It’s 2024, Not 1924. Why Are We Still Trading in Elephant Trophies? | Opinion

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently released a rule that will make it harder to import elephant hunting trophies from African countries that can’t prove they’re adequately protecting the animals.
The ugly truth is that we’re at serious risk of witnessing the extinction of these magnificent animals—potentially within our lifetimes.
Only around 415,000 elephants remain on the entire African continent, compared to about 26 million at the end of the 18th century. Poaching is on the rise in some regions formerly thought to be strongholds for the species — at least 60 elephants were likely poached in northern Botswana alone in recent months.
Elephant eating in green grass after rain, Samburu County, Samburu National Reserve, Kenya, on Nov. 25. Elephant eating in green grass after rain, Samburu County, Samburu National Reserve, Kenya, on Nov. 25. Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty Images
Most of us react to this news with horror. But a few folks hear these statistics and rush to plan an African hunting trip so they can gun down an elephant and bring home its mounted head or stuffed legs before the animals disappear forever.
Trophy hunters of this type just killed three huge, mature male elephants­—known as tuskers—on the Tanzania-Kenya border, no doubt for the long tusks the animals had been growing for a lifetime. And a fourth such hunt could be underway. These particular elephants were important population members and were also participants in a long-term research project in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park.
Conservationists are asking Tanzania to reinstate an expired agreement that banned hunting of elephants from this population, since trophy hunting is not permitted in Kenya.
A lot of elephant trophy hunters are U.S. citizens, and the United States imports more mammal trophies than any other country in the world, by far—more than 10 times the number of the second-highest importer. We’re a huge part of this problem, and we have a responsibility to set a strong example.
Elephants in Africa are listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, which means the federal government can control trophy imports.
Our government’s new rule ratcheting down those imports is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t go far enough. Bowing to trophy interests, the final rule walked back a requirement that elephant populations be stable or increasing for trade to be permitted. Instead, the regulation allows trade under a looser

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