Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Are policies backed by science?

Are policies backed by science?


Is science being used to make important decisions in wildlife management? Maybe or maybe not!


Scientific information is part of the process in making decisions, but emotions run high when more prominent creatures are involved and judgments become clouded especially when dealing with Africa’s largest land mammal — the elephant, lion and the endangered black rhino. Zimbabwe is home to all the big five and therefore, the interest by animal friendly groups has immensely increased coupled with politics of change.

Hence, science tends to be foremost when dealing with of course — fish, but animals that stir childhood attachments such as lions turn simple conservation matters into heated political arguments.

There are many inconsistencies. In one instance sound science is the defining factor behind difficult decisions and in the next, political interests sometimes take the wheel, sending science to the back seat.

According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the black rhinoceros is an endangered species. Black rhinos have been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1980 and are offered the maximum protection under the Act.

However, last year an American hunter was allowed to hunt a black rhinoceros in Namibia and import it into the United States. The USFWS allowed the importation because they recognised, “the role that well-managed, limited sport hunting plays in contributing to the long-term survival and recovery of the black rhino.”

SCI Foundation commended the USFWS for basing this politically sensitive decision on science.

Science demonstrated that the take of the old, post-reproductive black rhinoceros males enhance the entire species. When a hunter removes an old bull, younger males start breeding, the social hierarchy of the heard develops, and a quarter of a million dollars gets invested into rhinoceros conservation.

Yes, hunters pay that much to hunt honoured species such as the black rhino. On the home front, the elephant has always created emotional debates at major wildlife meetings across the globe. Elephants are listed as a threatened species, and the USFWS recently banned all elephant imports from Zimbabwe.

Such decisions that have huge ramifications to Zimbabwe’s tourism industry, elephant conservation efforts, and local communities should certainly be based on science.

But in this case, the USFWS based this decision on subjective information and a lack of science according to their own public notification.

However, the reportedly lack of science was due to the lack of effort invested in looking and asking for it until the exact day the ban was put in place. For the record, conservation in Zimbabwe is largely funded by elephant hunting, and most elephant hunters come from the US.

That means when USFWS tried to curb trafficking of elephant ivory and stop poaching, the well intentioned import suspension created a disincentive for hunters to come to Zimbabwe.

Now, Zimbabwe is losing money from cancelled elephant hunts that would normally have funded anti-poaching patrols. People who are not aware of this or choose not to believe it, continuously pressure the USFWS to suspend elephant imports, to block hunting at all costs.

This type of situation is what puts science to the curb and places conservation in to the hands of those with the greater emotional pull, not the greater expertise.

Recently, Community Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (Campfire) director Charles Jonga pointed out the necessity of community involvement in wildlife management before the US Presidential Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking and shared how hunting was an integral source of funding for Campfire programs.
Jonga highlighted Campfire’s successful community engagement in the fight against poaching and noted that communities are incentivised to protect their wildlife when game has an economic value to them. His visit to Washington DC came in response to an abrupt regulatory ban by the USFWS on April 4 without prior consultation with Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority — that all sport-hunted elephant imports to the US would be banned.
Reports say the USFWS’ decision has financially crippled wildlife conservation in the country at least according to scientific data. On average, $1,2million paid by hunters per year directly benefits local communities.
Further, hunting stimulates tourism in rural communities providing employment that otherwise does not exist. Precisely, the USFWS has undercut conservation initiatives that are already underway and does nothing to stop poaching.
Indications are also that USFWS will soon decide on whether the African lion will be proposed for listing as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. It is enthralling to note that the best available science does not warrant an endangered listing under the Act. In fact, the lion does not meet any of the five Endangered Species Act criteria for an endangered listing.
But African lions are also a tremendously emotional issue for many people, and sadly, the emotional perspective is unwilling to acknowledge the science.
SCI said bad information that is not based on science has been intentionally spread to generate an emotional appeal. And contrary to what many activists believe, well regulated hunting programmes are not a threat to lion populations.
However, proponents for consumptive tourism believe that the top threats surrounding lion mortality are habitat loss due to an expanding human population and agriculture industry, human-lion conflict resulting in retaliation killings of lions, loss of prey, and snares set by poachers seeking bush meat.
SCI have conducted multiple surveys across southern Africa and are funding two long term lion research projects, working with top lion experts to ensure science is behind all conservation efforts and make sure the most up-to-date information is available.
If political interests drive decisions, wildlife conservationists will lose out. Uninformed decisions lead to unintended consequences. Therefore, science-based management is important for responsible sustainable-use of species and habitats and a necessity for conservation.
— Additional reporting by SCI


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