New York Times
Elephants are remarkably empathic and intelligent, even capable of self-awareness.
And then there’s the Trump administration, which announced this week that it would lift a ban imposed by the Obama administration on importing elephant heads, feet and other body parts severed as trophies after the animals are shot for sport in Zimbabwe. A few weeks ago the administration said it would end a similar ban on imports from Zambia.
The policy reversal is a gift to the big game trade from Ryan Zinke, the interior secretary, who’s apparently not satisfied with scrapping environmental and species protections on just one continent.
Lifting this ban could endanger gains made by governments and environmental groups to protect elephants from illegal trade in ivory and other body parts. At the very least it sends yet another message that this is an administration in service of itself and its cronies.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service says it’s ending the ban because “the government of Zimbabwe, nongovernmental organizations, safari outfitters, professional hunter associations and individuals provided the service with additional information … demonstrating that the facts on the ground have changed and improved.”
To be clear: The administration’s assessment of Zimbabwe’s elephant population rests mostly with assurances from safari outfitters and professional hunters who profit from killing the animals, and the government of a nation in the midst of a military coup. With Zimbabwe’s 93-year-old strongman, President Robert Mugabe, under house arrest and negotiating with the army over his future, it’s not likely the government there is paying much attention to its elephant management plan, which, the federal agency assures us, “lays out clear objectives, action items and outputs to facilitate a more systematic management regime for African elephants than was previously established in Zimbabwe.”
If there’s any question how the administration could accept such rosy assessments, it’s worth noting that one high-profile hunter with solid White House connections was photographed a few years ago in Zimbabwe clutching the severed tail of an elephant: Donald Trump Jr.
Carefully monitored culling has been called one means for ensuring the health of these animals and the terrain they inhabit. The Obama administration had permitted South African elephant trophies. A share of the revenues from elephant-hunting safaris was supposed to help fund conservation efforts, though critics question if the strategy is working.
But administration officials don’t seem to really care about whether or how Zimbabwe complies with any of this. They want their trophies.