More than three dozen lion trophy permits issued as Trump rolls back protections

More than three dozens permits to import lion trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia have been issued since 2017, according to documents obtained by the advocacy group Friends of Animals.

Thirty-eight permits have been granted to 33 individuals, allowing them to import the trophies into the U.S., according to the group Friends of Animals, which cited documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

A spokeswoman for the group told The Hill that all 38 permits were approved under the Trump administration. Friends of Animals noted that some of the hunts took place in 2016, and the majority of the permits to import trophies were applied for under the Obama administration.

Permits can be issued for animals that were killed years ago.
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News of the permits, reported by HuffPost, comes months after the Trump administration began allowing the import of lion trophies from Zambia and Zimbabwe, which had been all but banned under the Obama administration.

Former President Obama added two subspecies of African lion to the endangered species list in 2015 following the high-profile killing of the Cecil the lion by an American dentist. The addition made it significantly more difficult for the government to issue trophy import permits for lions killed in hunts anywhere in Africa other than South Africa.

The Trump Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) officially shifted their policy in March, though permits were reportedly being issued as early as October. 

The agency now evaluates permit applications on a case-by-case basis, rather than the nation-by-nation basis under Obama. The changes had long been pushed for by the National Rifle Association and hunting lobbying group Safari Club International.

As of March, application information is now available only through Freedom of Information Act requests, though it was previously made public. 

FWS said in November that “legal, well-regulated sports hunting” could help the endangered species survive. Hunting advocates have argued that the money spent by hunters to hunt animals like elephants and lions–sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars–can be used to promote conservation efforts. 

“Legal, well-regulated hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation,” the FWS said in a statement.

Jennifer Best, assistant legal director of the Friends of Animals Wildlife Law Program, pushed back on the FWS statement.

“At a time when lions, elephants and other African wildlife is most threatened with extinction in the wild, this administration has actually ratcheted up the false narrative that hunting can somehow save them,” Best said in a statement. “Killing endangered animals so their remains can be hung as a ‘trophy’ in someone’s house or office is not going to save these species.”

Friends of Animals noted that more than half of the individuals issued trophy hunting permits have been donors to the GOP, President TrumpDonald John TrumpLondon terror suspect’s children told authorities he complained about Trump: inquiry The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Trump to nominate retiring lawmaker as head of trade agency MORE or are linked to Safari Club International.

One recipient, Steven Chancellor, was appointed to Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeTrump administration weakens methane pollution standards for drilling on public lands Big-game hunters infuriated by Trump elephant trophy debacle Interior moves ahead with opening wildlife refuge next to contaminated nuclear site MORE’s International Wildlife Conservation Council.

According to data from FWS compiled by the Humane Society International, about 5,600 African lion trophies and skins were imported into the U.S. between 2005 and 2014. However, the vast majority of these — about 4,000 — were imported from South Africa.

In that time frame, 681 trophies were imported into the U.S. from Zimbabwe and Zambia. The peak of African lion trophy imports came in 2013 and 2014, when 727 were imported each year from all African countries included in the study.