Why is it so hard for President Trump to flatly forbid trophy hunting imports?

Photo by Artg

(First printed in the NEW YORK DAILY NEWS, Friday, March 9, 2018, 12:16 PM)

It’s been three years since the world erupted in outrage when Cecil the lion was selfishly and ineptly hunted down by Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer. The callous killing of Cecil threw a harsh spotlight on the slaughtering of animals for their body parts — “trophies” — so they can be stuffed and hung up on walls in macabre tableaux mounted by insecure men. (Yes, it’s almost exclusively men who participate in this so-called sport.) It’s time for our government to stop being complicit in this indefensible horror.

Earlier this week, the Trump administration announced that the import of body parts of African elephants shot for sport could be allowed on a case-by-case basis. This news came only a few months after the President spoke out against the practice and put the decision on hold. Back in November, President Trump tweeted, “Big-game trophy decision will be announced next week but will be very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal.”

He was right then and if he meant it, he needs to direct his agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), to do its job and protect wildlife, not trophy hunters.

Importing elephant “trophies” is currently illegal unless a government agency allows an exception to the law that is supposed to protect endangered species, and there is no legitimate basis for allowing the body parts of imperiled animals to be imported into our country.

New reports detail Cecil’s last hours. According to the forthcoming book “Lion Hearted: The Life and Death of Cecil & the Future of Africa’s Iconic Cats,” By biologist Andrew Loveridge, after deliberately luring him outside the confines of a national park in order to skirt regulations, Palmer shot Cecil with his first steel arrow but missed his vital organs and major arteries. The majestic lion suffered for 10 to 12 excruciatingly painful hours before finally being “dispatched” with a second arrow from a compound bow.

Public condemnation of trophy hunting remains strong. It’s a cowardly pastime that is all about the perverse need to nab and slaughter the biggest and the “best.” It’s about gleefully posing for twisted selfies with lifeless bodies. It’s about bragging rights, as if blasting a complacent animal with high-powered weaponry were some sort of achievement.

We must ask ourselves, what is the psychology of someone who spends tens of thousands of dollars to travel to another country just to kill? When their motive is the thrill of the kill and they have a complete disregard for another’s life and take perverted pleasure in displaying heads of animals minding their own business, this indicates to the rest of us a very deeply disturbed psyche.

Trying to spin these kills as “conservation” is absurd. The animals are supposed to be protected by international treaty and the federal Endangered Species Act. Killing them or importing their body parts is strictly prohibited. There is one exception — when doing so would help “enhance the propagation or survival of the affected species.”

As the Supreme Court recognized, this exception is meant to apply under “extremely narrow circumstances.” And yet, through an outrageous pay-to-play policy, the FWS has let the exception become the rule.

Pressured by groups like Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association, the FWS now issues dozens of permits every year authorizing trophy imports. Instead of limiting permits to those cases that truly help species, as the law requires, the agency hands them out like candy to just about anyone claiming to make a donation toward conservation.

Never mind that the donations are nothing but collateral to the cruel hunting, are often paltry, and go to countries where there is no assurance that they will actually be used for conservation. Never mind that FWS often doesn’t even follow up to make sure that the promised donations are even made, let alone that they end up where they were supposed to. Never mind that killing elephants or lions — members of complex social groups — directly undermines conservation while also destroying families.

As ethicist Marc Bekoff says, “It’s time to put away the guns . . . and figure out how to live in peaceful coexistence with the fascinating animals with whom we’re supposed to share our most magnificent planet.”

The FWS would do well to take that message to heart, charged as it is by Congress with protecting these animals.

Winders is the PETA Foundation’s vice president and deputy general counsel for captive animal law enforcement and a visiting scholar at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University.

Trump to Allow Import of Elephant and Lion Trophies

Michelle Gadd, USFWS
The Trump Administration has quietly authorized the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to issue permits for imports of trophies taken from elephants. This after Trump called the practice of hunting elephants for their trophies a “horror show”. President Barack Obama’s administration had banned import of trophies taken from elephants Zimbabwe and Zambia in particular. The new FWS Memo effectively withdraws the Obama era ban.

