Controversy Swirls Around the Recent U.S. Suspension of Sport-Hunted Elephant Trophies

An old bull elephant taken in Selous Reserve, Tanzania by John Jackson. (Photograph by Chrissie Jackson)

Battle lines are being drawn after the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) announcement last month to suspend import of elephant trophies from Tanzania and Zimbabwe for the remainder of 2014.

The decision was spurred by the catastrophic poaching of Africa’s elephants and the fact that in these two countries, according to FWS, “additional killing of elephants…even if legal, is not sustainable.”

The announcement comes on the heels of a U.S. ban on the commercial trade of elephant ivory. That ban includes a new rule, expected to come into force in June, that limits the number of African elephant trophies that can be imported into the U.S. to two per hunter per year.

FWS still allows imports of elephant trophies from other African nations, including Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa—although Botswana has banned sport hunting, as has Zambia. (See: No Trophy Hunting in Botswana and Zambia?)

In Tanzania, “questionable management practices, a lack of effective law enforcement, and weak governance have resulted in uncontrolled poaching and catastrophic population declines.” For example, the Selous—Africa’s largest protected area—“has lost 66 percent of its elephants in the past five years,” according to FWS.

In Zimbabwe, FWS points to the 2013 killing of upwards of 300 elephants by cyanide poisoning—a widely publicized slaughter that took place in Hwange National Park. “Information on the status of Zimbabwe’s elephant population, management plans, hunting polices and regulations is limited,” FWS notes. The information available raises “significant concerns about the long-term survival of [its] elephants.”

“Rash Decision”

A number of hunting organizations have protested the suspension. Safari Club International (SCI), an influential hunting advocacy group, has filed a lawsuit and a preliminary injunction to lift the importation ban. SCI says its lawsuit “attacks the inadequacy of the information on which the FWS based its decision and the Service’s failure to consider the beneficial impacts that U.S. hunters and sport hunting have on African elephant conservation.”

SCI has also called upon its members to lobby on Capitol Hill May 8 to protest the suspension. Meanwhile, SCI also says that hunting, park, and safari representatives from Zimbabwe and Tanzania will meet with U.S. officials to discuss the suspension.

Conservation Force (CF), a Louisiana-based hunting advocacy group, responded similarly. John Jackson III, the chairman and president, calls the suspension  “wholly irresponsible” and says the move came by surprise. “There was no warning of notice to the two countries, the CITES Secretariat, the African Elephant Specialist Group of IUCN or the hunting community, only a press release after the fact that gives too little explanation.”

Furthermore, Jackson believes that the number of elephants poisoned in Hwange is highly exaggerated and points out that the poaching was “discovered, reported and acted upon by the hunting community… and thanks to the hunting operator in the area… the poachers were caught and are serving stiff prison sentences!”

What is a Trophy?

Many Americans might be shocked to learn that U.S. hunters still kill African elephants for sport.

In fact, several hundred sport-hunted elephant trophies have been imported into the U.S. each year during the past decade, according to FWS. Trophies consist of almost any elephant part, including the head, tusks, skull, feet, tails, belly skins, and femur bones.

CF’s Jackson says more than 11 million big-game hunting licenses are issued in the U.S. annually. About one thousand hunters received a permit to kill elephants.

Whether or not a trophy can be imported into the U.S. depends on the conservation status of the country’s elephants. For trophies from CITES Appendix I elephants (populations in danger of extinction, such as in Tanzania and Zambia), FWS must issue a CITES import permit and “make the additional finding that the import is not detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild.” (Although there are now limitations on trophy imports, there are no limitations on hunting elephants).

Elephants in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa fall under Appendix II, meaning that those populations are not currently considered in danger of extinction. For Appendix II elephant trophies, only a CITES export permit is required. FWS must determine, however, that the import of an elephant trophy would “enhance the survival or propagation of the species,” says Tim Van Norman, chief of FWS’s permits branch.

Van Norman says this determination is made by reviewing such factors as possible threats to populations, current population estimates, management plans, local community involvement, and if any funds are generated by the import, how they’ll be used to bolster conservation. “Obtaining the information on management programs may entail a lengthy collaborative process between the country of export and the Service,” Van Norman says. (More FWS information about the elephant trade can be found here.)

A big bull recently shot by sport hunters on the boundary of Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe. (Photograph by Ant Kaschula)
A big bull recently shot by sport hunters on the boundary of Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe. (Photograph by Ant Kaschula)

“Common Sense Limits”

Between 2009 and 2013 FWS denied only 11 of the 972 completed applications for the import of sport-hunted elephant trophies.

But given the current poaching levels in Africa, many ask: Should sport hunting of elephants be allowed at all?

Absolutely, says John Jackson, who sees no conflict. “Hunting,” he says, “is part of the national action plans in each of the countries—the formal plans to control poaching and grow the elephant populations.”

Peter LaFontaine, of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), in Washington, D.C., strongly disagrees. He applauds the suspension of trophies from Zimbabwe and Tanzania, along with the two-trophy limit per hunter.

“We haven’t always seen eye to eye with trophy hunting and FWS,” he says. “In the past there were no limits, and you would see hunters bringing back 20, 30, 40, and even 100 tusks at one time. And this is not 50 years ago—this is recently.”

LaFontaine says Americans in general don’t favor the hunting of elephants. A nationwide poll by IFAW found that 80 percent of Americans would be comfortable with a ban on ivory if it helped elephant populations recover. “Since there’s no real difference between sticking an elephant head on your wall or ivory,” LaFontaine says, “the idea there is a difference between trophy hunting and poaching is absurd.”

Adam Roberts, the CEO of Born Free USA, another longstanding animal advocacy group, concurs. He says the new rules represent “common sense limits. Trophy hunting that threatens endangered wildlife is not real conservation.”

