Game hunters who've taken elephants as trophies in Tanzania and Zimbabwe are banned from importing any of the animals into the US, according to new ruling by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
The USFWS announced it would suspend imports of all sport-hunted elephant trophies taken from the two African nations for the remainder of the 2014 calender year, citing poor regulations in Tanzania and Zimbabwe and a growing need to address the impact of illegal poaching on the countries' elephant populations.
"Questionable management practices, a lack of effective law enforcement and weak governance have resulted in uncontrolled poaching and catastrophic population declines of African elephants in Tanzania," the USFWS said in an April 4 statement along with the announcement of the suspension. "In Zimbabwe, available data, though limited, indicate a significant decline in the elephant population."
The USFWS also noted that a the highly publicized cyanide poisoning last year of elephants Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park also suggests the nation's elephant population is struggling to survive.
The USFWS noted that it does not have the "positive evidence" required by both the US Endangered Species Act and CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) to allow import of elephant trophies from Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
"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," the USFWS said.
In a blog post responding to the announcement, the UK-based non-profit Lion Aid, said that in the last decade an average of 52 elephant trophies were imported from Tanzania into the US every year, for Zimbabwe the figure could be as high as 160 per year, Lion Aid said.
"In both countries, US hunters outnumber hunters from any other nation, and the ban is likely to significantly affect the income of the trophy hunting operators," Lion Aid reported.
The temporary ban will be reevaluated in 2015 or "upon receipt of new information that demonstrates an improved situation for elephants in these countries."
In a question-and-answer handout, the USFWS advised hunters who've already booked elephant-hunting trips in Zimbabwe or Tanzania in 2014 that they will not be able to import any trophies and encouraged them to cancel their trips.
"While you can still participate in a hunt in 2014, you would not be able to import the trophy. In addition, given the conservation concerns for elephants in Tanzania and Zimbabwe, we strongly advise that you reconsider taking part in an elephant hunt in either of these countries," the USFWS said.
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