Trump administration says hunters can bring African elephant trophies into the U.S.

Trump administration says hunters can bring African elephant trophies into the U.S.

African elephants roaming the Botswana Mashatu Game Reserve.

Image: Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Massive ivory tusks from legally hunted African elephants can once again be brought into the United States.

Although the Obama administration banned the importation of African elephant trophies in 2014, on Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed with ABC News that the ban had been lifted for Zimbabwe and Zambia, two nations with sizable elephant populations.

The decision to allow these ivory hunting prizes into the U.S. stokes much controversy. Safari big-game hunters, who engage in legal hunting of these animals, feel they should be able to keep the spoils of their sport. But conservationists, such as The Elephant Project, view this as a “pay to slay” tactic that will encourage more poaching of an intelligent, vulnerable species.  

African elephants — the planet’s largest land mammal — is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, which is managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service. The animals have been listed with that status since 1978. 

According to the Great Elephant Census, undertaken by a team of ecologists and biologists who spent years surveying the expansive African savannah in airplanes, the population of African elephants decreased by 30 percent in the 18 countries studied between 2009 and 2016, which include both Zambia and Zimbabwe. 

African elephant populations have been particularly pressured by poaching for their ivory tusks, a demand that is only increasing. Since 2007, the ivory trade has doubled, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). 

The Fish and Wildlife Service did not say what specific conditions had changed in Zimbabwe and Zambia to justify lifting the ban, but it did say more information about the decision would be posted in the Federal Register on Friday (the Federal Register is where the U.S. government officially publishes federal regulations).

A Fish and Wildlife spokesperson, however, stated the agency’s general belief that legal sport-hunting can benefit conservation goals:

Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation.

This latest decision, although limited to one species in two African nations, might signal the Trump administration’s intent to increasingly use regulated sport hunting as an international wildlife conservation strategy.

Last week, the Department of the Interior — which oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service — announced the creation of the International Wildlife Conservation Council. The council will specifically “focus on increased public awareness domestically regarding conservation, wildlife law enforcement, and economic benefits that result from U.S. citizens traveling abroad to hunt,” according to the announcement.

“Built on the backs of hunters and anglers, the American conservation model proves to be the example for all nations to follow for wildlife and habitat conservation,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said.

Although the Endangered Species Act, one of the nation’s most powerful conservation laws, has absolutely benefited once nearly extinct creatures like the Bald Eagle, 1,390 U.S. animals remain on the list as either threatened or endangered. 

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