White House Quietly Lifts Ban on Elephant Trophies

(CN) – The Trump administration is once again allowing Americans to import the body parts of African elephants shot for sport — a practice the president himself decried as recently as last November.

In a March 1 letter, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the importation of elephant trophies will now be approved on a “case-by-case basis.”

The letter cites a December ruling in Safari Club Int’l v. Zinke, a long-running lawsuit challenging the ban filed by Safari Club International and the lobbying arm of the National Rifle Association.

President Donald Trump personally intervened in November when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first said it would lift an Obama-era ban on elephants imported from Zimbabwe and Zambia.

The agency said at the time that encouraging wealthy big-game hunters to kill the threatened species would help raise money for conservation programs, but the president was not convinced.

“Big-game trophy decision will be announced next week but will be very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal,” Trump tweeted on Nov. 19, placing the policy on hold after a public backlash to the earlier decision.

The memo does not explicitly spell out the criteria that will be used to assess the imports. Brian Hires, a spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service said in an email to Courthouse News, “The President has been very clear in the direction that his administration will go.

“Unfortunately, since aspects of the import permitting program for trophies are the focus of ongoing litigation, the Department is unable to comment about specific next steps at this time,” Hires added.

Safari Club International, a hunter’s rights group, and the National Rifle Association, sued the Interior Department, in April 2014 after the Obama administration suspended the issuance of import permits due in part to a “significant decline in Tanzania’s elephant population.”

The plaintiff organizations claimed the Obama White House failed to follow administrative procedure when instituting the restriction, pushing through the change in policy with out public input.

The Fish and Wildlife Service  memo says Endangered Species Act findings on on African elephants in Tanzania, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia will “no longer [be] effective for making individual permit determinations.”

In an interview with Courthouse News Tuesday, Ingrid Newkirk, president for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, wondered why the president has been mum on the agency’s decision this time around.

“PETA wonders if President Trump withdrew the ban to please the NRA or his gun happy sons or both. Bullies are cowards and there are few things more cowardly than shooting a sitting duck who happens to be a lion or elephant minding his or her own business,” Newkirk said.

The memo was issued the same day Trump met with Chris Cox, chief lobbyist for the NRA’s lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action.

Cox visited the president in the Oval Office to discuss Second Amendment rights, due process and gun control, according to a tweet he wrote after the meeting.

Representatives of the NRA and the Institute for Legislative Action did not immediately respond to request for comment.

 

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