President Donald Trump says he is delaying a new policy allowing the body parts of African elephants shot for sport to be imported until he can review "all conservation facts."
Put big game trophy decision on hold until such time as I review all conservation facts. Under study for years. Will update soon with Secretary Zinke. Thank you!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 18, 2017
The Fish and Wildlife Service said in a written notice issued Thursday that permitting elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia to be brought back as trophies will raise money for conservation programs. The change marks a shift in efforts to stop the importation of elephant tusks and hides, overriding a 2014 ban imposed by the Obama administration.
Animal rights advocates and environmental groups criticized the decision.
On Friday, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee urged the administration to reverse the policy, calling it the "wrong move at the wrong time."
California Rep. Ed Royce questioned the action because of concerns not only about African wildlife but U.S. national security, citing the political upheaval in Zimbabwe, where the longtime president was placed under house arrest this week by the military.
"The administration should withdraw this decision until Zimbabwe stabilizes," the committee chairman said in a statement. "Elephants and other big game in Africa are blood currency for terrorist organizations, and they are being killed at an alarming rate. Stopping poaching isn't just about saving the world's most majestic animals for the future — it's about our national security."
The world's largest land mammal, the African elephant has been classified as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act since 1979.
Illicit demand for elephant ivory has led to devastating losses from illegal poaching as the natural habitat available for the animals to roam has also dwindled by more than half. As a result, the number of African elephants has shrunk from about 5 million a century ago to about 400,000 remaining. And that number continues to decline each year.
"We should not encourage the hunting and slaughter of these magnificent creatures," said Reps. Vern Buchanan ,co-chair of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus. "We don't get a second chance once a species becomes extinct."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.