The creation of the Department of Interior’s International Wildlife Conservation Council will only advance the interests of the sport hunting lobby while doing nothing to protect wildlife, Friends of Animals said in a filing this week opposing its establishment.
The council, the brainchild of Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, is tasked with advising the DOI on the benefits of international hunting, removing barriers to the importation of trophy- hunted animals and reviewing foreign animals listed on the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
In essence, its real goal, FoA said in comments filed this week with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is to make it easier for hunters to import wildlife trophies.
The mission of IWCC is contrary to current U.S. wildlife conservation policy, the science behind conservation and promotes an imperialistic message, FoA said.
Hunting does not help conserve endangered and threatened species. In fact, FoA wrote, there is no documented, peer-reviewed studies that show that lawful hunting does not overall disadvantage the species being hunted. Emerging studies indicate that legal hunting can increase demand, promote black-market trade of trophy-hunted species such as elephants, rhinos and lions, lead to confusion about whether the species are heading toward extinction in the wild, and reduce the stigma associated with killing African wildlife.
“Sport hunting leads people to think that if it is acceptable for foreigners to kill a species for trophies than it should also be acceptable for locals to kill the species for food consumption and other human uses. Thus, we are giving a contradictory message to people in Africa; African ‘poachers’ are not allowed to kill endangered and threatened species and ship their parts overseas but American ‘hunters’ are allowed to mount trophies on their walls for private collections. The imperialist nature of this inconsistent messaging cannot be overlooked,’’ FoA stated.
The IWCC’s mission to fling open the doors to hunting in the name of conservation is inconsistent with the Endangered Species Act, the language of which strongly suggests that Congress does not believe that hunting is a legitimate means of protecting species.
The African elephant population has plummeted by 30 percent in seven years, with just 350,000 left in the world where once there were millions. That population of lions has declined by 42 percent, with just about 20,000 left. Additionally, a new study by Duke University found that poaching and habitat loss have reduced forest elephant populations in Central Africa by 63 percent since 2001.
Yet this month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it was lifting a policy that protected African elephants in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania from being hunted and brought back to the U.S. as trophies, and will now instead allow the sport-hunting permits on a case-by-case basis.
“Despite calling trophy hunting a ‘horror show,’ the reality is that the President Trump has done nothing to discourage a clear pro-hunting agenda within his administration,’’ said FoA Wildlife Law Program Director Mike Harris. “By lifting the ban on import of elephant trophies from a number of African countries, the administration is choosing to ignore clear evidence that like Zimbabwe, they lack adequate funding, oversight and the will to protect their animals. And now the President has moved to undermine, if not dismantle, President Obama’s Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking, tasked to protect, not kill, the world’s most majestic species by proposing measures to fight illegal poaching, improve conservation methods, and reduce overall demand for these animals.”
Follow FoA’s efforts to protect Africa’s Big 5 species here.