But, he adds, the government is giving a contradictory message in terms of the overall ivory ban and its public stance against elephant poaching. “A poacher is not allowed to kill an elephant and shop the ivory overseas. But an American hunter is allowed to engage in the same slaughter and movement of ivory?”

“The goal,” he says emphatically, “should be no more killing. Full stop.”


Depending on who’s talking, the marriage between trophy hunting and wildlife conservation is either very beneficial or a complete sham.

The recent auction of a black rhino hunt sponsored by the Dallas Safari Club (DSC) demonstrates how incendiary sport hunting can be. (See: “Death Threats Seen Over Rhino Hunt Auction”).

The hunting organization SCI proclaims itself: “The Leader in Protecting the Freedom to Hunt and in Promoting Wildlife Conservation Worldwide.” And CF’s motto is: “A Force for Wildlife Conservation, Wild Places and Our Way of Life.”

According to one well-known hunting operator in Zimbabwe, a 21-day elephant hunt costs $1,100 a day, with an additional $15,000 for the elephant trophy. Upwards of $80,000 for a hunt isn’t unheard of.

Hunting advocacy groups and expedition companies in Africa cite contributions to local communities as part of their conservation effort. Jackson says that CF partners with operators throughout Africa and “funnels benefits to local people in programs in which they participate as decision-makers. In those cases, the tourist safari hunters donate sums to Conservation Force and we put it to work for the community.” According to Jackson, CF has built 58 schools and 12 medical facilities in Tanzania.

Last year, IFAW, Born Free, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and the Humane Society International (HSI) commissioned a study to examine contributions by hunting organizations to local communities.

“We found that only about three percent of the hunting revenue actually goes to local community development,” IFAW’s LaFontaine says. And “almost none of the money spent on expeditions accrues to local communities. Instead, it remains with the (mostly foreign) tour outfitters and travel companies, in urban centers, central government agencies and, often, bribes for officials.”

LaFontaine argues that ecotourism, like photographic wildlife safaris, is more practical—and lucrative—than sport hunts. In Botswana, for example, “ecotourism is 12 percent of GDP. It’s astonishing. Nowhere does sport hunting account for a significant amount of GDP, and only a very small fraction of total tourism revenues.”

Furthermore, he says, “trophy hunting is in direct conflict with other activities that are truly sustainable, including wildlife viewing. People don’t want to go to a landscape that has been hunted free of its animals.”

SCI publicly responded to the commissioned report, calling it “inaccurate and flawed.” SCI also says the report “asks the wrong questions about the role that trophy hunting plays in the financial support of local African communities.” (The full SCI response can be viewed here).

African Perspectives

Anthony Kaschula is a fourth generation Zimbabwean who now works as a professional photographic safari guide and owns Gonarezhou Bush Camps. He supports the FWS suspension of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe because he worries that the hunting system in his country is mismanaged and “unsustainable.”

In the past, sport hunting of elephants within Zimbabwe’s national parks has been illegal. Except for a loophole that allows park officials to hunt elephants for meat. Recently, according to Kachsula, park leaders have been selling these “ration” hunts to professional hunters, and “the guidelines are being transgressed—including that trophy quality elephants are being hunted and there are reports of these trophies being exported, which is illegal.”

Kaschula says some hunters are also luring the elephants outside parks into the surrounding buffer zones or villages, where hunting is allowed. “Hunters might put out artificial water sources,” Kaschula says. Or hunters, knowing that an elephant might eat from a village maize crop, will wait nearby with spotlights to kill the animal.

How would hunters even know an elephant is eating the crops? Kaschula: “The hunters give villagers cell phones and say, ‘Here, call me when an elephant is near.'”

Charl Beukes is a former big-game professional hunter who has run hunting safaris in Tanzania, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. He now manages Croc Valley Camp, a photographic safari outfit in the Luangwa Valley, Zambia.

“No one has yet come up with an exact art or formula that benefits both people and wildlife,” says Beukes, who’s bluntly pessimistic about the future. “Wildlife is doomed. Wildlife is at the bottom of the barrel from governments, who see more pressing things like water and education. Wildlife, sadly, has to survive by itself.”

Beukes agrees with the FWS suspension, but he believes that sport hunting has some benefits. With photographic safaris, he points out, success is incumbent upon tourists seeing a high volume of wildlife. But trophy hunters will sometimes travel into less frequented areas that have fewer animals. If it’s a “reputable” hunting company, Beukes says, “it will spend money on anti-poaching units in those remote areas. So if you remove those hunting organizations, you’re left with a void.”

Andy Hogg agrees with Beukes—to a point. Hogg, who also lives in Zambia, is the founder of the Bushcamp Company, a highly regarded, award-winning photographic safari company based in South Luangwa. “Hunters will say they have a presence in an area—and yes, when they’re there, it is a poaching deterrent.” But, Hogg explains, it’s sporadic and seasonal. “A lot of the time it’s a one-man operation, and then they go back to town. They also leave at the end of the season when the rain starts—and in fact, that’s when a lot of our poaching [in Zambia] happens.”

The Bushcamp Company, Hogg says, is committed to conservation. “We’ve funded 400 kids to go to school and created a feeding program for 1,600 kids a day. Today an American woman funded 60 mattresses to help us build a girls’ dormitory.” He added that the company had also just pledged one million dollars over five years for the South Luangwa Conservation Society.

Save the Big Bulls

According to Hogg, the Luangwa Valley had 100,000 elephants in the 1970s and early 80s. “Now,” he says, “we have less than 20,000, and the whole of Luangwa doesn’t have one 100-pound tusker.”

He says that makes it of paramount importance to keep any big bulls—a prime target of sport hunters—alive. “A bull elephant doesn’t necessarily stay in one area—he’s a migratory creature. That bull is a gene pool, and he’ll cross between Zimbabwe and Botswana. And that elephant is indeed being seen by photographic people.”

