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- President to delay action ‘until such time as I review all conservation facts’
- Leonardo DiCaprio: decision to reverse ban on elephant parts ‘reprehensible’
Donald Trump said he would delay his administration’s decision to allow the importing of elephant body parts from Zimbabwe “until such time as I review all conservation facts”.
The postponement came just one day after the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) indicated it would reverse an Obama administration ban on importing elephant hunting trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia.
The agency said Thursday that the decision “will help protect wild elephants for future generations” because the money generated by US big-game hunters seeking trophies helps fund conservation efforts in many African countries.
Many conservationists opposed the decision, however, arguing that the Trump administration was pandering to big-game hunters.
“I’m shocked and horrified, but this is the road this administration is taking,” the primatologist Jane Goodall told the Guardian on Friday, before Trump’s announcement of the postponement. “One by one, they are undoing every protection for the environment that was put in place by their predecessors.
“It’s very rare that money raised by legal trade in ivory or rhino husks gets out to protect the animals,” Goodall added. “It goes into the pockets of the safari outfits that take the clients, or goes into the hands of corrupt government officials.”
Goodall cited Trump’s stance on drilling for oil in the Arctic national wildlife refuge and on the listing of endangered species as other areas of concern in his administration’s environmental record.
Early on Saturday, Trump retweeted support for his move to pause the decision.
Speaking to the Guardian before the delay was announced, actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio said he “could not believe” the Trump administration had taken the step.
DiCaprio later described the decision to reverse the ban on elephant body parts in the US as “reprehensible.”
He said: “In this policy change, the US loses its global leadership position in putting an end to the ivory crisis.”
Terry Tamminen, the CEO of Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, added that other than perhaps from Trump’s two sons, there had been no discernible pressure on the administration to lift the ban. He called on the administration to be guided by the science of an issue and to take public consultation before taking action.
“The timing of this could not be worse since we were just beginning to get some traction on protecting this species.” Like Goodall, Tamminen disputed the notion that a limited trade would generate revenue that could be used to protect the species.
“A living elephant in Africa is worth as much as a million dollars to a community in terms of its value to the eco-tourism trade. Im sure that exceeds even the value of legal or sustainable hunting could possibly generate.
“If you open the door to trafficking in elephant parts again, it becomes very difficult to separate legal ivory from illegal ivory. It re-opens the door to other countries to go back to practices that lead to the decimation of elephant populations.”
On Friday evening, Ryan Zinke, the secretary of the interior, issued a statement that read: “President Trump and I have talked and both believe that conservation and healthy herds are critical. As a result, in a manner compliant with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations, the issuing of permits is being put on hold as the decision is being reviewed.”
Elephant populations in Africa have declined precipitously over the past 15 years, despite crackdowns on poaching and the ivory trade.
The Obama administration implemented the ban on importing elephant trophies from Zimbabwe in 2014 due to a lack of information about the status of the country’s population and conservation program. African elephants are protected under the US Endangered Species Act.
On Thursday, FWS said its decision to lift the ban was based on “more than two years of extensive assessments”.
But the agency raised concerns about its motivation by announcing the policy change at the African Wildlife Consultative Forum in Tanzania – an event co-hosted by the hunting rights group Safari Club International (SCI). SCI had joined the National Rifle Association in a court challenge to the 2014 ban. Both groups praised the FWS reversal on Thursday.
Trump’s two adult sons, Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump, are both big-game hunters. Donald Trump Jr has been photographed with the corpse of a elephant, holding its severed tail in his hand.
Ed Royce of California, the Republican chairman of the House committee on foreign affairs, on Friday criticized the decision to lift the ban, calling it the “wrong move at the wrong time”.
Zimbabwe is in the midst of considerable political upheaval, after the army seized power from 93-year-old Robert Mugabe this week. Mugabe has ruled the country for 37 years.