Trump administration nixes ban on hunted elephant tusks being carried into the U.S.

Trump administration nixes ban on hunted elephant tusks being carried into the U.S.
An elephant grazes in the Masai Mara national reserve in southern Kenya, on January 23, 2018.

Image: AFP/Getty Images

In November 2017, President Donald Trump called the hunting of elephants for their trophy tusks a “horror show.”

It appeared that Trump, who lacks stable policy positions on many issues, strongly opposed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) decision to allow African elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia to be imported into the U.S. Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke then decided to put the decision to allow trophy imports into the U.S. “on hold.”

Nearly four months later, that hold is coming off. The Trump administration will now consider letting hunting prizes from animals listed on the Endangered Species Act (such as lions and elephants) back into the U.S on a “case by case” basis, the FWS said. This may please Trump’s two oldest sons, who have vacationed in Africa where they shot large game animals — like elephants and leopards.

The FWS, which manages the trophy hunting permits, sometimes decides that an endangered or threatened species’ status can be “enhanced” by allowing sport hunting. The idea is that pricey hunting permit purchases will generate funding for conservation efforts.

The Hill obtained and first reported the FWS memorandum on Monday. The memo is dated March 1, stating that the FWS will consider a species’ “status and management program” and “ensure that the program is promoting the conservation of the species” when determining whether or not to issue a trophy permit. 

In a statement sent to Mashable on Tuesday, an FWS spokesperson confirmed that “the Service intends to make findings for trophy imports on an application-by-application basis.” 

The spokesperson underscored that more detail couldn’t be provided because the FWS is currently involved in litigation over the trophy decision. 

It remains unclear if the new permit-vetting process means the FWS will specifically start allowing more elephant tusks into the U.S., though the spokesperson said that “the president has been very clear in the direction that his administration will go.” If this refers to Trump’s November musings about a “horror show,” presumably the FWS might not allow trophies from elephants into the U.S. — but this couldn’t be confirmed.

UK elephant hunter David Barrett sit on top of an elephant he shot dead in 2009 in Zimbabwe.

UK elephant hunter David Barrett sit on top of an elephant he shot dead in 2009 in Zimbabwe.

Image: Barcroft Media via Getty Images

In its November 2017 decision, the FWS stated that allowing elephant trophy imports from Zimbabwe and Zambia, which both have sizable elephant populations, would serve to benefit the conservation of African elephants — which have been listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act since 1978. 

“Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation,” the FWS said. 

For trophy hunting to raise money for conservation without adversely affecting population levels, however, professional management with vigilant oversight must be in place.

“To be carried out under the proper terms and conditions, it is essential any trophy hunting off-take is set at scientifically determined levels that will not impact on the conservation status of the species concerned and that the proceeds from such activities support both conservation objectives and local livelihoods and economies,” Richard Thomas, Global Communications Co-ordinator for the the wildlife monitoring organization TRAFFIC, previously told Mashable in November 2017.  

“The potential benefits of trophy hunting should be carefully weighed against the problems that result from illegal and poorly managed and controlled trophy hunting,” he added.

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