Despite President Donald Trump's promise last year to continue a ban on big-game trophy imports, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is permitting more trophy hunting of African elephants and will consider allowing the import of elephant trophies from African nations on a case-by-case basis.
The decision comes nearly four months after Trump stepped in to halt his own administration’s decision to begin allowing hunters to import elephants killed in the two African countries. The president called such trophy hunting a “horror show.” He drew rare accolades from environmentalists at the time, who said they were surprised that Trump would move to uphold environmental protections.
Environmental advocates say it’s unclear if the new move will result in additional elephant trophy imports, but the guidelines give more leeway to hunters to apply for permits. The Fish and Wildlife Service has already updated its webpages on the import of sport hunted trophies for both elephants and lions.
An Obama-era ban on importing elephant parts from Zimbabwe and Zambia was knocked by a federal appeals court last year for failing to follow proper procedures -- such as opening the ban to public comment.
The pro-trophy hunting group Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association together had sued the administration in an effort to block the Obama administration ban.
In November, the agency reversed an Obama-era ban on the importation of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia, determining that sport hunting in those countries would “enhance the survival of the species in the wild,” a spokesperson said at the time.
The Trump administration based its decision allowing case-by-case permits on the court’s opinion, writing in the memo that so-called enhancement findings are “no longer effective for making individual permit determinations for imports of sport-hunted African elephant trophies.”
Wildlife conservationists have voiced frustration with the Trump administration's seemingly fluid position on trophy hunting, saying the flip-flopping makes it more difficult for the public to offer its opinions and conservationist groups to formulate recommendations.
Some wildlife experts said the memo complicates the administration’s stance on conservation at the expense of animals desperately needing protection. The memo also withdrew findings related to the Endangered Species Act for trophies taken from bontebok, a species of antelope, elephants and lions hunted in several other countries.
“Our biggest concern is there’s been too much back and forth by the U.S. government to the point of really confusing the public,” Jimmiel Mandima, the director of program design at the African Wildlife Foundation, said. “Why does the decision keep flopping, are we hunting or are we not hunting?”
So far, Trump has not weighed in on the decision personally, and the White House did not respond to HuffPost's request for comment.