US trophy lawsuit may impact Namibia

26 March 2018 | Environment

The Namibian trophy hunting industry may feel the brunt of an unfolding lawsuit in the US that is challenging the Donald Trump administration for “secretly” implementing a new policy on the import of elephant and lion trophies.

Several animal conservation groups last week filed the lawsuit which is challenging the American government's recent decision to consider big game trophy import applications on a case-by-case basis, instead of scientific country evidence.

Essentially, all trophies will be allowed into the US.

The lawsuit was brought by four groups, including the Humane Society and the Centre of Biological Diversity, and names US interior secretary Ryan Zinke as a defendant.

The lawsuit extensively mentions Namibia's conservation and the impact that Trump's new policy will have on the country, should it remain unchallenged.

Reports indicate that Namibia is the third largest exporter of trophies to the US.

“Through our lawsuit, we are demanding that no elephant or lion trophy import permits be issued while the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) conducts a thorough scientific and public review of elephant and lion hunting in Africa,” the conservation groups said in a statement.

The groups are asking a federal court in Washington DC to rule that the FWS did not follow the proper process to make its 1 March decision, which withdrew a series of Endangered Species Act findings that apply to some African elephants, lions and bontebok, a type of antelope.

This decision allowed open imports of trophies into the country and these findings also apply to Namibia. The groups also say the decision violates the Endangered Species Act adding that the new FWS guidelines are unlawful and that they violate the Endangered Species Act.

“In a document filed in federal court, the US department of justice said the FWS had withdrawn, effective March 1, Obama-era protections [of elephant, lion and other trophies]. The FWS signalled it will continue to rely on outdated and unsupported findings authorising the import of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Namibia, and lion trophies from South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Zambia,” the groups added.

The lawsuit follows after a court ruling in December that the Trump administration needed to involve the public when making trophy import decisions. However instead of complying, the US interior department officials adopted a case-by-case permitting approach that fails to comprehensively consider the impacts of trophy hunting and severely decreases transparency, the groups say.

According to the conservation groups, ending these trophy import bans and issuing trophy import permits without comprehensive review, thwarts the ruling from December that requires the FWS to seek public comment and input from all stakeholders, before making decisions about whether trophy hunting in a particular country promotes the conservation of a species threatened with extinction.

Trump in November also described big-game trophy hunting as a “horror show,” and in January pledged to uphold the ban on importing trophies.

“Catering to the whims of a handful of wealthy Americans who want to display elephant and lion trophies to display their hunting prowess, FWS is going against the wishes of the majority of Americans who believe that the animals, and the nations where they thrive, are better off without trophy hunters,” the groups said.

Trophy hunting is a significant contributor to the economy of Namibia generating millions every year. Last year the environment ministry said conservancies on average generated about N$100 million a year through trophy hunting. About N$450 million is generated from hunting on private game farms per annum and trophy hunting generates around N$10 million in revenue for government annually.

In addition, about 15 000 jobs are created from hunting in various categories, including professional hunters, hunting guides, skinners and trackers.

A report published in 2016 indicates that Namibia is among the top three exporters of trophies to the US with 76 347 trophies (6%) that were exported from Namibia.

Between 2005 and 2014, more than 1.26 million wildlife trophies were imported to the US, with an average of more than 126 000 trophies every year. Most originated in Canada and South Africa, but other top countries of origin included Namibia, Mexico, Zimbabwe, New Zealand, Tanzania, Argentina, Zambia and Botswana.

According to the report African lion trophy hunts can cost between US$13 500 to 49 000.



ELLANIE SMIT