Why some African nations don’t want trophy hunting to go away


Abby Philip, Washington Post

Date Published
Airlines ban the shipment of game-hunting trophies(1:08)
American Airlines joined United, Delta and Air Canada in banning the transport of game trophies after the outrage over the killing of Zimbabwe’s beloved Cecil the lion. (Reuters)

While much of the world has been caught up in the death of the iconic Zimbabwean lion Cecil, a slightly different conversation is happening elsewhere on the continent of Africa.

Officials in South Africa and Namibia are asking to world to hold on just one second with the outrage — and actions — against trophy hunting.

“This will be the end of conservation in Namibia,” said Namibia’s environment and tourism minister, Pohamba Shifeta, according to the Namibia Press Agency and the Associated Press.

Yes, you read that right.

Specifically, Shifeta was referring to a recent decision by Delta Air Lines to ban the shipment of hunting trophies — an innocuous name for the heads, pelts and other (sometimes) taxidermied parts from big-game animals killed during a sporting hunt.

After Delta’s announcement, American Airlines and Air Canada followed suit, saying they would no longer transport trophies from what hunters refer to as the Big Five: buffaloes, elephants, leopards, lions and rhinos.

South Africa’s ministry of the environment noted that a blanket ban threatens to hurt an industry that actually helps to pay for the country’s’ animal conservation efforts.

“The decision by Delta Air Lines to enforce a blanket ban fails to distinguish between the trade in and transportation of legally acquired wildlife specimens, and the illegal exploitation and trade in wildlife specimens,” the ministry said in a statement, according to the AP.

That’s because conservation hunting — as contradictory as the phrase may sound — is the source of funding for a great deal of the conservation efforts on the continent of Africa.

Simply put: Hunters can pay for permits to hunt specific animals at specific times, and those funds are supposed to be redirected to the conservation effort, which include helping to pay the salaries of rangers that help protect animals from poachers.

More than 80 Namibian wildlife conservancies depend on funding from trophy hunting, AP reported, citing the Namibia Press Agency.

“If conservancy members have no income, they will abandon their role in protecting the country’s natural resources,” Shifeta said, according to the wire service, adding: “These anti-trophy hunting campaigns are very serious as many countries are joining the chorus now. It will also be uphill for the hunter if trophies are not to be shipped.”

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature — an organization that, among other things, maintains a list of threatened species around the world — says there is a clear distinction between hunting tourism, which provides revenue for conservation, and poaching.

“Well-managed trophy hunting has little to do with poaching, and indeed can be a key tool to help combat it,” the organization told The Washington Post’s Darryl Fears earlier this year.

Without hunting tourism, African conservationists “would not be able to employ the upwards of 3,000 field rangers employed to protect wildlife and enforce regulations,” the organization added.

The practice isn’t without controversy.

“Killing endangered wildlife to save it is just wrong,” said Jeffrey Flocken, the North America Regional Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “It does not make sense morally, economically, biologically, or from a conservation-incentive point of view.”

He added: “It is a philosophy that has no place in modern conservation.”

That being said, Cecil the lion appears to have been killed in violation of Zimbabwean regulations, though the country does sell permits to hunt animals legally. After Cecil’s killing, Zimbabwe has moved to restrict hunting in the area where the lion was hunted down.

Theo Bronkhorst, 55, a professional Zimbabwean hunter, has been charged with failing to prevent an illegal hunt. He is accused of luring the animal out of its sanctuary in Hwange National Park so that it could be killed by American dentist Walter Palmer.

Palmer shot Cecil with a bow and arrow, wounding the animal. The hunters allegedly pursued Cecil for two days before he was finally killed and beheaded. Palmer, who paid $50,000 for the hunt, claims that he was misled by his guides. Bronkhorst, who entered a not guilty plea on the illegal-hunting charge, said this week: “I do not feel I have done anything wrong.”

The anger spurred by Cecil’s death has highlighted outsize role wealthy American hunters play in the big business of trophy hunting worldwide.

As The Post’s Christopher Ingraham reported, Americans account for the majority of lions killed for sport in Africa. A 2011 report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare found that between 1999 and 2008, Americans brought home lion trophies representing 64 percent of all African lions killed for sport during that period.

And that number is rising: “Of these trophies, the number imported into the U.S. in 2008 was larger than any other year in the decade studied and more than twice the number in 1999,” the report found.

Still, bringing home lion trophies is not — at least according to American law — illegal.

For that reason, shipping companies including the United Parcel Service and FedEx have declined to jump on the shipping-ban bandwagon.

Although FedEx doesn’t ship animal carcasses, the company “may accept legitimate shipments of parts for taxidermy purposes if they meet our shipping guidelines,” a spokesman said in an e-mail to The Post this week.

A UPS spokeswoman told The Post that the global shipping giant follows U.S. and international laws, not public opinion, in determining what it will and won’t ship.

Even among endangered species, such as the black rhino, so-called conservation hunting isn’t anathema.

In 2014, a Texas man paid an astounding $350,000 for a permit from the Namibia Ministry of Environment and Tourism to hunt one such rhino,sparking intense backlash and death threats. 

But the hunter, Corey Knowlton, said he was undeterred.

And in May, Knowlton bagged the aging rhino, which Namibian officials believed could no longer reproduce and was a threat to other fertile rhinos in the herd.

“I think people have a problem just with the fact that I like to hunt,” Knowlton told CNN. “I want to see the black rhino as abundant as it can be. I believe in the survival of the species.”

Of the hunt, he said: “I felt like from day one it was benefiting the black rhino, and I’ll feel like that until the day that I die.”