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Trump Administration Reverses Ban on Elephant Trophy Imports

Campaigners condemn reversal, fear it will set back global efforts to stem the ivory trade

The Trump administration has agreed to allow the remains of elephants killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia to be brought back to the US, a reversal of an Obama-era ban.

photo of elephants in zimbabwephoto by Steven dosRemediosElephants in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. The Trump administration has reversed a ban elephant trophy imports from Zimbabwe and Zambia.

In 2014, the President Obama's administration banned the imports of elephant trophies to protect the species. "Additional killing of elephants in these countries, even if legal, is not sustainable and is not currently supporting conservation efforts that contribute towards the recovery of the species," they said at the time.

African elephant populations had once numbered between three to five million in the last century, but have been severely reduced to its current levels of 415,000 animals due to hunting and the illegal ivory trade, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

But the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), an agency within the Department of Interior, said Tuesday that reversing the ban would help preserve the species.

“The hunting and management programs for African elephants will enhance the survival of the species in the wild," a FWS spokesperson said.

“Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation."

Under the new change, hunters who legally hunt or hunted an elephant in Zimbabwe from Jan. 21, 2016 to Dec. 31, 2018, or in Zambia between 2016 to 2018 can apply for a permit to import their trophy into the US.

Incidentally, the policy switch was first announced by Safari Club International, a hunting advocacy group that teamed up with the National Rifle Association to sue to block the 2014 ban.

“These positive findings for Zimbabwe and Zambia demonstrate that the FWS recognizes that hunting is beneficial to wildlife and that these range countries know how to manage their elephant populations," said Safari Club International President Paul Babaz.

“We appreciate the efforts of the Service and the US Department of the Interior to remove barriers to sustainable use conservation for African wildlife."

But Elizabeth Hogan, World Animal Protection US Wildlife Campaign Manager, said she was “appalled" at the decision by the Department of the Interior and is urging the Trump administration to reconsider.

“Trophy hunting causes prolonged, immense suffering for elephants and fuels demand for wild animal products, opening …more

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From the War in Iraq to the War against Poaching

Damien Mander’s fight to protect African wildlife

Eight years ago, Damien Mander was trekking through the bush in Zimbabwe when he saw something harrowing — a half-dead buffalo floundering on the ground, trying to free herself from a wire snare gripping her legs. The ranger accompanying Mander said the buffalo must have been there for three days. 

photo of Damien manderPhoto by Erico HillerConservation wasn't always at the forefront of Damien Mander's life, but he found new purpose in the fight to protect wildlife in Southern Africa.

“She’d ripped her pelvis in half,” Mander, a 38-year-old Australian conservationist, told me when we met in Washington DC. “Up close, you could hear the bones grinding against each other. She wanted to be put out of her misery, so we did it.”

The ranger raised his rifle and shot the buffalo, and as the life went out of her, she gave birth to a stillborn calf. Mander often refers to this moment — as well as the time he came across a dead elephant with its tusks hacked from its face — as what spurred him to action. In 2009, he founded the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF), an organization dedicated to protecting African wildlife. “I saw a problem and I wanted to do something about it,” Mander said. “So this was my solution.”

Conservation wasn’t always at the forefront of Mander’s life. Prior to founding the IAPF, he spent ten years in the military. Mander, who hails from Mornington, Victoria, joined the Royal Australian navy as a clearance diver when he was 19; then he trained to become a sniper for a special operations unit. In 2005, he left for Iraq, where he worked as part of a management team that trained Iraqi special police for war. Each of these training sessions lasted only six weeks.

“Six weeks is not enough time [for those] who have an almost-zero background in what we’re about to ask them to do — to go into a war zone,” Mander said. “So three things happened to those people — they either deserted, joined the militia and fought back against us, or they got killed.”

By 2008, Mander had completed 12 tours of Iraq, and the nature of the work had taken a toll on him. “I ended up in South America,” Mander said. “I went off the rails. Lots of drugs and alcohol.” But Mander eventually pulled his life back together, and found new purpose with his mission to protect African wildlife. 


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Miniature Robots Could Cut Pesticide Use on Farms in the Future

Robots could also reduce food waste and help harvest crops, but they may not be commercially available for some years to come, say experts

Miniature robot farmers may be the answer to concerns over chemical use on farms and cutting down on food waste, as well as easing labour shortages, academic farming experts have said.

small weeding robotPhoto courtesy of Naio TechnologiesNaio Technologies, a French company, has a robot that can weed a field all on its own.

The drawback is that the machines in question, while developed in laboratories to an advanced stage, are not yet commercially available in the UK. In an optimistic scenario, they could become available in as little as three years, but that would be likely to take large investment and a high degree of entrepreneurialism in the private sector, the experts said on Monday.

