Animal rights groups have slammed the decision. The White House says it has not yet finalised allowing trophy hunters in Zimbabwe and Zambia to bring the endangered animals home as trophies.
The administration of US President Donald Trump faced a barrage of criticism on Thursday from animal rights groups after it authorised the import of Zimbabwean elephant hunting trophies.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service said in a written notice issued on Thursday that permitting elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia to be brought back as trophies will raise money for conservation programmes.
A licenced two-week African elephant hunt can cost more than $50,000 per person, not including airfare, according to advertised rates.
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.
"Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve those species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation," the agency said in a statement.
Suyian was the first elephant rescued by the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary which is located within in the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy. The Mathews Range, where Namunyak is situated, is home to Africa's second-largest elephant population. Community-based wildlife keepers there are working to rehabilitate abandoned and orphaned elephants in order to eventually return them to the nearby wild herds. In this sense, community based conservation is likely to be the only viable alternative for vast tracts of Africa, in the parts beyond agriculture and where big animals and nomadic pastoralists still make their home. This elephant sanctuary is the culmination of a two-decades long process of tipping conservation upon its head, protecting wildlife for, and not just from, people. In that sense the sanctuary is as much about people as it’s about elephants. Photo by @amivitale. #elephants #DontLetThemDisappear #saveelephants #retetielephants #northkenya #elephant #kenya #Namunyak #saveelephants @nrt_kenya @conservationorg @tusk_org @sararacamp @kenyawildlifeservice @sandiegozoo @natgeo
Outrage over move
Animal rights activists and environmental groups expressed scepticism on Thursday that killing elephants could help save them.
Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of The Humane Society of the US, said the policy change sends the wrong signal amid international efforts to curb illegal poaching.
"What kind of message does it send to say to the world that poor Africans who are struggling to survive cannot kill elephants in order to use or sell their parts to make a living, but that it's just fine for rich Americans to slay the beasts for their tusks to keep as trophies?" Pacelle asked.
But the move was quickly praised by groups that champion big-game trophy hunting, including Safari Club International and the lobbying arm of the National Rifle Association. The two groups had sued to challenge the ban in court.
Chris Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action, called the action "a significant step forward in having hunting receive the recognition it deserves as a tool of sound wildlife management, which had been all but buried in the previous administration."
Cox said, "By lifting the import ban on elephant trophies in Zimbabwe and Zambia the Trump administration underscored, once again, the importance of sound scientific wildlife management and regulated hunting to the survival and enhancement of game species in this country and worldwide."
It's so hard to believe that more than a year has passed since Reteti first opened its doors. In this photo, Mary, one of Reteti's first women keepers stays in the pen with Suiyan, our very first rescue. Suiyan was rescued in Sept. 2016. In the first days that an elephant arrives, keepers tend to stay with the orphans around the clock to offer comfort and be sure that the calf gets any medical attention he or she needs. Photo by @amivitale. #elephants #stoppoaching #DontLetThemDisappear #saveelephants#retetielephants #northkenya #elephant#kenya #Namunyak #saveelephants @nrt_kenya @conservationorg @tusk_org @sararacamp @kenyawildlifeservice@sandiegozoo @natgeo
Trump's hunter sons
President Donald Trump's two adult sons are avid trophy hunters.
A photo of Donald Trump Jr holding a knife and the bloody severed tail of an elephant he reportedly killed in Zimbabwe in 2011 also sparked outrage among animal rights activists.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday referred questions about the policy change to the Fish and Wildlife Service, saying no announcement had yet been "finalised."
The agency said the formal announcement of the policy will be published in the Federal Register on Friday.
The world's largest land mammal, the African elephant has been classified as threatened under the US 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 five million a century ago to about 400,000 remaining. And that number continues to decline each year.
According to the United Nations, as many as 100,000 African elephants were killed between 2010 and 2012. For forest elephants, the population declined by an estimated 62 percent between 2002 and 2011.