White House says decision to lift ban on elephant hunting trophies from Africa has not been 'finalized'

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is planning to reverse a ban on importing elephant hunting trophies from two countries in Africa, but White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the move is not “final.”

Trophies from elephants hunted in those two countries were banned by the administration of President Barack Obama in 2014. The African elephant is classified as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, which means it is “considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.” 

President Trump has previously spoken out against hunting after photos of his eldest sons, Don Jr. and Eric, posing with trophies provoked criticism. The pictures included one of Don Jr. holding a severed elephant tail. 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. 

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The horrors of elephant poaching
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The horrors of elephant poaching
MAASAI MARA NATIONAL RESERVE, KENYA - JANUARY 22: Male elephant rescued by wildlife experts after a crude spear penetrated several feet into his back at the North-Western Maasai Mara National Reserve on January 22, 2017 in Maasai Mara Reserve, South West Kenya. THIS young male bull elephant was rescued by wildlife experts after a crude spear penetrated several feet into his back. On January 19, the injured bull was reported to Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) immediately flew a KWS Vet, Dr. Dominic Mjele to the Mara Triangle in the North-Western Maasai Mara National Reserve in South West Kenya. After darting the elephant with a sedative, Dr Mjele was able to remove the crude long spear and the wound was thoroughly cleaned and green clay - a natural remedy - was applied alongside antiseptic spray. Within a few minutes the elephant was back on his feet and departed with a short glance back at his rescuers. The elephant was speared by members of the Maasai community with a sharpened steel round bar acting as a spear. DSWT said: The elephant was injured in a case of human-wildlife conflict. This is becoming increasing prevalent in Kenya and across Africa as human settlements and farmland are built on migration routes previously used by elephants and other wild animals. This brings elephants into close contact with humans, often with deadly results. In the past three years, the DSWT has treated more than 110 elephants speared by humans which amounts to nearly one a week, but the threat of human-elephant conflict is growing. DSWT said: Human-elephant conflict is a looming threat, and in places like Kenya where poaching is more or less under control, looks set to be the next issue conservationists must face to secure a future for elephants. But we cant save elephants in the long-term if they have no home in which to live and roam and there is a very real prospect that for every elephant life saved from the clutches of ivory poachers, they could then be hit by a speeding car, killed in a revenge attack by communities for eating their crops or have their young fall down drainage holes or wells. Luckily this particular elephants prognosis is encouraging and he will be monitored over the next few weeks as he recovers. PHOTOGRAPH BY THE DSWT / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftmedia.com (Photo credit should read THE DSWT / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
UGANDA, AFRICA - UNDATED: A man cares for an elephant's wound, taken in Uganda, Africa. A VETERINARY team risk their lives to rescue an elephant injured by an infected wound crawling with maggots. Wildlife film producer, Verity White and her team were filming the darting of a giraffe with the Uganda Wildlife Authority Vet Team in Murchison Falls National Park, when they came across the limping elephant. The Uganda Conservation Foundation had recently provided a dedicated veterinary vehicle to the Uganda Wildlife Authority in Murchison Falls as part of measure to tackle the poaching problem. PHOTOGRAPH BY Verity White / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftmedia.com (Photo credit should read Verity White / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
A group of elephants, believed to have been killed by poachers, lie dead at a watering hole in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park October 26, 2015. Picture taken October 26, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer TEMPLATE OUT
A Kenya Wildlife Services ranger inspects part of elephant tusks recovered from suspected Kenyan ring-leader of an ivory smuggling gang Feisal Ali Mohamed, also one of the nine most wanted environmental crime fugitives worldwide listed by Interpol, before the judgment on a case in which he had been charged with dealing and possession of 2,152 kg of ivory in Mombasa, Kenya, July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Joseph Okanga
A group of elephants, believed to have been killed by poachers, lie dead at a watering hole in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park October 26, 2015. Picture taken October 26, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer TEMPLATE OUT
Around three tonnes of illegal ivory seized by French customs agents are displayed before being pulverized into dust in Paris February 6, 2014 as part of an Europe's first destruction of a stockpile of the banned elephant tusks. The destruction of the ivory, confiscated over two decades, is intended to send a message to poachers and traffickers and in accordance to the action to the French government to fight poaching of endangered species. REUTERS/Charles Platiau (FRANCE - Tags: CRIME LAW ANIMALS POLITICS)
ASSAM, INDIA, MAY 28:Indian Villgers stand near a dead elephant after killed by Suspected poachers at Udmari on May 28, 2017 in Nagaon, Assam, India. PHOTOGRAPH BY Anuwar Hazarika/Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftimages.com (Photo credit should read Anuwar Hazarika/Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
This picture taken on August 1, 2017 shows an Indonesian forest ranger from the Leuser Conservation displaying animal traps set up by poachers to capture various wildlife including large game such as rhinoceros, elephants, tigers and bears in the Leuser ecosystem rainforest, during a forum in Banda Aceh. The traps were found and dismantled by rangers on their regular patrols in the last six months. / AFP PHOTO / CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN (Photo credit should read CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP/Getty Images)
ASSAM, INDIA, MAY 28: A dead elephant being shifted for cremation after killed by Suspected poachers at Udmari on May 28, 2017 in Nagaon, Assam, India. PHOTOGRAPH BY Anuwar Hazarika/Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftimages.com (Photo credit should read Anuwar Hazarika/Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
UGANDA, AFRICA - UNDATED: A man cares for an elephant's wound, taken in Uganda, Africa. A VETERINARY team risk their lives to rescue an elephant injured by an infected wound crawling with maggots. Wildlife film producer, Verity White and her team were filming the darting of a giraffe with the Uganda Wildlife Authority Vet Team in Murchison Falls National Park, when they came across the limping elephant. The Uganda Conservation Foundation had recently provided a dedicated veterinary vehicle to the Uganda Wildlife Authority in Murchison Falls as part of measure to tackle the poaching problem. PHOTOGRAPH BY Verity White / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftmedia.com (Photo credit should read Verity White / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
A tourist takes a picture of Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) ranger on April 28, 2016 next to some of the illegal stockpiles of elephant tusks stacked up onto pyres at Nairobi's national park, waiting to be burned along with more than a tonne of rhino-horn at what is said to be the biggest stockpile destruction in history. Kenya on April 30, 2016 will burn approximately 105 tonnes of confiscated ivory, almost all of the country's total stockpile at an event to be attended by several African heads of state, conservation experts, high-profile philanthropists and celebrities at the event which they hope will send a strong anti-poaching message. / AFP / TONY KARUMBA (Photo credit should read TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)
Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) personnel stack elephant tusks onto pyres in preparation on April 22, 2016 for a historic destruction of illegal ivory and rhino-horn confiscated mostly from poachers in Nairobi's national park. Kenya on April 30, 2016 will burn approximately 105 tonnes of confiscated ivory, almost all of the country's total stockpile. Several African heads of state, conservation experts, high-profile philanthropists and celebrities are slated to be present at the event which they hope will send a strong anti-poaching message. / AFP / TONY KARUMBA (Photo credit should read TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)
*** VIDEO AVAILABLE *** KENYA, RUMURUTI FOREST - JUNE: Helping hands: Simotua was comforted through out the process on June, 2015 in Rumuruti Forest, Kenya. AN INJURED baby elephant is saved by a heroic rescue team after being caught in on a poacher's snare and attacked with a spear. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) was called to save the orphaned animal, named Simotua, in June, after he had been left to die in Kenya's 15,000 acre Rumuruti Forest. The one year old elephant was suffering from a large spear wound to his skull and had a deadly snare wrapped around his leg both of which were potentially life-threatening. The calf was driven to the local airstrip where he was met by an expert mobile veterinary team who assessed his injuries before a one-hour-long flight. Simotua was then flown 230km to the DSWT orphanage in Nairobi National Park where he received round the clock medical treatment. PHOTOGRAPH BY THE DSWT / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read THE DSWT / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
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Given Trump’s past opposition, Yahoo News asked Sanders at the White House press briefing Thursday afternoon why the president wants the ban on elephant trophies lifted and whether he has changed his views on hunting. 

