Trump should restore ban on importing elephant trophies

President Donald Trump had it right in November when he surprised supporters and critics alike by calling elephant hunting a “horror show.” He personally stopped the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from lifting a ban that forbids importing body parts of elephants shot for sport in Zimbabwe and Zambia.

But the turnaround came on March 1. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, an avid hunter, issued a letter allowing the importation of elephant trophies to be decided on a “case-by-case basis.” Lifting the ban will send the wrong signal that the United States approves of elephant slaughter and encourages illicit poaching for elephant ivory, which has led to devastating losses of the world’s largest land mammal.

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When Trump left the ban in place, he was praised from across the political spectrum and particularly from conservationists who did not have much reason to expect his support. At the time, Trump’s aides said the motive was no more complicated than that the president likes elephants.

Now that he has quietly allowed the rules change, should the public think that Trump no longer loves the lumbering pachyderms? Or could his silence be related to a federal lawsuit the National Rifle Association and the hunting-advocacy group, Safari Club International, won in December?

Their suit said the Obama administration had not properly launched the lengthy rule-making process involving public comment when creating the regulation that banned the trophies. Bringing elephant body parts into the United States has nothing to do with Second Amendment rights, but since it takes a gun to kill an elephant, the NRA barged in.

The Fish and Wildlife Service directly cited the court ruling in its letter lifting the ban, saying it was withdrawing several Endangered Species Act findings dating to 1995, including protections for South African lions and bonteboks.

That makes the horror show even worse. The African elephant population has diminished from 10 million in the early 1900s to a few hundred thousand now. Zinke and other hunting supporters say fees paid by big-game hunters could help fund conservation programs.

But wildlife activists are skeptical the money will actually reach the intended support agencies. Much money has been siphoned by corrupt governments, particularly in Zimbabwe, where elephants and other big game are believed to help fund terrorist organizations.

Activists say encouraging big-game hunting threatens national security. Wayne Pacelle, former head of the Humane Society of the United States, wrote that Zimbabwe has “a venal and nefarious pay-to-slay arrangement” with the trophy hunting industry.

When Trump stood against lifting the ban in November, he tweeted that it would be very difficult for anyone to change his mind “that this horror show in any way helps conservation of elephants or any other animal.”

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Trump owes the nation an explanation for his abrupt about-face.

— St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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