Does President TrumpDonald TrumpYoungkin ad features mother who pushed to have 'Beloved' banned from son's curriculum White House rejects latest Trump claim of executive privilege Democrats say GOP lawmakers implicated in Jan. 6 should be expelled MORE actually run the Trump administration? It’s hard not to wonder given the growing gap between the president’s strong words on an issue he seems to care about — the trophy hunting of elephants — and the actual policies implemented by officials supposedly working for him.
On June 19, Atlanta will play host to the second meeting of the administration’s so-called International Wildlife Conservation Council.
This federal council was created by Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy & Environment — Biden makes return to pre-Trump national monument boundaries official Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Biden launches blitz for jobs plan with 'thank you, Georgia' MORE — himself a trophy hunter — specifically to advise on the “removal of barriers” to importing trophies from gunned-down wildlife in Africa and elsewhere, as the council’s charter makes clear.
On Twitter, Trump has blasted trophy hunting as a “horror show.” It’s virtually the only conservation or humane issue that seems to register with him.
Yet, Zinke’s council is composed almost entirely of hunting guides, “celebrity hunters,” and people affiliated with pro-trophy hunting organizations, gunmakers and the National Rifle Association. Fifteen of the council’s 16 members have trophy hunting or gun ties.
That’s all too consistent with Zinke’s track record. Last November, the Interior secretary handed American trophy hunters a huge victory by reversing an Obama administration ban on importing elephant trophies from Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe’s elephant population continues to decline as a result of poaching, and the Obama-era ban came in part because of a lack of evidence that trophy hunting was contributing to conservation.
But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which Zinke oversees, certified Zimbabwe as being well-positioned to protect its elephant population — even as a coup d’état roiled that nation’s government and tanks rumbled in the streets.
Zinke’s reckless decision provoked a fierce backlash from millions of Americans — including prominent Trump supporters like Michael Savage and Laura Ingraham.
Then the president himself joined the counter-attack, blasting his own government’s new policy and calling trophy hunting “terrible.” “I didn’t want elephants killed and stuffed and have the tusks brought back into this [country],” Trump remarked.
Zinke seemed to back down quickly, announcing that the issuing of new trophy imports was on hold.
But not long after, the Fish and Wildlife Service quietly decided to begin approving elephant and lion trophy imports on a case-by-case basis.
Botswana’s President Ian Khama quickly blasted America’s case-by-case importing approach, saying it will encourage elephant poaching. That’s devastating, since the Great Elephant Census recently documented that poaching claimed the lives of 140,000 elephants over seven years.
But Fish and Wildlife simply hunkered down and went dark, refusing to even reveal crucial information about the process, including how many import permits have been issued for which imperiled animals.
Meanwhile, Zinke’s new pro-trophy hunting committee has rolled merrily forward, in complete disregard of the president’s stated abhorrence of trophy hunting.
The Federal Register notice for the council’s Atlanta meeting gives only the barest hints of what will be on the agenda — something about ports of entry for imported trophies — but we should expect the worst from a body stuffed with people who profit from gunning down Africa’s besieged wildlife.
The president needs to wake up and smell the bloodsport. If Trump really wants to stop the slaughter of elephants and lions for trophies, he should shut down this biased thrill-kill council.
The bottom line is that presidential tweets aren’t enough. Africa’s imperiled elephants need American leadership who acts to protect them — not empty words and a bullet to the head.
Tanya Sanerib is legal director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s international program.