A US-based hunting and conservation organisation has gone to court to challenge a ban on the importation of trophies from Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
Safari Club International (SCI) boasting 106 members in countries across the world has filed a lawsuit challenging the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) recent restriction on the importation of sport-hunted African elephants from the two countries.
In the lawsuit filed on Monday in federal district court in the District of Columbia, the SCI said the USFWS issued the ban without consultation of the nations affected or the hunters impacted. The ban came into effect on April 4. The SCI argues that sport hunting employs approximately 3,700 people in Tanzania and supports over 88,000 families. This revenue it says, provides local communities with conservation resources and incentives and discourages poaching.
“The loss of this revenue could be devastating to elephant survival,” said the SCI in the lawsuit availed to The Citizen.
In its decision, the USFWS said the ban has been taken after it was found that elephants in the two countries face an uncertain future. In the lawsuit, the SCI’s attorneys will be making every effort to obtain a quick resolution of the matter.
The SCI’s suit attacks the inadequacy of the information on which the USFWS based its decision and the Service’s failure to consider the beneficial impacts that US hunters and sport hunting have on African elephant conservation, including the economic deterrent to poaching that is funded by hunters. The Acting Director of Wildlife in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Mr Paul Sarakikya, said the government was aware of the lawsuit but declined to comment.
“The government is still working on the ban to see its impact before taking any action,” said Mr Sarakikya when contacted by phone yesterday.
But the Chairman of Tanzania Professional Hunters Association (TPHA), Mr Mohsin Abdallah, said: “We support the action taken by SCI because USFWS took a unilateral action without consulting stakeholders and especially the Tanzania and Zimbabwe governments.”
TPHA is affiliated with SCI and is a member of Safari Club Foundation, an organisation specialising in wildlife conservation and sustainable utilisation in eastern, central and southern Africa. The Foundation supports conservation by providing financial, human resource and training of wildlife experts, including research. Mr Abdallah said although USFWS claimed that the ban was aimed at protecting the elephants but on the contrary this move will reduce the financial resources which will also affect all other wildlife and environment as poaching will increase if the safari outfitters will not have clients in the hunting blocks.
“The reduction in tourist hunting clients in the hunting blocks especially in the buffer zones close to National Parks will result in poaching into the parks,” he said.
On one hand the US government through USAID is financing conservation in Wildlife Management Areas around the Selous Game Reserve and National Parks who engage and receive revenue through sustainable hunting, he said.
“The ban will be counterproductive to the intention of the advocacy campaign for community to value their natural resources,” said the TPHA chairman.
He added that the USFWS is punishing the Tanzania and Zimbabwe governments and its people, including tourist hunters who provide financial, logistical and expertise support by giving a free hand to the poachers to continue doing their illegal activities without any alternate solution.
The Secretary General of Tanzania Hunting Operators Association (Tahoa), Mr Mohamed Abdulkadir, said: “This (the lawsuit) is good news.”
He said the ban will not help because the number of elephants taken as hunting trophies has no effect whatsoever on the overall numbers in the population.
“After all elephants that are legally hunted for sport trophies are aged over 50 years,” said Mr Abdulkadir.
“SCI acted swiftly to develop this lawsuit to correct the errors in the Service’s importation ban decision as well as the harm that the bans will cause to elephant conservation,” said SCI President Craig Kauffman. “African elephant hunting is an excellent example of how US hunters can make a powerfully positive contribution to the conservation of a species,” he added.
Mr Kauffman said the US Congress and the USFWS have repeatedly acknowledged that poachers are the threat to elephant conservation, and that hunters offer a solution.
He said it was time for the USFWS to stop putting obstacles in the way of the legal hunting that plays an invaluable role in international species conservation.
“Unless the (US) government reverses these bans, they will do more harm than good. We file this suit in the hope that it will require the Service (USFWS) and the Court to reverse this tragic situation,” said Mr Kauffman.