Science, Tech & Environment

The Trump administration lifts ban on elephant trophies. This film shows how complex that can get.

This story is a part of

Livable Planet

This story is a part of

Livable Planet

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Visitors look on as an elephant and calf cross a road inside Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park Dec. 21, 2014.

Credit:

Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters 

It’s a reversal of yet another Obama administration policy.

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The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday that it will allow the import of heads of elephants killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia, saying the trophies "will enhance the survival of the species in the wild."

The news spread quickly, delighting some hunters but outraging conservationists concerned about the survival of a vulnerable species. The Trump administration later said the move is still in the planning stage. “There hasn’t been an announcement that’s been finalized on this front,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters Thursday. 

These issues — big-game hunting and wildlife conservation in parts of Africa — are at the heart of "Trophy," a documentary that premiered this year to strong reviews. It also showed at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

Shaul Schwarz, the co-director of the film, says that the debate over hunting big-game is far more complicated than those in the US would think. "We sit in the US or in the West and kind of say, well of course we should look out for lions and elephants," he says. "Hunting can play a positive role. It can also play a negative role."

For locals living in the countries where large game like lions and elephants live, hunting can be used for food, controlling population and protection of crops. 

"If we want to solve this problem [of killing big game] we have to start looking into what the locals need and how they see it. And their relationship to these animals — which are majestic and we see them as majestic — is quite different than you would think." 

 

To hear more on the complexities of big-game hunting, listen above.