The United States has suspended imports of sport-hunted elephant trophies from Zimbabwe citing questionable management practices and a lack of effective law enforcement.
The ban follows a massive ecological disaster at Hwange National Park last year which saw hundreds of elephants being killed through cyanide poisoning by poachers.
In a statement on its website, the US wildlife department said: “Given the current situation on the ground in both Tanzania and Zimbabwe, the Service is unable to make positive findings required under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the Endangered Species Act to allow import of elephant trophies from these countries.
“Additional killing of elephants in these countries, even if legal, is not sustainable and is not currently supporting conservation efforts that contribute towards the recovery of the species.”
The ban, announced last week, is set to be welcomed by conservationists in Zimbabwe who have been campaigning for stringent measures to protect the country’s elephant herd.
Americans make up the majority of trophy hunters in Zimbabwe, exporting an average of 160 elephants per year.
The government has already responded by attacking the suspension, which Environment Minister Saviour Kasukuwere likened to “sanctions on the elephants”.
Environmental journalist Wisdom Mudzungairi said safari tour operators will be the biggest losers.
“From a business perspective, the ban is bad news for local operators as each trophy hunter can pay more than $100,000 per visit and this is a lot of money.
“The ban, announced so close to the start of the hunting season in May, means there will be very little revenue for those in the business,” Mudzungairi said.
Charles Jonga, a director at the Community Areas Management Programme for indigenous Resources (Campfire), told the NewsDay newspaper that this will be devastating for the communities that benefited from elephant conservation efforts.
However, Mudzungairi said this was an opportunity for the Zim government to strengthen mechanisms governing trophy hunting.
“And this should apply to all game species including lions. I think the opportunity was missed following the Hwange disaster where a few of those who were involved were arrested and even then, there were few prosecuting. This could have then forced the US government to act,” he added.
For many years there has been concern about the lack of transparency around the allocation of hunting licences. Land and hunting concessions have frequently been given to well connected political individuals, who have no experience in wildlife management. A 2012 report said that the ZANU PF controlled wildlife ministry had handed out a number of hunting licences to party cronies.
The US wildlife department said it will reevaluate the suspension next year or upon receipt of new information that demonstrates an improved situation for elephants in Zimbabwe and Tanzania.