By Christopher O’Shea
Last Wednesday, President Trump reversed an Obama administration ban on importing African elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia. There was, of course, a vocal opposition to this from animal rights groups and the left, and now Trump suggested the ban may still stand. Big game hunting has come under fire in recent years, especially with endangered species like rhinos, lions, and elephants. However, in reality, hunting these animals could actually be helpful to their survival.
In truth, hunting is one of the more effective methods to help endangered animals to rebound. Many countries sell the rights to kill specific animals within their borders. Even the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) supports this notion.
Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation.
When a rich dentist goes to Kenya, wanting to mount a pair of ivory tusks over his fireplace, the Kenyan government sells him the right to hunt one specific elephant. Usually, it’s an older or sickly elephant that can no longer breed. By selling the dentist this right, the Kenyan government gets money towards helping preserve the elephant population.
This may sound counterintuitive, but selling rights to hunt elephants actually gives the government an incentive to keep elephants around. With the promise of monetary gain from big-game demand, it becomes in their best interest to make sure there is a steady supply of elephants. Many countries in Africa have realized this and know not only is good for the endangered animals, but good for the economy.
According to National Geographic, “The southern white rhinoceros grew from just 50 animals a century ago to over 11,000 wild individuals today, because hunts gave game ranchers a financial incentive to reintroduce the animal.” Similarly, in the mid-90s, four endangered species of African antelope were raised in Uvalde Texas specifically for the purpose of selling hunting rights. As a result, the populations of African antelope exploded there.
Allowing areas to sell the privilege to hunt endangered animals is actually a creative and effective way to solve the tragedy of the commons. It turns out people care about animals they can turn into income. There’s a reason chicken and cows will never go extinct, and it isn’t exactly that we think they are cute and cuddly. Trump would be wise to allow the import of African elephant trophies, if only to help the African elephant population.