Trump delays new policy on importing elephant parts

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President Donald Trump said Friday he’s delaying a new policy allowing the body parts of African elephants shot for sport to be imported until he can review “all conservation facts.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday it would allow such importation, arguing that encouraging wealthy big-game hunters to kill the threatened species would help raise money for conservation programs.

Animal rights advocates and environmental groups criticized the decision. California Rep. Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, urged the administration to reverse the policy, calling it the “wrong move at the wrong time.”

Trump tweeted Friday that the policy had been “under study for years.” He said he would put the decision “on hold” and review it with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Zinke issued a statement later Friday saying: “President Trump and I have talked and both believe that conservation and healthy herds are critical. As a result, in a manner compliant with all applicable laws, rules and regulations, the issuing of permits is being put on hold as the decision is being reviewed.”

Royce questioned the action because of concerns not only about African wildlife but U.S. national security, citing the political upheaval in Zimbabwe, where the longtime president was placed under house arrest this week by the military.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said in a written notice issued Thursday that permitting elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia to be brought back as trophies will raise money for conservation programs. The change marks a shift in efforts to stop the importation of elephant tusks and hides, overriding a 2014 ban imposed by the Obama administration. The new policy applies to the remains of African elephants killed between January 2016 and December 2018.

Royce said that when carefully regulated, conservation hunts could help the wildlife population, but “that said, this is the wrong move at the wrong time.”

He described the perilous situation in Zimbabwe, where the U.S. Embassy has advised Americans to limit their travel outdoors.

The world’s largest land mammal, the African elephant has been classified as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act since 1979.

Illicit demand for elephant ivory has led to devastating losses from illegal poaching as the natural habitat available for the animals to roam has also dwindled by more than half. As a result, the number of African elephants has shrunk from about 5 million a century ago to about 400,000 remaining. And that number continues to decline each year.

Two other lawmakers, Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., co-chairs of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, assailed the administration’s decision. (AP)

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