What would Elephants remember 2017 for: Harrumphs or Trumps?

It matters because elephants, as experts and fables both hint, never forget anything they feel worth to lock inside their heads. Ah, heads!

Animal hunting might seem to be almost an anachronistic affair in the world we have come to – and that’s how it should be. Yet, the unstoppable rate of plunge in numbers of animals, reptiles, insects and birds is as staggering as it is haunting.

We are not living in the Mughal or British-India era, where a tiger was hunted for prestige as well as for taking trophies. Tiger hunting has been a sport for centuries, and many Mughal Emperors, as many anecdotes indicate, were passionately fond of hunting and pursued the sport in different forms. This could have ranged from tiger hunt to the trapping of wild elephants, or a thrilling chase after trained falcons and leopards.

Hunting was also symbolised differently. From an evidence of valour, to the insignia of power, a hunted animal stood in many hallowed halls echoing the imprints of blue-blood for many decades and generations ahead.

As to the common strata of people, it was also a means of food, clothing and medicine. Ancient Egyptians undertook hunting for more than meat and skins, they pursued it as a chance to prove one’s prowess and enjoy the camaraderie of friends on the hunt.

Past Tense Prevails – Ails innocent heads

But those were chieftains indifferent and ignorant of the consequences of shrinking population of animals. When and how did Hunting turn into a reckless sport when there are so many other forms of sustenance and entertainment available in the modern world? When did the head of an extinct-species become so cherished and powerful a symbol of bravery that people drunk in the intoxication of power forgot other ways to prove they are not cowards?

Yes, it was a crucial part of humans’ survival 100,000 years ago, but hunting is now nothing more than a violent form of recreation. It is the most horrendous and unforgivable contribution to the hard-to-rein extinction of animal species all over the world.

While less than 5 percent of the U.S. population (13.7 million people) is involved in hunting, it is still permitted in many wildlife refuges, national forests, and state parks and on other public lands. Dentists can still pay to bow-hunt lions well tucked inside National Parks and pick poor Cecils as American trophies. Do we care to ponder that many animals endure prolonged, painful deaths when they are injured instead of being outrightly killed by hunters? Inhumane behaviour was seen without doubt in a study of 80 radio-collared white-tailed deer where it was found that of the 22 deer that had been shot with “traditional archery equipment,” 11 were wounded but not recovered by hunters.

Fortunately, in the year 2014 the Obama administration’s US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) banned the import of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe. It was a brave and stark acknowledgement that the country had failed to show how seriously it was taking elephant management. After all, 40 tonnes of illegal ivory was reportedly seized in 2016 itself, as per figures from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), despite so many efforts and laws working ruthlessly to protect elephants.

Native conservationists had manifested clear arguments and numbers about a sharp decline in the number of elephants because of human encroachment and poaching, and how trophy hunts fuel the demand for wild animal products.

But guess, who were there in the list of defaulters in the year 2017? Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump – two high-scoring big-game hunters. Headlines soon enveloped the renowned names this November, 2017. Eyeballs and confused eyebrows flocked around re-emerging images of the pair from a 2011 hunting trip, posing with animals they had killed on safari – which included an elephant, a buffalo and a leopard. The picture stirred a strong wave of criticism with Mia Farrow sharing the picture with caption: ‘What sort of person could kill this beautiful animal? Trump sons could.’

From Cecil to Xanda and More

This was the time when these hunting pictures were first made public. Trump Jr defended his enthusiasm for hunting by writing: ‘Not a pr move I didn’t give the pics but I have no shame about them either. I hunt and eat game.’

In fact, on his return to Whitehorse airport, carrying what could have been a case for a hunting bow, the presidential offspring was tracked down by angry reporters and asked  point-blank if he’d killed anything. What reply could have emerged but this from Trump Jr: ‘I can’t really tell you that. Let’s just say it was a good hunt.’

Presumably, until this case arose, the ban was still imposed.

Now somewhere around 15th of November, 2017 the Trump administration announced that the remains of elephants legally hunted in Zimbabwe and Zambia could be imported to the United States as trophies, doing the unthinkable – yes, reversing a ban that was ushered under former president Obama.

This may sound farcical but it is true. A bitter truth indeed when we juxtapose such incidents with numbers that are simply slipping by. The Great Elephant Census in Zambia estimates the animal’s numbers to have fallen from 200,000 in 1972 to a little more than 21,000 last year.  It was also alleged that President Robert Mugabe who has been confronting military coups in a country seeped in blatant corruption himself celebrated his birthday last year by dining on an elephant.

Where are the world’s leaders heading, if we teenagers may ask? One is busy reversing bans that the world direly needs- thanks to the already rife problems of corruption, animal trade, irresponsible attitude towards our wildlife, growing urbanisation and questionable-humanity within people. Another one is dining over elephants in a place that holds the primary privilege and duty of preserving whatever is left of them.

But it is precisely this disbelief and anger that led to a surge of global outcry, online activism from organisations like Avaaz sprawling many countries; following this tragic reversal of ban. Strong suggestions from President Trump had to fall in line and we saw intent of permanently blocking imports of elephant trophies from two African nations (his earlier approval notwithstanding). He finally came up and called the tragedy a ‘horror show’ himself on Twitter.

But there are people and minds of all stripes. Groups such as the National Wildlife Federation, the National Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, the Izaak Walton League, the Wilderness Society, and the World Wildlife Fund are pro–sport-hunting, or at the very least, they do not oppose it. As we should have expected anyways, now the ban has been actually reversed and it has become legal to get those poor heads in without any shame, penalty or guilt.

As law allows as of now, the remains of African elephants (listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act by the way), can be imported inside the US as long as federal officials have determined that hunting them benefits the species more broadly. Now that the US Fishing and Wildlife Service has, conveniently, cited new information from officials in Zimbabwe and Zambia supporting reversal of the ban to allow trophy hunting permits in those countries; what more can be hoped for?

Specially when statements justify by arguing that ‘Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation.”

Disappointed or Disillusioned?

It is really interesting to see the USA take a U turn when even countries like China, where ivory trade is one of the biggest money-makers, has taken strong steps and moves to outlaw this activity. We can sit back, compare and rue the unfortunate developments that we have no direct control over. Or we can do something in our neighbourhood – discourage this mindset that celebrates hunting to start with.

We can encourage ‘no hunting’ signs inside forests and on our dinner tables. We can join or form anti-hunting organizations, continue peaceful but firm protests against organized hunts. Some of us can report poachers in national parks to the National Parks and Conservation Associations and if not anything else, we can at least spread knowledge about hunting amidst rural people where the acts actually transpire. Enactment or enforcement of wildlife-protection laws by legislators should be strongly and unequivocally encouraged.

Most importantly, let us get out and pull people out of the head-zone where hunting innocent heads is applauded or envied. We owe this responsibility to the animals, to the nature and to our kids. We have borrowed this land from our offspring and not inherited from our ancestors.

Year 2018 is all the more reason to keep marching on and not let any more mistakes trump the planet wrongly. And that is our responsibility.

Hridaya Khatri


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