Allies urged Trump to spare the emblem of the Republican Party
WASHINGTON D.C.–– “Big-game trophy decision will be announced next week,” announced U.S. President Donald Trump via Twitter on November 19, 2017, meaning the week after Thanksgiving, “but will be very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal.”
Trump administration political allies including the National Rifle Association and Safari Club International were openly irate over Trump’s last-minute November 17, 2017 decision to suspend a U.S. Fish & Wildlife decision which would have re-authorized imports of elephant hunting trophies from Zimbabwe.
“President likes elephants”
Other prominent Republicans, however, reportedly warned Trump that shooting the emblems of the Republican Party would not be well-accepted, including House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ed Royce.
Advised Royce on November 16, 2017, one day after the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announcement and one day before Trump suspended it, “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,” Royce warned, “and they are being killed at an alarming rate.”
“The president likes elephants,” wrote New York Times reporters Peter Baker and Emily Cochrane. Baker and Cochrane said they had learned from unidentified aides that Trump “did not know about his administration’s decision to lift the trophy ban until learning it from the news media and was annoyed to be criticized for a move he had no part in. So he made his displeasure known in the way he has so many other times, through his Twitter feed.”
The National Rifle Association, Safari Club International, hunting safari promoters, and taxidermists were already celebrating the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service edict on elephants when Trump intervened
But his intervention “coincided with the sentiments of conservative media personalities like Michael Savage, Laura Ingraham and Mike Cernovich,” Baker and Cochrane said.
Tweeted Fox News host Ingraham, “I don’t understand how this move by @realDonaldTrump Admin will not INCREASE the gruesome poaching of elephants. Stay tuned.”
Trump’s sons Eric and Donald Jr. are prominent trophy hunters. A photo widely circulated in 2012 by a Zimbabwean safari promoter showed Donald Trump Jr. with the tail of an elephant he had just shot in one hand, a knife in the other and blood on his pants.
“Sons love hunting. I don’t”
But Donald Trump himself has distanced himself from hunting and hunters before. “My sons love hunting. I don’t,” he tweeted after the photos of his sons with animals they had killed in Zimbabwe surfaced in mass media.
“Lara Trump, Eric’s wife, on the other hand, has become a vocal animal rights advocate,” claimed Baker and Cochrane, though describing her as a vocal pit bull advocate would better reflect her limited public activity, “and the Humane Society of the United States said she brought up the elephant trophy issue during meetings on Capitol Hill” just before President Trump twittered on November 17, 2017 that he had “Put big game trophy decision on hold until such time as I review all conservation facts.”
Did Trump mean lions too?
The Trump twitter of November 17, 2017 said nothing specific about either African elephants or African lions, referring only to “big game trophy decision.” This led to a division of interpretation as to whether Trump meant only to “review all conservation facts” pertaining to Zimbabwean elephants, or would also be reviewing the resumption of imports of African lion trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia, quietly announced by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on October 20, 2017.
Both announcements had long been anticipated by the Zimbabwean government, then still headed by Robert Mugabe, who was deposed––after 29 years of rule––only days before the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said it would re-authorize elephant trophy imports.
Indeed, Zimbabwean minister for environment, water and climate Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri had announced that both African elephant and lion trophy exports to the U.S. would resume “under strict conditions” on July 10, 2017, reportedly triggering a 20% jump in trophy hunting reservations from U.S. hunters.
Trump in his follow-up Twitter of November 19, 2017 did specifically mention elephants, but the phrase “or any other animal,” immediately following the word “elephants” renewed speculation that the import of African lion trophies would also be under review.
Taking no chances, the Center for Biological Diversity and Natural Resources Defense Council on November 20, 2017 “sued the Trump Administration for allowing elephant and lion trophy imports from Zimbabwe,” announced NRDC deputy director for wildlife trade Elly Pepper.
“While the President indicated via two promising tweets that he is changing his tune on trophy hunting,” Pepper said in a prepared statement, “the fate of elephants and lions is too important to trust to Twitter.
“President Trump’s tweets are ambiguous and beg the question of what exactly he plans to do,” pointed out Pepper. “If he is putting elephant trophy imports from Zimbabwe ‘on hold,’ as suggested by his Friday tweet, it is simply not enough, 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,” Pepper assessed, “it would be a huge win. But we need to hold his feet to the fire to ensure he does that,” at least “until it happens.”
“And what about lions?”
Continued Pepper, “And what about lions? Thus far, most of the public outrage has been on elephants. But the tweets from both President Trump and Secretary Zinke,” who on November 17, 2017 affirmed that “the issuing of permits is put on hold” without specifying what permits, “don’t seem to apply to lions,” at least not clearly.
Lions have “suffered a 43% decline in the last 21 years,” Pepper reminded, “due to trophy hunting, the lion bone trade, habitat loss, and other factors.
“Finally,” Pepper said, “there is the issue of precedent. Given the Trump Administration’s closeness with the trophy hunting industry, we are anticipating more questionable trophy hunting decisions in the future—even if they might not concern elephants. 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,” Pepper finished, “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.”
Pacelle praises Trump
Humane Society of the United States president Wayne Pacelle meanwhile praised “Trump’s declaration that the trophy hunting of elephants and other animals is a ‘horror show’ as, to say the least, a bold and provocative statement from a U.S. leader. Never before,” Pacelle said, “has an American official taken such a forthright stand on the issue of trophy hunting, and it was as welcome as it was surprising from this president.
“A consistent application of the principle,” Pacelle added, “won’t just result in him declaring an end to imports of elephant trophies, but also those of African lions, and a reconsideration of overall U.S. policy on trophy imports. Lions and many other species are under siege,” Pacelle said, “and we should be their protectors, not their persecutors.”
Safari Club issues “call to arms”
In response to the Trump twitters, observed Washington Post environment reporter Daryl Fears, “hunters were careful not to blame the president,” at possible risk of alienating a White House whose policies have so far handed the hunting industry practically everything it had asked for.
“Instead,” Fears wrote, “Safari Club International issued a call to arms against ‘hysterical anti-hunters and news media outlets’ that ‘went into overdrive, attacking everyone in sight, including the Trump administration, SCI and even the National Rifle Association of America.’”
The “call to arms” reportedly went to more than 50,000 Safari Club International members, many of them also longtime conservative donors and vociferous Trump supporters.