Animal-protection advocates were outraged on Thursday over the Trump administration's decision to reverse a ban on imported elephant trophies from Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The Elephant Project called the move "reprehensible" and declared, "One hundred elephants a day are already killed. This will lead to more poaching."
Although elephants are endangered species, hunters can pay government agencies in the two countries for permits to kill the animals if their expeditions are deemed to "benefit the conservation of certain species," according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, which announced the change on Wednesday.
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.
Wayne Pacelle, president of the Human Society, called the permit system "a venal and nefarious pay-to-slay arrangement that Zimbabwe has set up with the trophy hunting industry" in a blog post, and noted conservationists' concerns over "lack of information about how money derived from trophy hunting by U.S. hunters is distributed within Zimbabwe." He argued that there is little evidence that so-called hunting regulations have a positive impact on conservation efforts.
"Zimbabwe's elephant population has declined six percent since 2001 and evidence shows that poaching has increased in areas where trophy hunting is permitted," Pacelle wrote, adding that if anyone should be able to hunt game in Africa, it should be the people who live there rather than wealthy Americans hunting for sport.
"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?" wrote Pacelle.
The U.K.-based elephant-protection group Tusk Trust also drew attention to corruption in the system that allows permits for hunters. "Tusk continues to have major misgivings in the way trophy hunting is not properly regulated, and has been open to corrupt abuse of quota systems and unethical practices," said Charlie Mayhew, the group's chief executive, in a statement. "This is a setback in the fight to ban all illegal wildlife trade."
President Donald Trump's grown sons, Eric and Donald Jr., have both been roundly criticized for their enjoyment of trophy hunting over the years.
Donald Trump has just lifted the ban on hunters bringing slain elephant 'trophies' back into the US.— James Melville (@JamesMelville) November 16, 2017
It means little Donny Jr can show off his prize to his daddy. pic.twitter.com/Ap6RnNpMlL