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The Downfall of the California Iconic African Species Protection Act: A Case Study on Successful Advocacy

In late August, Senate Bill 1175 (known as the Iconic African Species Protection Act) died on the State Senate floor when time expired for a concurrence vote. This bill, which Safari Club International (SCI), African governments, and several other like-minded stakeholders around the world objectively opposed and fought for several years now, was a textbook example of uninformed activists on a mission to punish responsible hunters even if it meant destroying successful African conservation models that rely significantly on the American hunting market. Fortunately, the effective coordination amongst pro-sustainable use stakeholders (including community-based institutions, the stewards of African wildlife) and effective engagements facilitated by SCI created a powerful lobby against SB 1175, that was instrumental for its anticipated demise. 

The process was a long and arduous one, requiring patience and determination. It’s worth noting that the participation from SCI’s members as a unified force against regressive legal instruments should be the envy of all other membership advocacy organizations around the world. From the bill’s introduction to its demise last week, Safari Club members sent more than 7,500 emails and phone calls to legislators in California. This level of outcry about the flaws of SB1175 contributed to critical debates in committee hearings and on the Assembly floor, running out the legislative clock and ultimately killing the bill.

The defeat of this bill would not have been possible without the active participation from Africa (the custodians of the species concerned), and the leadership shown by Zimbabwe, along with Namibia, Botswana, and many other nations across southern Africa. As many California legislators were forced to learn, these countries rely on the funding from legal, regulated hunting as a crucial component of complex wildlife and habitat conservation strategies. These programs have proven track records of combating poaching, saving wildlife habitat, and supporting the necessary ecological research and species monitoring initiatives that the responsible government agencies need to make informed decisions about wildlife management. 

Zimbabwe, for example, is a country that knows how “Import bans run contrary to sustainable conservation practices that have proven results in Zimbabwe and across Africa” according to Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) Director General Fulton Mangwanya—who was instrumental in combatting SB 1175. 

At an early State Assembly committee hearing on the bill, the Permanent Secretary of Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Mr. Munesushe Munodawafa gave a powerful testimony on the potential impact of SB 1175, saying, “SB 1175 is a suicidal prescription that will not work for the African species and the African people… Zimbabwe does not subscribe to neo-colonialist ideologies and laws that are enacted to dictate how our wildlife resources should be governed in Africa.” 

Mr. Munodawafa emphasized that Zimbabwe has healthy and increasing populations of elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos, and other species that would be severely impacted by the bill, in direct contradiction to the bill’s misrepresentation that these species are declining across Africa, as if Africa is a homogenous landscape when we know there are distinct subregions.

Mr. George Pangeti, a retired former Chairman of ZimParks Board, also testified at a public hearing on the bill where he said,  “there is constant communication with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that there is compliance with the CITES regulations, the Endangered Species Act of U.S. and local Zimbabwean legislation. He lamented a plea that such a big state like California should not be party to the reversal of good wildlife management practices and benefits that have been established so far at great cost.”

On behalf of ZimParks and their wildlife officials in Zimbabwe, Director General Fulton Mangwanya  commented on SB 1175’s defeat, saying, “We are overjoyed that this initiative was never allowed to become law in California, and we hope this development serves as an example of what can be achieved through scientifically robust and well-informed wildlife management when African nations work hand-in-glove with our American allies such as SCI.” 

Namibia, a country that has pioneered the world’s best-recognized community benefit system in which 100% of fees are funneled to local community conservancies, also contributed immensely to the fight against the Iconic Species Act. 

In a hearing in front of the California Assembly’s Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, the Director of the Namibian Association of Community Based Natural Resource Management Support Organizations (NACSO), Ms. Maxi Louis, testified “ Namibian communities rely on sustainable hunting as part of a larger conservation effort that protects healthy  populations of diverse species and wildlife habitat, while also supporting local jobs and livelihoods.”

Ms. Louis spoke on behalf of NACSO to say that “we are relieved that this dangerous bill has been defeated and that we can continue to prioritize the proper conservation of our wildlife species unencumbered by misguided policies from some uniformed politicians in California. We are deeply appreciative to SCI for amplifying African voices in this fight and we look forward to continue working with them making sure hunting and conservation in our part of the region is not threatened.” 

Botswana also took the lead in organizing a coalition within the African Wildlife Consultative Forum (AWCF) to promote a widely distributed letter, signed by Dr. Cyril Taolo, Acting Director of Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks, to “reject the assertion that this bill can -or should- protect African species. We deny any assertion that the California legislature knows best how to protect African wildlife.”  

The letter was co-signed by a long list of other African government authorities, community organizations and professional hunting associations that make up the AWCF, in a show of force that laid bare the sheer scope of African opposition to the Iconic African Species Protection Act. 

Furthermore, Mr. George Pangeti, who also serves as an official spokesman for the AWCF, commented on SB 1175’s defeat saying, “the AWCF coalition against this bill encompasses voices from the entirety of southern Africa, all of whom are happy to see California’s attempt to control our continent’s wildlife defeated after a long battle fought side by side with SCI.” 

Due directly to the tireless work of these African wildlife officials and stakeholders, supporters of SB 1175 were forced to hear the truth from the African nations that their bill would do harm and nothing good. The additional legislative time spent on African testimonies played an outsized role in ensuring that available time for consideration of the bill lapsed and the legislation withered on the Assembly’s vine. 

 “Africa is entering an age of increased autonomy, liberty, and prosperity following colonial and post-colonial periods” remarked Catherine Semcer of PERC—the Property and Environment Research Center—a conservation and research institute dedicated to free market environmentalism. 

Anti-hunters in California should get the message that legal, regulated hunting is not the easy target that Western anti-hunting activists often think it is and that it should be recognized for supporting the conservation of iconic African Species.

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