The Biden administration is considering making American hunters clear new hurdles to legally import African elephant hunting trophies. Supporters claim the new rules will better protect elephants by forcing other countries to generate redundant scientific studies and adopt laws in the mold of our Endangered Species Act. But the hurdles also risk discouraging American hunters, whose fees help fund elephant conservation, from visiting the continent while African nations catch up with American demands. The move could starve African wildlife agencies of funding critical to elephant conservation.
While there are opportunities to improve how elephant hunting is managed, strangling wildlife agency budgets is likely to hurt elephants more than it helps. Smaller budgets mean reduced anti-poaching efforts and decreased ability to maintain habitat. Until other sources to fund these important conservation activities are found, the Biden administration should not impose rules that would make Africa a less attractive destination for American hunters.
Like in the United States, wildlife agencies in Africa heavily rely on the sale of hunting licenses and permits to fund conservation projects. In countries like Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania, most of these licenses and permits are sold to Americans. Permits to legally hunt elephants are some of the most expensive and are a key source of agency funding. For example, in 2021 Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks raised $2.7 million, or roughly 10 percent of its total budget, from the sale of elephant hunting permits.