozambican government, but 20 percent is to be redistributed to communities living alongside conservation areas.

It [hunting] is obviously not speaking for species preservation. It’s killing for revenue.

Phyllis Lee,|Zoologist, Amboseli Trust for Elephants

The World Bank “is driven by a utilitarian perspective on the consumptive use of wild species,” said Phyllis Lee, a zoologist with the Amboseli Trust for Elephants, in Kenya.

The idea of consumptive, or sustainable, use of wildlife, which is written into the Convention on Biodiversity, a multilateral treaty whose objective is to develop national strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, is that it makes sense for humans to benefit from animals in ways that don’t undermine their habitats and populations.

But, as Lee said, “it now appears to some conservation practitioners that sustainable use has been hijacked to represent [sport] hunting.”

She points to the recent admission of the Dallas Safari Club into the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the world body that focuses on valuing and conserving nature by ensuring effective and equitable governance of its use, and the sport hunting club’s controversial auction of a permit to kill an endangered black rhino in Namibia, as “the worst possible way of allowing a hunting voice to speak for conservation.

Arrested in Nairobi airport on January 28, 2014, Chinese national Tang Yong Jian stands in the dock in the capital’s courthouse, accused of smuggling 7.5 pounds (3.4 kilograms) of raw ivory to China from Mozambique. He pleaded guilty and was fined U.S. $223,000—or seven years in jail if he failed to pay. Chinese smugglers are believed to be the main culprits in the current decline of Mozambique’s elephants. Photograph by Thomas Mukoya, Reuters/Corbis

“It’s obviously not speaking for species preservation,” Lee said. “It’s killing for revenue.”

Ben Carter, executive director with the Dallas Safari Club, said that the $350,000 paid by a Texan hunter, who shot the black rhino in March, will go directly to a conservation trust fund in Nambia.

“There’s a biological reason for this hunt,” Carter said. “It’s based on a fundamental premise of modern wildlife management: Populations matter; individuals don’t.”

Will Travers, President of the Born Free Foundation and Born Free USA, an international wildlife charity working to stop animal suffering and protect threatened species in the wild, counters that “Individuals matter.”

“Each one may have survival knowledge to pass on or cultural intelligence, important for social cohesion,” he said. “But individuals also matter because they have a right to life. They are not the pawns of one species—our own—bent on playing God and dressing it up as modern wildlife management.”

Trophy hunting flies in the face of a precautionary approach to wildlife management.

Jeffrey Flocken, International Fund for Animal Welfare

In an interview with CNN in May, Jeffrey Flocken said that “from a biological perspective, trophy hunting not only flies in the face of a precautionary approach to wildlife management but in some cases has also been found to undermine it.

“Hunters are not like natural predators, Flocken said. “They target the largest specimens, with the biggest tusks, manes, antlers, or horns.”

The Revenue Question

A recently published briefing paper by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) shows that 80 percent of total annual sales in the tourist sector come from “non-consumptive” tourism—safaris, bird watching, trekking, marine encounters, and adventure travel.

In the U.S., a Synovate eNation poll in 2011 found that more than 70 percent of Americans would pay to view lions on an African game-watching safari and that not even 6 percent would pay to hunt them.

In Mozambique from 2012 to 2013, revenue from wildlife tourism tripled, to three million dollars.

The World Bank believes sport hunting will supplement these earnings. But Alejandro Nadal, an economics professor at El Colegio de Mexico who also co-chairs the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Theme on the Environment, Macroeconomics, Trade and Investment, doubts that trophy hunting would bring any significant additional benefit to rural communities.

Nadal says no thorough, credible studies have been done of how much revenue would be generated, let alone the amount that would find its way past corrupt officials and end up in the hands of local communities.

Does this lone elephant in Mozambique’s Maputo Elephant Reserve symbolize the future in many parts of Africa? Photograph by Chris Johns

Poachers and smugglers in Mozambique, meanwhile, have had unimpeded access to weapons, protected areas, and passage across borders and out of the country via ports and airports.

On June 1, police detained five Chinese citizens in the southern district of Moamba in possession of two large caliber firearms of the type used to kill elephants and rhinos. Two weeks earlier, on May 14, authorities arrested two Chinese in Maputo with a cache of 65 rhino horns and 340 elephant tusks—the largest seizure in the country’s history.

Days later, however, it was discovered that 12 of the horns had vanished from the strong room in the capital, replaced by replicas made of cattle horns. Eleven people, some believed to be government workers, have since been arrested.

Shifting Attitudes

In April 2014, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service announced the temporary suspension of all imports of sport-hunted elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Tanzania, citing concern that the two countries showed “a significant decline in the elephant population.”

The statement concluded that sport hunting of elephants in Zimbabwe and Tanzania “is not sustainable and is not currently supporting conservation efforts that contribute towards the recovery of the species.”

In March, USFWS made the ban on elephant trophies from Zimbabwe permanent.

Australia has banned the import of trophy-hunted lions, while the European Union has just adopted stronger restrictions on trophy imports for a number of big mammals.

Recently, two airlines, South African Airways and Air Emirates cargo divisions, announced embargoes on transporting elephant, rhino, and lion sport-hunting trophies.

They join Air France, KLM, Singapore Airways, and Qantas, which also have bans on tiger trophies. On May 31, Lufthansa Cargo declared the immediate suspension of shipments of hunting trophies, and British Airways and Iberia Airlines cargo have just confirmed that they will not transport animal trophies of any kind.

