Elephant trophies? Young says yes

By Trevor Ohlssen, via Wikimedia Commons

The Trump administration decided this week to allow big-game hunters to bring back tusks and other trophies from elephants killed in two African countries. And then, late Friday, President Trump tweeted that he’s putting that decision on hold to review it, leaving the trophy ban in place for an indefinite period. It seems to be a nod to popular demand. Word that Trump was ending the ban sparked outrage from some quarters. But Alaska Congressman Don Young wants that ban over turned. Young says the only way to save the elephant is to hunt it.

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Young says he’s all for saving elephants, but he’s been to Africa seven times and says every country he’s been to has a surplus.

“So if we don’t hunt them, they will hunt them and kill them for food, and sell the ivory,” Young said in an interview Thursday.

The African elephant is still listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Young says American hunters pay big bucks to take an elephant, and their fees are often the only money an African country has to pay game wardens and improve conservation. Young spoke from his Washington, D.C. office, where the walls are covered with hunting trophies.

Rep. Don Young is in Washington, D.C. office. Photo: Liz Ruskin

“As a hunter we pay the concessionaire, the government, $55,000 to shoot an elephant, we take the tusk and they get the $55,000,” Young said.

Masha Kalinina of the Humane Society International says in Zimbabwe, the going rate to shoot an elephant varies from $30,000 to $50,000.

“You hear that sum and it seems like it’s so much money, but then there’s no record of how that money is actually spent,” she said.

Kalinina says there isn’t enough transparency to ensure the money actually goes to conservation. She agrees Zimbabwean wildlife managers are dependent on trophy hunting fees for their budgets. She thinks the arrangement could pressure them to put money ahead of saving elephants. Kalinina says the country was already unstable, and just this week there were reports of a military coup.

“It’s constantly ranked as one of the most corrupt in the world. There is poor rule of law and enforcement,” Kalinina said. “And all of this contributes to the fact that we cannot expect there to be sound wildlife management at this time.”

The U.S. says Zimbabwe is better at transparency now. The government had planned to issue trophy import permits for elephants taken in Zimbabwe between 2016 through 2018.

Don’t expect Don Young to apply.

“I have no desire to shoot an elephant,” Young said. “Although they say it’s the most exciting hunt of all.”

Young take trophies seriously. He’s been trying for years to allow some 41 polar bear hunters, including two Alaskans, to import trophies from legal hunts in Canada before 2008, the year the bear was listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Liz here.

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