The United States allows poachers to import some trophies from African countries

The US Fish and Wildlife Service notified some fishermen last month that it would allow six trophy elephants to be imported into the United States from Zimbabwe. The carcasses of African elephants will be the first to be allowed into the country in five years.

The decision reflects an agency-wide comment on the processing of import permits for elephant trophies that were put in place during the Trump administration in November 2017, and since then have banned any elephants’ tusks, tails or feet from entering the country.

The reversal of that decision is a result of the September 2021 settlement with the Dallas Safari Club, a large fishing organization that sued the Trump administration in December 2019 to temporarily stop processing trophy permits. The Ministry of Environment and Tourism of Namibia was a plaintiff in the case. The Fish and Wildlife Service is required under the settlement to process the permits of the 11 fishermen named in the lawsuit, as well as 73 other pending permit applications. This could bring additional prizes to the United States from countries that allow limited hunting of elephants for the sport.

According to a Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson, the parties have negotiated a settlement they consider to be in the public interest and a fair, equitable, adequate and equitable resolution of the disputes set forth in the plaintiffs’ complaint.

The service’s decision to settle the lawsuit continues a long-running dispute between hunters and biodiversity experts over whether trophy hunting is beneficial or harmful to large game species, particularly endangered animals such as the two types of African elephants. It has also drawn criticism from activists and biodiversity groups who question why the agency has not fought the lawsuit or reimposed a similar ban that had been imposed during the Obama administration.

They noted that the move contradicted President Biden’s campaign commitment to limit fishing imports. Critics also say this is the latest in a series of confusing steps the Biden administration has taken to succumb to remaining lawsuits from the Trump administration and fail to invest in more Endangered Species Act protections, such as preserving more gray wolves. They argue that these actions show that Mr. Biden has not kept his word on environmental priorities.

“We expected the Biden administration to have put everything on hold and taken a hard look and made some tough decisions that we probably shouldn’t do given the biodiversity crisis,” said Tanya Snirib, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “So, to make the reality quite the opposite, it sounds like a big hit.”

For cup hunters and big game groups, the dip came as a long overdue win.

Lynne Easter, 57, a Texas equine vet whose trophy permit was approved under the settlement for stalking Zimbabwe in 2017.

The majority of bounty hunters are from the United States. Under the federal Endangered Species Act, hunters must demonstrate before importing the trophy that killing the animal helps in the “positive improvement” of the species.

The agency spokesperson said the Fish and Wildlife Service’s perspective, which predated Biden’s election, was that trophy hunting could qualify as a species improvement if it was “legal and well-regulated hunting as part of a sound management program.”

Big game hunters say the money they spend on hunting is subsequently invested in rehabilitating the species and economically benefiting neighboring communities, preventing overfishing. They also say that hunting certain animals such as elephants and lions can benefit the health of the herd in general.

Fishermen can spend upwards of $40,000 on African fishing in Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Zambia and Namibia, and many of them win rights through bidding wars held at national conferences like the annual Safari Club Conference.

But groups like Humane Society International say hunting the species does not benefit their survival and that the Fish and Wildlife Service should not allow paid hunting to qualify as a way to improve species, especially on animals that the United States considers threatened. In 2021, the International Union for Conservation of Nature revised its listing for both African elephant species to highlight that both species are at greater risk of extinction.

Critics also say there is little evidence that money paid for hunting ultimately helps the species recover, especially when rampant corruption has been discovered in many of the countries where African elephants live.

“There is no evidence that trophy hunting enhances conservation of the species,” said Teresa Telecki, zoologist and vice president of wildlife at Humane Society International.

When Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, great game hunters predicted that it would be easier to import trophies for elephants. A week before Thanksgiving in 2017, the Fish and Wildlife Service reversed an Obama-era ban, allowing poachers to import elephant memorabilia from several African countries. The news ignited a storm of indignation and criticism, with even loyal allies of Mr. Trump warning that the move could further “The terrible poaching of elephants. “

Just 24 hours later, Mr. Trump tweeted that he would comment the decision on “suspension”. After this tweet, not a single Elephant Cup was approved for import into the US.

“Because the president found bounty hunting to be distasteful, he struck down the law with a tweet, which is not how the administrative process is supposed to go,” said George Lyon, an attorney who represented the Dallas Safari Club.

So far, the Wildlife Service said it has processed eight permits. In addition to the six she has allowed, she has denied two, and is expected to judge more in the coming months. Mr. Lyon estimated that as of last September, nearly 300 permits for elephant trophies from various African countries were awaiting processing.

Mr Easter says he is wasting no time to enjoy his legal victory. His elephant tusks are already being prepared for shipment to his home in Texas.

“They will hang in the living room of my house,” he said, “and I will remember this elephant for the rest of my life.”

He has a hunt for another Africa Cup booked for August.

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