On the question of sport hunting, IFAW’s Jeffrey Flocken says that “When a species’ greatest value is as a dead trophy, its days will inevitably be numbered, just as they are when the value of their parts—like ivory tusks or rhino horn—makes protection from poachers nearly impossible.”

This article was first published by National Geographic on 08 Jul 2015.

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Joyce Barnes

all life is to be respected and honor. Stop thinking with your money hearts. This stupid killing has to stop now.

Ron Palmer

stop all killing of our best freinds the amimals they keep our grasslands in order the population in order and show us as humans love to one and all so stop the KILLING please

Paula Ilona

Stop this terrible killing

Mike Orr

These African countries should promote photographic tourism and NOT trophy hunting. They are losing a valuable resource to poachers and that should be their main objective. If trophy hunters are allowed to kill and poachers are not stopped from killing, then there will be no animals left to photograph and then there is no industry left.

Fran Occupy Hoef-Bouchard

Those of us who have been fighting to save many wildlife species are way past the argument whether hunting is used to sustain a lifestyle. In any industrial country it is almost unheard of. Almost all hunters today eat a contemporary diet sourced from store bought foods and/or restaurants. Their aim for hunting is purely for the sport of it. The egregious aspect of hunting wildlife like lions is that these animals are already being pushed to the edge of extinction by a number of issues such as land encroachment and poaching. Trophy hunters use tactics to bolster their argument… Read more »

Don Pelletier

Previous post had bad auto corrections. Should have read: We should be shaming WWF the world wildlife fund for their financial support and encouragement of trophy hunting.

Don Pelletier

We should be shaming WWF the world wildlife fund for their story if trophy hunting. This is their twitter account: @World_Wildlife. Ee need to be bugging and shaming them!

Don Pelletier

Ironically when this was suggested by Tanzania, and it was an incredibly effective deterrent. The poachers were afraid. I think there were only 2 poaches in two months when this was in force.

Don Pelletier

@Linda, it is not ancient medicine. It is a farce. Sideshow hokum. Tusks are made of dentin, as in teeth. Not based in science at all but on dark age quackery. Ground up teeth does nothing except possibly give you gall stones…. I would not say I would not go to Africa. We can legitimately support the business of peaceful respectful safaris (those that respect the animals, keep a healthy distance from them, do not breed or exploit then in anyway, etc). They need good forms of business. Poverty is a major problem there and does not help the poaching… Read more »

Don Pelletier

Many are open to shaming then as they deserve. The real question what is the best way (method, media, venue) and who exactly? I was wondering that about the soulless Song Li. Who who are her such family members to publicly shame and hurt their business by letting the global public and prospective business partners know the truth?

Vito Vito Donzi

è basta ignoranti di uccidere .il mondo lo state distruggendo vo,,,,,,ov

Rain Florence

There is no crime greater than killing an Elephant. They are the animal that allowed us to evolve into humans. Without Elephants we would be hairy apes, or more likely completely extinct.

Leigh Lofgren

Just another reason they give in order to kill…..Africa is allowing their wildlife to be destroyed and aren't thinking outside their greedy selves. What happens when there is no more wildlife – what happens to the camps, guides, trekkers and more? No tourtists and even now, in certain parts of Tanzania, the elephants are being killed by the thousands. Wake up, this MUST BE STOPPED and it's so horrifying knowing that is being allowed to continue and that those who are trying to stop it are losing the battle.

Leigh Lofgren

Linda French couldn't agree more and you would think they would want to keep their animals so that more people can see them – once they are gone, what happens to the camps, guides and more not to mention tourists, who aren't going to go if there is nothing other than dead carcasses….I love Africa and it's sickening what is happening and something must be done about China

Dawn Mello

Why not hunt the poachers? Cut their ears off while alive, let them suffer, the monsters.

Linda French

This killing of wildlife by China to support either their ivory, trinkets, or ancient medicine will continue unless we start campaigns against the Chinese! They kill almost every species on EARTH, and when that runs out – well god help us! They kill bear (bladder), tigers (paws and other parts.) rhino, elephant, sea horse, sharks (fins) dogs (Yulin Festival, (cats) lions, thousands o f species of birds, the list goes on and on. I have been saying this for years, so if it is not "politically correct" so what! It is worse to be destroying our wildlife, and aiding in… Read more »

Fran Occupy Hoef-Bouchard

I also want to add that I think the up-and-coming newly wealthly Chinese should be publicly shamed for their relentless demand for ivory and rhino products (trinckets and faux medicine) that feeds only their egos. Why isn't there more public shaming? Because people want to be politically correct and are afraid of being called a racist, when racism has nothing to do with this issue. It has to do with a group of people who are pushing animals to the brink of extinction. Shame on you China and other Asian countries. Your trinkets and useless medicines are nothing to be… Read more »

Fran Occupy Hoef-Bouchard

If people took the time to research The World Bank they would find their practices are dodgy at best. It is made up of a body of business individual who profit from this sort of thing and I wouldn't be surprise to find if some are big game hunters themselves. It is a pathetic arguement to say killing more elephants will save them and only the most gullable among us would believe it.

Helen Wood

One of the most stupid ideas I have ever seen.

Maria Manuela Lopes

The hunters always use a fallacious arguments