The Trump administration has now delayed a decision on importing elephant heads, feet and other parts severed as trophies of elephants, like this one, shot for sport in Zimbabwe. Credit Barcoft Media, via Getty Images

US president was ‘obviously unaware that elephants in the wild are on the verge of extinction’; now says he is ‘reviewing conservation facts’

by Sue Cullinan/NFA
18 November 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump has announced that his administration’s plan to reverse a ban on big-game trophies has been put on hold, so he can “review all conservation facts.”

On Wednesday 15 November, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official told ABC News that the Trump administration had planned to allow hunters to bring trophies of elephants they had killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia back to the United States.

The reversal of the ban was met with a widespread backlash, with celebrities and public figures taking to social media to criticize the president. Photos were shared of two of Trump’s sons on safari in Zimbabwe, including the infamous picture showing Donald Trump Jr. with a severed elephant tail in one hand and a knife in the other.

Credit HuntingLegends.com/Hunting Legends
Credit HuntingLegends.com/Hunting Legends

David Barritt, Network for Animals campaign director welcomed President Trump’s decision. “President Trump was obviously unaware that elephants are on the verge of extinction in the wild. They face enormous threats from poachers who shoot and poison them for their tusks. Elephants need our protection, not our bullets.”

“To see the son of one of the most powerful men in the world proudly brandishing a severed elephant tail sends exactly the wrong message to people around the world. Ignorant people will say that if it’s all right for the president’s son to kill elephants, then it’s all right to wear ivory. It’s not all right to wear ivory”, said Barritt. “Trophy hunting does not help conservation, it just means fewer elephants.”

On Thursday, American TV host and comedienne Ellen DeGeneres announced a campaign to raise money for elephant conservation after Trump loosened hunting restrictions. “Elephants show compassion, sympathy, social intelligence, self-awareness. They’re excellent at learning abilities — all the things I have yet to see in this President,” she said.

On Friday evening Trump wrote on Twitter that the decision had been placed on hold.

‘Put big game trophy decision on hold until such time as I review all conservation facts. Under study for years. Will update soon with Secretary Zinke. Thank you!’

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke followed Trump’s tweet with a statement echoing that the administration believed conservation was “critical” and that issuing permits would be delayed. “President Trump and I have talked and both believe that conservation and healthy herds are critical,” Zinke said in a statement Friday night. “As a result, in a manner compliant with all applicable laws, rules and regulations, the issuing of permits is being put on hold as the decision is being reviewed.”

Wildlife advocates said lifting the ban would accelerate the destruction of sensitive species. Both elephants and lions are covered under the Endangered Species Act, but a provision in the act allows the government to give permits to import trophies if there was evidence that the hunting benefited conservation.

U.S. officials apparently began issuing permits for lion trophies hunted in Zambia and Zimbabwe about a month ago, according to ABC News. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said the decision was made after concluding that regulated hunting would help the survival of the endangered species.

In an information sheet explaining why it was lifting the elephant import prohibition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cited the example of Zimbabwe, which it said had implemented a national elephant management plan. It said Zimbabwe had improved the tracking of hunting activity and had “a more systematic, scientific approach to establish national quotas”.

But the relaxation of restrictions on lion and elephant imports was blasted by Wayne Pacelle of the U.S. Humane Society, who argued that instability in Zimbabwe would undercut proper management and fuel “the pillaging of that nation’s extraordinary wildlife”.

“African elephants and African lions drive billions of dollars of economic activity in Africa,” Mr Pacelle wrote in a blog post. “But they drive that activity only when they are alive. Killing them deducts from their populations, diminishes wildlife-watching experiences for others, and robs the countries of Africa of its greatest resources.

According to the African Wildlife Foundation, The African lion population has decreased 42% in the past 20 years.

The ban on big game trophies was put in place by the Obama administration in 2014.