Appointees had put elephants & lions back on trophy hit list
WASHINGTON D.C.––Tweeting “Put big game trophy decision on hold until such time as I review all conservation facts,” U.S. President Donald Trump on November 17, 2017 unexpectedly suspended U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services decisions –– trumpeted by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and praised by both Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association –– which would have re-opened the U.S. to imports of elephant and lion hunting trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Finished Trump, “Under study for years. Will update soon with Secretary Zinke. Thank you!”
Affirmed Zinke, “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 [for elephant and lion trophy imports] is put on hold as the decision is being reviewed.”
Said House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ed Royce earlier in the day, “The administration should withdraw [the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service] decisions until Zimbabwe stabilizes. Elephants and other big game in Africa are blood currency for terrorist organizations, and they are being killed at an alarming rate. Stopping poaching isn’t just about saving the world’s most majestic animals for the future,” Royce added. “It’s about our national security.”
Shark fins & swim bladders
Just a week earlier, creating a noisy distraction from provisions of a Republican budget bill that would gut protections for animals and habitat, Trump opened six days of high-profile administrative nose-thumbing at Americans who care about elephants, lions, and other endangered species by feasting on shark fin soup and the swim bladder of either totoaba or bahaba fish at a November 11, 2017 state dinner in Hanoi, Vietnam.
“Shark finning was banned in U.S. waters under the 2000 Shark Finning Prohibition Act, and in 2010 the Shark Conservation Act further required that all sharks caught in U.S. waters, apart from smooth dogfish, be brought to shore with their fins naturally attached to the carcass,” reported Sofia Lotto Persio for Newsweek, after describing Trump’s meal.
Bahaba, totoaba, & vaquita porpoise
Totoaba, found only in the Sea of Cortez at the northern end of the Gulf of California, are protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and are the Red List of Threatened maintained by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Illegal netting for totoaba has also driven the vaquita porpoise to the brink of extinction. Totoaba poaching has accelerated since circa 2010, coinciding with the discovery of Southeast chefs serving upscale clients that the swim bladders of totoaba taste similar to those of the bahaba, a much larger but distantly related fish native to the South China Sea, also now on the IUCN Red List.
(See Vaquita captures suspended after death of female of breeding age, Fishers’ riot may hasten extinction of the vaquita porpoise and Are vaquita captures for breeding or for show? Mexican report raises question.)
“The failed Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, NJ, was reportedly serving shark fin soup in 2013,” wrote Persio. Twittered Trump to critics, “Sorry folks, I’m just not a fan of sharks—and don’t worry, they will be around long after we are gone.”
Elephant hunting trophies
By mid-week Trump’s feast on rare and endangered marine species was upstaged by rumors of a notice published in the November 17, 2017 edition of the Federal Register which appeared to reopen the import of elephant hunting trophies from Zimbabwe.
Initial reports based on statements by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service representatives suggested that imports of elephant hunting trophies from Zambia would also be reopened, but the November 17, 2017 Federal Register notice made no mention of Zambia. Another announcement pertaining to Zambian elephants may follow.
Stated the Federal Register notice, “The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has made a finding that the killing of African elephant trophy animals in Zimbabwe, on or after January 21, 2016, and on or before December 31, 2018, will enhance the survival of the African elephant. Applications to import trophies hunted during this time period will be considered to have met the enhancement requirement, unless we issue a new finding based on available information. This determination does not affect previous determinations by the Service regarding trophy animals taken before January 21, 2016.”
Coup destabilizes Zimbabwe
“The news came the same week Zimbabwe had a coup that left its president, Robert Mugabe, under house arrest,” observed Scott Malone of Reuters.
Noted Daily Mail columnist Piers Morgan, “Mugabe was infamous for encouraging the poaching and illegal export of ivory tusks. He even celebrated his birthday last year by feasting on an elephant. Under his evil 37-year regime, Zimbabwe’s elephant population has declined dramatically and poaching has actually increased in areas where trophy hunting is permitted – nailing the lie that it helps, not harms animal conservation.
“In Zambia, the situation is even worse,” Morgan wrote, “with the elephant population falling from 200,000 in 1972 to just 21,000 now. If trophy hunting conserves elephants, then how does anyone explain these numbers?
“The truth is,” Morgan assessed, “that much of the revenue from trophy hunting is woefully and often deliberately mismanaged. Just a small fraction of it ever trickles down to the communities. Revenue from animal tourism is massively higher, far more sustainable, and infinitely more likely to help conserve the wild beasts it promotes.”
Safari Club International president Paul Babaz praised the resumption of elephant trophy imports, but, said Conservation International chief executive M. Sanjayan, “It strains credulity to suggest that local science-based factors have been met to justify this change.”
Lions also at risk
“Hunting interests have scored a major victory with the Trump administration’s decision to allow Americans to bring home body parts of elephants shot for sport in Africa,” agreed Oliver Milman of The Guardian. “Another totemic species now looks set to follow suit – lions.
