Namibia’s wildlife conservation efforts were boosted this year following the U.S. Government’s removal of the unnecessary hold on the African elephant trophy hunting imports.
The five-year ban on the African elephant trophy hunting imports into the U.S. significantly reduced the opportunity of earning international hunting revenue and in turn wildlife conservation.
Namibia was one of the countries that successfully challenged the U.S. Government’s five-year elephant trophy hunting import ban, under the administration of President Donald Trump.
The ban was lifted by a U.S. court in August 2021 but the U.S. trophy hunting imports regulating agency (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – USFWS) could not immediately lift the hold on trophy hunting imports.
It only did so eight months later, in April 2022.
The removal of the hold has boosted Namibia’s wildlife and habitat conservation prospects, using international hunting revenue for elephant trophies.
“Yes certainly, Conservation Force assisted Dallas Safari Club and some of their individual members, our own Ministry and Namibia Association of Community-Based Natural Resources Management -NACSO in Namibia to argue in the U.S. court, for the lifting of the African elephant trophy hunting import hold,” said the President of Namibia Professional Hunters Association (NAPHA), Mr. Axel Cramer.
The lawsuit became protracted largely because of Covid-19 challenges and a simple settlement grew harder to reach.
There was a growing backlog of trophy import applications that were just not attended to during the Trump administration.
The case was however settled, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) committed to processing the outstanding applications within a couple of months.
The past five years were quite difficult for the Namibian international hunting industry with its key international elephant hunting market, the U.S. closed.
The local hunting communities in which almost all the hunts are conducted were also negatively impacted by the U.S. five-year elephant ban.
This potentially reduced the revenue from international hunting as elephant hunting trophies also fetch one of the highest prices on the international hunting markets.
“The NAPHA members and other concession holders with an elephant on their quota did not stop hunting elephant despite the unwillingness of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to attend to the processing of the import permits during that time,” said the NAMPHA President, Mr Axel Cramer.
“There was a shift to find alternative markets for elephants to supplement the US as the key elephant hunting market.”
Wildlife conservation is at the very heart of NAPHA.
Aware that the U.S.’s five-year elephant trophy hunting imports ban was going to diminish elephant trophy hunting revenue and in turn wildlife conservation revenue, NAPHA sought and found new international markets for elephant hunting.
Then Covid-19 reared its ugly head, almost totally collapsing Namibia’s entire tourism industry following the enforcement of international travel bans.
With wildlife conservation being at the heart of NAPHA’s hunting culture, wildlife didn’t get destroyed by poachers.
“Despite the hardships faced by many farmers and outfitters continued to protect our wildlife and the costly anti-poaching units guarded Namibia’s iconic species,” said NAPHA President Cramer.
“All efforts were made to assist and finance these anti-poaching operations where we could. Wildlife crime trends have generally continued the downward trajectory in 2020. NAPHA is a key stakeholder of our Ministry of Environment, Forestry & Tourism (MEFT).
“Our Ministry launched a revised and updated Elephant Conservation and Management Plan during 2021 after extensive consultations, including NAPHA.”
President Cramer said that at the height of Covid-19 challenges, NAPHA used international hunting revenue to produce Namibia’s future wildlife managers.
“We established our new hunting school during 2021 and branded it as the NAPHA School of Conservation, where we educate and train aspiring hunting professionals from various spheres and racial groups of the public,” he said.
“NAPHA does not operate in a void and is heavily dependent on our national and international partners.
“Without the active and generous support from various hunters and like-minded associations, we would not be able to fund and host community outreach projects facilitated by our Hunters Support Education Committee.”
Asked to comment on the ongoing attempts globally, to ban international hunting that brings so much revenue and hope towards wildlife and habitat conservation, President Cramer said: “While we do understand the instinctive dislike of conservation hunting by some members of the public, the reality of the matter is that no alternative land use has yet been identified and developed which equally protects the wildlife and habitats found in these vital landscapes while also generating valuable revenues for local communities.
The reverse is true, where hunting has been subjected to bans and more room has been created for alternative tourism methods, wildlife has often suffered and conflict with communities and poaching has increased.”
He demonstrated that international hunters constitute low volume tourism with low pressure on the environment but comparatively bringing much higher revenue than photographic tourism.
“Interesting statistical data by a leading research company in Namibia found, however, that only 3% of tourist’s arrivals are indeed conservation hunters,” said President Cramer.
“Although they make up only a fraction of the entire market; they account for close to 20% of all the tourism revenue.”
He said that all indications are showing that the future of international hunting looks much brighter in Namibia.
“We are however very happy to report a definite uptick in bookings and actual hunts of our international hunting guests,” he said.
“A lot of hunts which are conducted now, stem from bookings a year or two ago. Our government also improved international travel conditions, especially for vaccinated travellers, who are now only required to present proof of full vaccination at the port of entry.”
President Cramer said that NAPHA “is not surprised” that most of the Southern Africans the public, including those from Namibia are not aware that the UN international wildlife trade regulating agency CITES allows even the most endangered species such as the black rhino to be hunted as part of wildlife conservation and management.
However, he said that this lack of awareness of hunting as a management tool for all wildlife, including endangered species such as the black rhino needs to be removed by proactive and ongoing media public awareness messages.
“We are not surprised that some Southern Africans are not aware that even endangered wildlife can be hunted as a wildlife management measure,” said President Cramer.
“Therefore, public education and awareness-raising are necessary. Yes, it is part of our mandate, and we are effectively doing so by issuing press releases and media statements amongst others to inform our public on this.”
Meanwhile, President Cramer acknowledged the great wildlife conservation efforts that all the conservancies (hunting communities) in Namibia are making.
The world was recently stunned to learn how the benefits of hunting have enticed one of Namibia’s conservancies’ Anabeb Conservancy to switch from cattle land-use option to wildlife production land-use option because wildlife brings more revenue.
“We would not want to single out the Anabeb Conservancy, or any other conservancy for that matter, as they almost all make valuable contributions to habitat and wildlife conservation,” he said, suggesting that all Namibian conservancies are making impressive wildlife and habitat conservation efforts.
“Many conservancies in our country also conduct an open system, where wildlife is tolerated and traditional revenue streams from cattle and goat herding are complemented by income generated from conservation hunting.
“The Anabeb Conservancy was heavily impacted by prolonged periods of drought, and the decision to switch from cattle to wildlife production seemed to be a logical step.”
*The writer Emmanuel Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning independent environmental journalist who writes extensively on environment and development issues in Africa.