The Trump administration is reversing an Obama administration ban on bringing to the United States the heads of elephants killed in two African countries.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) said it has determined that hunting African elephants in Zimbabwe and Zambia “will enhance the survival of the species in the wild,” which is the standard by which officials judge whether to allow imports of parts – known as trophies – of the animals.
“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,” an FWS spokesman said in a statement late Wednesday, after hunting group Safari Club International announced the policy.
Imports will be allowed for elephants killed between Jan. 21, 2016 and the end of 2018.
The decision, cheered by some hunting and gun rights groups, is a reversal of the policy under the Obama administration. The United States and international authorities say the African elephant is a threatened species, and the Obama administration argued that allowing trophy imports would harm the animals by encouraging killing them.
The reversal is part of a wide-ranging effort by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, whose department includes FWS, to promote hunting.
“Some of my best memories are hunting and fishing with my dad and granddad, and then later teaching my own kids to hunt and fish. That’s something I want more families to experience,” Zinke said in a September statement in which he announced that the arcade game Big Buck Hunter would be temporarily installed in the department’s headquarters.
The National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm praised the elephant trophy decision.
“By lifting the import ban on elephant trophies in Zimbabwe and Zambia the Trump Administration underscored, once again, the importance of sound scientific wildlife management and regulated hunting to the survival and enhancement of game species in this country and worldwide,” Chris Cox, executive director of the group’s Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement.
Animal rights groups slammed the Trump administration.
“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,” Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, wrote in a blog post.
“What kind of message does it send to say to the world that poor Africans who are struggling to survive cannot kill elephants in order to use or sell their parts to make a living, but that it’s just fine for rich Americans to slay the beasts for their tusks to keep as trophies?” he continued.