United States – Trophy Hunting Elephants and Lions

Stephen Wiggins Article 3 Comments

Note: Article updated: 18, 20 November and 23 December 2017

Update: On the 22 December 2017, the D.C. Court of Appeals concluded that “That Sport Killing Won’t Help Zimbabwe’s Elephants” in response to the Centre for Biological Diversity and National Resources Defense Council challenge to the USA Interior Department’s regressive step to allow the import of lion and elephant hunting trophies from Zimbabwe.

Hopefully this court ruling will spur the Trump administration to finally revisit its decisions sanctioning the deaths of imperiled [sic] elephants and lions,” said Sanerib (Centre for Biological Diversity). “If these species are going to survive, the first step is to stop killing them.”

17 November 2017

So, not unexpectedly, the United States has taken alarming and regressive steps that will further imperil the survival prospects of wild elephants and lions.

The protection for lions announced by the USFWS at the start of 2016 are now being regressed, with lion hunting trophy importation being permitted from Zimbabwe and Zambia (with Mozambique, Namibia and Tanzania “under review”), but there is no obvious scientific backing provided (yet) for the lifting of any lion trophy restrictions from Zimbabwe, or Zambia – why?

‘Wild Lions’ and ‘Managed Wild Lions’ trophies are permitted for import by the USFWS from South Africa, but the exception (for now) being the restriction maintained to prevent the importation of lion trophies derived from ‘Captive (‘Canned’) Lions,’ due to the obvious lack of any credible conservation credentials displayed by the industry.

  • Wild Lions” – “completely fulfil their role in biodiversity processes and are largely unmanaged, and exist only in formally proclaimed national parks and game reserves. Conservationists do not actively manipulate vital rates and lion demographics.”
  • Managed Wild Lions” -“include all lions that have been re-introduced into smaller fenced reserves (<1000km2), and are managed to limit population growth and maintain genetic diversity. Managers actively manipulate some vital rates and demographics.”
  • Captive Lions”  – “are bred exclusively to generate money. Managers actively manipulate all vital rates and demographics” – it is duly noted that any ‘conservation’ value is not stated, but the Biodiversity Management Plan acknowledges captive lions “are bred exclusively to generate money

Reference: The DEA’s 2015 “Biodiversity Management Plan (BMP) for the lion (Panthera leo) in South Africa


Figure 1 – Xanda – Photo Credit: Bert du Plessis of Fish Eagle Safaris

What does the USFWS’s regressive approach tell us? The science does not matter – when a wild lion (such as Cecil, or indeed Xanda) can be lured from the protection of Hwange National Park (Zimbabwe) and killed within a conveniently adjacent ‘hunting concession,’ apparently that is acceptable conservation of a vulnerable/endangered species. If such hunting was truly conservation, then why aren’t the hunting concessions themselves full of lions to be slaughtered for trophies? Why the need to lure a pride male lion (with dependent cubs) from the protection of a national park in order to take the coveted trophy and try to excuse it as conservation somehow?

The world (CITES and IUCN) seeks to tackle the issue of ivory worship and seeks to shut down domestic ivory trading in the hope of stemming the elephant poaching attrition (20,000 – 30,000 African elephants a year), the USFWS tries to justify the hypocrisy of promoting the killing of elephants for trophies (tusks):

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Service) will begin issuing permits to allow the import of sport-hunted trophies from elephants hunted in Zimbabwe, on or after January 21, 2016, and on or before December 31, 2018, for import permit applications that meet all other applicable requirements“ – USFWS, 16 November 2017

UPDATE: 18 November 2017 – It is yet to be acknowledged on the USFWS’s website, but the Washington Post reported 17 November 2017 – “Trump halts Interior’s elephant trophy decision (for elephants in Zimbabwe and Zambia, but no mention of halting lion trophies…). The ‘decision’ is “on-hold” until the conservation value has been “reviewed” – an approach acknowledged by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke:

President Trump and I have talked and both believe that conservation and healthy herds are critical. As a result, in a manner compliant with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations, the issuing of permits is put on hold as the decision is being reviewed.“

UPDATE: 20 November 2017 – Indeed, trophy hunting is a “horror show“….

