PERC Research Fellow Testifies Before California Senate Committee at Hearing on Wildlife Trade and the Covid-19 Pandemic

Catherine Semcer testifies before the California Senate on the role of hunting in conserving wildlife habitat in Africa

News for Immediate Release
May 26, 2020
Contact: Hannah Downey, 406-587-9591, hannah@perc.org 

(Sacramento, California)—PERC research fellow Catherine Semcer testified today before the California Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water on SB-1175 and the need to ensure that efforts to reduce future pandemics by addressing the international trade in wildlife are focused and equitable. The hearing was held by telephone, and Semcer’s testimony centered on a proposal to ban the import and possession of certain African hunting trophies in California as part of the state’s pandemic response policy. Semcer specifically addressed the positive contributions of hunting in Africa to conservation, discussed the role of conservation in securing public health, and highlighted the fact that the importation of hunting trophies into the United States has never been linked to an outbreak of disease.

“Africa’s hunting industry creates economic incentives that conserve wildlands on a grand scale. The total area conserved by hunting in Africa is more than six times the size of the U.S. national park system,” said Semcer. “Trophy import bans like those being considered by the California Senate will make it even harder for Africa’s hunting industry to recover from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. This will undoubtedly result in African wildlands being cleared for logging and agriculture, something scientists say we must avoid in order to prevent the next deadly pathogen from emerging. Since the importation of hunting trophies has never been linked to an outbreak of deadly disease, the California Senate would be ill advised to make it harder for African countries to use this market-based tool for keeping wildlands intact.”

Researchers with the Georgetown Center for Global Health and Science Security estimate that 60 percent of emerging human pathogens are zoonotic, and that of these, 70 percent have wildlife origins. Primates, birds, bats, and pangolins, none of which are commonly hunted for trophies, are thought to present an especially high risk of disease transmission to people. The game species covered by the hunting trophy provisions of the legislation being considered by the California Senate have not been identified as presenting a risk to human health and are nonetheless already subject to strict import controls to mitigate any risk that might arise.

Stemming the loss of wildlands in Africa and elsewhere is recognized as a critical step toward reducing the likelihood of future pandemics. Previous outbreaks of Ebola, Lassa fever, and other deadly diseases have been closely linked to the clearing of wildlife habitat for logging and agriculture, which bring groups of people into closer contact with disease-carrying wildlife. “Africa’s hunting industry helps to keep the continent’s remote areas remote. Importantly it does so in a way that is not dependent on philanthropy or foreign aid because it turns wild areas into an economic asset. Rather than undermine the industry with trade restrictions that will do nothing to benefit conservation or public health, policymakers should appreciate the benefits the industry provides and work to amplify them,” said Semcer. 

Semcer’s testimony highlighted several key points: 

  • Hunting provides economic incentives and revenue critical to conserving African wildlife in a manner that is self-sustaining and resilient. This includes the conservation of large expanses of habitat and discouraging poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking.
  • Hunting and photo-tourism are not interchangeable, and restrictions on hunting have a track record of undermining the conservation of ecosystems and wildlife.

Catherine Semcer’s full written testimony is available here.

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