opinion   |   column

COLUMN: Do not forget the elephants

It is not unreasonable to expect a president to have a competent awareness of the policies his administration implements. Especially when it comes to leading a country, ignorance is not bliss; it is dangerous. 

And yet, ignorance and the confusion it breeds are unmistakably present in our commander in chief, as evidenced by the uncertain fate of one of this planet’s most majestic creatures.

Two weeks ago, the Trump administration announced it would lift an Obama-era ban on the importation of elephant hunting trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia. 

Originally singled out for their inability to prove adequate conservation efforts, these countries were scheduled to have their bans lifted.

The following day, President Trump tweeted the decision would be put on hold until he could “review all conservation facts.” The day after that, he tweeted a condemnation of trophy hunting, describing it as a “horror show” and stating inconclusively that he would likely not lift the ban.

The only thing that is clear about Trump’s handling of this situation is that clarity is lacking. 

Dan Ashe, former president of the Fish and Wildlife Service, describes Trump’s last-minute intervention as “unprecedented.” Apparently, the administration’s initial announcement had already been published in the Federal Register Service.

“It puts the Fish and Wildlife Service in an awkward procedural position,” Ashe said.

It is important to remember that although Trump’s tweets will be catalogued in the Library of Congress as presidential records, policy is not actually made on Twitter. 

Given the president’s ludicrously dishonest history, we should not take any comfort in what he says on social media.

As Elly Pepper, deputy director of the National Resources Defense Council, points out, “putting trophy imports ‘on hold’ isn’t good enough.”

“If we don’t force the administration to completely revoke its decision, President Trump could quietly start allowing these imports as soon as he stops facing criticism on Twitter,” Pepper said. 

So, despite our president’s seemingly concerned tweets, the question remains: what happens to the elephants?

Certainly the ban should not be lifted. Although conservation experts claim that the money raised from expensive hunting permits can actually help improve conservation efforts, the system only works when countries can prove that elephant populations are stabilizing or increasing. 

Obviously, hunters are not solely or even primarily interested in saving the animals they kill. If they were, they would donate the money they spend on permits — up to $20,000 — directly to conservation funds. 

Even if it is unrealistic to expect people to help animals without the supposed benefits that entice them to hunt, we should still be willing to regulate hunting and the money it raises so it actually helps elephants.

Especially in Zimbabwe, corruption in the handling of conservation funds compounded by the effects of political unrest are crucial factors that suggest the ban should remain in place.

It is difficult to have faith in our president, whether in respect to doing the right thing or even simply in doing what he says he will do.

The question of the elephant trophy ban is yet another example of Trump’s inability to perform his duties effectively. The ban should not be lifted, and neither should the scrutiny under which we should hold this frankly dangerous man.


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