Robots set to work in the fields would be able to target pesticides to the plants that need them, in contrast to current practices, dubbed “spray and pray”, which waste 95 percent to 99 percent of pesticides and herbicides because they are blanketed across entire fields. Most of this is wasted, but it promotes resistance among pests and weeds, rendering the harsh chemicals ineffective and encouraging farmers to use more. Some pesticides used in this way are also harmful to pollinators, such as bees, and their blanket use has been banned.

“Farmers have been heavily reliant for decades on the heavy use of pesticides. Some spraying is very desperate,” said Toby Bruce, professor of insect chemical ecology at Keele University. “Farmers are spraying [chemicals] to which there is resistance. They will not be killing pests as the pests have evolved resistance. They will be killing other insects [such as pollinators].”

If instead such products were used in tiny quantities and directed by robots so that 100 percent of the pesticide was going straight to the plant needed, then it might be possible to resume the use of banned or restricted pesticides, said Prof Simon Blackmore, head of robotic agriculture at Harper Adams University. Such targeted use would prevent pests from taking a hold on crops, but would be so small it would cause minimal harm to bees, and be less likely to give rise to resistance.

Robots would also be able to detect when fruit and vegetables were becoming malformed, which gives them a lower market value, and when they were too small to be harvested, allowing the harvesting to wait …more

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See a Jaguar, Save a Jaguar

Conservationists ponder pay-to-protect program to safeguard South America’s biggest cat

Picture the scene. You are floating down a river in Brazil’s Pantanal region, the world’s largest wetland. There you spot the muscular frame of a jaguar prowling on a far bank, South America’s biggest feline is out for a stroll. The next day that same jaguar happens to kill a cow at a nearby ranch and in return is shot by a rancher. Would you pay to save that cat?

Most ecotourists would, according to a study by Panthera. The non-profit, which is dedicated to the conservation of wild cats, found that 80 percent of tourists are willing to donate to offset the costs of jaguar predation. The study was part of an effort to assign a monetary value to South America’s biggest cat, the first of its kind to do so.

photo of pantherPhoto by Steve Winter/Panthera Brazil's Pantanal region is a stronghold for the panther, which is considered threatened across its range.

It’s an important finding, says Fernando Tortato, Jaguar Research Fellow for Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, as conflict with jaguars is the main threat to their survival in the Pantanal. Showing ranchers that living with the beast is worth much more than killing it could be the key to staying rancher’s guns, he says.

The plan now is to develop a scheme to put this into action.


Along its range, which stretches from the bottom of South America all the way up to the Mexican border with the US, the jaguar is considered threatened, much more so in some places than others. However, the Pantanal, which spans 140,000-square-kilometers across Brazil and small parts of Paraguay and Bolivia, is considered a stronghold for the species.  

For Panthera, the region is an important step in the organization’s Journey of the Jaguar, a trans-continental trek that will take scientists by air, land, and water across the jaguar’s range, and aims to bring attention to the urgent need to conserve the continent-spanning jaguar corridor. Recent studies have shown that there is only one species of jaguar, which means that for centuries, until human beings came along, jaguars have been connected throughout their range and able to maintain genetic flow. The jaguar corridor is the key to maintaining this flow.

“The Pantanal is like a hub,” explains Tortato. An abundance of prey and good quality, connected habitat has resulted in an incredibly high density of jaguars, he says. From the Pantanal, the cats can disperse to other …more

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US Switches Focus of its Bonn Event from Clean Energy to Fossil Fuels

One of US’s only public events, originally billed as promoting clean energy, now favors coal and nuclear power

The US has changed the focus of one of its few public events at the Bonn climate talks to emphasize coal and nuclear power, in a sign of the Trump administration’s goals at the talks.

COP23 conference in Bonnphoto by UNClimateChange, FlickrThe United States has changed the focus of one of its events at the climate change conference in Bonn to focus on coal and nuclear energy.

An event next Monday, opening the second week of the ongoing UN negotiations, was originally billed as promoting clean energy. However, it has since been changed to emphasise coal and nuclear power.

The event was first billed with the title Action on Spurring Innovation and Deploying Advanced Technologies but was subsequently changed.

The same event has now been retitled to: The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation. The speakers are listed as the same, but the explanation of the event’s focus has also changed markedly, from talk of “innovative solutions” and “transforming development pathways” to a strong statement in favor of fossil fuels.

It now reads: “It is undeniable that fossil fuels will be used for the foreseeable future, and it is in everyone’s interest that they be efficient and clean. This panel will explore how the US will be a leader in cutting carbon emissions through cleaner, more efficient fossil fuels and other energy sources.”

There was no explanation of the change. A US state department official declined to comment before the event but noted it would be open to all at the conference.

However, observers said the change was in line with the US government’s stance at the talks, which are focused on how to improve countries’ carbon-cutting targets under the Paris agreement of 2015.

