STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

America's stance on elephant trophies? It's complicated

To look at, they're what most would call elephant tusks, ears or tails.Inside the culture of big game hunting,...

Posted: Jan 8, 2018 12:17 PM
Updated: Jan 8, 2018 12:17 PM

To look at, they're what most would call elephant tusks, ears or tails.

Inside the culture of big game hunting, they're called trophies: animal parts valued as prizes gained during the hunt.

Gruesome symbols of death to some. Treasured souvenirs by others.

And right now, the United States isn't sure what to do with them. President Trump, facing the biggest decision of its kind in years, must determine whether elephant tusks and other body parts can be legally imported into the United States from Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Traditionally, the United States has allowed trophies to be imported only if countries proved hunting would not harm the overall population of the endangered species. But Zambia and Zimbabwe were found to fall short of that guideline, and elephant trophies from those nations were banned from the United States.

Last November, President Trump's administration moved to change that rule. It has led to a legal and political standoff pitting hunting advocates against animal rights groups, and it has put the Trump family's stance on big game hunting under scrutiny.

It also has contributed to the heated, emotional debate about the business of big game conservation, and whether hunting should be a part of it.

Animal rights groups are outraged the practice is allowed at all.

But hunting advocates say the big game trade can save elephants and other endangered species when profits are used to responsibly manage herds in ways that increase animal populations.

The ban

It all started nearly four years ago, when the Obama administration banned elephant trophy imports from Zambia and Zimbabwe, saying the countries failed to provide the adequate proof.

Last November the US Fish and Wildlife Service said it was lifting the ban, saying the countries had improved their conservation programs so hunts "will enhance the survival of the African elephant."

But after a public outcry, President Trump tweeted he would "Put big game trophy decision on hold until such time as I review all conservation facts," adding, "Under study for years. Will update soon with Secretary [of Interior Ryan] Zinke. Thank you!"

Nearly two months after the President's tweet, CNN asked the Department of the Interior about the status of the review, and a spokesperson responded: "President Trump and Secretary Zinke have met on this subject and there will be no new permits granted for elephant trophies for Zimbabwe or Zambia."

"This will remain in place until the Department of the Interior has completed a comprehensive review and the President has made a determination based upon their recommendations," the spokesman said.

Despite multiple requests for comment, White House officials declined to say whether the review is ongoing, when it might conclude, or when the President's decision may be announced.

A challenge in court

Meanwhile hunting advocates and animal rights groups are both claiming victory in a case challenging the ban before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a split ruling the court upheld the ban while litigation continues, saying the Fish and Wildlife Service was within its rights to implement the prohibition. But at the same time the court scolded the government for failing to conduct a federally mandated public review of the impact of the rule before enacting it.

It sent that part of the case back to a lower court with orders to tell the Fish and Wildlife Service to come up with rules to implement the old ban.

US Humane Society Attorney Anna Frostic told CNN the ruling is a win because the "D.C. Circuit opinion completely upheld the decision on the substantive grounds." She added that, "the federal government must carefully consider the science demonstrating that trophy hunting negatively impacts the conservation of imperiled species," before changing rules already in place.

That means the November decision suspending the Obama era ban may not be in compliance under this ruling, because it failed to follow those same public comment requirements.

An attorney for Safari Club International, a hunting advocacy group that along with the National Rifle Association filed the suit in 2014, said, "The court did not expressly set aside the findings, nor did it uphold them." The group says it is waiting to see how the district court rules before deciding its next steps.

In a statement to supporters claiming victory, Safari Club International said it believes the ruling will allow hunters' voices to be heard during "the process of decision-making that affects the importation of legally hunted wildlife." The club added the government "will not be able to impose uninformed, abrupt importation bans, like it did in 2014."

How we got here

In November, when word leaked out that the Trump administration was preparing to reverse the ban, conservationists sounded alarms. Among them: Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the US Humane Society, who argued that elephant hunting is "just thrill killing, bragging rights, trophies for a threatened species, the largest land animal in the world." Pacella said "shooting an elephant is like shooting a parked car. I mean there's no sport in it either."

But a November statement from the US Fish and Wildlife Service disagreed, saying in part, "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."

Connection to President Trump's game-hunting son

The Fish and wildlife Service is overseen by the Department of the Interior, which is run by Zinke. In fact, Zinke's appointment was championed by President Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., an avid big game hunter.

In 2011, Trump Jr. and brother Eric Trump were photographed posing with their kills, including an elephant, during a hunting trip to Zimbabwe. In one picture, Trump Jr. is seen holding the dead elephant's severed tail. The photos first appeared on Gothamist.

