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The Trump administration's reversal of a ban on the import of trophy hunted animals from Africa has driven a wedge between the White House and a powerful Republican committee chairman.
On Friday, House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., slammed the decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, announced this week, to allow the importation of endangered African elephants killed for trophies in Zimbabwe and Zambia.
"Elephants and other big game in Africa are blood currency for terrorist organizations, and they are being killed at an alarming rate," Royce said in a statement.
"Today Zimbabwe is in economic and political crisis," he said. "I have zero confidence that the regime – which for years has promoted corruption at the highest levels – is properly managing and regulating conservation programs."
As of Friday, Zimbabwe's longtime president, Robert Mugabe, was believed to be under house arrest following his detention earlier this week by members of the military, in a move the military insisted was not a coup d'etat. Mugabe has led Zimbabwe for nearly 40 years, overseeing a frequently corrupt regime that violently suppressed political opposition.
It is unclear why the Fish and Wildlife Service chose to reverse the Obama-era ban on trophy elephants from Zimbabwe now, but an agency official told ABC News that "new information" from Zimbabwe and Zambia caused it to rethink the ban.
"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," an agency spokesperson said in a statement.
News of the decision sparked an immediate backlash from conservation groups, who pointed to the African elephant's endangered status.
In Washington, Republican responses to news of the ban's reversal were largely muted -- the GOP has a long record of supporting individual gun rights and increased access to public lands for hunters.
But according to Royce, the ban on trophy hunting endangered species in Zimbabwe was about national security, as much as it is about conserving wildlife populations.
"The administration should withdraw this decision until Zimbabwe stabilizes," Royce said Friday. "Elephants and other big game in Africa are blood currency for terrorist organizations, and they are being killed at an alarming rate. Stopping poaching isn't just about saving the world's most majestic animals for the future – it's about our national security."
President Donald Trump had yet to weigh in on the new trophy import rules Friday. But his two eldest sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump are avid hunters, and have been photographed trophy hunting leopards in Zimbabwe.