Zimbabwe can’t manage its elephant population while in political upheaval

Outraged wildlife conservationists questioned the timing of the Trump administration’s decision to lift a ban on importing trophies of dead elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia into the U.S.

A spokesperson with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) said Thursday that they had “determined that the hunting and management programs for African elephants in Zimbabwe and Zambia will enhance the survival of the species in the wild.”

But conservationists and wildlife advocates were critical of the timing of the decision, noting the political turmoil in Zimbabwe, where the military has seized power and is holding despot Robert Mugabe under house arrest.

Image: Elephants graze inside Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park
Elephants graze inside Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park on Aug. 1, 2015. Philimon Bulawayo / Reuters file

“This news came at the very second that I was reading about the military coup in Zimbabwe. It’s well known that countries involved in such political crisis both cannot and do not manage their wildlife populations,” said Elly Pepper, deputy director of the wildlife trade initiative at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The spokesperson for the FWS said in their statement that “Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve those species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation.”

Pepper said sport hunting in some circumstances has been found to have a positive effect for conservation in countries that have adequate management plans and a healthy number of the specific species.

“That is not true in countries that have corruption and are rife with civil unrest,” such as Zimbabwe, she added.

Related: Trump administration lifts ban on importing heads of hunted elephants

The Trump administration’s reversal of the 2014 conservation effort put in place by the Obama administration applies to dead elephants hunted in Zimbabwe from Jan. 21, 2016, to Dec. 31, 2018, and to elephants hunted in Zambia in 2016, 2017 and 2018 “for applications that meet all other applicable permitting requirements,” an agency spokesperson said.

The African bush elephant is currently listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, but a provision of the law allows for the import of trophies if it can be proved that hunting the animals contributes to conservation efforts.