Trump Killing Elephants in Zimbabwe. What’s The Real Story?

Mainstream media is going insane with this one.  The story goes something like this:  Trump is now allowing elephants to be killed for trophy.  How dare he!  Philistine!

OK, that’s great.  Felt good.  Right?

From Hollywood actors to Ellen Degeneres and whoever that guy is that likes to cry about everything during this monologues the mainstream media is having a field day with this one.

Did Trump order the killing of baby elephants from his throne?  Of course not.  That’s silly.  So, what’s the reality of this issue?

To be clear, I think that killing anything for trophy is stupid. If someone hunts or fishes to eat that’s fine.

The US Fish & Wildlife Service. Right there on the front page they have a link to the Federal Register notice about this elephant issue:

The first finding is that no, Trump didn’t pick up the phone from his throne to order they allow killing of baby elephants for trophy. That sounded preposterous and it sure looks like it is.

It seems the proposed change of policy is a result of years of legal action (since 2014) as well as interaction with the government of Zimbabwe and their wildlife agencies.

The article mentions various reports and studies. I wanted to answer a very fundamental question stemming from an assertion made by the Fish and Wildlife Service:

That legal and regulated trophy hunting of elephants actually helps conservation of the species.

How does that work? Why does killing 500 elephants per year (about 0.5% of the population) actually help elephants survive, thrive and grow in numbers?

The answer to this fundamental question would be at the root of understanding the issue –if the goal is to understand what’s going on rather than to use it to vilify Trump. The latter is the only thing that everyone from mainstream media to Ellen Degeneres and the usual cadre of Hollywood actors focus on. Nobody is talking about the answer to the most fundamental question:

Why does legal hunting actually help elephants?

I had a feeling I knew the answer to this question. At least the theoretical answer. I needed to support my hunch. I don’t have the time to go through a dozen documents. Thankfully I was able to find one that goes right to the point. This is the “Zimbabwe Elephant Management Plan”. This was completed in 2015 and covers up to 2020.

Right there on page 12 there’s a box titled: “The Role of Sport Hunting in Elephant Conservation”


The argument goes something like this:

  • Elephants are a threat to local communities
  • They destroy crops, threaten live stock and people
  • The people in these poor desolate areas don’t see value in having them around
  • This results in poaching and killing large numbers of elephants as these very poor people with limited resources protect themselves and their livelihood
  • As a results of this the area occupied by elephants is also being reduced because locals need to use it for crops and live stock
  • Hunting gives elephants economic value
  • If hunting has more value than crops and livestock and locals benefit from it poaching is reduced and land use is reduced
  • Eco-tourism revenue is nearly non-existent in remote areas where elephant populations are being affected; People want to go to “nice” areas and watch wildlife while sipping latte’s; They are not interested in slogging it out in the middle of nowhere just to save elephants
  • Low funding and reduced goodwill from local communities results in more elephants being lost to illegal activities
  • Hunting can give elephants economic value which, in turn, changes the perspective of locals who will have an incentive to engage in conservation

And so we hit reality pay dirt:  In these desolate areas elephants are seen as a threat to human activity and unless they are are more valuable alive than dead locals are going to kill them in favor of feeding their children.

As simple as can be.

That’s theory, what do we learn from practice?  It is easy to understand that almost anything any government touches ends-up it screws up.  And that’s not limited to the US Government.  Is it reasonable to expect the governments of Zimbabwe and other affected nations to be any better than ours?  Probably not.

And so this leads to a situation where hunting revenues, in the tens of millions of dollars per year, don’t always reach their intended beneficiaries in all of the afflicted areas.  Which is a tragedy.

National Geographic has an (older) article on this:

There are areas where this is working well and others where it is not.  Once again, the problem is government ineptitude and corruption and this time not ours but theirs.

What’s the US to do?  That’s a tough one.  I hate the idea of killing elephants to give them economic value.  That idea, in isolation of potential benefits, is revolting.  Yet the locals are going to kill elephants in large numbers if they threaten their crops, livestock, children and general well being.  It’s very much an “us vs. them” situation for locals on the ground.  It’s easy to pass judgement from thousands of miles away.  What would you do if you had thousands of mountain lions threatening your neighborhood, your kid’s schools, etc.  My guess is you would, at one point, put a bounty on their heads.  That, it seems, might approach reality on the ground at most of these settlements forced to coexist with elephant herds.

This is where I come full circle to the Hollywood actor crowd, Ellen Degeneres, that guy who cries during his monologues and the hosts of all the mainstream media shows decrying this trophy hunting mess.

These are all people with huge financial resources.  All multi-millionaires and probably even some billionaires.  If they truly cared about the elephants in Zimbabwe all they have to do is put their money where their mouths are.  They need to give elephants economic value through an activity that promotes conservation rather than killing them.  How?  What activity?

Well, it’s simple, really.  All Ellen and her friends need to do is fund and promote eco tourism to these shitty desolate areas.  They need to go there themselves and create economic value for locals.  They need to spend their millions to go on mostly really crappy vacations to otherwise deserted areas to take pictures of elephants.  They need to pay as much or more than trophy hunters to see live animals and spend time in those areas.  It’s simple economics:  If the promoted activity has more economic value than killing elephants they will be protected and they will thrive.

Yet, that’s not what they are going to do.  Because these people are mostly fake unprincipled idiots.  Their idea of getting behind a cause is to cry on TV.  They cry about global warming and then get into their Ferrari an drive to their massive mansion on hundreds of acres of land.  They cry about firearms yet employ a small army of armed security personnel to protect them.  They cry about the need for higher taxation for the rich yet they have never written a check for more than what they owe in taxes to show all of us their conviction.

And it is the same with elephants.  They will get on TV and blame Trump for something he had nothing to do with.  They will score points with their buddies and then move on to the next attention-grabbing thing that comes along.  In the meantime the only people –as sick as it sounds– doing anything for these animals might just be the idiots who pay tens of thousands of dollars to trophy hunt.  Brilliant.

And no, US taxpayers are NOT responsible for the funding of wildlife conservation agencies and programs in other countries.  Don’t even go there.  We already waste too much tax revenue on nonsense both in the US and abroad.