The US Fish and Wildlife Service informed some hunters last month that it would allow the import of six elephant trophies from Zimbabwe to the United States. African elephant carcasses will be allowed into the country for the first time in five years.
The decision ends an agency-wide hold on the processing of elephant trophy import licenses introduced during the Trump administration in November 2017, and has since prevented elephant tusks, tails or feet from entering the country.
The reversal is the result of a September 2021 settlement with the Dallas Safari Club, a big game hunting organization that sued the Trump administration in December 2019 for interrupting trophy license processing. The Ministry of Environment and Tourism of Namibia was also a plaintiff in the case. The Fish and Wildlife Service is required by the settlement to process the permits of the 11 hunters named in the suit, as well as 73 other pending permit applications. That could potentially lead to additional trophies being brought to the United States from countries that allow limited hunting of elephants for sport.
According to a spokesperson for the Fish and Wildlife Service, both sides have “negotiated a settlement that they consider to be in the public interest and a just, fair, adequate and equitable resolution of the disputes set forth in the plaintiffs’ complaint.”
The agency’s decision to settle the lawsuit continues a long-running dispute between hunters and biodiversity experts over whether trophy hunting is beneficial or harmful to large game species, particularly endangered animals such as the two species of African elephants. It has also sparked criticism from activists and biodiversity groups who question why the agency failed to fight the lawsuit or reinstate a similar ban imposed during the Obama administration.
They point out that the move violates President Biden’s commitment on the campaign trail to restrict yacht imports. Critics also say it is the latest in a series of confusing moves by the Biden administration to settle lawsuits left over from the Trump administration and fail to invest in more protections under the Endangered Species Act as it stands. love more gray wolves. They claim that these actions show that Mr. Biden has not kept his word on environmental priorities.
“We expected that the Biden administration would have shut everything down and taken a hard look and made some tough decisions that maybe this isn’t something we should be doing given the biodiversity crisis,” said Tanya Sanerib, senior attorney at the United Nations. Center for Biological Diversity. “So for reality to be the exact opposite, it feels like whiplash.”
For trophy hunters and large game groups, the turnaround came as a long-delayed victory.
“It’s a conservation victory because in many of these places where elephants live, habitat is only made available because of hunting dollars,” said Lane Easter, 57, a Texas equine veterinarian whose trophy permit was approved under the settlement. for a Hunting in Zimbabwe he did in 2017.
The majority of trophy hunters come from the United States. Under the federal Endangered Species Act, hunters must prove before importing a trophy that killing the animal has aided the “positive improvement” of a species.
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s perspective, which predates Mr Biden’s election, is that trophy hunting qualifies as species enhancement if it “is legal, well-regulated hunting as part of a sound management program,” the spokesman for the agency said. desk.
Big game hunters say the money they spend on hunting is later invested in restoring the species and benefits nearby communities economically, preventing poaching. They also say that hunting certain animals such as elephants and lions can benefit the overall health of the herd.
Hunters can spend more than $40,000 on an African hunt in Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Zambia and Namibia, and many of them win the rights through bidding wars held at national conferences such as the Safari Club International annual convention.
But groups such as Humane Society International say that hunting a species does not benefit its survival and that the Fish and Wildlife Service should not allow paid hunting to qualify as a method of species improvement, especially on animals that the United States considers as consider threatened. The International Union for Conservation of Nature revised the list for both species of African elephants in 2021 to emphasize that both are at greater risk of extinction.
Critics also say there is little evidence that money paid for a hunt will ultimately help the species recover, especially when corruption is rampant in several countries where African elephants live.
“There is no evidence that trophy hunting promotes conservation of any species,” said Teresa Telecky, a zoologist and vice president of wildlife at the Humane Society International.
When Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, big game hunters expected it to be easier to import elephant trophies. The week before Thanksgiving in 2017, the Fish and Wildlife Service overturned an Obama-era ban that allowed hunters to import elephant trophies from several African countries. The news sparked a storm of disapproval and criticism, with even close allies of Mr Trump warning that the move “horrific poaching of elephants†
Just 24 hours later, Mr. Trump tweeted that he would put the decision “on hold”. After that tweet, not a single elephant trophy was approved for import to the United States.
“Because the president found trophies hunting distasteful, he essentially abolished the law with a tweet,” said George Lyon, the attorney representing the Dallas Safari Club, “and that’s not how the administrative process should be run.”
So far, the wildlife agency said it had processed eight permits. In addition to the six allowed, it denied two, and is expected to decide on more in the coming months. Mr Lyon estimates that nearly 300 licenses for elephant trophies from various African countries were pending as of September last year.
mr. Easter says he’s wasting no time on his legal victory. His elephants’ tusks are already being prepared for shipment to his home in Texas.
“They’re going to hang in the living room of my house, and I’ll remember that elephant for the rest of my life,” he said.
He has another trophy hunt booked in Africa for August.