The Trump administration will allow Americans to bring tusks and other elephant body parts back to this country as trophies, in a pivot away from the support President Trump voiced last year for an Obama-era trophy ban.
The decision, announced quietly in a March 1 memorandum from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, withdrew previous rulings on trophy hunting and said the agency would allow sport hunters to receive permits for the trophy items on a "case-by-case basis."
The move contrasts sharply with the position taken by Trump in November.
After the Fish and Wildlife Service announced a repeal of the ban on the importation of elephant-hunt trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia, wide public outcry prompted Trump and Ryan Zinke, the secretary of the interior, which houses the wildlife agency, to put the repeal on hold until further review.
Trump later called elephant hunting a "horror show" and said that it would be very difficult for anyone to change his mind.
African elephants have been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1979.
Proponents of big-game hunting and the current Interior Department leadership believe that money from permits to hunt elephants would aid in their conservation by putting more revenue in the system. The agency's memo cites a long-running lawsuit against the ban filed by Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association's lobbying arm.
"The Trump administration is trying to keep these crucial trophy import decisions behind closed doors, and that's totally unacceptable," Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Associated Press.
"Elephants aren't meant to be trophies, they're meant to roam free."
The president's sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump are avid game hunters. A photograph of Trump Jr. holding a knife and a dead elephant's tail after a hunt in Zimbabwe in 2011 has drawn wide attention in the past.
Under Zinke, who is also a hunter, the Interior Department's policies have become noticeably more pro-hunting. According to the AP, the department took a step in June to potentially allow grizzly bears near Yellowstone National Park to be hunted. And the Fish and Wildlife Service has begun allowing African lions killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia to be imported, the AP reported.
The population of African elephants has shrunk from about 5 million a century ago to about 400,000, a drop precipitated in part by poaching and the demand for elephant ivory and by the loss of habitat, the AP reported.
Elephant hunting is not a sport that is widely accessible to American citizens. The safaris in Africa can cost more than $50,000 per person, the AP reported.
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