The Trump administration has granted 38 permits to import lion trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia since 2016, HuffPost reports, citing documents obtained by the nonprofit Friends of Animals.
The news comes just months after the Trump administration quietly began allowing more imports of lion and elephant trophies from several African nations.
According to the documents obtained by Friends of Animals, 33 Americans were issued the permits, some of which were for animals that were killed years ago. While the majority of the 38 permits were applied for under the Obama administration, all of them were approved under the Trump administration, a spokeswoman for the animal advocacy group told The Hill.
The Fish and Wildlife Service said in a statement to HuffPost that the permits were granted only to hunters who had made legal kills. “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 statement also said, referring to a claim that has long been rejected by conservationists.
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HuffPost notes that several of the 38 people who received the permits under the Trump administration have ties to Republican fundraising efforts, including Philip Glass, a Texas rancher and Trump donor, and Kent Greenawalt, who has donated around $100,000 to Republican candidates and committees.
The African lion population has declined by 43 percent in the last 21 years, with only an estimated 23,000 lions remaining, Newsweek reported, citing statistics from the African Wildlife Foundation. After the controversial hunting death of Cecil the Lion in 2015, then-President Barack Obama added two subspecies of African lion to the endangered species list.
In March 2018, the Trump administration quietly reversed Obama-era resctrictions on importing elephant and lion parts from Zimbabwe and Zambia as trophies, saying permits would be reviewed on a case by case basis.
The Fish and Wildlife Service first announced it had lifted the ban in November 2017.
Soon after, President Trump faced extreme backlash from politicians, environmentalists and elephant lovers — including accusations that the decision was motivated by his sons Eric and Donald Jr., who are both avid hunters.
One day later, Trump said he had put that move “on hold” so he could review the policy. He later tweeted that he “will be very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal.”
During Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, images of Trump’s sons proudly posing with big-game trophies reemerged to criticism.
In a 2012 tweet, Trump said, “My sons love hunting, I don’t.” He made similar comments in a 2012 interview with TMZ, saying: “My sons love hunting. They’re hunters and they’ve become good at it. I am not a believer in hunting and I’m surprised they like it.”