African elephants are designated under the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. §1531, et seq. (ESA). An “enhance[ment]” finding is necessary under ESA to allow any hunting of a designated species. This is a finding that hunting a designated species will “enhance the propagation or survival of the affected species” or is for scientific purposes consistent with the conservation purpose of the ESA”. 16 U.S.C. §§1538(a), 1539(a)(1)(A). The new memo effectively withdraws the Obama era findings that hunting African elephants in the wild will not enhance their survival. FWS will now issue permits on an undefined “case-by-case” basis to hunters and others who want to import parts or trophies from elephants hunted down in the wild.

That is not all….The Trump Administration has also lifted the ban on importing hunted lions. Effective January 22, 2016 FWS under President Obama reacted to the dramatic decline of lions in the wild by designating two subspecies under ESA. The new rules effectively protected all remaining lions from trophy hunting. In its new memo FWS has withdrawn all previous findings that hunting lions does not “enhance” their survival in the wild. Permits to import lion trophies are now available from FWS.

The Worst Zoo for Elephants

Elephants on Kasenyl Plains by Tobias Seiderer

In Defense of Animals has chosen the Oklahoma City Zoo as the worst zoo for elephants. Though there is no good zoo for any animal and certainly not elephants.

Yet this is where the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle decided to send its remaining elephants, Bamboo and Chai, when public pressure forced the zoo to close its elephant exhibition. This despite that the mayor, city council and citizens urged the zoo to place these elephants in an accredited sanctuary.

Chai died only eight months after arriving at OKC Zoo. According to Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, “She wasted away, rapidly losing 1,000 pounds, and suffered from an infection in her bloodstream likely caused by 25 puss-filled abscesses—all of which went untreated.

“Now Bamboo, languishes at OKC Zoo, an aggressor and victim. The other elephants at the zoo have repeatedly attacked Bamboo, injuring various parts of her body including her trunk and one of the bites amputated the end of her tail.” Alyne Fortgang, co-founder of Friends, adds, “Trapped within a cramped hot-wired yard there is no ability to flee from an attack causing an unhealthy and dangerous situation….

“It is not too late for OKC Zoo to do the right thing by allowing [Bamboo] to heal and live in peace at an accredited elephant sanctuary.”

Call on City of Seattle to Send Elephants to a Sanctuary

Photo by Artg
Photo by Artg
Update: The Woodland Park Zoo euthanized Watoto on August 22, 2014, saying she was not able to get up and was in increasing discomfort. Watoto was only 45 years old. Captivity took its toll. Her life span in the wild would likely have been 70 years. Not to mention in the wild she would have been free to have a family, establish the close bonds so critical to an elephant’s well being. She would have been free to roam as elephants do for miles each day. Instead, she was confined to an indoor stall 16-17 hours a day during inclement weather, a given in Seattle for much of the year and to a small paddock on dry days. All 3 of the zoo’s elephants have less than an acre and that includes the indoor facility.

It is more critical than ever to move the remaining two elephants, Chai and Bamboo, to a sanctuary where they can roam for acres and form rewarding relationships with other elephants. Call Mayor Ed Murray at 206-684-4000 or write him or comment on his Facebook page. For more information including how to contact City Council members about moving the elephants to a sanctuary, read Animal Law Coalition’s original report below. Don’t wait. Act now.

Original report: According to a recent survey, nearly two thirds of Seattle residents support retiring the elephants, Chai, Bamboo and Watoto, to a sanctuary. Less than 10% support keeping the elephants at the zoo. Two thirds of city residents want the zoo to stop breeding Chai.

27 zoos have closed or plan to close their elephant exhibits. The Journal, Scientific American, recently called for an end to all elephant exhibits. “[I]f the zoos really have the animals’ best interests at heart, they would close their elephant exhibits.” Scientific American (Feb. 2014). “Confined elephants often spend their time standing around in cramped quarters….These tortuous conditions inflict serious physical and psychological damage on such smart and sensitive animals.” Scientific American Board of Editors (March, 2014).

At Woodland Park Zoo, because of the weather, the elephants are confined over half the year for 16-17 hours each day in small indoor stalls. When outside, they are confined to small paddocks. The entire elephant exhibit including the barn with the indoor stalls, occupies only about an acre. The elephants display neurotic behaviors that are signs of distress and boredom. A former zoo veterinarian has confirmed the elephants suffer from chronic, painful skin conditions as a result of the climate and foot infections and arthritis from standing on hard surfaces.

