Trump puts ‘trophy’ elephant ban reversal ‘on hold’

Trump puts ‘trophy’ elephant ban reversal ‘on hold’
President Donald Trump has tweeted that he will not make a decision whether to end a ban on the import of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia “until such time as I review all conservation facts.”

The Friday evening tweet follows a backlash after the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFS) announced on Thursday it would begin issuing permits for the import of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia hunted from January 21, 2016 to December 31, 2018.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke followed up with a statement later in the night.

Zinke tweeted that he and Trump “both believe that conservation & healthy herds are critical,” and that the permitting process was being put on hold.

Earlier Friday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters that the decision was made under former President Barack Obama after a review from the US Fish and Wildlife Service determined that Zimbabwe and Zambia met standards to allow hunting by Americans.

Huckabee Sanders said the review established Zambia and Zimbabwe both met “strict international conservation standards” allowing Americans to resume hunting in those countries.

“All of this was based on a study that was conducted -- that started back to the previous administration and done by career officials,” Huckabee Sanders said at Friday’s White House press briefing.

The USFS said that they reviewed information from non-governmental organizations, safari outfitters and professional hunter associations in the countries and found that the population management had improved enough to address their concerns.

The service said that elephant trophy hunting in Zimbabwe “will enhance the survival of the species in the wild.”

“The Service will allow imports from countries that have well-managed hunting programs that are contributing to conservation of elephants in the wild. We hope that these approvals will encourage other countries to strengthen their elephant conservation efforts,” the service said in the announcement.

“American hunters make up the largest proportion of people who hunt overseas, placing our nation in a key role to support science-based, well-managed hunting programs abroad,” the service said in the announcement.

The move drew criticism from several media agencies, which blamed the Trump administration for the decision.

“Trophies from elephant hunts in Zimbabwe were banned in the US Trump just reversed that,” one headline from the Washington Post reads.

“Lions next in line of fire as US rolls back curbs on African hunting trophies,” another headline from the Guardian read.

The decision also drew a flood of criticism on social media, with users pointing the finger at the Trump administration.

Congressman Ed Royce (R-California), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he has “zero confidence” that Zimbabwe is “properly managing and regulating conservation programs” of that the elephant populations in the area“warrant overconcentration measures.”

“The administration should withdraw this decision until Zimbabwe stabilizes. Elephants and other big game in Africa are blood currency for terrorist organizations, and they are being killed at an alarming rate,” Royce said in a statement issued Friday.

The USFS said they are making country-level decisions on whether importing hunted elephants would “enhance the survival of the species in the wild” and will continue to review each application on a case-by-case basis.

The federal agency also reviewed Namibia and South Africa, but decided to keep the suspension in place for both countries. A review of Tanzania is still pending because the service was “not able to make the findings necessary to allow the import of sport-hunted trophies.”

“Unless information is received that shows a significantly improved situation for elephants in Tanzania such that the required findings could be made, permit applications for the import of elephant sport-hunted trophies will be denied,” the service said.

African elephants are protected under the endangered species list and their populations in Africa have dropped by 30 percent in seven years, according to the African Wildlife Foundation.