Previously published at

dapu_12524118_953091831440749_8780025497936633047_n-e1470952184599With an African elephant being killed by poachers every 15 minutes, the continent’s poaching crisis has captured the attention of groups as disparate as the World Wildlife Fund and the US Military. More than a simple conservation issue, the illicit trade in elephant ivory to supply Asian consumer demand has fueled the growth of organized crime networks and violent extremist groups that threaten to destabilize Africa’s emerging economies. The same smugglers ratlines that move elephant ivory also move narcotics, people and weapons. To supply that ivory, which trades on the black market for around $1800 per tusk, poachers must first kill an elephant worth up to $1.6 million to national economies if utilized sustainably, over the course of its average lifespan. The loss of each animal represents a stumble on the already slippery slope of economic and political security the continent stands on.

Since the poaching crisis emerged in 2008 the Obama Administration has adopted a series of policies and programs aimed at bringing it under control. These have included grants, training assistance and expanded law enforcement, all of which have produced valuable results. But not all of these efforts can be said to be producing their intended effect. In Zimbabwe, a US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) policy that discourages American hunters from participating in the county’s legal elephant hunting program is crippling the anti-poaching efforts that program has traditionally supported.

The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, which oversees much of the nation’s conservation efforts, draws between 60% and 90% of its operating funds from fees paid by visiting hunters from the United States and elsewhere. Private and community conservation programs often rely on a comparable amount.  With one of the largest elephant populations in Africa, and an abundance of trophy export permits available under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Zimbabwe has for decades been a popular destination for hunters seeking the experience of a traditional African safari. Old elephant bulls near the end of their life have been among the most economically valuable trophies conservation programs have benefitted from, bringing in tens of thousands of dollars each in fees.