In a tweet to more than 40 million followers, President Trump announced this evening that he’s “put big game trophy decision on hold,” signaling discomfort with the trajectory of public discussion concerning the Interior Department’s enormously controversial announcement on Thursday to allow imports of elephant and lion trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia.
The agency’s announcement, which reversed a 2014 Obama administration decision to deny trophy hunters the opportunity to bring trophy tusks and other parts from Zimbabwe into the United States, triggered delirium among the nation’s small fraternity of big-game hunting enthusiasts, but provoked widespread condemnation among Americans of all political stripes. Long-time animal advocates such as Ellen DeGeneres and Ricky Gervais criticized the action, but so too did major conservative pundits, including Laura Ingraham and Mike Savage – two of the president’s biggest supporters during the presidential campaign.
“Put big game trophy decision on hold until such time as I review all conservation facts,” wrote the president in a tweet this evening. The interior secretary confirmed the action in a separate tweet.
Put big game trophy decision on hold until such time as I review all conservation facts. Under study for years. Will update soon with Secretary Zinke. Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 18, 2017
We hope that after consulting with Interior Secretary Zinke, the president will direct the department to maintain a strict ban on any imports of sport-hunted African elephant and lion trophies. Both species are protected under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act, and their populations have been in steep decline, as a consequence of a variety of human-caused factors, including trade in the parts of these animals. The primary tool the agency invokes for foreign-listed species under the authority of the Endangered Species Act is to restrict imports of parts of animals into the United States. In short, if American trophy hunters cannot import the heads, tusks, and hides of the animals, they are unlikely to kill them in the first place.
Keeping elephants and lions alive is a key to economic progress in so many African nations. Millions of tourists trek to natural areas throughout Africa to see elephants, lions, and the extraordinary wildlife on the continent, collectively contributing billions to the economies of wildlife-rich nations. Dramatically fewer in number than wildlife watchers, trophy hunters generate minuscule dollars in relative terms. What’s more, trophy hunting robs these nations of their greatest resources, diminishing the wildlife-watching experiences of so many tourists. Any U.S. sanctioning of trophy hunting sends a particularly contradictory message at a time when the world has been rallying to save elephants and lions.
As I tweeted earlier this evening, we are grateful to President Trump for reassessing elephant and lion trophy hunting imports. This is the kind of trade we don’t need. We hope that he hears an outpouring of concern over any plan to promote the killing of these species and that he holds firm and makes the protections indefinite.