Judy Malone writes for Tourists Against Trophy Hunting, an international coalition of scientists, naturalists, journalists and wildlife advocates.
Somewhere in Botswana is a dead elephant walking. He is an individual in his prime. Very few mature bulls today live to old age with tusks that sweep the ground, and nor will he. In January, he was sold to a trophy hunter at the Calgary International Hunting Exposition, hosted by the Calgary chapter of Safari Club International (SCI). After days of public backlash, the club withdrew the elephant hunt from an evening auction, with a starting bid of $84,000, telling members it would be a direct sale. The hunt will take place in the spring, among the first in Botswana since the lifting of a five-year ban.
Botswana took a progressive stand in 2014 when its government announced trophy hunters were no longer welcome. Evidence of the abuse of hunting privileges was rampant, and communities were not benefiting from the fees that hunters were paying. The ban was applauded by conservationists and gave hope that sport killing of already critically-threatened wildlife would end. But a country that was leading the way in conservation and ecotourism is again back to killing wildlife for pleasure and profit.
Elephants are highly intelligent, with complex social behaviours that parallel those of humans. They are very aware that ancestral migration routes have become minefields blocked either by fences or by people with guns. Understandably, they have tended to linger in a country that was bent on protecting them. But there have long been warnings that poaching would follow them to Botswana, and it has. The ivory trade has reached what was a last safe haven. With the trophy hunters also back in force, elephants are in trouble.
The lifting of the hunt ban was not about overpopulation of elephants; it was about elephants becoming a political football. While Botswana is home to just over a third of Africa’s remaining herds, the population has remained stable for years. A new interim government looking to be elected used incidents of crop raiding to whip up anti-elephant pro-hunt sentiments and collect rural votes. The hunting of a few hundred select trophy males in any case hardly contributes to population control. But corruption in African governments runs high, and SCI influence runs deep in countries where it wants access to game. SCI reported to members it was meeting frequently with Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi to extend “support” for his hunting-reintroduction efforts.
On a Facebook post promoting the hunt, SCI-Calgary told its members Botswana elephants are “tremendously overpopulated” and “native villagers are in harm’s way from marauding elephants.” None of it had the ring of science or reality.
The official SCI conservation claim goes like this: Well-regulated trophy hunting generates revenue for communities, provides an anti-poaching presence, creates employment opportunities and increases tolerance of wildlife presence. It may be that middle-aged men draped over dead animals doesn’t look much like conservation, but conservation it is, or so the narrative goes. The science SCI offers up as evidence that killing individuals saves populations is funded by or has a dotted-line connection to the hunting industry or governments that profit from the industry.
What the industry says to justify what it does is unsupportable, and there are many published reports proving it. Some come through the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Although IUCN controversially admitted trophy hunters as members in 2016, its scientists have written since that hunting is inconsistent with sustainability objectives, threatening moral and ethical leadership in conservation.
What trophy hunting does very well is contribute significantly to wildlife declines by removing from populations the biggest and best individuals with the most life experience. The “old bulls” are in fact in their prime, and shooting them kills future generations. One reason big-game hunting in Africa is itself in decline is the loss over many decades of trophy-calibre animals left to kill.
The difference between poaching and trophy hunting is a legal permit. In both cases, tusks are removed from dead elephants. Last week, one more permit was sold, and one more elephant soon extinguished.
In February, Botswana’s President will fly to Reno, Nev., to collect his own trophy as SCI “international legislator of the year.” SCI is rewarding Mr. Masisi for taking bold action to welcome its members back “even if it meant facing fierce criticism from uninformed anti-hunting activists in both his own country and in Western countries.”
In a time of staggering loss of wild-animal populations and global biodiversity, how can we possibly continue to allow what conservationist Rachel Carson called this “moronic delight” in killing, which sets back the progress of humanity?
The move to ban trophy-hunting imports by Western governments is growing; a ban by the United Kingdom is now in a public-consultation period. Canada is the world’s leading exporter of hunting trophies to the U.S., ahead of any African country. Our wildlife populations are in free fall, and one of the multiple threats they face is hunting. Isn’t it time for our federal government to step up with a ban on trophy imports and exports?
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