Roughly three months after announcing a worldwide embargo on legally hunted trophies, South African Airways (SAA) announced last week that it has lifted its ban. SAA was one of several airlines that banned the transport of trophies earlier this year, including IAG Cargo, Emirates, and Lufthansa. Delta Airlines also came under pressure to enact an embargo as well, but refused and instead continued to accept trophies as usual.
The move by the other airlines was made with little in the way of advance warning for hunters, and was hotly criticized by organizations like Safari Club International (SCI).
“[The airlines] are denying service to lawful hunters who have followed every rule and regulation, It’s the equivalent of a restaurant deciding it won’t serve alcohol to any patron, in order to ensure that no one under age is served,” SCI president Larry Higgins wrote in a recent article.
At the time, SAA said that the embargo was placed to stem the illegal transportation of wildlife. However, banning the transport of animals also affected law-abiding hunters, who pump millions of dollars into conservation for countries like South Africa. Higgins speculated that if the bans continued, the airlines would not only alienate their hunting customer base, but also cut off the funding that is vital to protecting wildlife in the countries they serve.
“There is a clear distinction between illegal wildlife products, such as poached rhino horn or ivory, and legitimate hunting trophies. The export of trophies is strictly regulated by both the country of origin, the country of import and, where applicable, CITES,” said Adri Kitshoff, CEO of the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (PHASA).
PHASA was a major driving force in convincing SAA to drop its ban, calling for the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) to step in directly and intervene with the state-owned airline. After meetings between DEA officials and the carrier’s executives, SAA announced that it will be moving onto other methods to control the illegal transport of wildlife.
“We have decided to lift the embargo after extensive engagements with the DEA and the commitment we received that the compliance and inspection areas will be strengthened to ensure that the risk of shipment of illicit goods and falsification of permits and documentation is eliminated,” SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali said in a press release.
The airline stated it will collaborate with the DEA for these additional measures, but did not specify what those measures included.
SCI, PHASA, and other hunting and conservation groups are now working with the other airlines to reverse their embargoes as well.