Below is a letter I composed and sent to officials at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and legislators, expressing my thoughts and concerns about the lifted ban on elephant trophy imports from Zambia and Zimbabwe. For more information, click the links I've included below.
Dear U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
After reading the Issuance of Import Permits for Zimbabwe Elephant Trophies Taken on or after January 21, 2016, and on or before December 31, 2018, I would like to voice my concerns over this decision.
As an American citizen, I support the international efforts the USFWS takes to promote and protect endangered species around the globe in order to ensure their survival for global ecosystems and for human posterity. I appreciate the care and dedication that went into making this decision, and I applaud the Service for looking at the broader environmental, governmental and conservational impact this reversal would have.
But as a wildlife advocate and one who is passionate about protecting this keystone species from extinction, I must voice my concerns over the reversal of the 2014 ban.
When reading the reported details of the communication between FWS and Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, I saw that key information was not taken into account. For years Zimbabwe has voted against providing the utmost protection for African elephants. How can we then believe that they are truly, and fully, committed to taking necessary steps to conserve the elephants within their borders? Can we really have the confidence that the second largest population of African elephants will exist ten years from now?
While ZPWMA has shared details into its newly adopted National Elephant Management Plan, it has not been open or honest about its elephant exports in recent years. Since 2001, more than 150 baby elephants have been captured from the wild in Zimbabwe and sold to questionable private entities, and it is known that many of these babies died due to the trauma of the export and their subsequent care at these facilities. I am sure that these elephants are not counted in the "500 per year" that Zimbabwe allows to be killed by sport hunters, which means that the death toll of that nation's elephants remains higher than disclosed. Regardless of my personal feelings in the matter, ALL elephant deaths resulting from Zimbabweans' management of elephants need to be documented and taken into account, especially when allowing additional American funds to propel these numbers.
This secret export of baby elephants alone creates grave doubts in my mind over ZPWMA's genuine commitment to protecting the elephants within their borders. There is no reason, when so many young elephants are orphaned from poaching, to separate a baby from its mother and herd, and ultimately sign its death sentence. I believe the reason Zimbabwe gave for this action was that they had an "overpopulation" and were attempting to "generate funds" for their conservation efforts. Do we have data on how many of those "funds" were actually spent on anti-poaching efforts? Do we know for sure that Zimbabwe is disclosing ALL of its generated revenue and putting it where they claim?
Within the past few years, several terrorist attempts have been made against the leadership in Zimbabwe, showing political unrest and, perhaps, government corruption. I am concerned about accepting reports from this government to be determining factors for this decision, especially when pertinent information has been withheld in the past. While I am not accusing Zimbabwe of deceit or FWS of negligence, I hope that the "reports" received from ZPWMA and taken as evidence for this decision can be (and were) reviewed with extreme attention and integrity by FWS staff.
As the second largest market in the world for illegal ivory, allowing the import of elephant trophies into the U.S. provides a source to feed this trade. Not only could sport hunters use their permits to bring ivory into our borders and then sell it illegally, they could also be in danger from organized groups that might attempt to steal the trophy. These seem to be, in my opinion, pointless risks to take.
From the detailed November 17, 2017 report, I see evidence that this matter was handled responsibly and diligently, which I appreciate and applaud. But I must ask the question, what was the main motivator for this decision? Does the federal government benefit in some way from importing elephant carcasses? Is Zimbabwe's need for conservation funds so great that it cannot be given in another way? Is the pressure from big game hunters so strong that this decision went through?
Please understand my position: I am not against hunting. I am not against supporting ZPWMA's elephant management plan. I am not criticizing FWS or the way it has handled this matter. But I do disapprove of this decision.
If FWS wants to support Zimbabwe's protection of elephants, I believe it would be more effective to share research, tools and funds to directly benefit anti-poaching teams. Receiving funds from and enabling big game hunters (who have repeatedly shown a blatant disregard for wildlife conservation of any kind) is not the way to save elephants. I ask that you consider my position and rethink your decision about this ban.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I appreciate the work FWS does and I look forward to opening a discussion about this topic.
Creator and Writer
Ivory is a Color
Kerry Skiff is a conservation advocate and recent journalism graduate of Northern Kentucky University. She follows the ivory trade around the world, and uses her voice to educate Americans about their role in animal conservation.