Opinion: Trump’s best decision so far: Doubling down on banning elephant trophies

An elephant is seen in the Gonarezhou National Park, southeast Zimbabwe, on September 2, 2015.
(Xu Lingui/TNS)

It’s astonishing how quickly a horrendous decision by the Department of the Interior to allow the import of elephant trophies into the U.S. got, rightly, stopped in its tracks. But the truly surprising part is that President Trump himself stopped it. Friday evening, he tweeted that he was putting the decision on hold until he could review all the conservation facts. Then Sunday night, Trump did something even more surprising — he doubled down and tweeted that he would be “very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal.”

Wow! Humane Society of the U.S. Chief Executive Wayne Pacelle couldn’t have put it any better. And, in fact, Pacelle tweeted that he was “tremendously heartened” that Trump had recognized the horror of trophy hunting.

So what happened here? To begin with, it’s insane that there is any legal hunting going on in Zambia and Zimbabwe, let alone anywhere on the African continent where elephant populations have been decimated over the decades, where a little under 100 elephants are illegally killed each day, and where poaching elephants has become a malevolent art. Poachers use drones and all manner of sophisticated surveillance and weaponry to get into areas where they are not allowed and kill elephants for their ivory tusks. In the process, they don’t care if they kill game wardens who are under-equipped to deal with sophisticated rings of violent poachers.


And where such hunting has been allowed in Africa, one way to discourage American residents from hunting certain animals is to deny permits for the import of the trophies — the heads and parts of the animals that were killed. If the hunters can’t bring home the souvenirs of their hunt, they usually won’t hunt and kill them in the first place.

So when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it would reverse a 2014 Obama administration decision to deny trophy hunters the opportunity to bring trophy tusks and other elephant parts from Zimbabwe into the United States, it sparked a huge outcry from a wide variety of animal welfare advocates. Pacelle denounced the decision on his blog on the Humane Society’s website. Well-known animal welfare advocates denounced it as well, but so did conservative pundits and politicians.

Lara Trump, who is married to the president’s son, Eric, has become deeply involved in animal welfare issues. (Even though her husband has done big-game hunting.) We don’t know if she specifically weighed in on this issue with her father-in-law, but we do know that she has become a serious advocate on these issues, showing once again, according to Pacelle, that the concern for animal welfare transcends political boundaries.

Hopefully, the restriction on importation of elephant trophies will stay in place. Rescinding it is just wrong and encourages a vile and damaging practice. And don’t be lulled into thinking hunting is good because hunters pay tens of thousands of dollars into conservation funds managed by the countries. First of all, there is nothing moral about paying money to kill an animal that should not be killed. Second, the money from tourism and photographic safaris far outweighs the dollars that hunters pay to hunt.


I look forward to seeing President Trump decide to keep this ban on imports of elephant parts in place.

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