The Pause That Refreshes

So many of the issues society faces today get a gut reaction from the public—myself included. Not surprisingly, my first reaction typically stems from limited facts and my personal bias toward whatever the subject may be. Truly understanding an issue requires an open mind and some serious thought.
Take, for example, the African elephant issue that sprang up recently. It made even our president pause—something rare for a shoot-from-the-hip guy. I had to do much the same. At issue was whether, amid the current crisis that faces threatened African elephants, the United States should allow African elephant trophies to be imported into the country from two African nations.
I’ve always been a big fan of elephants, since childhood, really, so one could say I’m biased toward elephants. Not the small-eared Indian elephants in the circus, but rather the giant big-eared beasts that make no bones about staring down trouble.
I’ve been to Africa a few times, and I’ve had some encounters with wild elephants, but no big trouble: a cow with calf on a dirt track that challenged my seemingly small Land Rover, a giant bull that hung around too long near my flimsy bowhunting blind, and a herd of 30 that cut short a spot-and-stalk bowhunt for warthog on a dry riverbed. When an African professional hunter carrying a .458 rifle says, “We need to get the hell out of here, now!” you get a sense of the respect elephants rightly command.
I met an older, local man who walked six miles each way to work each day on a remote road, mostly in the dark, in an area known for lion prides, and asked him if he wasn’t afraid of being attacked by a lion. “No,” he said. “It’s not the lion I fear, it’s the elephant.”
I have never been opposed to the legal hunting of elephants, or trophy hunting in general, as long as it is fair chase. I have a few African trophies of my own, mostly the horned kind. But I have been alarmed and saddened over the past decade at the illegal slaughter of elephants for their ivory. Let’s be clear, the road is crumbling under the African elephant. From about 5 million animals a century ago, there are now an estimated only 400,000—falling at a rate of 64 percent per decade. A study in 2014 concluded that 100,000 had been killed in just the previous three years.
I don’t know if trophy hunting helps elephants, as some claim. It will not be cited as a reason elephants disappeared, if that should come to pass. Trophy hunting does offer a positive boost to protection efforts for some species in some places. But in these times of wholesale illegal slaughter, it’s not surprising that the legal import issue would be a sensitive one. The president’s posture reflects this. Whatever he decides, his pause may be a hopeful sign that he would be willing to give further consideration to other conservation issues—like critical wetlands or protecting public lands—with an open mind and some serious thought!

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