Kaschula agrees. He says a well-known bull he has photographed many times was recently killed by sport hunters. “The hunters waited on an island and shot [the elephant] at first light as he and some 20 other bulls were making their way back [to the park] after feeding under the safety of darkness. “It wasn’t illegal,” Kaschula says. “But the ethics aren’t right.”

These bulls must be fully protected, Kaschula says. “Once an elephant reaches a certain weight [of tusks], the animal should simply be considered ‘royal game,’ and completely untouchable. When you see those big old gentle tuskers, when they have lived that long, they should be given the protection they deserve.”

Never the Twain Shall Meet

Conservation Force’s John Jackson has been on 38 elephant hunts and killed 14 older bull elephants (he says he has a strong ethic against taking any young, juvenile, or middle-aged bulls). He characterizes hunting elephants as “the most intimate, real relationship one can have with elephant. Nothing else in life is more satisfying than an elephant hunt. The actual hunt tests one’s physical capacity, endurance, and limits, as well as one’s courage and strength of character.”

Hunters, Jackson adds, are devoted to saving elephants. “Whether non-hunters understand it or not. We are as obsessive about saving the elephant as one can be. No one cares more.”

For many, elephants’ social complexity, intelligence, emotional depth, cooperative nature, self-awareness, and devotion to family are reason enough to ban all killing of them.

Cynthia Moss, who runs the Amboseli Trust for Elephants, in Kenya, has been studying and protecting elephants since 1968. She says she’s “heard these same arguments forever.”

“I’ve talked to many hunters,” Moss says. “They claim they love animals more than any researcher and that they really understand animals. They also add that they are the real conservationists because they want to keep them here to hunt them.”

Over the years, sport hunters have shot and killed three of the Amboseli elephants: M1-40, also known as Sabore; an elephant named RBG; and one of Moss’s all-time favorites, Sleepy.

Moss sees firsthand the impact a death of an elephant has on the survivors, especially the death of a female. “The killing of a female is probably more devastating for other individual elephants because they live in tight knit families. In Amboseli, you’ll see a family of 20 individuals—grandmothers, mothers, nieces, cousins, sisters. They stay in the family their whole lives and are very bonded.”

When a female is killed, the repercussions can last a very long time, Moss says. If the mother of a three- or four-year-old calf is killed, the calf will die. The survival rate of elephants up to 20 years old is even compromised if their mother is hunted. And if a matriarch is shot, “it’s absolutely devastating. It will have ramifications for years.”

Moss says that over her decades of work she has never once been persuaded by any of the arguments in favor of sport hunting.

“The loss of an elephant is a tragedy,” she says. “And killing an elephant or any other animal for fun is abhorrent.”

The Bushcamp Company’s Andy Hogg used to be a professional hunter, but now, he says he’s “totally about the photographic safari. I just couldn’t stand the killing any more. I struggle with the ethics of it—I struggle to understand it. And honestly, I’m not sure how anyone can kill an elephant.”

Looking ahead, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it will “reevaluate the situation in Tanzania and Zimbabwe for elephant trophies taken in calendar year 2015.”

Christina Russo is a freelance journalist. For nearly 15 years, she has worked as a producer for a number of public radio programs, including NPR/WBUR’s "On Point" with Tom Ashbrook. Christina also freelances for Yale Environment 360, where her written work focuses mainly on wildlife conservation issues. She is the co-producer, with WBUR, of the nationally syndicated documentary on American zoos, From Cages to Conservation. She has written numerous articles about animals, including a story about caring for donkeys in Ethiopia; a veterinarian saving horses in Sonoma County, CA; an elephant sanctuary in northern Thailand; and the work of pre-eminent whale biologist Roger Payne for her hometown newspaper, The Gloucester Daily Times.
  • Read Spear

    Good article. Now cancel “Wicked Tuna” and maybe I’ll start to take Nat Geo seriously again.

  • Quentin Luke

    Bravo, Ant Kaschula for speaking out. Too much BS is spread by hunting organisations – very few of them actually deliver any benefits to conservation.

  • Kirk Hoffman

    Please correct the statement that there is a sport hunting ban in Zambia. This is false and for some reason is stated over and over again as fact. FYI- safari hunting continues and the only ban is on Leopard, Lion and Elephant. This ban is in place until the game count numbers are in and can be analysed. Sadly for wildlife conservation, this has left 19 GMAs (hunting concessions) in limbo with no Outfitter to protect the areas. Poaching over the past 1 1/2 years is rife and resulting in animals numbers dropping to extremely low levels again. Anti-hunters boast what a wonderful job the Ex-Minister did in halting re-issuance of these areas but how could this be good news for wildlife conservation in Zambia? Especially when you consider that these areas are not viable for any other form of tourism except safari hunting as we still have large numbers of unfilled concessions in game rich national parks! Hunting plays an important role in wildlife conservation here. It has its problems but so does every industry (including tourism)

  • Liz Robinson

    What a great story. I must admit to being uninformed about the danger facing elephants. Rhinos yes, I understood, but until recently I didn’t realize the extent of the problem for elephants.
    I must admit, the contortions of the hunter remind me of a very famous statement from the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam, to paraphrase: ” We had to eliminate the village to save it.”

    We humans will say just about anything to justify our actions.


