Killer of Cecil the Lion, Minneapolis dentist & big game hunter, Walter Palmer (left) (photo: dailystar.co.uk)
by Sam Jojola, Retired US Fish & Wildlife Service Special Agent
The more things change, the more they stay the same
On November 8, 2017, Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, announced the creation of the International Wildlife Conservation Council. The devil is in the details and what will follow in days, weeks and months to come will shape this Council and their priorities. Since the Council involves aspects of conservation, hunting and law enforcement, I wonder if Council heads will be selected from recognized leading experts in those three areas of focus. I am particularly concerned how the Council will deal with the Endangered Species Act (ESA) foreign listed species and import permits that are mentioned in this press release: https://www.doi.gov/pressreleases/secretary-zinke-announces-creation-international-wildlife-conservation-council
I believe the creation of this Council comes at a very bad time given the recent news of Zimbabwe’s regime shakeup and the most recent proposal for the U.S. to lift the ban on elephant trophy imports from Zambia and Zimbabwe. I hope now that President Trump has moved to keep the ban in place, that he and Secretary Zinke will consider keeping the ban given the current developing instability of Zimbabwe over the past several days: https://sg.news.yahoo.com/trump-puts-decision-allow-elephant-hunting-trophy-imports-hold-022152590.html
Five illegal Leopard trophies entering U.S. in 2008 detail Zimbabwe’s corruption
In 2008, sources from outside the U.S. contacted me and provided specific details about a shipment of leopard trophies entering the U.S. with fraudulent CITES permits from Zimbabwe. I passed on my initial investigation to USFWS Special Agents in Colorado who seized the leopard trophies and completed the investigation after trophy hunters and a foreign guide were prosecuted: https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/south-dakota-man-sentenced-smuggling-big-game-leopard-hide-united-states
There are a number of articles on the Internet that detail how widespread illegal hunting has been in Zimbabwe over the years. There are disturbing estimates of large numbers of rhinos that have been killed for years in Zimbabwe.
Google “illegal trophy hunting in Zimbabwe”
Readers will be shocked at the details of pages with disturbing accounts, estimates and reports that reflect the widespread killing of staggering numbers of elephants and rhinos over the years.
Knowing history to avoid repeating the same mistakes
To really grasp what is happening now with wildlife resources across the globe and how they are managed (and mismanaged, due to poor regulations, corruption, greed, etc.), it is very important to examine bad decisions of the past to insure these decisions are not repeated now and in the future. One of the key documents everyone should read is from an October, 1996 posting on the website from the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) that consists of 29 pages, titled “Tarnished Trophies.”
Read page 9 of this report that is titled “Fish and Wildlife Safari Service.” This “white paper” documents corruption of a high level department of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at that time with respect to promoting trophy hunting of threatened and endangered species: https://www.peer.org/assets/docs/whitepapers/1996_tarnished_trophies.pdf
As one of my colleagues who is a renowned former wildlife research biologist put it simply, “humanity’s DNA is seriously flawed” and we as a species can many times make the wrong decisions, particularly when managing wildlife resources now and in the future for generations.
My comments on the creation of an International Wildlife Conservation Council
On November 15, 2017, I submitted my comments to the USFWS via e-mail regarding the proposed creation of an International Wildlife Conservation Council:
- The proposal is a monumental waste of money due to Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) who has helped push five (5) bills from the Natural Resources Committee that would conceivably dismantle the Endangered Species Act over a period of time. The ESA plays a major part of wildlife conservation. It would make more sense to form a council to fight these destructive proposals that would destroy the ESA or have the Secretary of Interior request Rep. Rob Bishop to resign. If Rep. Rob Bishop has his way to “invalidate” the ESA, imagine trying to protect wildlife and regulate hunting. Dismantling the ESA in any form or fashion is destroying large fragile ecosystems at the expense of wildlife resources for future generations.
- The International Wildlife Conservation Council should actually be renamed to accurately portray the proposed actions. It should be re-named “The International Wildlife Conservation, Hunting and Law Enforcement Council” which is more appropriate.
- One of the “duties of the Council” will be to “Recommend removal of barriers to the importation of the United States of legally hunted wildlife”. The recent lifting of the ban this month to allow trophy hunters who legally killed elephants in Zimbabwe and Zambia between 2016 and 2017 can now import those trophy elephants into the U.S. U.S. trophy hunters who legally hunt elephants in those countries in 2018 can apply for a USFWS permit and import their trophies here. This proves the implementation of this Council is without merit and unnecessary and barriers are obviously already removed without the Council in place.
- A Council formed to help African nations re-write wildlife laws in their respective countries would be a better proposal. Zimbabwe is a notoriously corrupt nation reportedly losing upwards of 1 billion dollars annually to corruption. Why should the U.S. allow U.S. trophy hunters to kill any wildlife in that country and allow their importation here? We are rewarding a corrupt regime. The U.S. should instead provide legal expertise and offer to help Zimbabwe and other countries re-write their wildlife laws that seal loopholes that contributed to the Cecil the Lion incident.
- There are already plenty of loopholes in the ESA across the board. Why constrict Special Agents and Wildlife Inspectors from doing their job to enforce regulations with additional bureaucracy?
Task Force concept needed to address transnational wildlife criminal syndicates
The U.S. should instead focus on addressing the exponential growth of the global illegal wildlife trade by improving U.S. law enforcement strategies through the formation of a task force comprised of USFWS, the FBI, IRS, ICE, DSS (State Department), the CIA, NSA, and a U.S. Special Operations group to fully address the transnational wildlife criminal syndicates that are dismantling ecosystems across the planet.
In 2008, Walter Palmer pleaded guilty to making false statement to the Fish and Wildlife Service about a black bear he shot outside authorized hunting zones in Wisconsin. He tried to have release of the incriminating photograph stopped.