"Big 5" Trophy Importation Bans

Summary

Certain states have sought to restrict the importation of legally harvested game animals, particularly the African “Big 5”. These five species alone generate most of the funding for wildlife authorities in African range nations. Discouraging hunters from importing trophies is intended to discourage them from hunting in Africa at all, thus depriving African wildlife authorities and communities of essential income.

Introduction

In the past two years, certain states have sought to restrict the importation of legally harvested game animals, particularly the African “Big 5”. Recently proposed legislation defines the “Big 5” as: African elephant, Cape buffalo, African lion, white and black rhinoceros, and African leopard. These African species are typically considered (along with the hippopotamus and Nile crocodile) to be the most difficult and dangerous game species to pursue, and for that reason, are highly valued by African safari hunters. These five species alone generate most of the funding for wildlife authorities in African range nations.

Revenue generated by licensed, regulated safari hunting is the single most important source of funding for conservation and anti-poaching efforts in Africa. In many Southern and Eastern African countries, revenues generated from licensed, regulated hunting are the primary source of management, conservation, and anti-poaching funds for national wildlife authorities. These hunting programs have been designed by experts to allow a limited, sustainable offtake, and to generate funds for conservation, anti-poaching, and community incentives.  This system has helped recover or maintain “Big 5” populations in Southern and Eastern Africa.

The harvest of Cecil the Lion was used by animal rights groups opposed to hunting to draw negative national attention to so-called “trophy hunting.” False representations and animal rights’ activism resulted in legislative measures that seek to restrict hunters’ abilities to import “Big 5” species. These misguided pieces of legislation are the first of their kind and will not only affect hunters within their states, but all hunting trophies that travel through such states when returning from Africa.

Discouraging hunters from importing trophies is intended to discourage them from hunting in Africa at all, thus depriving African wildlife authorities and communities of essential income. Without the money generated by hunters, governments and hunting operators will lack the funds needed to hire and outfit anti-poaching patrols. Further, without the financial and game meat contributions from licensed, regulated hunting, local communities have little incentive to protect dangerous game, which is otherwise viewed as a nuisance or threat. Laws banning the importation of “Big 5” trophies undermine species conservation, adversely affect sportsmen and women in the U.S., and eliminate benefits for many African people living in the poorest and more remote areas. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues “enhancement” import permits for these species because of the benefits generated; the denial of literally deprives the species of proven “enhancement.”

Points of Interest

  • Similar to the “user pays — public benefits” American System of Conservation Funding (Page 22) conservation efforts in Africa are dependent upon revenue generated by hunters.
  • Prohibiting the importation of African trophies will harm the conservation of these species by reducing the effectiveness of government agencies tasked with protecting them.
  • After the legalization of white rhinoceros hunting, the population increased in South Africa from 1,800 (in 1968) to around 22,000 (today). In that same time period, only 0.34% were harvested.
  • Black rhino populations have likewise increased in South Africa and Namibia as a result of the legalization of limited hunting, from around 2,520 (in 2004) to around 3,500 (today), of which only 0.05% were hunted.
  • Some critics have suggested that photo tourism can replace licensed, regulated hunting as a source of revenue for conservation and anti-poaching efforts and community benefits. Photo tourism can also generate returns and complements hunting in certain areas, such as Namibia’s conservancies.  However, it requires high-capital infrastructure such as hotels, a density of species, and a level of political stability often absent in places where licensed, regulated hunting currently sustains conservation efforts.
  • In 2013, hunters contributed at least $7.7 million USD to Namibia’s economy alone. Many community conservancies, including 90% of those in Zimbabwe and 50% in Namibia, are sustained by trophy hunting.
  • Licensed, regulated hunting-supported community conservancies have helped to boost Namibia’s elephant population from 7,500 to over 20,000 between 1995 and 2013.
  • From 1989–2001, the Community Areas Management Program for Indigenous Resources Association, which works with local communities in Zimbabwe to create revenue from the responsible management of wildlife, generated over $20 million for communities, 89% of which came from hunting. 
  • In 2016, New Jersey became the first state to pass legislation (SB 977 and SB 978) specifically targeting lawfully harvested hunting trophies and banning the importation and possession of several “Big 5” species by residents of New Jersey.
    • Similar legislation was considered in both Connecticut (SB 227) and New York (SB 4686) in 2016 but failed to advance.
    • Of the more than 38,000 African trophies imported into the U.S., 20% have come through airports in New York and New Jersey.
  • On July 8, 2016, Conservation Force and several partners filed a lawsuit to enjoin the recently passed legislation, arguing that the new ban is preempted by Section 6(f) of the Endangered Species Act.  Although they opposed the suit, the defendants conceded that the legislation could not be enforced against federally authorized or permitted imports.

Moving Forward

Bans on the importation of “Big 5” trophies from Africa are as misleading as they are ineffective. Legislators should consider that although proponents claim these bans are meant to protect African game species, in practice they deprive African nations of the resources needed to mount effective anti-poaching and conservation efforts that are primarily funded by the harvest of a small number of animals, and they deprive rural communities of meat and necessary infrastructure development. African range State governments oppose these bans, as do leading conservation authorities such as the IUCN and WWF.

Contact

For more information regarding this issue, please contact:

Brent Miller (202) 543-6850 x13; Brent@sportsmenslink.org.

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