  • Calvin cottar

    The real issue is this – can wildlife pay for and justify its continued existence on land owned or controlled by the very poorest of our society? Tourism is only practiced on 4% of kenya land area and usually on government controlled parks and reserves – while wildlife lives on 60% of its area, usually communal and private land….while only 0.5% of the gross revenues generated from tourism ( 1 billion US $) actually get to these ‘landowners’..l no wonder , landowners see wildlife as competition to their only development option left – farming, domestic livestock, fencing, fragmentation, deforestation etc and no wonder kenya is losing its wildlife at a minimum of 3.2% per year – fast enough to see it gone in 20 years. Whose to blame? Not sport hunting because it’s been banned for 30 years !! Of course, the main culprit is the sate ownership of wildlife policies that allow such monopolies, and it’s the fact that landowners have no existing mechanism to influence wildlife policy – policy writing being monopolized for years by animals rights groups. Hunting is a proven tool for conservation – look at your own country where the industry finances 75% of your I tire wilderness areas and USFWS budget ( Heinz report) , and in Africa is vital to bring the high abstract values and money available in the developed world to the poorest rural folk where our wildlife still live.. Wildlife will only stay if it pays its way by any means possible , and sustainable offtake is just one way to achive this. Unless the animal rights groups, the tourism industry and the wildlife behavioral scientists can step up and pay for it, they should stop interfering, step aside, and let African landowners themselves decide if they want hunting or not…oh did I forget? Today in kenya, despite the fact that hunting is not allowed, the average rural family has 8% of their total protein intake from ‘wild’ sources…so the killing is happening, it’s just underground and unsustainable. Why is it that in other countries ( Namibia, SA) that when hunting opened in the 70’s , their wildlife numbers multiplied 20 times? While in in kenya in the same period, it has reduced 80%.

  • Michel Allard

    There are certain things stated in the article that require clarification for a reader to be able to unbiasedly weigh the arguments.

    La Fontaine’s quote that not long ago hunters were returning with 20 – 100 tusks at one time is put to strict proof! Under strict CITES regulations, this is impossible.

    I also question the claim that Tanzania’s elephants are in danger of extinction! Tanzania arguably holds the 3rd largest elephant population on the continent with vast populations in protected area strongholds.

    Cinthia Moss’s arguments about killing female elephants is completely out of context and misleading. In Tanzania, hunting of female elephants (or indeed any other specie) is illegal. Furthermore, following the tragic legal hunting of the three bull elephants she recounts, all hunting of elephant within 150km of the common border between Tanzania and Kenya is banned.

    Photo tourism in Tanzania is predominantly limited to a very few National Parks. Photo operators there have NO obligation at all to share benefits with local communities, and they don’t! Not a single photo operator I am aware of has an established anti-poaching program or supports one. In stark contrast, the vast majority of hunting operators have working programs for both these important conservation activity across their areas of operations.

    In the absence of a better wildlife use for most of the wildlife areas other than National Parks, regulated sport hunting remains the logical and sensible choice. Any attempt at ending that resource use in any wildlife area must have a equal or better conservation model ready to take over immeadiately. A sudden ban of regulated hunting wihtout a back up plan or simply in the hope that photo-tourism will take over the conservation role in quick succession will spell the end of wildlife in that area.

  • jakes

    I believe those of you who are all so eager to comment on the cons of hunting after having spent probably not a single night out in the wild, not hearing machine gun fire in the middle of the night as poachers are operating, had loved ones sacrifice their lives for conservation, should rather NOT sat anything if you at least are NOT even prepared to do your homework on the subject – that includes spending actually money to educate yourselves on the subject. Leave your emotions at home and do something constructive. All you do is talk talk talk – on something you know NOTHING of !!!

  • pam Ackroyd

    In the 1970’s there were 5 million elephants now there are 600 thousand .. being massacred, by the trophy hunters and a alleged poachers… Enough is enough… People are NOT going to let this massacring continue .. The Trophy Hunters mostly American , Safaris are America seem to think it is ok to wipe animals out totally, whole animal ancient species millions of years old have been destroyed in one generation , not even the Roman Empire , or Nazi Germany , did this much harm to the African Wildlife and the planet, for their entertainment , in other people’s countries too , have the American’s invaded it ?, creating mass extinction not experienced on this planet for 250 million tears .. a volcanic disaster which, blocked out the sun for decades , this time it is the elite of the world doing it and American Corporations , and mostly American Citizens… it is NOT ok … This minority , have until recently , with no publicity massacred every land giant on earth into critically endangered status . And, we the billions out here are outraged !!.. one, that the media and governments have allowed one of the poorest undeveloped continents to be raped by one of the richest , for ornaments !! for their homes.. The whole parasitic industry needs stopping before people start dying . The is serious their greed has pushed the African ecosystem into totally collapse and this is a crime against humanity , and the world .. The trophies should be removed from the people’s homes and burnt , and the people who have massacred and made money from the massacring ; the wildlife into almost extinction should face the worst international laws possible, and we should never face a wildlife crisis like this again on earth .

  • Helen LeBrecht

    No elephant should ever be killed! Elephants are more intelligent, compassionate and more family loving than human beings! For me, an elephant’s life is equally valuable to a human’s life, sometimes more!

  • Neon Blade

    South Africa should do itself a favor and ban any member of SCI (Slaughter Club International) from entering it’s borders.

  • Alex Brown

    Safari hunting contributes a fraction of what travel tourism brings. And even that does not reach the locals as most of it is pocketed by the outfitters. For far too long, hunting groups have gotten away with ‘hunters help conservation’ BS.

  • Terace Greene Hadfield

    I will say this to my last breathe. Until mankind treats all species equally we have Not Evolved! What a shameful act to kill an innocent being. May karma be repaid ten fold!!

  • Karen Cobb

    Trophy/Canned hunting, whatever they call is the CON in Conservation. By the time fees are paid to outfitters hardly anything goes back to the locals or to conservation.
    Its about time ALL GOVERNMENTS got ball and mad a stand against hunting organisation like Safari Club International and Dallas Safari Club. All hunting and all trophies should be made ILLEGAL. For some species its nearly to late but AFRICA and the world should realise that EXTINCTION means forever gone.