These intelligent, sensitive animals are provided with no exercise, let alone the ability to roam and forage for miles each day as they do in the wild. A zoo environment deprives them of strong family and social bonds of the matriarchal herds in which they live normally. A zoo is nothing more than a cruel prison for these animals. Go here for more information.

Recently, the zoo announced a five year plan that includes transferring Watoto to another zoo and bringing in one or two other elephants for breeding. Chai has already suffered thru 112 artificial inseminations and had numerous miscarriages; there have been no live births. Breeding elephants in captivity is problematic and with the zoo’s lack of infection control and suitable habitat, irresponsible and cruel. The zoo claims it will spend $1.5-3 million over 5 years to improve the exhibit in some undefined way including adding new elephants for breeding; these funds will also be used in some undefined way for elephant conservation. Contrast this with the $42 million spent by San Diego and Los Angeles each only to upgrade their elephant exhibits.

The zoo plans to move Watoto to another zoo by the end of this year.

In 2010 taxpayers brought a lawsuit against the City for subsidizing the zoo’s elephant exhibit which violates federal, state and local animal cruelty laws. The case was dismissed for lack of standing. Since then, residents have called on the City of Seattle to intervene and close the elephant exhibit. Residents attended a city council meeting on July 14, 2014 to urge council members to tell the zoo to send Watoto to a sanctuary rather than another zoo. But the council refused to allow residents to speak.

The City’s Authority to Transfer the Elephants to Sanctuary

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has said that he “personally believes that elephants should not be kept in captivity. The scientific evidence strongly supports that extensive open space and opportunities for rich social interaction are necessary for elephants to flourish. Unfortunately, the Woodland Park Zoo’s current elephant exhibit does not sufficiently provide for these needs“.

But the mayor and the city council have taken the position that they have “no authority over the Zoo’s operations or its policies regarding its elephant exhibit.” The mayor explains, “In 2002, the City of Seattle transferred management and financial responsibility of the Zoo to the Woodland Park Zoological Society.”

It is true that pursuant to Ordinance 120697, the the zoo is managed by the Society under an operations and management contract with the City. But the contract contains these provisions:

15.2 Care of Animals. WPZS shall care for all Zoo Animals in accordance
with all federal, state and local laws and regulations, and in accordance with the Long-Range Plan and policies and guidelines adopted by the AZA.
15.3 Sale and Purchase of Animals. WPZS shall have the authority to acquire or sell or otherwise dispose of Zoo Animals in the course of WPZS’s operation of the Zoo. The acquisition, sale or other disposition of Zoo Animals shall be made in strict accordance with (a) all applicable federal, state or local laws, regulations and policies, (b) the guidelines and policies of the AZA, and (c) existing and any adopted acquisition and disposition policies approved by the City.

In effect, the zoo must comply with city ordinances passed to protect zoo animals. The city has the authority specifically to adopt ordinances regarding the acquisition and disposition of animals by the zoo. The city can, then, pass legislation directing transfer of Watoto, for example, to a sanctuary.

Also, taxpayers provide about a third of the funding for the zoo. In 2012 the zoo received $10.3 million from the city and county. Taxpayers should not pay for an antiquated elephant exhibit that inflicts cruel suffering on Chai, Bamboo, and Watoto every single day.


If you live in Seattle, contact Mayor Ed Murray and the city council at the addresses below and urge them to use the city’s authority under its contract with the Woodland Park Zoological Society to direct that Watoto be sent to a sanctuary now instead of a zoo and also close the elephant exhibit entirely as so many other zoos have done.

Ed.murray@seattle.gov; Jean.Godden@seattle.gov; Sally.Bagshaw@seattle.gov; Tim.Burgess@seattle.gov; Sally.Clark@seattle.gov; Bruce.Harrell@seattle.gov; Nick.Licata@seattle.gov; Tom.Rasmussen@seattle.gov; Mike.OBrien@seattle.gov; Kshama.Sawant@seattle.gov

Also, please volunteer/donate to support the efforts of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants.
Support Community Coalition for Elephant Retirement!
These organizations are leading the fight to save Watoto, Chai and Bamboo from the terrible conditions they suffer at Woodland Park Zoo.