Tuesday, October 16 , 2018, 1:02 pm | Fair 77º


Maria Fotopoulos: Elephant ‘Trophy’ Ban Reversal Does Not Bode Well for Endangered Wildlife

If the many threatened and endangered animals around the world could speak English, right about now they’d be shouting, “Drain the swamp!”

Washington, D.C.. shenanigans targeting those who cannot speak for themselves are scandalous, with the latest outrage the reversal of the reinstatement of the ban on the importation of animal “trophies” — body parts — from African elephants and other wildlife in Zambia and Zimbabwe that had been reversed. Confusing? Extremely.

In November 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced lifting the ban on the import of elephant parts from trophy hunting in Zambia and Zimbabwe, generating widespread outrage. Then in a January interview, President Donald Trump stated that he had directed his administration to retain the ban.

That was extremely short-lived. The Hill broke the news earlier this month that FWS would continue to allow the importation and review on a “case-by-case basis.”

Let’s be clear what is happening. The U.S. government is giving legal cover to Safari Club International — which posted the news of the rule change before FWS — and American men, women and children who murder rare animals abroad.

These are people who choose to ignore the true status of elephants — at high risk for extinction in the wild as their numbers continue to drop — taking the mendacious position that trophy hunting equals conservation.

Oh, and a tremendous amount of money is involved.

While the number of these “trophy hunters” may not be large in comparison to the total U.S. population, it’s not an insignificant number when it’s understood how much death they rain down on wildlife worldwide. Note that it doesn’t take that many people to exterminate a species, or nearly do so. Three cases in point in America, among others, are the ivory-billed woodpecker, passenger pigeon and bison.

Between 2005 and 2014, these animal killers imported more than 1.26 million wildlife “trophies” into the United States of more than 1,200 kinds of animals, according to the Humane Society International. That was an average of more than 126,000 trophies annually. That FWS is going to review even a portion of these on a case-by-case basis seems fiscally prohibitive, unrealistic and a way to game the system.

These ugly Americans travel abroad and pay tens of millions of dollars to kill rare animals — animals whose total numbers in the wild may be as low as a few thousand in some cases.

Canada and South Africa were the source of origin for most “trophies,” but trophy hunters’ bloodlust reaches Argentina, Botswana, Namibia, New Zealand and Mexico, as well as the aforementioned Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The Humane Society also learned that in the decade they studied, about a quarter of the animals killed were the Africa Big Five — lions, elephants, leopards and southern white rhinos. All these animals have various designations indicating they are in trouble.

Average people — nondeath dealers — wonder what “sport” there is in killing an animal. Not much. There is no contest. The human, with today’s high-powered weaponry, will win. If not, it’s most likely because an animal can’t be found (maybe because there are so few) in the allotted time the trophy hunter has for his travels abroad.

Unlike days of yore when safaris were drawn-out affairs requiring fitness and stamina, today’s trophy hunter need not be particularly athletic. A widely circulated photo on the Internet showed a grossly overweight man posing with his trophy lion; another shows an overweight American businessman who draped a dead giraffe over his shoulders.

This is sport?

Describing itself as “Protecting hunters’ rights and promoting wildlife conservation,” SCI, which claims 50,000 members, last year gathered in Las Vegas to place bids in what was described as a “pay to slay” auction for African leopards, a Canadian polar bear and Namibian elephants. What’s the value of a dead polar bear to an SCI member? $72,000.

For our country’s many positive contributions, our history includes the shame of slaveholding, brutality against indigenous people and the eradication, or near eradication, of many plant and animal species. The murder and abuse of what remains of our wildlife worldwide is the shame of the 21st century, shaping up to be the divisive issue that slavery was in the 19th century.

America always has aspired to stand for the best and the brightest. The best is not embodied by trophy hunting and the insistence on killing species whose numbers have crashed. With more dollars than brains, dull bulb describes some of these men and women who sometimes invoke biblical verse to justify killing rare animals.

They are today’s Benjamin Vernon Lilly, born in 1856 and who, unfortunately for all wild things in the United States, lived to age 80. Will Stolzenburg in Heart of a Lion, writes of Lilly’s life spent wholly to tracking and killing every wild animal he could.

“I never saw a lion that I did not kill or wound,” Lilly wrote. Any creature who crossed his path was as good as dead, with mountain lions particularly in his sights, as he pursued what Stolzenburg describes as Lilly’s belief in his “God-given duty to vanquish them.”

Too bad for wild things there was no PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) or Endangered Species Act in 1890.

These people are not beyond redemption; they just must stop murdering rare, wild things that are just trying to live their lives and raise their young’uns. But until that happens, and until we completely understand what wildlife needs to survive and thrive in a world heading to 10 billion or 12 billion humans, until poaching is eliminated and until the loss of wildlife habitat is halted and reversed, we need a moratorium on this slaughter for trophy.

SCI on its website states that its “right and freedom to hunt is under attack.” Damn right it is. Hundreds of millions of people believe there is no “right” to slaughter wild animals facing extinction for a trophy — hanging a head on a wall.

In the 21st century, knowing what we know about the Sixth Extinction and the precarious position of so many species, regardless of what the laws may be, trophy hunting is an immoral, backward-thinking and unconscionable choice.

The success of a presidency ultimately is measured by what positive achievements are made that will endure. Trump campaigned, and won, on fixing immigration and trade, and getting people back to work — all good and important.

But if he wants an enduring legacy that will make a positive difference, he must put addressing animal protections in his Top 5 to-do list, starting by ensuring that his January promise on the elephant ban is honored.

No more shenanigans.

— Maria Fotopoulos writes about the connection between overpopulation and biodiversity loss, and is syndicated by Cagle Cartoons. Contact her on Facebook at BetheChangeforAnimals, and follow her on Twitter: @TurboDog50. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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