California may ban African trophies. Africans say that's bad news for animals

Lion in the wild
Lion in the wild
Elephants in Bwabwata National Park
Elephants in Bwabwata National Park

A bill making its way through the California legislature would ban the possession of trophies from animals killed in Africa. But some African conservation organisations and governments say the ban and others like it would actually harm wildlife. California lawmakers this week will debate Black inequality and injustice in an unlikely arena: Trophy hunting.

For years, animal rights groups across Western nations, in campaigns often led by white celebrities, have pushed for bans on trophy hunting of iconic African species such as lions, hippos, rhinos, zebras, and elephants.

California, home to many of those activists, is no exception. The state Legislature is moving forward with a bill, Senate Bill 1175, that would ban the possession of trophies taken from several African species. The bill faces a committee hearing on Tuesday and is supported by a long list of animal rights and environmental groups.

Tucked among the opposition letters from the usual cadre of hunting associations and taxidermists are pleas from some African nations and conservation organisations whose leaders are urging lawmakers to kill the bill.

They argue that wealthy trophy hunters provide a key source of money for anti-poaching efforts, wildlife habitat protection and funding for impoverished rural communities that might otherwise kill off entire populations of animals if not for the huge sums of money hunters pay to shoot a few of them a year.

They say the sentiment behind this bill, and similar efforts in Western countries, amount to whites making sweeping generalisations about the people living in 54 separate African countries. In effect, they’re saying it’s racist and insulting for wealthy white Westerners to imply that all Africans are too corrupt or incompetent to make hunting sustainable.

“Africa is not a country,” Masego Madzwamuse, CEO of the Southern Africa Trust, said in a video interview Friday from her home in South Africa, echoing a now-common phrase asking people to understand the vibrant diversity of the continent.

“This is where it links to the issue of Black Lives Matter,” Madzwamuse said.

Banning the possession of trophy animals is an easy sell in a predominantly liberal state like California. Every few months, social media erupts with vitriol over photos of wealthy whites, including the president’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., smiling next to the carcasses of the African beasts they’d shot on a safari.

But Madzwamuse said trophy hunting’s foes are forgetting that those photos are taken on land owned by Africans and managed by Africans, who “ought to be determining the future of Africa’s wildlife.”

“They’ve lived side by side with these resources for many years and have been able to conserve them,” Madzwamuse said. “To take away economic opportunities from families that are struggling to feed themselves, that are struggling to take children through school, struggling to put food on the table on a day-to-day basis, is really to push people into a space of indignity.”

Read more on the story in The Sacramento Bee here and see Open letter that was sent last month to the US Congress from Southern African conservation, community leaders and Community Based Organisations (CBOs) to reject proposed legislations on similar issues of sustainable hunting and importation.

Ryan Sabalow

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