Zinke’s attacks on wildlife at odds with critique of trophy hunting from White House, American public
During her recent trip to Africa, first lady Melania Trump made more than a few headlines while spending time in the company of wild animals. She fed a baby elephant at an elephant orphanage and went on a safari in Kenya, snapping photographs of zebras, impalas, giraffes and hippopotamuses. Spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham told reporters that the first lady “thinks animals are precious and she doesn’t like big-game hunting.”
The first lady is not the only person in the White House to express her distaste for trophy hunting. President Donald Trump has called trophy hunting of animals in Africa a “horror show.” One of his early actions as president in 2017 was to issue an executive order stating that it shall be the policy of the executive branch to strengthen enforcement of federal law, including laws on the illegal smuggling and trafficking of wildlife.
These communications notwithstanding, President Trump’s Department of the Interior has made it easier for American trophy hunters to import trophies of endangered and threatened animals. Under Secretary Ryan Zinke, kowtowing to wealthy American trophy hunting interests is now the norm, and the agency has enabled a stepping up of threats to some of Africa’s most precious and endangered wildlife, already under intense pressure from the activities of poachers and wildlife traffickers.
Just last month, we saw this in action when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its intention to grant a Texas billionaire a permit to import the body parts of a critically endangered black rhino he killed in Namibia.
It’s not like we couldn’t see this nightmare coming. In 2017, the Department of the Interior formed the International Wildlife Conservation Council, which looks less like an advisory board of experts than a trophy hunting trade association with high access to government. The IWCC is loaded with individuals associated with Safari Club International, the firearms and ammunition lobby, and professional and celebrity hunters. These folks are bad news for wildlife wherever they go, and they appear to be using the Department of the Interior to destroy any and all barriers to international trophy hunting and the import of trophy heads and parts by U.S. citizens, all at taxpayers’ expense. In August, the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International, with a coalition of wildlife protection organizations, filed a lawsuit against Zinke and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to disband the IWCC on the grounds that it is operating in violation of federal law.
In another move last year, the FWS adopted new rules allowing the import of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and captive lion trophies from South Africa – decisions the HSUS is also opposing in court.
Most seriously, in July, the Department of the Interior proposed major changes to the Endangered Species Act that would greatly weaken this bedrock law for protecting endangered and threatened animals and their habitats. The proposed changes would make it harder to secure federal protections for endangered and threatened species and would also make the process of removing species from the ESA easier.
Secretary Zinke and the trophy hunting enthusiasts are in a minority. Most Americans, including, it appears, President Trump and the first lady, do not support trophy hunting, and 90 percent support upholding the ESA, which has saved more than 99 percent of listed species from going extinct. We need our nation’s policies to enforce existing laws that protect wildlife, not jeopardize them. Trophy hunting is indeed the worst kind of horror show, and our Department of the Interior should focus on ending wildlife trafficking and poaching, not giving away the store to the very people responsible for killing animals all over the planet for fun.