Defying Trump, Fish and Wildlife Service reverses ban on ‘horror show’ of elephant and lion trophy imports

By on March 6, 2018 with 38 Comments

In a total departure from the position taken by President Trump in November when he called trophy hunting a “horror show,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has lifted existing bans on the import of elephant and lion trophies from certain African countries, and has signaled it will approve such imports on a case by case basis.

In a document filed in federal court late Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice said the FWS has withdrawn, effective March 1, Obama-era findings on the trophy hunting of elephants in Zimbabwe and Tanzania — findings that led to a ban on all imports of elephant trophies from these countries. Instead, the FWS will evaluate the import applications for elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Tanzania, as well as those from South Africa, Namibia, and Zambia, and other African countries on an individual basis. The agency has similarly withdrawn its findings for lion imports from Zimbabwe, Zambia, and South Africa, but signaled that it will review individual trophy import permits from those countries.

By this subterfuge, the FWS is attempting to do an end run around a U.S. court of appeals order from December that requires the agency to solicit public comment before making decisions about whether trophy hunting in a particular country promotes the conservation of a species threatened with extinction.

As you would expect, we’re hard at work on a legal response.

The FWS move will dramatically reduce transparency and undermine efforts to protect elephants and lions in Africa, whose populations are already under threat due to poaching and unsustainable levels of trophy hunting. The United States has listed African elephants and lions under the federal Endangered Species Act, and hunting trophies can only be imported if the federal government finds that killing them positively enhances the survival of the species. Under the previous administration, FWS made the decision that Zimbabwe – one of the most corrupt countries on earth – was not managing its elephant population in a sustainable manner. But in November 2017, under pressure from Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association, FWS said it was reversing those critical protections. Immediately following President Trump’s tweet, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke backtracked, saying that the decision would come under review.

Friday’s brief from the Department of Justice is the latest twist in a long-running court battle that has pitted conservation organizations and trophy hunters against the agency tasked with protecting species from extinction. In 2014, the Safari Club and NRA teamed up to file lawsuits to overturn the Obama administration’s decision to prohibit the import of elephant trophies from Tanzania and Zimbabwe. HSUS and HSI intervened in the court case to assist the federal government in defending those protections. After the November 2017 decision by the FWS to reverse Obama era protections for elephants, The HSUS and HSI joined with other conservation organizations to file a lawsuit challenging the agency’s decision. This time, the SCI and the NRA intervened to protect their members’ financial interests and senseless desire to slaughter elephants and lions, and to import their tusks and hides for trophies and bragging rights.

In December, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued an order upholding the merits of FWS’s decision to prohibit trophy imports when hunting is unsustainable, but ruling that FWS must comply with procedural requirements that allow public participation during the decision-making process. Seeking to extend this ruling, HSUS attorneys asked the federal district court in D.C. to overturn the November 2017 authorization of elephant and lion imports from Zimbabwe.

There is no doubt that the FWS, under its current leadership, is kowtowing to the interests of wealthy trophy hunters, a distinct and undeserving minority. Continuing to show support for the hunting and gun lobby, the FWS recently established an International Wildlife Conservation Council to promote trophy hunting by Americans abroad. The council is loaded with representatives of the trophy hunting industry, including SCI and NRA officials, the proverbial foxes in the henhouse.

It is probably no coincidence that SCI recently relocated its headquarters to Washington, D.C., and we’ll be ready to confront them in the courts and in the halls of Congress. But with men like Greg Sheehan, principal deputy director of FWS, doing SCI’s bidding in the government, things have gone too far. It amounts to this: the swamp just got deeper, darker, and dirtier. The president said it was a terrible decision last year, and nothing has changed. It’s still a terrible decision. Our legal team is assessing its next steps and you can rest assured that we will be out there, fighting this decision until there is a better path forward for these beleaguered animals.

Tell Secretary Zinke to protect elephants and lions >>

Humane Society International, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative), Wildlife/Marine Mammals

Subscribe to the Blog

Enter your email address below to receive updates each time we publish new content.


Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. M. Stratton says:

    Despicable. Nothing good comes out of an agency that lacks transparency.

  2. Debra says:

    It’s wrong

  3. Frankie Banks says:

    Please don’t let them kill beautiful animals, to hang on a wall.

    • Corrine says:

      Save the animals they are sweet baby animals they don’t disurve this pain they have real feelings they cry and to kill these pore animals are sick.

  4. Jerry Allen says:


  5. George Nagle says:

    Kitty, I agree with all of your points, and glad you’re on top of this. This case by case basis is a total sham. FWS has reinstated trophy hunting for elephants and lions, and is trying to sneak it through w/o any headlines that could cause public backlash. And of course, Trump remains silent. It’s such a sham that the public thinks that FWS’s mission is to protect and conserve wildlife, but in reality, they are an agency staffed with a bunch of trophy hunters running a blood “sport” trophy hunting business under the guise of conservation. The system is broken.

