The White House on Thursday said it had not yet finalized a decision to allow trophy hunters who kill elephants in two African countries to bring the endangered animals home as trophies, a planned move that had outraged USA conservation groups.
African elephants are classified as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, but a statement from the US Fish and Wildlife Service said that reversing the ban on trophies was meant to help elephants "by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation", as hunters will pay a large amount of money for the permits.
According to the agency and groups like Safari Club International, a hunters' lobbying group which filed a lawsuit in 2014 to block an Obama-era ban on elephant trophies, hunting regulated by permits provides incentives to local communities to conserve the species and puts revenue back into conservation efforts.
"With tanks in the streets, whoever is actually running the Zimbabwe government just can't be trusted to protect elephants from slaughter by poachers", said Tanya Sanerib, a lawyer with the advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity, who called the timing "bizarre". Trophy hunting causes prolonged, vast suffering for elephants and fuels demand wild animal products, opening the door for further exploitation. In recent years, the African elephant population of Zimbabwe declined 6 percent, according to the Great Elephant Census project.
Under the Obama administration, elephant hunting trophies were allowed in countries such as South Africa but not in Zimbabwe because Fish and Wildlife decided in 2015 that the nation had failed to prove that its management of elephants enhanced the population. As a result, the number of African elephants has shrunk from about 5 million a century ago to about 400,000 remaining.More news: Eve joins 'The Talk' as permanent co-host
The move came the same week Zimbabwe had a coup that left its president, Robert Mugabe, under house arrest. Since elephant numbers have dropped by 62 percent over the last decade, conservationists fear they could be nearly extinct in the next 10 years.
African elephant populations have been particularly pressured by poaching for their ivory tusks, a demand that is only increasing.
It's unclear how the current political situation in Zimbabwe could affect this decision, but a blog post from the president of the Humane Society points out that poaching has been a problem in Zimbabwe over the years and that the hunting industry there faces corruption issues. The US is the second biggest market for ivory after China which has also pledged to clamp down on ivory trade on its domestic markets.
Though hunting might be treasured by the Trumps, the practice isn't appreciated by many others. Opponents posted pictures of U.S. President Donald Trump's sons Donald Jr. and Eric, who are avid hunters, posing with the cut-off tail of a slain elephant and other dead wild animals on Twitter.
African elephants - the planet's largest land mammal - is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, which is managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service.