Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced that they will reverse an Obama-era ban on the importation of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia after determining that sport hunting in those countries will help conserve the species. However, a day later, in a tweet by President Trump himself, he stated that he would delay his administration’s decision to allow the importing of elephant body parts from Zimbabwe “until such time as I review all conservation facts”.
It is interesting to note that the first announcement was made public not by a federal agency but via a celebratory news release by the Safari Club International, a trophy hunting advocacy group that, along with the National Rifle Association, sued to block the 2014 ban. In fact, Greg Sheehan, principal deputy director of the FWS, broke the news to the hunting organization during the African Wildlife Consultative Forum (AWCF) in Tanzania.
While it is still not clear what happened during the twenty four hours that made the Trump administration to change course or at least put a pause on the decision, it is quite obvious that the administration and federal agencies received many criticisms from around the world. Many conservationists and wild life experts opposed the decision and talked about vocally on the social media and through press releases arguing that the Trump administration was pandering to big-game hunters. According to the Guardian Newspaper (UK), one of the vocal critics was the primatologist Jane Goodall who told the Guardian on Friday, before Trump’s announcement of the postponement that she “was shocked and horrified, but this is the road this administration is taking,” and that “One by one, they are undoing every protection for the environment that was put in place by their predecessors.” In fact, she added that, “It’s very rare that money raised by legal trade in ivory or rhino husks gets out to protect the animals,” Goodall added. “It goes into the pockets of the safari outfits that take the clients, or goes into the hands of corrupt government officials.” According to the Guardian.
Another big name celebrity who made public statements was actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio who said he “could not believe” the Trump administration had taken the step and called the move by the Trump administration as “reprehensible.”
African elephants have been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1978. A provision of the law, however, allows for sport-hunted trophies to be imported if government determines that hunting will help safeguard the population. However, it is a fact that the number of Savanna elephants continues to dwindle. From 2007 to 2014, the population dropped by 30 percent, or about 144,000 animals, across 18 African countries, according to the 2016 Great Elephant Census. In Zimbabwe, it fell 6 percent. And “substantial declines” have been recorded along the Zambezi River in Zambia, although the population elsewhere in the country remained stable.
Most conservationists believe that one of the reasons for the recent changes and for the actions being taken by the Trump administration is because the Interior Department is led by Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is an avid hunter and has moved to increase opportunities for hunting and fishing. Earlier this month as reported by several news outlets, Zinke announced the creation of a so-called International Wildlife Conservation Council to advise him on “the benefits that international recreational hunting has on foreign wildlife and habitat conservation, anti-poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking programs.” In addition, President Donald Trump’s sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, are also avid big game hunters. In a photo that surfaced in 2012, Trump Jr. was seen holding the tail of an elephant he had shot and killed in Africa.