We kind of knew this was coming, didn’t we, what with Don Jr.’s taste for shooting beautiful animals and Ryan Zinke’s “Big Buck Hunter” moment—still, somehow, the news that the Trump administration has lifted the Obama administration’s ban on exporting trophies from elephant hunts in Zimbabwe and Zambia is a bit of a shock. Are they trying to do literally every bad thing? Every single one?
From the Washington Post:
African elephants are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that large sums paid for permits to hunt the animals could actually help them “by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation,” according to an agency statement.
Under the Obama administration, elephant-hunting trophies were allowed in countries such as South Africa but not in Zimbabwe because Fish and Wildlife decided in 2015 that the nation had failed to prove that its management of elephants enhanced the population. Zimbabwe could not confirm its elephant population in a way that was acceptable to U.S. officials, and did not demonstrate an ability to implement laws to protect it.
In 2014, the US Fish and Wildlife Service suspended imports of elephant trophies from Tanzania and Zimbabwe because of “catastrophic population declines” that have, in fact, continued apace, mostly due to illegal poaching. At that time, the agency said that in these countries the “additional killing of elephants…even if legal, is not sustainable.” Considering there is currently an apparent coup underway in Zimbabwe, a country that has been run with catastrophic levels of corruption by a guy who actually eats elephants on his birthday, it seems unlikely that their elephant management problems have been cleared up.
The Post also reports that Safari Club International announced the rule change a day ahead of the the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and that a Fish and Wildlife official made the announcement at an SCI event in Tanzania. Safari Club International is an international trophy hunting organization that lobbies to get various species “delisted” as endangered so that its members can hunt them. SCI members, according to a 2015 Humane Society report, have killed over 2,000 lions, 1,800 leopards, nearly 800 elephants and 93 black rhinos over the past 60 years.
Although the US Fish and Wildlife Service has adopted the trophy hunting community refrain that killing these animals actually helps conserve the species, there is evidence that the significant sums of money brought in by trophy hunters often does not actually support conservation efforts in a meaningful way. And beyond that, killing elephants is an especially evil activity, considering their almost frightening intelligence and deeply embedded social ties.
“How someone could want to shoot such an intelligent, empathetic animal as an elephant is beyond me,” Frank Pope, CEO of Save the Elephants, told the Guardian. “But what is most concerning for elephants is that renewed imports of trophy ivory into the US might undermine the all-important ivory trade bans put in place by America and China.”
“China continues to show strong leadership and will close all ivory trade within her borders by the end of the year. Up to now American actions on elephants and ivory have been admirable. The fire of the ivory trade seems to be dying. The last thing we need is a sudden blast of oxygen from a misguided policy change.”
Update 11/19: Trump has tweeted that he’s putting the decision “on hold” after talking with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who has signed an order to expand hunting and fishing on public lands. Zinke tweeted on Friday night that he would like to conserve “healthy herds,” which are necessary if you would like to keep shooting elephants.