It seems there’s hardly any good news coming out of Zimbabwe these days. Three months ago, American dentist Walter Palmer shot Cecil, one of the most famous lions in Hwange National Park, after luring him from the park’s protected confines. We got word on Monday of this week that Zimbabwe officials won’t charge Palmer in Cecil’s death, clearly a political move so as not to discourage trophy hunters from visiting the country to conduct their killing escapades. Then, we learned on Tuesday that rangers found several dozen elephants dead in Hwange, bringing the number of elephants poisoned and dismembered for their tusks in Zimbabwe to 43 in just the last month. And on Friday, we woke up to news that in an authorized hunt there, a German hunter had shot a giant male elephant, reportedly the largest elephant to be killed in decades on the continent.
The killing of this magnificent elephant is an additional mark of disgrace for Zimbabwe, which invites globe-trotting elites to shoot its largest and often rarest animals if they hand over enough cash. It’s a pay-to-slay transaction, and all rolled up, this business of serial head-hunting is exacting an immense toll on the nation’s wildlife. Precisely because of Zimbabwe’s autocratic government, and its reckless wildlife management, the United States suspended any imports of elephant trophies from the country two years ago. It’s time for Germany to get with the program and match the U.S. action.
Trophy hunting animals is such a waste in a country that earns so much more from photographic tourism: an Economists at Large report found that, in 2011, Zimbabwe earned 31 times more from tourism than from trophy hunting. This puts the lie to the claim that the country needs to pursue trophy hunting as a development strategy. And I hope the trophy hunters spare us the rhetoric that the activities are compatible – killing Cecil, killing the giant male elephant this week, and other similar slayings denude the nation of its rich wildlife heritage and deduct from wildlife-watching experiences for people who come with much more cash and with far more peaceful intentions.
The only immediate good news for elephants this week is that China has announced a suspension of imports of elephant ivory trophies from all of Africa. Isn’t it remarkable that China, long accused of being insensitive to animal issues, is eclipsing Germany in the wisdom and humanity of its practices on this issue? Just weeks ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the United States and vowed to replicate U.S. policy against commercial trade in ivory. Last week, the notorious “Queen of Ivory” was finally arrested in Tanzania, and charged with smuggling 706 elephant tusks. There is increasing hope that we can stop the poachers and the trophy hunters from laying waste to the continent’s beleaguered elephants, who have been slaughtered by opportunistic, greedy, and self-satisfied people who kill one member of their species every 15 minutes. What a disgrace that we treat the world’s largest land mammals this way – creatures with so much intelligence and emotional capacity and with such a commitment to family life and their closest kin.
And what hypocrisy for the West to demand an end to the trade in ivory, but to continue to support gambits by wealthy Americans and Europeans to travel to the African continent and slaughter elephants for their tusks? It makes little sense to people to say that poor Africans are forbidden from killing elephants for their tusks, but it’s okay for rich westerners to do so. In July of this year, the European Union prohibited import of elephant hunting trophies from Tanzania, Mozambique, and Zambia, a positive step, but surely on the basis of this week’s news Zimbabwe should be next.
In the United States, we’ve got a big vote coming up on I-1401 in Washington state, a concrete step that we can take in our own country to mitigate the damage that people like Walter Palmer and the nameless German are doing (the latter fellow went to Zimbabwe to shoot the so-called Big Five: an elephant, a leopard, a lion, a Cape buffalo, and a rhinoceros). We urge humane-minded voters in Washington state to cast a “yes” ballot on the issue. And we are anxious to see the U.S. rule on the ivory trade made final. We must show leadership in protecting elephants, and it starts with sending a message to the poachers and the trophy hunters that elephants are off limits and they should kept intact.