Animal rights groups lodge suit against Interior for new elephant trophy policy

Animal rights groups lodge suit against Interior for new elephant trophy policy
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Four animal rights groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) over its recent policy change on U.S. elephant trophy imports, warning that the new decisions won't be based on science.

The groups — which include The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), the Humane Society and Born Free U.S.A. — ask the court to review FWS's new policy, making the point that the change to determine animal trophy hunting imports on a case-by-case basis is "unlawful" and violates the Endangered Species Act.

"The conclusions that trophy hunting of elephants and lions in Zimbabwe enhances the survival of the species are not supported by the evidence in the administrative record. The decisions undermine the agency’s statutory duty to promote the conservation of species threatened with extinction and thus are not in accordance with law," the suit reads.

The groups argue that Interior's new policy, issued March 1, is "arbitrary and capricious." They also question the science behind the agency's decision to switch from a blanket ban of African elephant trophy hunting imports from key African nations to case-by-case allowances. 

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"Further, the government has failed to rationally explain its 180 degree turn from determining that Zimbabwe is incapable of managing elephant hunting sustainably, to proclaiming open season on elephants and lions in Zimbabwe, a top destination for American trophy hunters due to lax regulations exacerbated by rampant corruption," the suit reads.

The lawsuit follows a decision by the FWS to overturn a previous Obama-era blanket ban on elephant trophy imports from key African nations, and instead allow them on a case-by-case basis. The policy change came on the heels of a December D.C. Circuit Court decision that found fault with the initial Obama-era rule.

The court ruled that the Obama administration did not follow the right procedures when it drafted its ban on the imports. The court also said the FWS should have gone through the extensive process of proposing a regulation, inviting public comment and then making the regulation final when it made determinations in 2014 and 2015 that elephant trophies cannot be brought into the country.

Animal rights groups argued however that the new policy would shut out the public completely.

“Elephants shouldn’t be killed for cheap thrills, and the Trump administration shouldn’t make crucial trophy hunting decisions behind closed doors,” said Tanya Sanerib, a director at CBD, in a statement. “Federal wildlife officials seem to be thumbing their nose at President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Freedom Caucus calls for Congress to work on shutdown through break Democrat previews Mueller questions for Trump’s AG nominee Trump inaugural committee spent ,000 on makeup for aides: report MORE after he called for an end to the horror show of trophy hunting.”