The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has quietly begun allowing more trophy hunting of African elephants, despite President Donald Trump’s pledge last year to uphold a ban on importing parts of animals killed by big-game hunters.
The agency issued Thursday saying it would consider issuing permits to import elephant trophies from African nations on a “case-by-case” basis, effective immediately. The new guidelines, , end U.S. bans on the import of such trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia.
“What the agency just did with this memo is completely contrary to everything Trump has been saying,” Tanya Sanerib, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in an interview.
Big-game trophy decision will be announced next week but will be very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2017
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.
In November, the agency 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 decision was first revealed publicly by Safari Club International, a trophy hunting advocacy group with close ties to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. The group, along with the National Rifle Association, sued to block the on elephant trophies from Zimbabwe. Late last year, a federal appeals court ruled that the Obama administration when it instituted the ban. Among other things, it failed to invite public comment, the court said.
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, said. “Why does the decision keep flopping, are we hunting or are we not hunting?”
Mandima, who noted that his group has long opposed the hunting of threatened, vulnerable or endangered species, said such confusion makes it difficult for the public to voice opinions about the issue, and harder for environmental groups to craft conservation recommendations.
Several environmentalists on Monday pointed out that the new import guidelines haven’t been made public, and Freedom of Information Act requests to determine what “case-by-case” actually means will likely take months. In that time, an unknown number of applications could be approved.
“We saw the public outcry last fall when [the trophy decision] was announced … not just from people who are traditionally Democrats,” Sanerib said. “The agency is really playing hide the ball. It’s incredibly disappointing.”
It’s unclear if Trump supports the new Fish and Wildlife Service guidelines. Neither the White House nor the Fish and Wildlife Service immediately responded to HuffPost’s requests for comment.
A Fish and Wildlife spokesperson that the White House has made its stance clear. “The president has been very clear in the direction that his administration will go,” the agency said in a statement to the outlet. “Unfortunately, since aspects of the import permitting program for trophies are the focus of ongoing litigation, the Department is unable to comment about specific next steps at this time.”