President Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Friday night announced that the administration’s reversal of a ban on importation of elephant hunt trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia has been put on hold until further review. The sudden decision follows protests from animal rights groups and even some conservatives after the administration decided to reverse an Obama-era rule barring such imports.
President Trump tweeted first, saying the ban would continue “until such time as I review all conservation facts.”
Hours later, Zinke elaborated: “President Trump and I have talked and both believe that conservation and healthy herds are critical,” he said in a statement. “As a result, in a manner compliant with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations, the issuing of permits is put on hold as the decision is being reviewed.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had announced the policy shift just two days earlier, with officials signaling in a statement that they would expand efforts to promote trophy hunting as a form of conservation.
African elephants are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, but the Interior Department agency said it had determined that large sums paid for permits to hunt the animals could actually help them “by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation.”
Under the Obama administration, elephant-hunting trophies were allowed in South Africa and Namibia but not in Zimbabwe because Fish and Wildlife decided in 2015 that the nation had failed to prove that its management of elephants enhanced the population. At the time, Zimbabwe could not confirm its elephant population in a way that was acceptable to U.S. officials and did not demonstrate an ability to implement laws to protect it.
According to individuals briefed on the rule change, agency career staff had decided to allow Zimbabwean imports after officials there provided sufficient documentation. The issue was a priority for Interior’s political appointees, added the individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, but the appointees did not dictate the outcome.
The change was to apply to elephants shot in Zimbabwe on or after Jan. 21, 2016, and to those legally permitted to be hunted before the end of next year.
The African elephant population in that country has fallen 6 percent in recent years, according to the Great Elephant Census project. It is relatively stable in Zambia, which has decided to renew hunting after having previously banned it because of several decades of sharp decline.