US reverses elephant trophy ban, sparking outrage among conservationists and fury at Trump sons’ hunting past
During the 2016 campaign, images re-emerged of Eric and Donald Trump Jnr on a 2011 trip posing with animals they had killed on safari including an elephant, a buffalo and a leopard
The Trump administration’s decision to loosen restrictions around the import of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia has turned attention back to the president’s family’s own connection to the controversial sport.
Donald Trump Jnr and Eric Trump are prolific big game hunters and during the 2016 campaign, images re-emerged of the pair on a 2011 hunting trip posing with animals they had killed on safari including an elephant, a buffalo and a leopard.
The images of Trump’s sons smiling with dead animals sparked a wave of criticism, with actress Mia Farrow writing on Twitter: “What went so wrong with Trump sons that they could kill this beautiful creature.”
But Trump Jnr told Forbes in 2012 that outrage over the images of him and his brother was misplaced. Forbes columnist Frank Miniter said Trump Jnr had told him: “elephants are overpopulated in the area the Trumps hunted and so need to be hunted to prevent them from further destroying their habitat.”
Conservationists argue that elephants numbers are in sharp decline due to human encroachment and poaching, and trophy hunts fuel the demand for wild animal products.
The population of African elephants fell by some 30 per cent between 2007 and 2014, with poaching the primary reason for the decline, according to a report released last year.
A growing number of countries, including China, Singapore and the United States, have banned the trade in ivory.
Trump himself has never expressed interest in big game hunting.
“My sons love hunting. They’re hunters and they’ve become good at it,” Trump told TMZ in 2012. “I am not a believer in hunting and I’m surprised they like it.”
In 2014, The Obama administration’s US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) banned the import of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe on the basis that the country had failed to show it was taking elephant management seriously.
After reversing that ban this week, a FWS spokesman told The Guardian: “Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management programme 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.”
The decision was applauded by Safari Club International (SCI), a hunting rights group and the National Rifle Association.
“These positive findings for Zimbabwe and Zambia demonstrate that the Fish and Wildlife Service recognises that hunting is beneficial to wildlife,” said SCI president, Paul Babaz.
But the move triggered protests from conservation groups and a frenzy on social media from opponents who posted pictures of the Trumps posing with the slain animals.
The fact that Trump has lifted President Obama's ban on elephant trophies being imported into the country is a devastating blow to the survival of these beautiful animals. It's savage and pointless. It breaks my heart. pic.twitter.com/iclfxN6TXr
— Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais) November 16, 2017
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) November 16, 2017
“I’m shocked and outraged,” Elly Pepper, a deputy director of the National Resources Defence Counsel, said in a phone interview. “I expect nothing less from our president, and if he thinks this is going to go down without a fight, he’s wrong.”
The group, which does not oppose all hunting, is considering bringing legal action to block the policy change, Pepper said.
The move came the same week Zimbabwe had a coup that left its president, Robert Mugabe, under house arrest.
“It strains credulity to suggest that local science-based factors have been met to justify this change,” M. Sanjayan, chief executive of Conservation International, said in a statement.
The outrage echoed that of 2015 when a Minnesota dentist killed a well-studied lion nicknamed “Cecil” after he was lured out of a protected Zimbabwe national park.
Additional reporting by Reuters