The Trump administration’s plan to allow hunters to resume bringing elephant trophies back to the United States from Zimbabwe and Zambia may raise some money to support healthy African elephant populations. But it does little to address the crisis facing the endangered animals, the N.C. Zoo said Friday.
“It is a long accepted method to manage wild populations through hunting in exchange for fees that can be used to support and sustain healthy populations,” the zoo said in a prepared statement. “A good example in our country is deer hunting. Not everyone agrees with hunting, but it is a standard population management method.
“However, it is a different situation when a species is threatened with extinction, such as the elephant. The reversal of this ban does little to solve the real crisis as stated before – the global epidemic of wildlife poaching and trafficking.”
A zoo spokesman said the statement reflected the view of the zoo as a whole.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service issued a federal notice Friday that said the killing of elephants in Zimbabwe will enhance the survival of the African elephant in general. The agency will lift a ban on elephant trophies being brought into the U.S. that the Obama administration put into effect in 2014.
The agency also will allow into the United States elephant trophies taken in hunts in Zambia during the same time period.
Under the change, hunters will be allowed to bring in trophies hunted between Jan. 21, 2016, and Dec. 31, 2018. Permitted imports from the two countries will be limited to two trophies per hunter per year.
American hunters make up the largest proportion of people who hunt overseas, U.S. Fish & Wildlife says. Companies that market big-game hunting trips tout the excitement of taking on a beast the size of a bus in pursuit of its ivory tusks that can weigh more than 100 pounds.
In announcing the change, federal officials wrote: “The Service will allow imports from countries that have well-managed hunting programs that are contributing to conservation of elephants in the wild. We hope that these approvals will encourage other countries to strengthen their elephant conservation efforts.”
In a question-and-answer section on its website regarding the change in Zimbabwe, Fish & Wildlife says it changed the policy because it has new information indicating that Zimbabwe has improved its elephant management plan and that aerial surveys indicate the country has a population of more than 80,000 elephants.
A Nature Conservancy survey in 2015 found the elephant population in Zambia was somewhat stable at between 22,000 and 26,000 animals.
The N.C. Zoo, which exhibits more than 1,200 animals in settings similar to their natural habitats, participates in the Species Survival Plan, a program that oversees the breeding and management of captive endangered species. In its Africa region, the zoo displays African elephants on a piece of red-dirt Randolph County land that is meant to recreate a savanna where the world’s largest land mammals would naturally roam.
As part of its conservation and education missions, the zoo also supports research on the animals in the wild, helping to track elephant herds in Cameroon.
On its website, where it offers information to schoolchildren about all the animals it exhibits, the zoo says that elephants’ “two impressive tusks are modified teeth and are used to pick things up, knock things over, and dig for water. They need them a lot more than we do.”
The zoo’s statement released Friday was careful not to criticize the Trump Administration or Fish & Wildlife policymakers. The zoo’s preference would be to shift the conversation, it said, “to the reality that elephants are being lost at [a rate of] 90 individuals per day in Africa.”
The zoo said it expects Fish & Wildlife to continue to monitor the taking of elephants in the two African countries.
“We believe the career professionals at USFWS strive to make well thought out decisions and we expect them to uphold their obligation that they will ensure that any trophy import into the United States will enhance healthy elephant populations.
“At North Carolina Zoo, our mission is to save species. With that in mind we ask you to support the 96 Elephants Campaign and focus on the real crisis. Help us save animals from extinction.”