Trump_20 November 2017

Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration’s Elephant, Lion Trophy Import Decisions – Despite Trump’s Tweets, New Trophy Policies Still In Effect,” Centre for Biological Diversity, 20 November 2017

The USFWS’s justification to permit elephant hunting trophy importation is that:

Human-elephant conflict, already on the rise, is a symptom of this rapid land transformation and only likely to continue to increase. This is likely to result in increased damage to both people and elephants. Habitat loss and fragmentation will result in increasingly fragmented elephant populations, which are already at high risk of loss of viability – CITES, 24 October 2017


– Tanzania is “under review” by the USFWS

The Kruger National Park, Elephant Management Plan does not have an emphasis on ‘hunting theory’ but instead will “let natural processes determine elephant populations and movement” – it should be noted, that “Kruger’s elephants are now part of a regional population, with fences having been removed in places (west into private South African game reserves and north/east into Zimbabwe and Mozambique).”


elephant trophy hunting

Figure 2 – “Sport hunting in Zimbabwe is big business” – Photograph by Barcroft Media/ Getty   – “Is Trophy Hunting Helping Save African Elephants?” Adam Cruise, National Geographic, 17 November 2015

So, apparently Zimbabwe has established the elephant population present in country and can ‘accurately’ set a scientific quota – all of which suggests such obvious, basic ‘science’ was absent in the past from hunting quotas, so how can previous elephant killing for trophies be considered as ‘conservation?’

Regardless, the well-worn mantra of “well-regulated hunting” positively helping conservation is trotted out (again) by the USFWS, because ‘this time it ‘might‘ actually be well-regulated’ is the apparent USFWS assumption. Of course, this depends on the proliferation (or otherwise) of migratory elephant herds into and out of Zimbabwe and how ‘scientific’ any hunting quotas turn out to be in reality.

Even the USFWS’s justification admits Zimbabwe’s ‘scientific approach’ might be an aberration:

With the establishment of the EMP, there appears to be a more systematic, scientific approach to establish national quotas”

The African Wildlife Foundation conducted an intensive analysis of the CITES trade database and reported in October 2017 that between 2001 and 2015, an estimated 81,572 African elephants were killed for hunting trophies (on average, that’s around 5,800 elephants per year).

AWF - Hunting Trophies


Figure 3 – “African Mammal Trade – A Look at the African Animal and Animal Product Trade,” African Wildlife Foundation, October 2017

Where is the undeniable science that says the killing of an estimated 81,572 elephants helped in any way to conserve the elephant species (References 17, 18, 19 & 20)? Furthermore, how does the proposed  killing of even more elephants in the coming years for senseless hunting trophies have any conservation benefits for the wild species? Elephants face many threats from poaching, habitat loss, human/wildlife conflict. Today, the wild African elephant population is perhaps less than 400,000 across the entire continent. This population is insufficient to reproduce and sustain that population with the current attrition rates, let alone sustain more “harvested” elephants for meaningless trophies.

Let’s be clear: elephants are on the list of threatened species; the global community has rallied to stem the ivory trade; and now, the U.S. government is giving American trophy hunters the green light to kill them” – Wayne Pacelle, Humane Society International, 15 November 2017

Elephants are dying in their tens of thousands each year at the hands of ivory poachers, and are in serious decline across much of the African continent. Many populations can’t withstand the additional threat posed by trophy hunting. The lifting of the ban will put the elephant populations of Zimbabwe and Zambia under even more pressure, cause immeasurable suffering and devastate targeted individuals and their family groups. It’s nothing short of a disgrace” – “Born Free condemns self-serving US move to lift ban on elephant trophy imports,” Mark Jones, Born Free Foundation, 17 November 2017 

The worry is, the current United States administration is going to take further, biased decisions in the future (not based on science, but a belief in the hunting lobby’s mantra) :

