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Trump stalls controversial decision on big-game hunting

Trump had just announced he’d repeal a ban on importing elephant tusks from Zimbabwe.

Rhino Translocation Project
There are only about 350,000 African elephants left in the wild.
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

President Donald Trump has not typically aligned himself with the interests of environmentalists. But Friday night he threw them a bone, announcing on Twitter that he would suspend his planned decision to allow trophy hunters to import the tusks and other remains of some endangered elephants from Zimbabwe.

Trump’s initial decision, which was announced by the US Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this week, would have overturned a 2014 ban on importing elephant tusks and other trophy parts from Zimbabwe. Prior to that ban, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service had the power to authorize importation on a case-by-case basis, provided that the hunt in which the elephant was killed could be considered to aid conservation efforts. (Proponents of this view argue that the high value of endangered species to hunters incentivizes local populations to better protect the species overall, although the data says otherwise.) In 2014, United States officials decided that there was insufficient data on Zimbabwe’s conservation efforts in order to make that determination, and banned the practice entirely.

Between 2007 and 2014, the number of elephants in the wild had been plummeting by 30 percent, largely due to big-game hunting and poaching.

This week’s initial decision to reverse the ban was made on the grounds that the US Fish and Wildlife Service was satisfied with the state of conservation in Zimbabwe. A statement posted on the agency’s website attested: “We are now able to find that African elephant trophy hunting in Zimbabwe will enhance the survival of the species in the wild.”

The statement of confidence in the stability of Zimbabwe’s conservation efforts came at a curious time. Earlier this week, the country’s longtime strongman dictator, Robert Mugabe, was ousted in a military coup. Earlier this month, the ban had also been reversed for Zambia.

Trump’s initial decision was met with outrage by conservation activists and politicians across the political spectrum. Liberal comedian Ellen DeGeneres started a #BeKindToElephants hashtag on Twitter, promising to donate for every person that used it.

Even prominent Republicans came out against the ban’s reversal. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Ed Royce referred to the practice of big-game hunting as “blood currency for terrorist organizations,” saying that big-game hunting — and the ways in which it has been monetized by terrorist and criminal groups — was a national security issue. “Stopping poaching isn't just about saving the world's most majestic animals for the future,” he said. “It's about our national security."

Critics of Trump’s initial decision also wondered if his family’s known proclivity for big-game hunting might have played an undue role in his determination.

After Trump announced on Twitter Friday that he would be suspending the reversal, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke confirmed the suspension.