  • alfred j lopena

    stop the senseless killing of these beautiful creatures! the killers saying they love their victims is just absurd!

  • Judy Malone

    I hardly think a mammal headed, if current trends continue, to almost certain extinction by 2050 from ivory hunters qualifies for ‘conservation’ hunting.

  • David Shantz

    We need to put pressure on the professional tour guides for which hunting is big business. We put an end to Japanese whaling, through social media and political pressure, can the shooting of elephants, lions and others be next ?? http://bit.ly/1gMx9Ea

  • Vince

    As far as I’m concerned:
    everyone who shoots a healthy elephant should be shot.

  • Stephanie Barret

    I can’t believe that there are people lobbying to be able to kill and slaughter! What kind of sick people find hunting (scientifically-proven) smart and emotional creatures fun? Elephants do not deserve what we make them endure. I find it utterly devastating to think that one day, I might tell my kids that there used to be majestic creatures called elephants that were there long before us, that they used to roam the earth, and that our generation just watched as they were slaughtered into extinction. Better yet, that some rooted and cheered for their extinction by demanding to be able to make trophies or trinckets out of them. I visited Selous myself (pictured) and elephants have nearly disappeared from that place. Where there used to be herds of hundreds less than 5 years ago, one is lucky to spot 4-5 lost souls who run in fear when they see humans. All the sports hunters out there should be ashamed of being on the wrong side of our history as a species. Extinction is FOREVER, just remember that.

  • lightperson

    The person who claimed that animals are more valuable than humans showed me the type of people we are dealing with and why most of what is said is meaningless from that point on.

  • Ginni M

    I agree with Liz Robinson’s post. It is beyond my comprehension that people get a thrill out of killing these animals – it smacks of “the big macho fearless hunter threatened by wild animals in Africa and they must kill them or be killed”. African Safari places should go away and never come back – ban them.

  • MS Staara

    The guy who shot this elephant should be put in chains! He is a despicable human (?) being. Shame on him!

  • Louie K


    This is the opposite of brave. Who are these punks? They are the least cool people alive, what a shame.

  • Abhishek

    This is a shocking article. I never knew such things, barring sum hunting of deer in the US were actually permitted. Killing elephants is insane. on one hand you pump in money and so much effort in their conservation. And on another, you legally kill them??
    If those hunters do want some thrill, let a few pigs free in a small forest and let them be their game. Use non-poisonous bullets and you can use those pigs for pork!!

  • Diana Ramirez

    This breaks my heart and turns my stomach. How can there even be an argument about killing anything for “sport”? We have been fighting for many years to stop poaching, yet we allow people to pay to do the same thing. If the sport hunters want some REAL sport, they should start hunting each other. I’d pay to watch that!

  • Sue Smith

    Interesting article and am in agreement with US banning elephant trophies. In Tanzania the elephants are endangered contrary to what is said. Corruption is too big in Tanzania and the hunting fraternity is well known for the bribes being paid to government to look the other way as wildlife is exploited. The people against this ban are hunting operators themselves who have a lot financially to lose. Unfortunately most of them ( though not all) are in the business for love of money and not for the well being of wildlife.

  • Ann Mcvey

    How can you call this a “Hunting Trophy” when the guide drives the jeep along side of the animal, about 10-20 feet away, they look at you and you shoot it, all the while sitting in a safari jeep,and the guide probably loaded the gun for you…knew where the animal was from radio contacts…

  • Sapna

    To these hunters of poor defenseless animals, i would like to ask-
    How can you with a straight face tell the world that you are preserving wildlife – all so you can have a shot at them for your own thrills?
    Its disgusting that you can even say this of a hunt: ” its the most intimate, real relationship one can have with elephant. Nothing else in life is more satisfying than an elephant hunt. The actual hunt tests one’s physical capacity, endurance, and limits, as well as one’s courage and strength of character.” WHAT A LOAD OF CRAP! how is killing another living creature for the fun of it being ‘intimate’ and ‘satisfying’ – what kind of animal are you? And how is this being courageous in any way- you stand like a coward behind a gun and shoot at a distance at a defenceless animal that has no chance of fighting for its life- where is the bravery? And if you think that shows any sort of ‘strength of character’- you are sadly mistaken. It just shows how twisted your mind is. Look at the family you have destroyed- do you even know how close knit elephant families are? This is the same as someone coming into your home and shooting a family member ‘just because he enjoys it’ – is that showing any character? Then you go and pose proudly with the carcass- its just pathetic. Go touch this animal and feed it- take a look at its innocent eyes and wonder at God’s creation- thats what a real relationship with an animal is. The world is busy trying to save these magnificent creatures- use your money and do some good instead of killing them. You can still make a difference.

  • Henry Dietrich

    Being a hunter from Boulder, i’ve been able to look at the subject from both perspectives, which many people do not do before forming opinions on many controversial subjects. Everything that I hunt, I eat. All of the species that I hunt, are at stable and healthy population levels, and by respecting legal take limits and seasons, I know that I and my fellow hunters are not taking too bug of a chunk out of the population. With that said, This Ideology of going and finding animal species that you as the hunter are not going to consume and are also at critical population levels is sickening to me. If you need to bag an elephant for entertainment, then you need to reevaluate some things. On the flip side, Hunting brings in serious money. Hunters pay more money that goes to wildlife conservation in Colorado than the entire ski industry. And the biggest chunk of money comes from out of state hunters who are purchasing out of state elk tags. I can see how poor African nations have a hard time saying no to serious money to exploit their country’s wildlife. I just hope that we can save these amazing animals and environments. And hey, if animal populations return to healthy natural levels, than who says that a few hunting licenses can be handed out?

