Some of my most wonderful memories of childhood are of the times my parents took me to the Bronx Zoo in New York. I was only 3 or 4 years old, but having the opportunity to see magnificent wild animals up close made an impression on me that I’ve never forgotten.
We continued those visits until we finally moved out of the city, but my love of animals – wild and domestic – continues to this day.
Seeing African wildlife in a zoo is one thing, but seeing them in their native environment sears the soul. I’ve been fortunate in my life to have had that opportunity, and it’s something I will never forget.
Yes – lions on the savannah. Being able to be so close to cheetahs I could hear them “purr” – it sounds like a low rumble! I’ll never forget seeing several giraffe running across a field ahead of a storm with their long necks swaying gracefully in the wind. And elephants – seeing these huge yet gentle creatures up close is something never to be forgotten. I looked at one and he stared back – I still wonder what thoughts were going through his head.
I know, some will call me silly, but I don’t care. I have a love of these wild creatures and want them protected. Not only for me and my children, but for all children of future generations. They are a treasure in and of themselves.
That’s why when I read last week that the Biden administration has given an OK for the importation into this country of elephant trophies I was (and remain) furious. This from a man who campaigned for the presidency saying he would limit hunting imports because he has “environmental priorities.”
But now that has changed. The administration has agreed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in allowing the importation into the U.S. of six elephant trophies from Zimbabwe.
This will be the first time in five years that any such an importation will take place. In fact, it reverses an agency-wide hold on elephant trophy imports put in place during the Trump administration, in 2017. That meant there was NO importation of any elephant parts – tusks, tails, feet or ears. Nothing.
Thank you, Donald Trump.
But hunters weren’t pleased with that. The Dallas Safari Club, along with the environment and tourism ministry of Namibia, sued the Trump administration. Fish and Wildlife agreed to a settlement that allows the processing of permits of 11 named hunters plus 73 other outstanding permits!
Environmentalists and conservationists are furious that the Biden administration has not protested the settlement and, in fact, has not put more protections in the Endangered Species Act.
Elephants are the world’s largest land mammal. They are intelligent, sensitive and critical for the ecosystem. Their digging with their tusks create watering holes for other species.
They are family-oriented, sharing joys as well as grief when one of their own dies. Their main threat comes from poachers, who hunt them down and kill them for their ivory and body parts. There are taxidermy auctions of animal trophies. One such, in Iowa, involved the sale of trophies of more than 550 mammals, including species threatened with extinction.
It should be noted that the population of African elephants declined 60% over the past 50 years. As for the giraffe population, it has dropped more than 40% over the last 30 years.
In fact, last year, the Humane Society of the U.S. and other agencies criticized the Fish and Wildlife Service for allowing imports of African lion trophies from Zimbabwe.
You may recall in 2015, a popular lion named Cecil in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, was killed by an American trophy hunter. The magnificent and friendly lion, wearing a GPS tracking collar, was lured out the park with an elephant carcass and was shot with a bow and arrow. The hunters tracked him down, found him injured and killed him with another arrow.
The death created an international furor – not only for the horror of the killing itself but as reaction against trophy hunting overall. Keep in mind, there are only abut 20,000 mature lions left in the wild!
A sad note to Cecil’s death in 2015 is the fact that almost exactly two years after his death, his son Xanda was killed by a trophy hunter.
According to the Humane Society of the U.S., a number of countries since then have banned the import of lion trophies, but the U.S. is not one of them. In fact, the Human Society reports that the United States is the No. 1 importer of hunting trophies in the world!
African lions are listed on the U.S. Endangered Species Act, prohibiting the import of lion trophies. But – and it’s a big “but” – a loophole allows imports when it would “enhance the survival of the species.” How they define that, I have no idea.
It should be noted that more than 42 airlines restrict some or all wildlife trophies to be carried on their flights. Between 2015 and 2016, France banned the import of African lion trophies, and The Netherlands banned the import of trophies of over 200 species, including lions, elephants and polar bears.
In 2021, the United Kingdom announced plans to ban trophy imports of over 7,000 species, including lions, elephants and giraffes.
In Colombia, courts have ruled that as of 2020, trophy hunting is unconstitutional and as of 2021, all trophy imports, including lions, are banned.
The poachers, who want the carcasses and the ivory, are organized and rich. It’s an industry worth more than $20 billion a year, putting it fourth behind drugs, weapons and human trafficking as a worldwide criminal activity.
They are fought on the ground by several organizations, including the International Anti-Poaching Foundation. Organized by Damien Mander, a former Australian Special Forces sniper, it trains rangers, men and women, whose job it is to protect the animals and stop the poachers – preferably to arrest them. It’s a dirty business but one that’s needed.
The basic problem is the continued demand for trophies by people worldwide, with more money than brains. How to stop the demand is a challenge for politicians who need to support laws to keeps such things OUT of their country.
Joe Biden, are you listening?
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