“Actually, there hasn’t been an announcement that’s been finalized on this front,” Sanders said.

Sanders referred questions to the Department of the Interior, which oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service.  

The ban on elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia is scheduled to be lifted Friday morning when the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision is published in the Federal Register. Currently, the decision is available for public inspection. It will take effect barring a last minute intervention. 

Yahoo News pressed Sanders on the fact that lifting the ban seems imminent. Once again, she stressed that it was not yet official. 

“There hasn’t been an announcement. And until that’s done, I wouldn’t consider anything final,” Sanders said, later adding, “I would defer you to the Department of Interior for the time being. And when we have an announcement on that front, we’ll let you know.”

The Department of the Interior did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Yahoo News. 

Elephant trophies are currently allowed to be imported into the United States from Namibia and South Africa. The Fish and Wildlife Service is currently reviewing whether to permit elephant trophies to be imported from Tanzania. Under the new proposal, trophies hunted from the start of 2016 until the end of 2018 could be imported into the country. 

A Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson told Yahoo News the decision was made because of improvements in the elephant management programs in Zimbabwe and Zambia. Yahoo News asked the spokesperson if they were confident Zimbabwe’s program would continue after an apparent coup in that country earlier this week. The spokesperson referred that question to the State Department, which has not responded to a request for comment.  

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