The United States Department of the Interior (DOI) (under direction from Secretary Ryan Zinke) along with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is establishing the “International Wildlife Conservation Council.” However, this grand title does little to disguise this “council” as anything other than a pro-hunting body populated by ammunition and armoury manufacturers, hunting associations, archery and/or hunting sports industry, hunting outfitter and/or guide industries related to international hunting. This council perpetuates the mantra/myth of “well-regulated hunting” providing only positive conservation benefits etc. There is a passing concession to include the counsel of the “wildlife and habitat conservation/management organizations,” but the “international” moniker appears to be misleading – the countries setting hunting quotas (using scientific analysis, or not?) are not openly mentioned as “council” members.


  1. The Elephant in the Room – Hung on the Wall,” Defenders of Wildlife, 16 November 2017
  2. Interior Department to allow imports of elephant and lion trophies from Africa, reversing Obama policies,” A Humane Nation, Wayne Pacelle, 15 November 2017
  3. “”Lions Are Now Protected Under the Endangered Species Act,” USFWS – Really?” IWB, 22 December 2015
  4. Sport-Hunted Trophies: Lions,” USFWS, 16 November 2017
  5. ’Captive’ Lions – DEA Fails to Answer Questions Fully,” IWB 21 August 2017
  6. Xanda – Who is telling the truth?“ IWB, 23 July 2017
  7. Draft Decision and Amendments to Resolution Conf. 10.10 (Rev. CoP16) on Trade in Elephant Specimens,” Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), CoP17 Com. II. 6, 5 October 2016
  8. Closure of domestic markets for elephant ivory,” The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Motion 007, Final version published 7 November 2016
  9. Zimbabwe National Elephant Management Plan (2015 – 2020),” Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, published by Conservation Action Trust
  10. African elephant poaching down, ivory seizures up and hit record high,” CITES, 24 October 2017
  11. The Great Elephant Census – Continent-wide survey reveals massive decline in African savannah elephants,”  Chase et al., PeerJ, June 2016, ref: DOI 10.7717/peerj.2354
  12. Import of Elephant Trophies Hunted in Zimbabwe and Tanzania,” USFWS, 16 November 2017 –
  13. Ivory Trading in Europe,” IWB, 9 November 2017
  14. UK Ivory Trading Consultation,” IWB, 2 November 2017
  15. Sport-Hunted Trophies: Elephants,” USFWS, 16 November 2017
  16. African Mammal Trade – A Look at the African Animal and Animal Product Trade,” African Wildlife Foundation, October 2017
  17. The Economics of Poaching, Trophy and Canned Hunting,” IWB, 2 September 2015
  18. The $200 million question: How much does trophy hunting really contribute to African communities?“ a report for the African Lion Coalition, prepared by Economists at Large, Melbourne, Australia, February 2013
  19. The theatre of wildlife decimation,” IWB, 7 March 2016
  20. Is Trophy Hunting Helping Save African Elephants?” Adam Cruise, National Geographic, 17 November 2015
  21. Born Free condemns self-serving US move to lift ban on elephant trophy imports,” Mark Jones, Born Free Foundation, 17 November 2017
  22. The Great Emptiness is Upon Us,” Oxpeckers, 7 November 2016
  23. Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration’s Elephant, Lion Trophy Import Decisions – Despite Trump’s Tweets, New Trophy Policies Still In Effect,” Centre for Biological Diversity, 20 November 2017
  24. Trophy Hunting: US pro-hunting lobby moves to legitimise the ‘sport’ of a wealthy elite,” Daily Maverick, 30 November 2017

Comments 3

  1. Pingback: Open letter to Secretary Zinke: The African Lion Conservation Community’s Response – International Wildlife Bond

  2. Pingback: Open letter to Secretary Zinke: The African Lion Conservation Community’s Response | Cecil's Pride News Network

  3. Pingback: 2017 Review – International Wildlife Bond

Leave a Reply