Expert: U.S. move on elephants creates ‘uncertainty’

An elephant, pictured above, in Botswana. (© Conservation International/photo by Scott Mills)

A recent decision by the White House to review each import of elephant trophies creates “uncertainty” about efforts to protect the animals, according to one conservation expert.

In an appearance on “CBS This Morning,” Conservation International CEO Dr. M. Sanjayan said that the recent U.S. decision sows doubt about elephant conservation amid recent successes in clamping down on ivory markets.

“Just when this is happening, just when we have moral leadership on this issue — when the United States, when the U.K., when China can take some leadership on this issue — this new uncertainty has created a level of anxiety among people who really care about elephants,” Sanjayan said.

A U.S. Interior Department policy circulated March 1 announced that the administration would review requests to import elephant trophies on a case-by-case basis. Sanjayan put the latest headlines in a broader context, saying that “some countries are doing well, and we’re seeing the tide turn,” pointing to a dramatic drop in the price of ivory and international efforts to close ivory markets.

The question of hunting elephants, lions and other African species has attracted widespread public attention in recent years. Acknowledging that he himself is a hunter, Sanjayan drew a distinction between the well managed hunting of sustainable populations and hunting endangered species.

“In this country, hunting is used as a very strong conservation tool,” he said. “But even in the United States, we don’t hunt endangered species. If we don’t hunt endangered species here, why do we think it’s ok to hunt endangered species [elsewhere]?”

The decision earlier this month was just the latest in a string of elephant-related news coming from the administration that has left many scratching their heads. On Nov. 16, the Trump administration announced that it would allow the import of some elephant trophies — only to have U.S. President Donald Trump appear to put that decision on hold less than 24 hours later.

According to the latest indication from the Interior Department, trophy imports will be allowed on a “case-by-case” basis. The administration has given no indication as to what guidelines they would use to judge each case.

Watch the full interview with Sanjayan on CBS This Morning.

Morgan Lynch is a staff writer for Conservation International.

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