    • Ashley Pankratz says:

      I couldn’t agree more, George Nagle. The vast majority of people are opposed to trophy hunting, which is truly what all modern hunting has become. The good that may come of atrocities such as this is that the curtain is pulled back, and the broken system that you reference is revealed for what it is. How telling that Mr. Zinke immediately reversed the lead ammunition ban on wildlife refuges upon taking office, when as we know, lead ammo left in gut piles or unretrieved, hunted animals poisons scavengers and endangered birds of prey. Telling, too, that within his initial weeks Mr. Zinke purchased the arcade game “Big Buck Hunter” for the staff lunch room–hardly a conservationist, and 100 % a trophy hunter. His office is well-stocked with prized hunting knives. That is the mentality we’re up against, and that is the face of modern hunting–whether of African wildlife or our own domestic “game” species. Exposing the sham is the only the first step, and we absolutely need HSUS to take an unwavering stance on this. Elephants and lions matter–so, too, do deer, wolves, bears, and every animal whose intrinsic value is far greater than a head on a wall.

      • Nicki Koutsoukos says:

        Please let us know what we can do to help. My son and I are so very sad. Thank you for all you do for these innocent animals who deserve protection.

    • Avril-joy says:

      This is to Awfull for words there won’t be any wild life left for the future generation s to enjoy and elephant numbers are few as it is we should put the hunters heads on a pole to stop them and what about the suffering of the infants left behind they don’t check to see if there are infants depending on there mothers its all about the money so bloody S@d

  6. fred domer says:

    We had sent President Trump a sincere thank you for taking decisive action to protect the elephants. Apparently what the President said was nothing but lies. Unbelievable!

    • Donna says:

      You should thank his daughter-in-law Laura Trump as she was the one pushing for the ban. She is more involved with animal issues then anyone else in the family.

      • John Knightly says:

        Is that the same Laura Trump who decorated her babies room with stuffed animal trophy heads hanging on the wall? Google the headline below to check out.

        “Just like daddy! Keen hunter Eric Trump and wife Lara take cameras on a tour of their son’s safari-themed nursery – which even features stuffed animal HEADS mounted on the wall”

        • Greer Ashton says:

          Don’t you just love it when they pretend to love (dead) animals only when they’re useful to them?

    • Atia Jarnstedt says:

      We should all know by now that whatever positive comment may be uttered by this president publicly will be either quickly or eventually be reversed – I bet he hopes that no one will notice his private reversal(s)!

  7. Niccole White says:

    This is horrific

  8. Carolynn Huerta says:

    This is disgusting.

  9. Rachael says:

    There is absolutely no reason for this to be allowed

  10. Teresa Tebbe says:


    • George Nagle says:

      Teresa, nature has managed wildlife perfectly well until man interfered and screwed everything up and started trying to manage populations. Of course, the populations they manage are always the trophy hunting populations. All other wildlife populations seem to manage themselves fine. Once a species, coyote or deer, etc. reach their biological carrying capacity the sexual reproduction dynamics changes and slows down. Food supply has a lot to do with a populations carrying capacity in a region. These populations manage themselves. Removing 20% or 30% of a population actually triggers compensatory reproduction that quickly replaces the 30% reduction and often increases the population. So you can’t use convention thinking when trying to analyze wildlife populations and apply shoot from the hip solutions, i.e. wildlife population dynamics are often counter intuitive. These reproduction principles explain why hunters kill 300,000+ deer every year in Pa, and why it has absolutely no impact on reducing the deer population.

    • George Nagle says:

      Teresa, if there is any “overpopulaton”, this condition was intentionally caused by the wildlife agency to provide more targets to their hunter constituents.


      For example, The Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) artificially propagates the deer population for its hunter constituents, and is directly responsible for the increase in the deer population.

      “Deer are [artificially] managed on a Maximum Sustained Yield (M.S.Y.) principle to produce surpluses for hunter recreation. One M.S.Y. method is to kill excesses of bucks in order to alter the natural 1 to 1 male/female s*x ratio, leaving 5 to 15 females for each male. This maximizes fawn production. Another M.S.Y. method is habitat manipulation. For example, the Wildlife Division of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in Michigan increased the deer herd from 400,000 to one million by clear cutting 1.3 million acres of state forest to create deer browse. According to officials, this was done “because a forest managed by nature cannot produce a fraction of the deer needed by half a million hunters.” (The American Hunting Myth, Ron Baker, 1985) . . .

