Battle over elephant trophy imports takes another turn

Alex Berger

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has lost a legal battle over its April 2014 decision to ban the import of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe.

The USFWS’ original decision to ban the import of trophies harvested on or after April 4, 2014 was published in the Federal Register in spring 2014 and reissued in spring 2015. Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association sued over the decision, and in late December 2017 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in their favor. The court found that the notices effectively amounted to an administrative rule, and as a result the Service should have allowed for a public comment period to take place as required under the Administrative Procedures Act.

While this ruling is only applicable to the 2014 and 2015 decisions, it further complicates the current state of elephant trophy importation into the United States. In November 2017, USFWS announced that it would once again allow the importation of trophies from Zimbabwe and neighboring Zambia.

Just as in 2014 and 2015 though, USFWS did not provide a comment period to coincide with these decisions, leaving them potentially open to additional legal scrutiny. Immediately after the November 2017 decisions were published, President Trump announced via Twitter his intent to reverse them. Since his statements made on social media, no formal changes to the November 2017 notices have come out of the White House or USFWS. As a result, the status of elephant trophy importation from these two countries remains in limbo.

To learn more, check out TWS’ letter to the Trump Administration and other TWS coverage on African elephant trophy importation.