Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 20, 2018


Tanya Sanerib, Center for Biological Diversity, (206) 379-7363,
Kirsten Peek, Humane Society of the United States, (301) 548-7793,
Prashant Khetan, Born Free USA, (202) 450-3168,

Lawsuit Challenges Federal Government’s Secretive Elephant Trophy-import Policy

Trump Administration Cuts Public Out of Permit Process, Meets With Trophy Hunters

WASHINGTON— Four conservation and animal-protection groups sued the Trump administration today over its secretive new policy of approving elephant and lion trophy imports behind closed doors.

Today’s lawsuit targets a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision, outlined in a March 1 memo, to shut the public and scientists out of the process for evaluating the impacts of trophy hunting of elephants, lions and other African animals.

The Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, Ian Michler and Born Free USA filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

A federal court ruled in December that the administration needed to involve the public in trophy import decisions. Instead of complying, Interior Department officials adopted a case-by-case permitting approach that fails to comprehensively consider trophy hunting impacts and severely decreases transparency. The day after quietly finalizing its new approach, the administration announced the first meeting of a pro-trophy hunting council convened to advise Fish and Wildlife on increasing trophy hunting of foreign species.

“Despite ample scientific and economic concerns and tremendous public outcry over trophy hunting, this administration seems determined to allow Safari Club International and other special interests to unduly influence federal wildlife policy decisions,” said Anna Frostic, managing wildlife attorney with The Humane Society of the United States.

The memo rescinds numerous prior rules on trophy imports, wiping the slate clean of longstanding decisions pertaining to imports of trophies from elephants, lions and bontebok, a type of antelope. However, the Service has signaled that it still intends to rely on the bad science contained in its prior authorizations to import trophies.

“Elephants shouldn’t be killed for cheap thrills, and the Trump administration shouldn’t make crucial trophy hunting decisions behind closed doors,” said Tanya Sanerib, international program legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Federal wildlife officials seem to be thumbing their nose at President Trump after he called for an end to the horror show of trophy hunting.”  

Today’s challenge to the March 1 memo is being added to a pending court case contesting the administration’s decision last November to lift an import ban on Zimbabwe elephant trophy imports, as well as a decision allowing imports of lion trophies from Zimbabwe to the United States.

“These are sentient and imperiled animals being gunned down for fun,” said Prashant Khetan, CEO and general counsel of Born Free USA. “Threatened species deserve better than to be shot and stuffed. These animals belong in the wild, not on living room walls.” 

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Humane Society of the United States has celebrated the protection of all animals and confronted all forms of cruelty for more than 60 years. We and our affiliates are the nation's largest provider of hands-on services for animals, caring for more than 100,000 animals each year, and we prevent cruelty to millions more through our advocacy campaigns. Read more about our more than 60 years of transformational change for animals and people.

Humane Society International and its partner organisations together constitute one of the world’s largest animal protection organisations. For more than 25 years, HSI has been working for the protection of all animals through the use of science, advocacy, education and hands on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty worldwide – on the Web at

Born Free USA, a non-profit organization headquartered in Maryland, is a global leader in animal welfare and wildlife conservation.

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