  • Oliver

    I think it is OUTRAGEOUS and unacceptable that people should still be so egotistical and self-seeking as to think that hunting for trophies is still acceptable. And these hunting lobbyists pretending they can still advocate that hunting in Africa is not so bad when we all know that the planet cannot afford to further lose a single animal – considering how many collateral loses are already incurred from non-hunting human activity… I am saddened. Have people completely lost the plot? Millenia have passed since the hunter-gatherer era and some people still haven’t awaken to the humanity there is in all living things.

  • Chris Betts

    What horrible people these killers are! Creating arguments to justify their sick desires, calling it ‘sport’ and pretending they are aiding conservation! The US should ban these imports completely.

  • ME nomad

    Perhaps if these ‘big-game’ hunters were focused on in the media and people shunned doing business with them, they might start to take a different viewpoint of big-game hunting.

  • Right

    How the hell can they call it a sport, these people are pathetic, they shoot a slow moving elephant and shoot big cats that are fenced in parks. They obviously just enjoy killing so I saw we make it legal for them to hunt each other. They need to make these laws international like the whaling ban.

  • disgusting white

    The title is totally wrong and optimistic. Controversy? It is a crime. You white guys really don’t know what you guys had done to the WORLD.

  • Anton

    “we Humans are very so Stupid indeed and many of us never want to learn from our mistakes but always looking for a way to justify our ridiculous actions”

    Seriously, why would you fly 6000 miles from the US to EAfrica just to kill an Elephant for Sport that has done you no harm ?
    i think such people should be institutionalized and medicated for them to get a normal thinking about wildlife

    When will people learn to draw a stop line to killing such game for sport ?.

  • Anon

    IFAW’s La Fontaine states he does not recognize “a difference between trophy hunting and poaching” and claims the very idea that the two are different “is absurd.” Law enforcement and wildlife authorities are not so undiscerning. One is a licensed, limited and regulated conservation strategy whereever it occurs and the other is unregulated, without quota or societal approval. The regulated hunting is part of a “user pay” system that is renowned for its conservation services and the other is theft from the public. One is not for profit. In fact, the regulated hunters are the givers, not the the takers. The poacher is taking from the public for his commercial, for- profit , unlawful gain.

    He also states that other wildlife users don’t want to see areas “hunted free of animals.” Again, he has poachers and regulated, licensed hunters confused.

    Robert of Born Free incorrectly complains that “American hunters are allowed” to “shop the ivory overseas.” To the contrary, commercial use of the tusks after import is prohibited under the terms of the import permit.

    I have the greatest respect for the work of Cynthia Moss, but not her memory when she states that she has “never been persuaded by any of the arguments in favor of sport hunting.” In the first edition of her book (I have read them all) she distinctly pointed out she had no objection to sport hunting of elephant because the offtake is to limited and it provides positive “incentives in the local people who must tolerate the elephant.” The very fact that so many hunters have expressed to her their ethic and conservation interest in elephant is a convincing fact in itself. Those hunters are among American’s most successful business and civic leaders, otherwise, among the most reputable citizenry. Note, she did not state they were insincere. I suggest she meant to say she does not herself hunt or understand those that do.

    Finally, the early statement that hunters “kill … for sport” is inaccurate. The common term “sport hunting” means hunting for personal use and purpose rather than for commercial or for-profit purposes. Components of hunting may be stand-alone sports like hiking or shooting, but hunting is both of those two sports and so much more. It is a relationship with and deification of the animal hunted.

  • Yvonne

    Ban trophy hunting – these people just want to brag on how they killed a larger beast than themselves – they think it makes them a man/women – These people are murderers in my books! They have no compassion only care about themselves.

  • Vicki Poh

    Trophy hunting is NOT hunting. It is killing. There is a difference. And you don’t use hunting for conservation of an endangered species. EVERY 15 MINUTES an elephant is killed by poachers. Now these killers (I REFUSE to call them hunters) think its ok to kill more? But wait their “fees” go toward conservation. Yeah right.

  • Steven Rogers

    20000 years ago there were saber toothed tigers roaming the American plains. Now there are none. Damn those aboriginal hunters

  • Lee Bennett

    In response to Michel Allard, there are photo operators within in Tanzania that have very strong anti-poaching teams, they are well trained, have good equipment and are very responsible. Two of the operators who have anti-poaching teams also have aerial surveillance and fly daily, observing and restricting movement of poachers as well as arresting those they can. They have good relationships with the local police and support their local communities extensively. More than 80 percent of their staff are employed from local villages and large sums of money have been pumped into these communities to promote local businesses that can benefit by becoming suppliers to the photo operators.

    Every single one of the operators I visited whilst working in the tourism industry in Tanzania have committed to assisting and uplifting the local communities. Many of these operators have huge anti-poaching awareness programs and pump large amounts of money into these, it is in their own interests to do so.

    Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and many of the other countries where elephant are found have committed Photo Safari Operators that spend a lot of time and effort in protecting wildlife, without them the National Parks in all of those countries would not have a chance of combatting the poaching problems that they are confronted with.

  • Bobby

    I posted a comment yesterday and was told that it had been rejected because it was too long. This is a very emotive topic and there is a lot of dust and fluff flying about with not a lot of substance in most cases. What I posted yesterday was a copy of a letter from some one imminently qualified to pass comment on this subject, far more qualified than anyone else posting here at least in the context of elephants in Zimbabwe. Yes, it is a lengthy letter but that is because he has a lot to say. I find it sad and utterly reprehensible that it is often the “Armchair EcoWarrior” on the other side of the planet who has perhaps not even seen a live elephant and passes largely ignorant and uneducated comment, very loudly and emotionally, who has the most influence and political clout. And let’s make no mistake, most of this IS nothing but politics. For anyone who has a GENUINE interest in this world of ours and ALL it’s inhabitants – animal, human and plant – I beg you, read this letter. Read it ALL THE WAY THROUGH! Here is a link to a Facebook post where you can find the letter. http://on.fb.me/1nwJToN

  • ZimbabweInTrouble


    Letter to US Fish and Wildlife by Chris Mercer of Campaign Against Canned Hunting

    – 5 May, 2014 – Chris Mercer

    In: Recent News

    I refer to the hysterical letter of protest by hunting fanatic Ron Thomson to US Fish and Wildlife, complaining angrily about the decision to temporarily suspend imports of elephant trophies taken in Zimbabwe and Tanzania for the rest of 2014.


