The Trump administration will allow trophies of hunted elephants into the US — after waffling due to a public outcry

  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service plans to allow people to import trophies from elephants killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia into the US, according to an unpublicized memo released March 1.
  • The move was first announced in November, but the Trump administration appeared to put it on hold after a public outcry.
  • The Obama administration banned the practice in 2014 after elephant numbers dropped.

The Trump administration once again plans to allow trophies from elephants hunted legally in Zimbabwe and Zambia to be brought into the US.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service first announced its plan to lift the ban on elephant trophy imports in November, but President Donald Trump appeared to put that policy on hold after a public outcry. Now, according to NPR, the US Fish and Wildlife Service released a memo that said the agency would allow imports on a “case-by-case basis.”

That means some US hunters will be able to bring the ivory from elephants they have killed into the US, potentially disrupting a push to end the global ivory trade.

Hunting elephants is legal in numerous African countries, under a strict permitting system in which hunters pay high fees for the privilege. But the Obama administration enacted restrictions on the import of trophies in 2014 after the number of elephants in the wild fell dramatically.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has not announced the change in policy on its website, but the nonprofit hunting advocacy group Safari Club International said on Tuesday that the agency announced the move at an event in Africa. Numerous news outlets have since cited agency representatives who have confirmed the move.

African elephants are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Under the act, hunting trophies, like elephant tusks, can be imported only if the federal government finds that the hunting will aid the long-term survival of the species, such as by funding conservation efforts.

A US Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman told CNN on Thursday that allowing US hunters to shoot elephants in Zimbabwe and Zambia would bring the countries “much-needed revenue.”

Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of the Humane Society, slammed the reversal on Wednesday.

“For decades, Zimbabwe has been run by a dictator who has targeted and killed his political opponents, and operated the country’s wildlife management program as something of a live auction,” Pacelle wrote on his blog. (Zimbabwe’s longtime leader, Robert Mugabe, lost his grip on power after a de facto coup in November.)

Pacelle added: “Let’s be clear: elephants are on the list of threatened species; the global community has rallied to stem the ivory trade; and now, the U.S. government is giving American trophy hunters the green light to kill them.”

Safari Club International praised the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to reverse the ban.

“These positive findings for Zimbabwe and Zambia demonstrate that the Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes that hunting is beneficial to wildlife and that these range countries know how to manage their elephant populations,” Paul Babaz, the president of Safari Club International, said in a press release. “We appreciate the efforts of the Service and the US Department of the Interior to remove barriers to sustainable use conservation for African wildlife.”

In November, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke – an avid hunter – announced the creation of the International Wildlife Conservation Council, a body designed to “develop a plan for public engagement and education on the benefits of international hunting,” according to Zinke’s announcement.

Trophy hunting, ostensibly for conservation purposes, caused an uproar after a popular, protected lion named Cecil was shot and killed by an American dentist in 2015.