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GOP chairman breaks with Trump on elephant trophy imports
The Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee slammed President Trump Friday for allowing imports of hunted elephant trophies from Zimbabwe.
Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), who has prioritized fighting wildlife crime in his chairmanship, said Zimbabwe's ongoing political crisis - potentially a coup d'etat - makes it even more likely that the south African country can't maintain the conservation efforts necessary to save African elephants from hunting crimes.
"When carefully regulated, conservation hunts can benefit habitats and wildlife populations. That said, this is the wrong move at the wrong time," Royce said in a Friday statement.
"Today Zimbabwe is in economic and political crisis. American citizens in the country are advised to go outdoors only when necessary. In this moment of turmoil, I have zero confidence that the regime - which for years has promoted corruption at the highest levels - is properly managing and regulating conservation programs," he continued.
Zimbabwe's military seized numerous government institutions in the capital of Harare earlier this week. Military leaders say it is not a coup, but that they will remove many officials in President Robert Mugabe's government. Mugabe is reportedly refusing to cooperate.
"The administration should withdraw this decision until Zimbabwe stabilizes," Royce said. "Elephants and other big game in Africa are blood currency for terrorist organizations, and they are being killed at an alarming rate."
Rep. Vern Buchanan (Fla.), another Republican, is also criticizing Trump's moves.
"We should not encourage the hunting and slaughter of these magnificent creatures," he said in a statement. "We don't get a second chance once a species becomes extinct."
Buchanan co-chairs the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus along with Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who also forcefully criticized Trump.
The lawmakers join numerous Democrats, conservationists and celebrities in denouncing the Trump administration's decision to overturn the Obama administration's ban on bringing parts of elephants killed in Zimbabwe into the United States.
In a Federal Register notice Friday, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) said it had determined that Zimbabwe's conservation programs are sufficient to protect elephant populations, and that hunting enhances those efforts.
The agency made a similar decision on trophies from Zambia, but was not required to post that in the Federal Register.
By contrast, the Obama administration ruled in 2014 that allowing trophy imports from both countries would encourage hunting in a way that harmed populations.
The FWS and international authorities consider the African elephant to be a threatened species.