“As the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service was announcing it was lifting a ban on the import of elephant “trophies” from Zimbabwe and Zambia,” Milman explained, “it also quietly published new guidelines that showed [trophies from] lions shot in the two African countries will also be eligible” for import.
A U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service statement entitled “Import of Hunted Lions” says that the service will re-evaluate the status of lion hunting in Zimbabwe and Zambia in mid-2018 before deciding whether to authorize lion trophy import permits in 2019 and beyond.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service prohibited imports of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe in 2014, and prohibited imports of African lion trophies in 2016 “because of concerns over the conservation of the animals in the country,” Milman summarized.
Announcement made at hunting event
“The Trump administration has begun to peel away this legacy in unusual fashion by announcing the lifting of the elephant ban at the African Wildlife Consultative Forum, a pro-hunting event held in Tanzania, rather than on its website or in the Federal Register. This agenda dovetails with Republicans in Congress who have taken aim at endangered species protections, putting forward bills that would allow the trapping of wolves in the U.S. and remove non-native species – such as lions and elephants – from protected status.”
“White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that the change in [hunting trophy import] policy stems from a study that was initiated during the Obama administration,” reported Meaghan Keneally of ABC News.
Trump sons are trophy hunters
“Back in 2012,” Keneally recalled, “photos surfaced of Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump’s hunting trip to Zimbabwe. Photos released by the safari company showed the brothers flanking a crocodile hanging from a tree, smiling behind the horns of a killed waterbuck, and standing together as Eric held a dead leopard. Donald Trump Jr. was pictured sitting next to a dead buffalo while holding a gun and wearing an ammunition belt, and Eric Trump can be seen sitting on one of the dead animals with guns resting on its horns.
“The Trump brothers were not pictured with any dead lions in 2012,” Keneally recounted, “but Donald Trump Jr. was pictured next to a dead elephant while holding its severed tail. A spokesperson for the Trump sons did not immediately return ABC News’ request for comment on the recent policy change. It remains unclear if the brothers brought back any animal trophies from their safari trip, as it was legal to do so at the time.
Mother: “Why shoot Bambi & Dumbo?”
“More recently,” Keneally continued, “Donald Trump Jr. has shared a number of photos from domestic hunting trips, including one in Montana, and a bow hunting trip in the Yukon, and went pheasant hunting in Iowa with Representative Steve King (R-Iowa) in October 2017.
Wrote Ivana Trump, former wife of Donald Trump and mother of Eric and Donald Trump Jr., in her October 2017 book Raising Trump, “I don’t object to their going to Patagonia to shoot birds. There are a million of them there, enough to spare. But why go to Zimbabwe to shoot Bambi and Dumbo? I don’t blame people for giving them a hard time about it.”
Donald Trump, however, has often posed as a bird-lover––in specific political contexts.
“Wind kills all your birds”
“’The wind kills all your birds,’ Donald Trump, then the Republican nominee for president, told his supporters at a rally in Pennsylvania last year,” recounted New Republic staff writer Emily Atkin on October 25, 2017. “It was a crowd-pleasing message for a state that is among the largest producers of oil, gas, and coal in the country; Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, had proposed phasing out fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy sources like wind power. ‘All your birds: killed,’ he said.
“His Secretary of Interior, Ryan Zinke, recently noted renewable energy’s risks to birds in arguing against using public lands for solar power,” mentioning how ‘reflector cells the size of garage doors make this cone, this sphere of death, so as birds go through it they get zapped?’”
Asked Atkin, “Given their professed worry for birds, why are Trump and Zinke now working to allow drilling within America’s largest bird nursery? Trump’s budget recommendations to Congress in May called for raising $1.8 billion in revenue by allowing oil and gas companies to lease property in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a remote, unspoiled, and biologically diverse public land where 200 different bird species from all over the world breed annually?
Climate change could cook our geese
“For birds,” Atkin added, “the deadliest part of Trump’s agenda is his refusal to address climate change. Multiple peer-reviewed studies have predicted doomsday for hundreds of species if the world continues to warm. Temperatures will exceed some species’ thermal tolerances, sea level rise will decimate habitats, extreme weather including drought and heavy rain will compromise food sources. Stanford University scientist Cagan Sekercioglu has called climate change an ‘escalator to extinction’ for birds,” which could “cause up to 30% of bird species on land to go extinct by 2100,” while even an “intermediate” level of warming (2.8 degrees Celsius), could “cause 400 to 550 species die-offs.
“If Trump gets his way,” Atkin finished, “the world would at least reach that intermediate level of warming, and billions of his beloved birds would die.”
Dead stuffed animals & video games
Zinke, meanwhile, whose official duties as Interior Secretary include protecting birds and bird habitat, as well as other wildlife, has been busy recently having taxidermically mounted trophies of a bobcat, a grizzly bear, a bison, and an elk installed in his office, with a puma expected to join them, wrote Chris DeAngelo for the Huffington Post.
Zinke also “installed a ‘Big Buck Hunter’ arcade game in the cafeteria,” DeAngelo mentioned, “to highlight the contributions the hunting and fishing communities make to conservation.”
That gambit might be described as indulging fantasies by playing games.