The hugely controversial decision last week to reverse a 2014 ban on bringing elephant trophies into America sparked outrage among the media and the general public. Yesterday, after much pressure, President Trump announced that he would hold off on reversing the ban for now and look more closely at the data.
But what’s the reality of the situation? Is this really just being debated because a few people want a big trophy in their den, or is there a larger issue that is being sidelined to make the initial decision look ridiculous and cruel?
With the spreading of the human population, there is, more than ever, a need to protect the animal species whose habitats we are moving into. Amazing work is being done by conservationists around the world to maintain (and even increase) populations and herds in areas that have seen significant losses. Yet, when the media makes an argument that this decision is all about hunters and trophies, it ignores the full equation in favor of making those who might support it look heartless.
President Trump’s administration was looking at allowing a number of elephant trophies to be brought into the United States. Yet it was never suggested that this be a unilateral open-door for hunters to get out there and bring back as many carcasses as they wish from anywhere they happen to find an elephant.
The waiver was set to be for Zambia and Zimbabwe on specific reserves who manage their elephant populations with a view to keeping it stable and sustainable. These reserves are the real conservationists. They live on the land, monitor, care for, and ensure that the beautiful creatures can live in an open environment protected from poachers. And this costs money.
For a hunter to take down an elephant in their reserves is neither cheap nor easy. The populations are “over bred” to make sure that the loss of a couple will not negatively impact breeding programs, and the money paid for the “privilege” of shooting one, is funneled directly back into the conservationist projects allowing them to continue for another year. The hunters themselves are not allowed to just choose the first elephant they find; it is often only the elderly that are available for killing.
Whilst many people will be thrilled at the news that the waiver is going back under review (and even more people thrilled that President Trump appears to be forced into stepping back on this), the major group of people who will not be happy are those that spend every day of their working lives caring for the elephants.
In an ideal world, the conservationists in Zimbabwe and Zambia would never have to kill one of their wards; there would always be enough money to continue buying land, provide security against poachers, and pay for specialist doctors. But it’s not an ideal world. And as such, they need to get all the money they can to protect this amazing creature.
Regardless of our personal feelings, we shouldn’t make decisions based only on emotions and media rhetoric. The death of these majestic creatures is truly sad, but the death of all of them would be far sadder.
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