Good news for you big-game hunters. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reversed an Obama-era ban on elephant trophy imports. Instead, the FWS will assess each case on an "individual basis."
The March 1 announcement comes a bit more than three months after President Trump paused a first attempt to loosen the ban after public outcry. The president, seemingly joining the uproar, called the relaxation on imports a "horror show."
The Trump administration said in November it would allow the importation of body parts from African elephants shot for sport, contending that encouraging wealthy big-game hunters to kill them would aid the vulnerable species.
The FWS said in a written notice in November that permitting elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia to be brought back as trophies would raise money for conservation programs. A licensed two-week African elephant hunt can cost more than $50,000 per person, not including airfare, according to advertised rates.
The change marked a shift in efforts to stop the importation of elephant tusks and hides, overriding a 2014 ban imposed by the Obama administration. The policy applied to the remains of African elephants killed between January 2016 and December 2018.
"Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve those species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation," the agency said in a statement.
Animal rights activists and environmental groups expressed skepticism then that killing elephants could help save them. Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, said the policy change sent the wrong signal amid international efforts to curb illegal poaching.
"What kind of message does it send to say to the world that poor Africans who are struggling to survive cannot kill elephants in order to use or sell their parts to make a living, but that it's just fine for rich Americans to slay the beasts for their tusks to keep as trophies?" Pacelle asked.
But the move was quickly praised by groups that champion big-game trophy hunting, including Safari Club International and the lobbying arm of the National Rifle Association. The two groups had sued to challenge the ban in court.
Chris Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action, called the action "a significant step forward in having hunting receive the recognition it deserves as a tool of sound wildlife management, which had been all but buried in the previous administration."
"By lifting the import ban on elephant trophies in Zimbabwe and Zambia the Trump administration underscored, once again, the importance of sound scientific wildlife management and regulated hunting to the survival and enhancement of game species in this country and worldwide," Cox said.
President Trump's two adult sons are avid trophy hunters. A photo of Donald Trump Jr. holding a knife and the bloody severed tail of an elephant he reportedly killed in Zimbabwe in 2011 sparked outrage among animal rights activists.
The world's largest land mammal, the African elephant has been classified as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act since 1979.
Illicit demand for elephant ivory has led to devastating losses from illegal poaching as the natural habitat available for the animals to roam has also dwindled by more than half. As a result, the number of African elephants has shrunk from about 5 million a century ago to about 400,000 remaining. And that number continues to decline each year.
According to the United Nations, as many as 100,000 African elephants were killed between 2010 and 2012. For forest elephants, the population declined by an estimated 62% between 2002 and 2011.