    First we’d like to apologise to USFW for the tone of this 2 page rant. Not all South Africans are so abusive and discourteous.

    In this letter, he attacks your culture, motives and competence because of the suspension, likening the desire of USFW to protect elephants in Africa as the same as “trying to enforce Christianity on to an Islamic state”.

    Africans, he claims, have no culture of protecting wildlife, only in its commercial exploitation.

    He challenges the reason given by USFW that “there has been a significant decline in the elephant population” on the basis that it conflicts with his “belief” (unsupported by any research) that there are far too many elephants in Africa.

    Finally he laments the failure of African governments to continue regular elephant culls after the trade ban on ivory in 1989, claiming that “the sale of ivory paid for the culling exercise.”

    In other words, he argues that the only way elephant populations can be properly managed is if African governments are allowed to sell the ivory of the slain elephants in order to pay for the cost of killing them.

    So what is he asking USFW to do?

    He wants you to get out of the way and let the hunters kill as many elephant as they want. His main reason is his belief that there are “tens of thousands of elephants who should be killed.”

    But this reason, even if true, does not logically support his plea. Sport hunters play no useful role in reducing elephant populations, because “hunters selectively shoot only elephant bulls.” Hunting certainly harms social cohesion and herd dynamics, but it leaves the breeding cows alone.

    What he is really calling for is a massive culling exercise. Culling is the exact opposite of sport hunting. The goals of the two are mutually exclusive. Culling is a para-military operation where whole herds are rounded up and liquidated. The aim is to drastically reduce overall populations.

    Expressing his argument as a syllogism, he is contending:

    1. There are too many elephants in Africa, and they should be killed.

    2. Hunters kill elephants.

    3. Therefore, hunting is good.

    But why is someone, who wants to see tens of thousands of elephants killed, promoting the sport hunting of elephants? It makes no sense at all.

    Thomson is really arguing that massive indiscriminate slaughter, either by government killing or by elephant poachers, benefits the ecology far better than hunters.

    Does he realize that the implication of his arguments? Is he actually calling for more elephant poaching?

    Let’s deal with some of his other extraordinary claims:-

    1. A poaching frenzy.

    He claims that because of the one year suspension of import of elephant trophies, poachers will invade all the hunting concessions in Tanzania, causing mayhem.

    This claim wrongly assumes:

    1. that this temporary suspension amounts to a total ban on all hunting.

    2. that all hunters will immediately abandon their concessions.

    3. that hunters are the only force for protecting wilderness.

    2. Starvation!

    He claims melodramatically that the African staff employed by the hunters will not only be put out of work by this temporary suspension, but that they will “starve.” Thomson’s tender concern for the digestion of the natives again ignores the fact that the temporary suspension only affects elephant trophies. The hunting fraternity will continue to kill all other species freely.

    3. Philanthropy:

    He alleges that “hunting is the best way to take wealth from the rich people of the first world and give it to the poor people of Africa”.

    What a sweeping statement! The money from hunting goes mainly to the hunting operators. The “poor people of Africa” get only the crumbs from the hunting industry’s table.

    I’m sure that USFW is perfectly able to see through this monument to crooked thinking and muddled reasoning.

    I leave you with this piece of self-congratulation in his letter:

    He boasts: “I hunted and killed several thousand elephant over a five year period in the Zambezi Valley. In 1971 – 2, I was lead hunter in reducing the elephant population in Gona-re-Zhou game reserve by 2,500 animals…I have had a very distinguished career.”

  • ZimbabweInTrouble


  • John kinnaird

    If you take away the value of wildlife in africa you take away the need to conserve it. The wildlife on the commercial farms had a value because the landowners charged fees for hunters to shoot for meat or for trophy to control over dominance of different species and the animals were conserved because they had a value. The result of the land invasions was catastrophic as the animal was only seen as proteiin and ALL of the animals were eaten. The result was total elimination of all the species of big Mammals over thousands of square kilometers of land. Those of you sitting in New York or london have no idea about the conditions in Africa. In 10 years time you will be wringing your hands and crying foul when the Elephant populations in Zimbabwe and Tanzania are reduced to a handful like the Black rhino are at present and in practical terms you who shout the loudest would have done precisely nothing and the wild elephants will have gone. Mind you by that time when there are only a couple of hundred in the whole of Africa they will be much easier to protect as they will have to live in zoo’s. These are cold hard facts. not high blown principles of pampered western idealists.

  • Mike Burke

    I am a hunter and will never make excuses for it. I have hunted elephants several times in Zimbabwe. I have also spent as much as a month at a time enjoying non-hunting activities in Zimbabwe. So I have been there and have seen firsthand what is happening.

    First of all poaching is an issue, although I think it is overstated. Even the horrific elephant poisonings at Hwange were exaggerated, although even one is too many. Elephants are not endangered in Zim. In many areas they exceed the carrying capacity of the land.

    To the posters who claim to be hunters but are too morally superior to hunt elephants, remember one thing. Anti-hunters will never stop with the elephant. They want all hunting BANNED. And to those who justify killing by eating the meat, there is nothing wasted on a “trophy” hunt. Every piece of protein is consumed. NOTHING is wasted.