When Trump Jr. addressed the photos at the time, he did not deny their authenticity, saying, "I can assure you it was not wasteful." Adding on Twitter, "The villagers were so happy for the meat which they don't often get to eat."

How does Trump really feel about big game hunting?

Even then, there were signs that future President Donald Trump and his sons had different opinions on the issue. In a 2012 interview Trump told Extra, "Everybody tells me what they did in the world of hunting is fine. But I'm not a fan."

In November, the President made clear his opinion on the killings had not changed, tweeting he would, "be very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of elephants or any other animal."

From 2007 to 2014, elephant populations in the African savanna plummeted 30%, according to the Great Elephant Census, a two-year study that mapped and tracked elephant herds across 18 countries.

In some places elephant populations have dropped at higher rates, primarily due to ivory poaching. And experts now say about 350,000 remain, down from an estimated 1 million as recently as the 1970s, and a potential 20 million that roamed the region before Africa was colonized by European countries.

Animal rights activists also point out that elephant trophies are still allowed to be imported from other countries in Africa, and note that other activities like selling elephant hides or other elephant parts are still considered legal -- and many can be imported into the United States with proper permits from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Huntsville
Few Clouds
90° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 91°
Florence
Scattered Clouds
87° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 89°
Fayetteville
Clear
88° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 88°
Decatur
Clear
89° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 89°
Scottsboro
Scattered Clouds
88° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 93°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 89927

Reported Deaths: 1580
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson11650225
Mobile8998191
Montgomery6198143
Madison493225
Tuscaloosa391263
Baldwin317522
Shelby300232
Marshall294730
Unassigned263351
Lee249140
Morgan220615
Etowah191425
DeKalb167713
Elmore158437
Calhoun15359
Walker145763
Houston130912
Dallas128023
Russell12201
Franklin118420
Limestone118313
St. Clair118212
Cullman111311
Colbert107612
Lauderdale105312
Autauga101020
Escambia96515
Talladega89013
Jackson8163
Chambers81438
Tallapoosa80478
Dale77619
Butler75135
Blount7223
Covington70420
Coffee7035
Chilton6976
Pike6547
Barbour5625
Lowndes54624
Marion53524
Marengo51514
Clarke4849
Hale44925
Bullock43711
Perry4284
Winston42811
Wilcox4029
Monroe3884
Randolph38810
Conecuh37110
Bibb3643
Pickens3639
Sumter36118
Washington31011
Macon30813
Lawrence3060
Crenshaw2843
Choctaw27312
Henry2433
Greene24011
Cherokee2337
Geneva2260
Clay2165
Lamar1942
Fayette1695
Cleburne1141
Coosa902
Out of AL00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 109627

Reported Deaths: 1073
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby21296285
Davidson19320199
Rutherford604251
Hamilton562147
Knox392634
Williamson323022
Sumner316069
Unassigned29244
Out of TN282312
Wilson206420
Montgomery171111
Bradley170510
Sevier17025
Trousdale15726
Putnam154713
Robertson143216
Hamblen121713
Tipton11049
Blount10987
Maury10665
Washington10382
Madison88912
Bedford86210
Macon83413
Hardeman79411
Sullivan7809
Lake7440
Bledsoe6681
Loudon6493
Fayette6178
Anderson5995
Dickson5871
Gibson5582
Cheatham5445
Dyer5427
Rhea4971
Jefferson4892
McMinn47920
Lawrence4746
Obion4274
Henderson4260
Carter4245
Lauderdale4216
Coffee4112
Warren4004
Hardin3987
Cocke3911
Cumberland3756
Greene3695
Haywood3695
Smith3613
Monroe3569
Roane3561
Giles3449
Hawkins3244
McNairy3105
DeKalb3041
Franklin2854
Marshall2632
Weakley2603
Lincoln2511
Carroll2263
Hickman2260
Crockett2233
Wayne2141
Claiborne2120
Henry2110
Campbell2071
Marion2064
Chester1921
White1913
Grainger1680
Polk1661
Johnson1600
Decatur1591
Unicoi1360
Overton1341
Union1180
Cannon1170
Jackson1071
Grundy1012
Humphreys1013
Scott1010
Meigs960
Sequatchie940
Benton921
Morgan791
Fentress740
Hancock741
Perry740
Stewart700
Clay620
Lewis561
Houston550
Moore420
Van Buren320
Pickett221

 

 

Community Events