By Joe Goergen, SCIF Conservation Manager
Last week, Safari Club International Foundation (SCIF) held its 18th African Wildlife Consultative Forum (AWCF) with its virtual hosts, the Botswana Ministry of Environment, Natural Resource Conservation and Tourism and the Department of Wildlife and National Parks. Despite the many challenges to organize this unique African meeting during COVID-19, the virtual AWCF successfully maintained the momentum for sustainable use wildlife conservation in Africa.
The economic impacts of COVID-19 and its negative effects on conservation programs throughout Africa have made increased communication and mutual support between participating AWCF stakeholders more important than ever in our common mission to conserve wildlife. SCIF worked together with the international hunting industry and our government and community partners to foster the same collaborative spirit during this virtual event true to the in-person AWCF meetings.
The decision to make AWCF virtual this year was difficult, but SCIF’s leadership and the Botswanan wildlife authorities agreed to charge forward given the urgent conservation needs in Africa. SCIF thanks Botswana and all the AWCF attendees for working so closely with us through a planning period affected by the many uncertainties of a global crisis.
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have defended hunting and supported wildlife conservation from California to Europe and everywhere in between. This virtual AWCF is another example of our relentless efforts,” said SCI/F CEO Laird Hamberlin. “No other organization has the resources, the history or the vision required to ensure the future of hunting, and that makes SCI/F the leader.”
The virtual AWCF highlighted SCI/F’s international leadership in bringing together such a large and diverse group of stakeholders and community representatives from more than 10 countries. SCI/F is the only organization with the capacity to facilitate this valuable annual meeting to work with our partners in Africa, and the only one with the teams of government affairs and legal experts to defend against anti-hunting legislation.
The week’s agenda started with reports on the status of tourism and reopening protocols in each country. As borders reopen and hunting seasons are extended, SCI is in a position to make a real impact with funds raised by its Share the Impact Outfitter Benefit program, providing grants to safari operators and anti-poaching units in need in Africa. SCI also used its relationships from AWCF to increase its communications, provide updated information to its members and promote tourism by sharing detailed country profiles.
The virtual platform for this year’s AWCF also allowed for greater participation from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), including opening remarks given by USFWS Director Aurelia Skipwith and introductions to more staff from the management and scientific divisions that work on non-detriment and enhancement findings for the importation of hunting trophies from Africa. The AWCF group was pleased to learn about the USFWS’s new online e-permitting system that will simplify applications and speedup processing. They were also encouraged by the significant progress made on the number of permits processed for lion and leopard over the last year, plus the work done to make positive findings on bontebok, Cape Mountain zebra and other species.
The AWCF agenda tackled giraffes as a new issue, discussing the status of various populations and the conservation implications of listings under CITES and the U.S. Endangered Species Act. SCIF also presented on its continued focus on leopard research as an integral part of SCIF’s strategy in Africa.
AWCF has been the premier forum on sustainable use wildlife conservation in Africa for nearly two decades. Over the many years of achievements, it has grown to become a critical aspect of SCIF’s mission and an invaluable service to attendees working on the ground. As evidenced by this successful virtual event, the AWCF is now ready for increased collaborative action. SCIF looks forward to celebrating with Botswana next year and working more with its African partners through AWCF.
“Thank you to Botswana and to everyone for their commitment to AWCF through these challenging times. We will hold future AWCF events in person again and look forward to doing that next year in Botswana,” concluded Hamberlin.
Next year’s 19th AWCF will be hosted in Kasane, Botswana pending future developments with tourism reopening and COVID travel protocols.