    To the poster who believes you drive up to an elephant and shoot it from the vehicle obviously has never been on an elephant hunt. The hunts I have experienced have been grueling and required days or even weeks of walking and stalking in difficult terrain. And if you believe an elephant is a docile creature, come visit them in the wild and not in a zoo environment. A tourist was killed in Botswana this past week because invaded an elephant’s personal space.

    I could continue, but it doubtful I will change any minds. I will continue to hunt, continue to enjoy photographic safaris, and support the wildlife and the people of Zimbabwe with my actions and money. The rest of you keep wringing your hands and when you actually do something constructive to support the elephant (other than call me a murderer) let us know.

  • Silvia Wadhwa

    What is the motivation of a trophy “hunter”? – NOT food. Not conservation. Not “helping local communities”. That’s all just out of the SCI propaganda brochure. If somebody flies around the globe, pays 20k bucks or more, he/she kills an elephant, lion, leopard etc for nothing but ego, the trophy on the wall and the “happy snap” hugging a dead animal. And I’ve seen such “hunts” … Even for shooting an animal that is as big as a house these “pros” need up to 20 shots to kill them. Or – better still – they go for the “extra thrill” to bring it down with a bow where it slowly bleeds to death. And – of course the easy, merciful shot in the head is out … Don’t wang your trophy spoilt! The whole idea of recreational killing of an animal is absurd and mental. Irrespective of whether a species is threatened by extinction. It completely denies the animals any rights as individual living beings and reduces them to our commodities. Backward and egoistic!

  • Paulo Gomes Pinto

    I see a lot of rage from people trying to impose their moral values.

    Logic couldn’t care less about your morals.

    Countries with sound hunting management (RSA, the USA) have been in the forefront of wildlife recovery.

    Countries with hunting bans have seen a steady decline of their wildlife resources.

    Thank you for reading

  • Raymond Jennen

    Just one question… Who gave you the right anyway to go to Africa (or other places) and kill animals? The feeling of human superiority or just the money?
    I visited Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, South-Africa and Namibia… and i donated my money for wildlifecare and -conservation and anti-poaching! I didn’t need a rifle to experience wildlife to the max! I want to go back for many years… i hope i still be able to watch Elephants, rhino’s and so on…….. despite you…..

  • Middle Ground

    Why is it human nature automatically polarize everything? Black/White, Right/Wrong, Good/Bad? The reality is that the world functions in grey-middle ground most of the time. This argument above seems a bit tilted towards the anti-hunting crowd as the pro-hunting facts/figures are linked, but not cited. However, there have been some interesting comments from readers and I would like to make a few points:
    1. Elephants are amazing creatures and the decision to kill one is not something to take lightly. I also am vehemently against the killing of cow elephants as they are tightly knit and depend on one another while bulls are relatively solitary.
    2. Huntable populations of most African game will exist in perpetuity behind the fences of massive ranches long after the game parks have been poached clean. Everyone assumes that poachers on kill elephant. This is absurd. Most poaching is done for bush meat and includes almost all species. Most rivers in Africa have also been nearly fished out with gill nets by locals.
    3. The value of the animals is massive, though greater when you combine both regulated hunting and photo safaris. Both value the animals and both will spend great sums to protect them for their own reasons. Lose one side, the animals lose value.
    4. Nearly every N. American game animal (plus predators and fur bearers) were at one point nearly wiped out due to lack of regulation and control. Now, in a well funded and law abiding society, game abounds, wolves are back in the lower 48, deer overpopulate the East Coast. Good stuff. Africa is on the decline like N. America was a century ago.

    Please understand that the world functions in “grey” most of the time. Also remember that over simplifying and berating hunters with such contempt makes some of you seem worse than the hunters. Nobody wrote anything nasty about the poachers who use slow acting poison darts and chop tusks from sedated, but not fully dead elephants and leave the remains to rot… Just saying.

  • trisha murphy

    John Jackson is a person with no spirit respecting this world of beautiful things. he should be ashamed posing in front of a beautiful intelligent creature of god that he has murdered.

  • marlowe h.

    Sad, egotistical moment. Maybe the elephant should have shot you? Too many humans anyway.

  • Takarinda

    The ban is more political than ecological and most of the people supporting the ban are not conservationist they are a bunch of rich bastards who happens to love animals and are clueless about ecology and wildlife managent. Folks loving animals does not necessarily make one a conservetionist, let us hunt and sell our elephants because this is the only way they are going to survive. Elephants like any other wildlife in Zimbabwe has to pay its way and it also has to justify its existance by providing benefits to those living with it or else its habitat will be handed over to activities such as agriculture.

    It pains me to hear people from Europe advocating for the ban, you people should keep your stupid opinions to youself because you do not understand this issue and the ban does not affect you and one more thing you dont own these elephants they are our haritage so get lost. What will hapen to communities living with those elephants, I mean rural folks who are bearing the costs of HWC. They will be left with no option but to eradicate these elephants because of the following reasons:
    -there nolonger get meat and other benefits from elephants therefore the jumbos are now mere pests to them.
    -people will encroach into protected areas thereby dicreasing the elephant’s habitat through changes in land use i.e conservation to agric.

    Morover banning elephant hunts will increase pressure on other charimastict species which are sort after by hunters such as the cape buffallo (syncerus caffer). Safari operators will be tempeted to acquire the same revenue they were acquiring before the ban by overutelisation of other species available to them. This will have dire consequences on animal populations and wildlife conservation altogether.

  • jim

    As a past hunter, just hunt and release fish,I say the brainless types who can’t see reality beyond the rear sight on a rifle, don’t snd shouldn’t be allowed a gun.
    Jackson and all others who spout sport and culling, try that without a gun.
    Go barehanded or ,OK a spear. Good luck with that..

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