BANGOR, Maine — Earlier this week, amid reports that the Trump administration was considering lifting the 2014 ban that prohibits the importation of elephant trophies, the BDN asked Mainers what they thought of the potential move.
A few took the time to share their thoughts. Among them was a Bangor safari company owner who said the importation ban on ivory tusks has hindered the management of elephants in Zimbabwe, and it has emboldened poachers who are less likely to encounter U.S. hunters in the field.
Tim Farren, owner of Farren Safaris, said he has been sending Americans on African adventures for 21 years. For the past five or six years, those trips have not been hunting related. Instead, they’ve been photo safaris. But the longtime hunter said the ban makes no sense to him.
“I am still a big proponent of trophy hunting as a means of management,” said Farren, who said the population of elephants in Zimbabwe is significantly above the habitat’s carrying capacity, and the government has set a goal to reduce the number of elephants in certain areas. “It has to be managed. A certain number of elephant have to be taken off [the landscape] each year.”
According to a report of the Conservation Action Trust, which works on behalf of the environment and threatened species, population control of Zimbabwe elephants is indeed a control. A report by the group says there are an estimated 83,000 elephants in the country, and since a widespread culling of the herd in the 1980s, the population has grown.
Farren said when there are too many on the landscape, they can negatively affect the habitat of other plains game animals.
“How do you manage a population of 10,000- to 12,000-pound animals that eat 100 to 200 pounds of food a day and decimate everything in their path?” Farren asked. “How do you manage that? Give me an alternative that makes more sense [than trophy hunting]. There is none.”
In addition, Farren said allowing trophy hunting sends the message to local villagers, some of whom are making just $50 a month, that the animals have value, and should be protected from poachers.
“Once they know that trophy hunters are going to come in and they’re going to spend $25,000, $30,000, $40,000 for an elephant [hunt], they know they’re going to get a percentage of that, and they become game wardens,” Farren said. “They will do anything in their power to keep poachers out.”
And, finally, Farren said the meat from the elephants that are taken are provided to the villagers, and provide much-needed food.
Some respondents to the BDN query said they’re morally against trophy hunting in general.
“I have been on more safaris than I can recall. My brother in-law is a professional wildlife guide in Africa and I’m absolutely fine with hunting for food or culling when necessary,” Bob Ziegelaar wrote in an email. “Trophy hunting, on the other hand, is a miserable enterprise. I see it as misguided and selfish. Taking out an animal with a semi-automatic or even a single-action weapon is not a challenge when you’re protected by professional hunters and lots of other assistance.”
Ziegelaar said he doesn’t believe that money associated with the hunts ends up in the right hands, either.
“Any funds paid for the privilege of shooting threatened species mostly do not benefit the local communities since lots or bribes are usually involved, often unbeknownst to the visiting hunter,” he wrote. “African wildlife belongs in Africa, not to wealthy visitors from abroad looking to feed their egos. No one who has witnessed the slaughter of elephants and other African wildlife should feel good about trophy hunting there.”
George Lozier of Biddeford said he wouldn’t want to hunt elephants or import the ivory, but doesn’t object to the practice.
“I do not have any issues that should prevent a hunter from importing his legally acquired elephant trophy,” Lozier wrote in an email. “I once hunted deer with great enthusiasm and I never had the desire to keep a trophy mount. I don’t have an issue with those that do want trophy mounts on any game they harvest.”
BDN reader Charles Verrill of Islesboro, in contrast, had a strong negative reaction to the potential lifting of the ban.
“I am appalled that the Trump administration is even thinking about lifting the ban on imports of elephant tusks from Africa!” Verrill wrote in an email. “I am an 80-year-old who has hunted geese, ducks and upland birds for decades, who taught my sons how to hunt, and who owns shotguns. I also frequently travel to Africa where I have a business.
“That being said, I cannot see any justification for killing elephants,” he wrote. “They are majestic creatures that are endangered throughout much of their range and are menaced by poachers. Killing them for ‘sport’ can only further jeopardize their existence. The claim that fees from hunters that kill elephants are used for conservation are bogus! And unlike going after a duck or goose, elephant hunting takes no skill; the ‘hunter’ simply pulls the trigger from a protected spot when instructed by the guide. This is not hunting in the Maine tradition.”
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