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U.S. Government Ends, Then Keeps Elephant Trophy Import Ban

It lasted barely four days.

It lasted barely four days.

Elephants are special. They’re goofy-looking, with big floppy ears and a long trunk that can grab things. They’re the only animal with four knees. They bury their dead, which some scientists think is a sign that they believe in an afterlife. They’re also crazy smart. No wonder billions of people consider them sacred and holy. Alas, the people in Donald Trump’s administration do not seem to be among them. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently ended a ban on hunters importing elephant trophies, then revoked it only after immediate backlash on all sides.

Why End the Elephant Trophy Ban?

The Obama administration instituted the ban in 2014 because Zambia and Zimbabwe, the particular countries affected, did not have reliable conservation data. They also wished to discourage people from killing an endangered species. (This reporter can only assume that hunters love hunting mostly so they can display giant heads at home.)

The Trump administration chose to end the ban not in spite of the species’ “threatened” status, but because of it. An FWS spokesperson said on November 15 that allowing trophy imports would “[provide] incentives to local communities to conserve the species and [put] much-needed revenue back into conservation.” They also said they’re satisfied with Zimbabwe and Zambia’s management of elephant populations, particularly efforts from “private landowners and consortiums.” One can also assume that Trump’s obsession with erasing all of Obama’s achievements might be a motivation.

Another plausible reason for the end of the ban: Donald Trump Jr.’s noted enjoyment of killing elephants. The Washington Post recently dredged up a 2012 tweet from Trump Sr. responding to news about Junior’s latest slaughters. He said, “Old story, one of which I publicly disapproved. My sons love hunting, I don’t.” That’s great and all, but five years later, his chosen Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is doing everything to promote the sport-killing of animals, including this ban overturn.

Then Why Bring It Back?

Then, on November 18, Trump announced on Twitter that he was, at least for now, keeping the ban.

Why did he feel the need to revoke a departmental decision so quickly? As with most of his administration’s actions, this one drew immediate and vicious backlash. Unlike most of them, this one drew backlash from both sides of the aisle. Fox News host Laura Ingraham criticized the move on Twitter for its backwards idea of conservation. Rep. Ed Royce, Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stated the US couldn’t trust Zimbabwe to monitor elephants while undergoing political turmoil.

People on both sides also united in celebrating Trump’s reversal. Some, including the Post, even speculated that he had a “soft side” for elephants. These people may have spoken too soon – with an emphasis on “may have.” On November 19, Trump tweeted that he would announce a “big-game trophy decision” sometime in the next week. Curiously, he added that he’d be “hard pressed to change [his] mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal.” The phrase “horror show” is obviously strong and critical, but what it refers to remains ambiguous. Does he mean the ban? The end of the ban? The hunting of elephants for trophies? As Ingraham tweeted, “Stay tuned.”

Sometimes, elephants take the law into their own hands. Here’s a story about a herd that trampled some poachers to death. 

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