Friday 17 November 2017 21.36 EST
Amid backlash over move to end ban, president says he will delay administration action ‘until such time as I review all conservation facts’
Donald Trump said that he would delay his administration’s decision to allow the importing of elephant body parts from Zimbabwe “until such time as I review all conservation facts” in a tweet Friday evening.
The postponement came just one day after the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) indicated that it would reverse an Obama administration ban on importing elephant hunting trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia.
The agency said Thursday that the decision “will help protect wild elephants for future generations” because the money generated by US big-game hunters seeking trophies helps fund conservation efforts in many African countries.
Many conservationists opposed the decision, however, arguing that the Trump administration was pandering to big-game hunters.
“I’m shocked and horrified, but this is the road this administration is taking,” the primatologist Jane Goodall told the Guardian on Friday, before Trump’s announcement of the postponement. “One by one, they are undoing every protection for the environment that was put in place by their predecessors.
“It’s very rare that money raised by legal trade in ivory or rhino husks gets out to protect the animals,” Goodall added. “It goes into the pockets of the safari outfits that take the clients, or goes into the hands of corrupt government officials.”
Goodall cited Trump’s stance on drilling for oil in the Arctic national wildlife refuge and on the listing of endangered species as other areas of concern in his administration’s environmental record.
“President Trump and I have talked and both believe that conservation and healthy herds are critical,” Ryan Zinke, the secretary of the interior, said in a statement Friday evening. “As a result, in a manner compliant with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations, the issuing of permits is being put on hold as the decision is being reviewed.”
Elephant populations in Africa have declined precipitously over the past 15 years, despite crackdowns on poaching and the ivory trade.
The Obama administration implemented the ban on importing elephant trophies from Zimbabwe in 2014 due to a lack of information about the status of the country’s population and conservation program. African elephants are protected under the US Endangered Species Act.
On Thursday, FWS said its decision to lift the ban was based on “more than two years of extensive assessments”.
But the agency raised concerns about its motivation by announcing the policy change at the African Wildlife Consultative Forum in Tanzania – an event co-hosted by the hunting rights group Safari Club International (SCI). SCI had joined the National Rifle Association in a court challenge to the 2014 ban. Both groups praised the FWS reversal on Thursday.
Trump’s two adult sons, Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump, are both big-game hunters. Donald Trump Jr has been photographed with the corpse of a elephant, holding its severed tail in his hand.
Ed Royce of California, the Republican chairman of the House committee on foreign affairs, on Friday criticized the decision to lift the ban, calling it the “wrong move at the wrong time”.
Zimbabwe is in the midst of considerable political upheaval, after the army seized power from 93-year-old Robert Mugabe this week. Mugabe has ruled the country for 37 years.
The Associated Press and Edward Helmore contributed reporting.