Trump puts decision to allow elephant hunting trophy imports 'on hold'

White House Correspondent
Yahoo News

WASHINGTON — President Trump, overruling a rule change by his Interior Department, said on Friday that he would keep in place for the time being a ban on importing elephant hunting trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia. Trump announced the move on Twitter Friday evening after a day of uncertainty and protests over the decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service that the ban, intended to conserve shrinking African elephant populations, would be lifted. The president said delaying a decision would allow him to “review” the situation with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

“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!” Trump wrote.

The prohibition on elephant trophies from the two African nations dates from 2014. African elephants are classified as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, which is a designation for animal species “considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.” A spokesperson for the Fish and Wildlife Service told Yahoo News that regulations regarding hunting trophies from endangered species are reviewed on an ongoing basis and the agency decided to lift the ban in recognition of  improvements in the elephant management programs in the two countries.

Conservationists denounced the proposal when the plan for Zimbabwe was posted for public comment in the Federal Register, but hunting advocates argue revenue from well-managed big game programs can support the conservation of endangered species.

Trump has previously expressed opposition to big game hunting. In March 2012, after photos of his eldest sons, Don Jr. and Eric, posing with trophies provoked criticism, Trump sent a tweet saying, “[I am] not a hunter and don’t approve of killing animals.”

“I strongly disagree with my sons who are hunters, but they acted legally and did what lots of hunters do,” Trump wrote.

Trump’s decision to review the ban on elephant trophies from Zambia and Zimbabwe came after a day of mixed signals from the White House.

President Trump with the University of Utah ski team on Friday. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
President Trump with the University of Utah ski team on Friday. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

During Thursday’s White House press briefing, Yahoo News asked press secretary Sarah Sanders why, given Trump’s past opposition to hunting, the president supported lifting the ban and whether he had changed his views on hunting. Sanders repeatedly stressed that the decision was not “finalized.”

“There hasn’t been an announcement. And until that’s done, I wouldn’t consider anything final,” Sanders said, later adding, “I would defer you to the Department of Interior for the time being. And when we have an announcement on that front, we’ll let you know.”

However, a Fish and Wildlife Service official confirmed to Yahoo News that the ban on elephant hunting trophies from Zambia had been lifted effective Nov. 7. And the ban on trophies from Zimbabwe was lifted on Friday morning, about 11 hours before Trump’s tweet. Sanders has not responded to multiple requests for comment from Yahoo News about the president’s position on the ban.

It is not clear exactly what process Trump can use to reinstate the ban. A spokesperson for the Fish and Wildlife Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Yahoo News about the president’s announcement.

The proposal would have only permitted the importation of  trophies hunted in Zambia and Zimbabwe from the start of 2016 until the end of 2018. Older trophies would still be prohibited. Elephant trophies are currently allowed to be imported into the United States from Namibia and South Africa. The Fish and Wildlife Service is currently reviewing whether to permit elephant trophies to be imported from Tanzania.

Regulation of hunting trophies is independent of the ban on importing commercially harvested (or, more commonly, poached) elephant ivory, which remains in effect.

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