Andrew Light of the World Resources Institute said: “Whoever the Trump administration is trying to target with this event, it isn’t people in the negotiating hall — they’re clearly focused on the booming global markets in renewable energy. At best, this event will be a curiosity, given the isolation of the US now in the international process.”

Although US president Donald Trump has begun the process of removing the US from the Paris agreement, this will not take effect, under the UN processes, until 2020. This means the US is still a party to the agreement and still present at the talks. However, …more

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Does End Justify the Means in Our Struggle to Save Species?

In Review: A River Below

Mark Grieco’s A River Below is an eye-popping documentary proving, once again, that truth is often stranger than fiction. This film’s plot has as many twists and turns as the Amazon River — the setting of  this true life saga of two biologists striving to use the news media to protect endangered species and then having to cope with the unintended consequences of their conservation crusades.

Grand Canyon Duskphoto by Luciana ChristanteThe Amazon's pink river dolphin lies at the heart of the eye-popping documentary A River Below.

At the heart of River is the pink river dolphin, one of the Amazon’s most remarkable creatures, which inspired Indigenous mythology much the same way as Europeans were inspired by unicorns. But there’s one crucial difference: Unlike unicorns, these long-nosed dolphins actually exist. Though perhaps not for much longer. In gruesome detail that’s definitely not for the cinematically squeamish, pink river dolphins are graphically depicted being hunted and slaughtered by fishermen and poachers, largely to be used as bait for fish such as the piracatinga or mota, a species of catfish also found in the Amazon. (The catfish, in turn, is shown being processed at industrial plants in more lose-your-lunch scenes)

Enter our South American scientist-protagonists, both of whom harness mass media in their different campaigns to save pink river dolphins from extinction. Sao Paolo-born Richard Rasmussen, who earned a biology degree at Ibirapuera University, is by far the flashier of the two. The longhaired, buff Rasmussen is a sort of Brazilian version of Australia’s Steve Irwin, the late “Crocodile Hunter.” Featured in the NatGeo Wild to the Extreme show, Rasmussen is introduced in River as a Brazilian “TV superstar,” who combines environmentalism with show biz razzmatazz, easily sliding into grins as he mugs for selfies with adoring fans.

Colombia-born Dr. Fernando Trujillo, is a marine biologist who established the Omacha Foundation in 1993 to promote conservation of river species and their ecosystems in South America and has worked closely with Native communities in the Amazon and Orinoco Basin. The award-winning Trujillo is a widely published academic. Although much less glitzy than the Tarzan-ish Rasmussen, the nose-to-the-grindstone Trujillo “appears frequently on wildlife television shows as an expert,” according to press notes.

Instead of being what Grieco calls just “another ‘Save the dolphin!’ issue documentary,” A River Below snakes into uncharted territory as Rasmussen and Trujillo separately enlist media to rescue the embattled pink river dolphin and other species. Rasmussen purportedly arranges …more

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Parques Para Todos: The NPS Fee Hike Is a Bump on a Longer Path to Equity

We can and must ensure equitable access to national parks while also investing in public lands infrastructure

My circle of professional friends and colleagues is abuzz with the recent announcement of the proposed National Park Service fee hikes that would increase the entry fees at 17 national parks, in some cases almost tripling the cost of a visit. Many have been interviewed and quoted for a variety of articles and news stories, which you can find here and here, and which I recommend you read. Nonetheless our quotes are brief snapshots of conversations we have been having for years about equitable access to our public lands – and this proposed fee hike serves only as a reminder that we must look at the landscape of this issue beyond the headline.

Grand Canyon Duskphoto by Joe Jiang / FlickrA National Park Service proposal to increase entry fees at 17 national parks (including the Grand Canyon, pictured) will harm efforts to improve access to public lands.

It is easy to stake positions on whether the fee hike is needed or not – the NPS says it will help address a maintenance backlog – and whether it will make access more difficult for communities that already have a lack of access to our national parks. To me, it takes a little more work to tease out the nuance and context necessary to understand why it is important to both invest in our public lands infrastructure and to ensure we have equitable access to parks, particularly as our nation’s demographics continue to shift with more diverse ethnic and cultural representation. Balancing these interests is imperative for the wellbeing of our public lands and our communities. Presenting the issue as an either/or conversation or a zero-sum game ensures we won’t move forward on this issue. We have seen this before in the environmental space when we frame a conversation of “economy vs. environment” or “jobs vs. conservation” for communities of color – especially when we know it is possible to have both.

First a few things I want state clearly:

  • Yes, we need to “fix our parks.” There has been an infrastructure maintenance backlog for years.
  • The physical and social infrastructure of our national parks will need to continue to change to reflect changing demographics – for example, creating picnic sites that can accommodate larger families than the typical nuclear family model, and of course including signage in other languages.
  • There is a real history of communities of color being excluded …more

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