Groups Sue Trump Admin Over Elephant & Lion Trophy Imports

Our lawsuit argues that the administration's decisions are illegal, primarily because such imports will not “enhance the survival of the species” as required under the Endangered Species Act.
Credit: Elly Pepper

NRDC and the Center for Biological Diversity today sued the Trump administration for allowing elephant and lion trophy imports from Zimbabwe.

As I wrote previously, last week the Trump administration lifted the ban on African elephant trophy imports, which was imposed by the Obama administration in 2014. At the same time, it also began allowing lion trophy imports from Zimbabwe for the first time since the species was listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) in January 2016.

Our suit argues that these decisions are illegal, primarily because such imports will not “enhance the survival of the species” as required under the Endangered Species Act.

The president indicated via two promising tweets last Friday and this morning that he's changing his tune on trophy hunting, but the fate of elephants and lions is too important to trust to Twitter. Trump’s tweets are ambiguous and beg the question of what exactly he plans to do. If he’s putting elephant trophy imports from Zimbabwe “on hold,” as suggested by his Friday tweet, it’s simply not enough. That’s because the positive enhancement finding the Trump administration made for Zimbabwe’s elephants would remain in effect, allowing the president to quietly begin issuing elephant trophy permits under the decision in the future.

If, however, President Trump is actually going to revoke the positive enhancement finding, which could be a possibility given today’s tweet, it would be a huge win. But we need to hold his feet to the fire to ensure he does that until that happens.

And what about lions? Thus far, most of the public outrage has been on elephants. But the tweets from both President Trump and U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke don’t seem to apply to lions, which suffered a 43 percent decline in the last 21 years due to trophy hunting, the lion bone trade, habitat loss, and other factors.

Finally, there’s the issue of precedent. Given the Trump administration’s closeness with the trophy hunting industry, we’re anticipating more questionable trophy hunting decisions in the future—even if they might not concern elephants. As I wrote previously, the president announced the creation of a new committee just last week to advise him on such matters.

We want to force the administration to clarify these decisions so the American public knows exactly what’s going on—not for them to be announced by Safari Club International, stumbled over by the White House press secretary, and then cast into doubt via Twitter. If the Trump administration is going to make these sorts of decisions, it needs to own them—they can’t have their cake and eat it, too.

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