Terry Schwadron

Nov 18, 2017

4 min read

Stomping on Elephants

Terry H. Schwadron

Nov. 18, 2017

Perhaps you, like me, have a grandson or some other young person in your circle who is so steeped in the ins and outs of the animal kingdom that elephants and lions can enter into almost any conversation we have. Gabriel, who is almost five, likes to go through the alphabet listing all the animals he or you might come up with starting with the next letter.

We’ve had conversations about how some species actually need to be protected before they diminish out of existence.

So, it seems particularly difficult to consider how I might explain the actions this week of the Trump administration in deciding that it is perfectly ok for American hunters to shoot endangered African elephants just to be able to post trophies on their walls. And then announcing on Friday night that maybe he shouldn’t, and delaying the orders from his Interior Department. In a tweet, of course, the president Late Friday evening, President Trump said he would “put big game trophy decision on hold until such time as I review all conservation facts.”

Apparently, this is what passes as thoughtful policy-making in this administration.

Specifically, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) had determined that hunting African elephants in Zimbabwe and Zambia “will enhance the survival of the species in the wild,” which is the standard by which officials judge whether to allow imports of parts — known as trophies — of the animals. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that large sums paid for permits to hunt the animals could actually help them “by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation,” according to an agency statement.

“Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation,” an FWS spokesman said in a statement, after hunting group Safari Club International announced the policy.

As usual for this administration, the new policy reversed an Obama-era ban on bringing into the United States the heads of heads of elephants killed in two African countries. This time it affects imports between January, 2016 and the end of 2018.

The African elephant has been declared a threatened species by the United States and international authorities. The obvious argument is that allowing import of body parts would further endanger elephants.

But to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who sees his role as to promote hunting, “Some of my best memories are hunting and fishing with my dad and granddad, and then later teaching my own kids to hunt and fish. That’s something I want more families to experience,” Zinke said last September, according to The Hill newsletter.

The National Rifle Association praised the elephant trophy decision. “By lifting the import ban on elephant trophies in Zimbabwe and Zambia the Trump Administration underscored, once again, the importance of sound scientific wildlife management and regulated hunting to the survival and enhancement of game species in this country and worldwide,” Chris Cox, executive director of the group’s Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement.

Animal rights groups slammed the policy. “Let’s be clear: Elephants are on the list of threatened species; the global community has rallied to stem the ivory trade; and now, the U.S. government is giving American trophy hunters the green light to kill them,” Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, wrote in a blog post. “What kind of message does it send to say to the world that poor Africans who are struggling to survive cannot kill elephants in order to use or sell their parts to make a living, but that it’s just fine for rich Americans to slay the beasts for their tusks to keep as trophies?” he continued.

The Interior Department did not specify what had changed in the two countries. The Washington Post reported that the African elephant population has declined 6 percent in recent years, according to the Great Elephant Census.

The shift in U.S. policy comes just days after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke established an “International Wildlife Conservation Council” to advise him on how to increase Americans’ public awareness of conservation, wildlife enforcement and the “economic benefits that result from U.S. citizens traveling abroad to hunt.”

A representative of the group, along with several other hunting activists, joined Zinke in his office on his first day as he signed one secretarial order aimed at expanding hunting and fishing on federal lands and another reversing an Obama-era policy that would have phased out the use of lead ammunition and tackle in national wildlife refuges by 2022.

Clearly, the U.S. working class is not taking pleasure hunting trips to Africa, looking to bring back elephant heads. So, on top of all else, this is another nicety for the leisure class. There were reports this week that lions will be next.

What my grandson’s parents are trying to teach Gabe and his sister, Minna, is respect for their environment and understanding of getting along with others. I don’t know what Trump tells his grandchildren, but this policy does neither. Of course, it doesn’t say much about thoughtful decision-making either.