Elephants are remarkably empathic and intelligent, even capable of self-awareness.
And then there’s the Trump administration, which announced this week that it would lift a ban imposed by the Obama administration on importing elephant heads, feet and other body parts severed as trophies after the animals are shot for sport in Zimbabwe. The administration has said it would also lift the ban in Zambia.
The policy reversal is a gift to the big game trade from Ryan Zinke, the interior secretary, who’s apparently not satisfied with scrapping environmental and species protections on just one continent.
Lifting this ban could endanger gains made by governments and environmental groups to protect elephants from illegal trade in ivory and other body parts. At the very least it sends yet another message that this is an administration in service of itself and its cronies.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service says it’s lifting the ban because “the Government of Zimbabwe, nongovernmental organizations, safari outfitters, professional hunter associations, and individuals provided the Service with additional information … demonstrating that the facts on the ground have changed and improved.”
To be clear: the administration’s assessment of Zimbabwe’s elephant population rests mostly with assurances from safari outfitters and professional hunters who profit from killing them, and the government of a nation in the midst of a military coup. With Zimbabwe’s 93-year-old strongman, President Robert Mugabe, under house arrest and negotiating with the army over his future, it’s not likely the government there is paying much attention to its elephant management plan, which, the federal agency assures us, “lays out clear objectives, action items, and outputs to facilitate a more systematic management regime for African elephants than was previously established in Zimbabwe.”