      09/12/2016 PGC Press Release. The PGC is burning its way toward 10,000 acres of better wildlife habitat. … This is especially great news for deer hunters. The regeneration of tree species after a burn can result in a 400-percent increase in available food for deer, maximizing the habitat’s ability to provide for more whitetails. … “The key to having more abundant deer populations is by providing better deer habitat,” said Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough. In order to increase the deer density, the only responsible and sustainable option is to increase the habitat quality for deer. … “The agency has budgeted $2 million to improve habitat through prescribed fire this year,” said Hough. “This is just another example of how hunters’ license dollars are being invested to improve hunting.” . . .

      The PGC is running a blood “sport” trophy hunting business for a small minority of PA’s population (5%) masquerading under the guise of conservation. It’s time for this antiquated agency and deer management hunting paradigm to evolve from a game commission into a real conservation agency where all public stake holders hold seats on its management board.

    • Ashley Pankratz says:

      Teresa, I absolutely agree with you that hunting is all about ego, but what state wildlife agencies do not want the public to know is that such agencies profit from purposely inflating “game” animal populations. Compensatory rebound in deer, for example, ensures that the population bounces back (and then some!) after hunting season. They can then claim the need for further hunting, year after year. Natural predators of ungulates, such as coyotes, wolves, and black bears are slaughtered since they are perceived to compete with human hunters for prey. There is no need to hunt animals, ever–and “overpopulation” of any species quickly solves itself, no human intervention needed. It’s just the argument hunters/trappers rely on to justify their blood sport.

    • Greer Ashton says:

      Teresa, please don’t let anyone tell you that animal populations must be “thinned” when there are too many of them. First of all, what does “too many” mean, and who gets to decide? For some people, seeing just one animal is too many and complaints from people is just what state wildlife agencies respond to with more hunting, which is exactly what they want!

  11. Mary Reider says:

    Stop trophy hunting! And stop importing dead trophy animals and/or their parts into the U.S. If you aren’t going to eat it, don’t shoot it! Your jobs are paid for by U.S. taxpayers, therefore you work for us, not for SCI or any other special interest group! I say “NO”!

  12. Trisha says:

    Please NO trophy hunting! The hunting takes from everyone. The animals have feelings and families.

  13. Inger says:

    This is unacceptable!

  14. Pam says:


  15. Anne Barton says:

    Thank you for taking on this cause. What a despicable group this FWS leadership is. And the president is right there with them.

  16. Ashley Pankratz says:

    I suppose “case by case” basis means Eric and Don. Jr. will be able to import whatever trophies they choose. This decision no doubt further bolsters the administration’s good standing with the NRA, which has explicitly stated its intention to fight animal activists and those who oppose the recreational killing of wildlife. What a disgrace–yet again.

    • Natalie Jarnstedt says:

      How can one ever forget that Trump told the NRA “I will NEVER let you down”; after over $30 million in support, more than spent on any other candidate in history, is there any question that he doesn’t “owe” them something?

  17. Natalie Jarnstedt says:

    It’s all about “the boyz” – must keep those brainless macho moron kids and Don Jr.’s personal choice Secretary Zinke happy – all they care about is “upholding” the 2nd Amendment which doesn’t even include a single word about hunting!

  18. Anne Barton says:

    I am grateful to HSUS for taking this on and also for its past support of non-lethal methods for managing deer/human conflict here in the US. Deer hunting is also trophy hunting despite the pretense that it is to reduce conflicts with humans, or even to provide food for the hungry!. Hope HSUS will continue and expand it’s support of our native deer as well as African elephants.

  19. Marcia Goldman says:

    PLEASE DONT LET THIS BAN BE REVERSED. I was in Zambia last year and these animals have the right to live

  20. John Knightly says:

    Ann Barton, I totally agree with your sentiments!

  21. Billita Jacobsen says:

    The horror show will continue and I’d like to see the HSUS use the huge numbers of members that it has to fight hunting. We have more numbers than the NRA and need to stop being afraid of stepping on toes. People who hunt are sociopaths and we need to raise our voices that it’s time for it to stop. Killing elephants, lions, bobcats, river otters, deer–none of it is okay. Can you organize so like-minded members can get together in their states to fight the ever-increasing numbers of animals killed on our public lands?

    • Greer Ashton says:

      I absolutely agree! It’s time to stand up and be counted, harnessing the power of HSUS members, their intent to STOP the horrors inflicted upon all animals used in entertainment, for trophies, food, in testing, etc. The NRA and their surrogates grab every chance they can to spew their propaganda, why allow them to grab the spotlight every time?

  22. Judy Merrick says:

    Keep fighting like hell!

  23. Heidi LaFleche says:

    Please tell us which of our elected officials we should contact to STOP this cruelty and keep the ban in place. Thank you!

  24. Cathy Feild says:

    Please stop the killing of elephants, lions, and other beautiful animals.

Share a Comment

The HSUS encourages open discussion, and we invite you to share your opinion on our issues. By participating on this page, you are agreeing to our commenting policy.
Please enter your name and email address below before commenting. Your email address will not be published.