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VOL. 42 | NO. 11 | Friday, March 16, 2018

Groups sue over decision to lift US ban on elephant trophies

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A coalition of environmental and animal-welfare groups sued on Tuesday to challenge the Trump administration's moves toward allowing the importation of the heads, hides and tusks of African elephants as hunting trophies.

Four groups filed an amended lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington against Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke over this month's announcement that the Fish and Wildlife Service will begin considering permit applications for importing body parts from sport-hunted elephants on a case-by-case basis.

The agency said its March 1 decision was in response to a legal ruling that found procedural flaws with how the Obama administration had imposed an earlier ban, which was challenged by pro-hunting groups.

The policy change came despite tweets from President Donald Trump decrying big-game hunting as a "horror show." The agency said last week it has not yet issued any permits to import elephants, though 37 permits for lion trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia have been issued since a similar prohibition on them was quietly lifted in October.

The lawsuit contends the Fish and Wildlife Service went far beyond the earlier legal ruling on the issue, wiping the slate clean of long-standing decisions pertaining to trophy imports. The groups say the Trump administration is failing to comprehensively consider the ecological impacts of trophy hunting and has been operating with a lack of transparency and public input.

The new challenge to the agency's March 1 decision is being added to a pending court case contesting the administration's decision to lift the Obama-era import bans on elephant and lion trophies.

The lawsuit was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International and Born Free USA.

"Elephants shouldn't be killed for cheap thrills, and the Trump administration shouldn't make crucial trophy hunting decisions behind closed doors," said Tanya Saneriba, spokeswoman for the Center for Biological Diversity. "Federal wildlife officials seem to be thumbing their nose at President Trump after he called for an end to the horror show of trophy hunting."

A spokeswoman for the Interior Department deferred comment to the Justice Department, which is defending the government. Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle said Tuesday that lawyers were reviewing the amended complaint.

The Associated Press reported last week that Zinke recently appointed a board stuffed with trophy hunters to advise him on conserving threatened and endangered wildlife. The International Wildlife Conservation Council held its first meeting on Friday.

The 16 board members include celebrity hunting guides, representatives from rifle and bow manufacturers, and well-heeled trophy collectors. One appointee co-owns a private New York hunting preserve with Trump's adult sons.

The eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., drew the ire of animal rights activists after a 2011 photo emerged of him holding a bloody knife and the severed tail of an elephant he killed in Zimbabwe.

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Follow Associated Press environmental reporter Michael Biesecker at http://twitter.com/mbieseck

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