Trump administration withdraws ban on elephant trophy permits

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it will now consider all permits for importing trophies of animals from African nations on a "case-by-case" basis, months after the president called elephant hunting "a horror show" and suggested he would keep the ban in place.

"The service intends to grant or deny permits to import a sport-hunted trophy on a case-by-case basis pursuant to its authorities under the" Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, the memo says.

In November, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced it had lifted a ban implemented under the Obama administration on importing tusks and other elephant parts from Zimbabwe and Zambia.

The memo offered that the move came in response to a late December ruling in a lawsuit in which Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association's lobbying arm challenged the ban.

Supporters of big game hunting say the practice provides funding for conservation efforts and local economies.

The agency added that it would still use some of the information included in those findings, whenever relevant to the evaluation of an individual permit application.

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Trump, whose sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump are avid game hunters, later called the practice "terrible" and a "horror show". Nether the Interior Department nor Fish and Wildlife issued a media release over the last week to announce the decision, which was quickly condemned by environmental advocates. A photograph of Trump Jr. holding a knife and a dead elephant tail after a hunt in Zimbabwe in 2011 has drawn wide attention in the past. And the Fish and Wildlife Service has begun allowing African lions killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia to be imported, the AP reported.

"What kind of message does it send to say to the world that poor Africans who are struggling to survive can not 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?"

The African elephant has been listed as "threatened" under the U.S. Endangered Species Act for almost four decades.

"The Trump administration is trying to keep these crucial trophy import decisions behind closed doors, and that's totally unacceptable", Tanya Sanerib, global legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Associated Press. As a result, the number of African elephants has shrunk from about 5 million a century ago to about 400,000 remaining.

And the numbers of these animals continue to decline. For forest elephants, the population declined by an estimated 62 per cent between 2002 and 2011.

As The Associated Press reports, Zinke has long held a position apparently at odds with the one expressed in January by Trump, arguing that hunting promotes wildlife conservation.