The Trump administration has lifted an Obama-era ban on importing legally hunted elephant remains — known as trophies — from Zimbabwe and Zambia, National Public Radio reports.
If that sounds familiar it’s because this is the second time in recent months the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), a federal agency under the Department of the Interior, has moved to ease trophy import restrictions. This time around, agency head Ryan Zinke — a hunting advocate — appears to be working more discreetly.
When the FWS initially announced it would lift the ban in November, outrage ensued. Criticism came from conservationists, as well as celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres and Leonardo DiCaprio; President Donald Trump said he would pause deregulation “until such time as I review all conservation facts.”
But in a memo dated March 1, the FWS writes that it will now consider imports “on a case-by-case basis” rather than banning outright trophies from certain countries. The agency’s original decision was based on the theory that money paid by big game hunters assists conservation efforts. But groups such as the Humane Society and Save the Elephants say it’s not a good idea in these two countries, especially at this time.
The agency’s position also appeared at odds with Trump’s public remarks. Two days after pausing the ban, Trump said on Twitter that he would be “very hard-pressed” to change his opinion “that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal.”
In a January interview with British broadcaster Piers Morgan, the U.S. President said: “I didn’t want elephants killed and stuffed and have the tusks brought back into this [country].” Addressing Zinke’s claim that hunting license fees would fund local conservation efforts, Trump added: “In that case, the money was going to a government that was probably taking the money, OK?”
The latest FWS memo cites a Washington D.C. court ruling in favor of a lawsuit brought by Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association. According to NPR, the court determined that the Obama administration did not adequately observe rules around passing the ban, such as inviting public comment.