As the Trump administration has rolled back restrictions on hunting and importing animal "trophies" from Africa, the advocacy group Friends of Animals has found that over the past two years, the federal government has granted more than three dozen permits enabling American hunters to bring back lion parts—and more than half of those hunters have donated to Republican politicians or have ties to the pro-hunting organization Safari Club International.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has given 33 American hunters a total of 38 permits to import lion trophies since 2016.
Shedding light on the Trump administration's secretive permit review process, reports from Friends of the Animals and The Huffington Post this week revealed that, according to documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has given 33 American hunters a total of 38 permits to import lion trophies since 2016.
President Donald Trump—whose sons Don Jr. and Eric are big-game hunters—called trophy-hunting a "horror show" in November and reinstated an Obama-era ban on elephant trophies after he was widely condemned for briefly reversing it. However, his administration has scaled back rules on hunting lions, and after a court ruling took issue with trophy restrictions, FWS announced in March it would review permit requests for lion, elephant, and bontebok trophies from six African nations on a case-by-case basis.
And, as the New York Times reported at the time, while "the agency previously made determinations about trophies publicly available," under the new policy, details about approved permits to import trophies of threatened or endangered animals are only available through FOIA requests that "can take months to process."
In a statement to HuffPost, FWS did not disclose how many permits are pending or have been denied, but asserted that "legal, well-regulated hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation."
"Killing endangered animals so their remains can be hung as a 'trophy' in someone's house or office is not going to save these species."
—Jennifer Best, Friends of Animals
Many conservationists, however, disagree.
In response to the FOIA findings, Friends of Animals Wildlife Law Program assistant legal director Jennifer Best said, "At a time when lions, elephants, and other African wildlife is most threatened with extinction in the wild, this administration has actually ratcheted up the false narrative that hunting can somehow save them."
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"It is time to open our eyes and accept the overwhelming evidence that trophy hunting is detrimental to the animals and their populations," Best continued. "Killing endangered animals so their remains can be hung as a 'trophy' in someone's house or office is not going to save these species."
Meanwhile, at least one person advising the Trump administration on hunting policy is among the recipients of lion trophy permits, according to Friends of Animals. In December, Trump-appointed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke—who received $10,000 from Safari Club International for his 2016 congressional campaign—created the International Wildlife Conservation Council (IWCC), an advisory body for international hunting rules.
Steven Chancellor, an Indiana businessman "who raised more than $1 million for Republican candidates at a fundraiser at his home headlined by Trump in 2016," is among the IWCC appointees; he also received a permit for a lion killed in 2016.
"If African wildlife is to survive the next few decades in their homelands...safeguarding habitat along with photographic safaris and ecotourism must outpace blood-drenched trophy hunting expeditions."
—Priscilla Feral, Friends of Animal
HuffPost pointed out that "other approved permits went to hunters including Philip Glass, a Texas rancher and Trump donor who took a $100,000 trophy safari in Zimbabwe that was filmed in a documentary, and Kent Greenawalt, who has donated around $100,000 to Republican candidates and committees."
While big-game hunters celebrate the Trump administration's covert permit process and relaxed hunting rules, conservationists continue to challenge not only the trophies, but also the killing of threatened and endangered species.
"If African wildlife is to survive the next few decades in their homelands, these elephants, lions, and other animals―coveted by hunters for their strength and beauty―must be worth more alive than dead," concluded Friends of Animals president Priscilla Feral. "That means safeguarding habitat along with photographic safaris and ecotourism must outpace blood-drenched trophy hunting expeditions. Trophy hunting must expire and collapse from its own dead weight."