White House says decision to lift ban on elephant hunting trophies from Africa has not been 'finalized'

Hunter Walker
White House Correspondent
Silhouetted African elephant at sunset, Etosha National Park, Namibia. (Photo: Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is planning to reverse a ban on importing elephant hunting trophies from two countries in Africa, but White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the move is not “final.”

Trophies from elephants hunted in those two countries were banned by the administration of President Barack Obama in 2014. The African elephant is classified as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, which means it is “considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.” 

President Trump has previously spoken out against hunting after photos of his eldest sons, Don Jr. and Eric, posing with trophies provoked criticism. The pictures included one of Don Jr. holding a severed elephant tail. Trump addressed the issue on Twitter in March 2012. 

“I’m not a hunter and don’t approve of killing animals. I strongly disagree with my sons who are hunters, but they acted legally and did what lots of hunters do,” Trump wrote. 

Given Trump’s past opposition, Yahoo News asked Sanders at the White House press briefing Thursday afternoon why the president wants the ban on elephant trophies lifted and whether he has changed his views on hunting. 

“Actually, there hasn’t been an announcement that’s been finalized on this front,” Sanders said.

Sanders referred questions to the Department of the Interior, which oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service.  

A reporter raises her hand as White House press secretary Sarah Sanders holds the daily briefing at the White House. (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)

The ban on elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia is scheduled to be lifted Friday morning when the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision is published in the Federal Register. Currently, the decision is available for public inspection. It will take effect barring a last minute intervention. 

Yahoo News pressed Sanders on the fact that lifting the ban seems imminent. Once again, she stressed that it was not yet official. 

“There hasn’t been an announcement. And until that’s done, I wouldn’t consider anything final,” Sanders said, later adding, “I would defer you to the Department of Interior for the time being. And when we have an announcement on that front, we’ll let you know.”

The Department of the Interior did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Yahoo News. 

Elephant trophies are currently allowed to be imported into the United States from Namibia and South Africa. The Fish and Wildlife Service is currently reviewing whether to permit elephant trophies to be imported from Tanzania. Under the new proposal, trophies hunted from the start of 2016 until the end of 2018 could be imported into the country. 

A Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson told Yahoo News the decision was made because of improvements in the elephant management programs in Zimbabwe and Zambia. Yahoo News asked the spokesperson if they were confident Zimbabwe’s program would continue after an apparent coup in that country earlier this week. The spokesperson referred that question to the State Department, which has not responded to a request for comment.  

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