Reporter Journal / Chris Davis

Could tweeting actually help save elephants? Stay tuned

(China Daily USA) Updated: 2017-11-30 12:48

US President Donald Trump's tweeting habits may drive people crazy, but one recent flurry may be something to - ahem - trumpet about.

It started back on Nov 14, when the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced at an African Wildlife Consultative Forum in Africa that trophies from elephants legally hunted in Zimbabwe and Zambia between 2016 and 2018 could now be imported to the United States.

All American hunters needed were permits to bring "their elephants home".

"These positive findings for Zimbabwe and Zambia demonstrate that the FWS recognizes that hunting is beneficial to wildlife and that these range countries know how to manage their elephant populations," said Safari Club International President Paul Babaz, applauding the move. "We appreciate the efforts of the Service and the US Department of the Interior to remove barriers to sustainable use conservation for African wildlife."

Elephant importation has been closed in the US since May 2014, when the FWS, under former President Barack Obama, abruptly imposed the ban.

Understandably, animal rights activists and celebrities bristled at the FWS' announcement.

Cher tweeted a post of a Gothamist article about Trump's sons hunting big game featuring a photo of Don Jr. and a Cape Buffalo he had bagged. "Photos: Donald Trump's Sons Awesome At Killing Elephants And Other Wildlife," Cher wrote.

Trump responded: "@cher Old story, one of which I publicly disapproved. My sons love hunting, I don't."

The decision also took heat from conservative media pundits. Fox News' Laura Ingraham tweeted: "Don't understand how this move by @realDonaldTrump Admin will not INCREASE the gruesome poaching of elephants. Stay tuned."

On Nov 17, Trump astonished everyone involved in the issue with another tweet:

"Put big game trophy decision on hold until such time as I review all conservation facts. Under study for years. Will update soon with [Interior] Secretary Zinke. Thank you!"

Two days later, Trump tipped his cards even further with yet another tweet, saying that he would "be hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal".

The FSW had also built a website instructing hunters how to apply for permits to bring lion parts back to the US. African lions were put on the endangered list last year.

Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a statement that he had spoken with Trump, and "both believe that conservation and healthy herds are critical".

Tanya Sanerib, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement: "It's great that public outrage has forced Trump to reconsider this despicable decision, but it takes more than a tweet to stop trophy hunters from slaughtering elephants and lions. We need immediate federal action to reverse these policies."

According to Reuters, Africa's elephant population plunged by about a fifth between 2006 and 2015 because of increased poaching for ivory, a coveted commodity used in carving and ornamental accessories in parts of Asia, the International Union for Conservation of Nature said last year.

Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of the US Humane Society, said on Twitter that he was grateful that Trump was reviewing the decision to lift the trophy ban:

"Grateful to @POTUS @RealDonaldTrump for reassessing elephant and lion trophy hunting imports. This is the kind of trade we don't need."

Trump's decision was a shocker not only because it put on hold an agency decision that had gone through routine procedures and approvals, including publication in the Federal Register, but also because it came from a candidate-turned-president who never made wildlife conservation or environmental policy a priority.

Trump's tweets also put him at odds with Zinke, who recently announced the creation of a special council to look into "the benefits that international recreational hunting has on foreign wildlife and habitat conservation".

For now, chalk up a rare victory for conservation activists who challenge the Trump administration at every turn.

"This is a wise and welcome pause in the process," the World Wildlife Fund said.

Meanwhile, European and American conservation leaders meeting in Geneva this week called on governments worldwide to support requests from African nations and "end all trade in elephant ivory to safeguard the future of elephants".

The standing committee of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is having their first meeting since their 2016 groundbreaking recommendation that all domestic ivory markets that are "contributing to poaching or illegal trade" should be closed "as a matter of urgency".

Legal markets, they warn, provide cover for illegal trade, enabling laundering of poached ivory and fuel demand.

Stay tuned indeed.

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