On Friday, a federal government council met for the first time to begin efforts to advise Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on how to improve public awareness concerning the benefits of big game hunting here and abroad; addressing the controversial hunting of African elephants, rhinos and lions.
According to AbcNews, the council originating in November and now referred to as the International Wildlife Conservation Council, purpose is to provide recommendations and public awareness when it comes to animal preservation and the economic benefits of wealthy big game hunters traveling abroad to snag a trophy animal. What the council didn’t mention, however is the majority of the 16 council members have a connection to trophy hunting or groups that advocate for hunting as a way to support conservation.
The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently announced that it will now consider permits for elephant hunt trophies from African nations on a “case by case basis” – reversing President Trump’s earlier promises to maintain a ban on the practice. Each case, either to grant or deny permits to import sport hunted animals, will be on a “case-by-case-basis.” The department stated it will consider all information first prior to issuing permits relating to risk assessments of species vulnerability. The service also announced it will withdraw a number of ESA findings dating back to 1995 relating to African elephant trophies, bontebok and lions from African nations.
According to the database for government advisory committees, six of the member are active “U.S, hunters actively engaged in international and/or domestic hunting conservation.” Other members have affiliations with pro hunting organizations such as the Safari Club International described as having 50,000 members and advocating:
“hunters dedicated to protecting the freedom to hunt. SCI has more than 50,000 members and 180 local chapters.”
Other committee members have a connection to firearm manufactures or the National Rifle Association. Advocacy groups call the council biased which does not include anyone with scientific expertise in the conservation of animals. In addition, Zinke is an avid hunter and continues to expand hunting and fishing opportunities on United States public lands. The recommendations are expected to include:
“recommending removal of barriers to the importation of barriers into the U.S. of legally hunted wildlife, resuming the legal trade of those items where appropriate and streamlining import permits.”
President Trump has previously spoken out against hunting, after photos of his eldest sons, Don Jr. and Eric, posing with trophies, provoked criticism. When a photo of Don Jr. holding a severed elephant tail went viral over social media, 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.
In a statement on Thursday, President Trump has evidently done a complete about face; with Zinke stating the president is 100% in agreement. According to the New York Daily News, council member, Steven Chancellor, a longtime Republican fundraiser, killed 500 animals including lions, leopards, elephants and two rhinos. In 2016, Chancellor filed for a federal permit to bring home skin, skull, teeth and claws from another male lion he intended to hunt in Zimbabwe. Chancellor also hosted a fundraiser for then candidate Trump and Mike Pence – pulling up to Chancellor’s mansion stood a pair of gilded lions.
“A review by the Associated Press found that the board is stacked with trophy hunters, including some members with direct ties to President Trump’s family, despite federal laws requiring that advisory committees be ‘fairly balanced.'”
And when one thinks it can’t get any worse, another appointee to the council is Chris Hudson, a lawyer and past president of the Dallas chapter of the Safari Club. Hudson attracted international attention in 2014 after filing a lawsuit for his client Corey Knowlton, whose winning bid in a club of $350,000, allowed him to shoot an endangered black rhinoceros in Namibia. In 1995, there were only 2,410 black rhinos left in the world. Thanks to conservation projects, 2015 statistics extimate across Africa their current population has increased to between 5,042 and 5,458 individuals. Knowlton sued Delta Air Lines over its refusal to ship the carcass back to the United States.
Council member, Keith Mark had been hunting with Donald Trump Jr., prior to being appointed.
Dr. Walter Palmer of Minnesota shot and killed a male lion wearing a radio collar named Cecil. Advocates claim the lion was lured out of the sanctuary area by food, shot with an arrow and suffered for eight to ten hours before he was killed and relieved of his suffering.
Lawsuits from advocacy groups demanding documents relating to the creation of the council have been filed this week.
Read previous coverage here.
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