President Donald Trump will remove a ban on the import of "trophy" elephant parts from hunts in Africa, his administration announced this week.
In November, the Fish and Wildlife Service, under the direction of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, announced it would partially remove the ban enacted by President Obama on hunting trophy imports, but Trump intervened, saying that he would "put (the) big game trophy decision on hold until such time as I review all conservation facts."
In a tweet, Trump called big-game hunting a “horror show” and said that he would be “very hard pressed” to change his mind about the ban.
Now, less than four months later, his administration is reversing its position again.
In a memo dated March 1, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the agency would consider granting permits for importing “trophies of African elephants taken in Zimbabwe," one of the most popular destinations for legal big-game hunting, on a “case-by-case basis.”
The memo referred to a long-running lawsuit brought on by Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association against the Department of the Interior, in which a judge ruled the current ban improper. The ruling, made in December, asserted that the Obama administration hadn’t gone through the proper rulemaking process when implementing it.
The African elephant has been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1979. About 5 million elephants roamed the continent as of a century ago, but now only about 400,000 remain, according to the Associated Press. According to the United Nations Environment Program, the elephant population is dropping at a rate of about 8 percent per year, and research by Save the Elephants and the Kenya Wildlife Service calculated that around 100,000 elephants were killed between 2010 and 2012 alone.
The dwindling population can be attributed to both habitat destruction and the demands of the international ivory market, for which elephants are hunted, often illegally, for their tusks. Countries like China, one of the biggest markets in the world for ivory, have taken steps in recent years to enforce ivory restrictions and discourage poaching, but elephant populations are still shrinking.
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Big-game advocates, including the current Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, who oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, claim that encouraging wealthy hunters to go on expensive international hunting trips would help raise money to conserve the species, but critics say the benefits of such funds are exaggerated. A licensed two-week trip to hunt African elephants can cost upwards of $50,000 per person, the AP reported.
Zinke is himself an avid hunter. Last year, after beginning his tenure as Secretary of the Interior, he ordered that the popular arcade game “Big Buck Hunter Pro” be installed in the department’s employee cafeteria in order to highlight hunting’s contributions to conservation.
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