The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service quietly issued 16 individual permits authorizing the import of sport-hunted elephant trophies from Zimbabwe before announcing to the public in November that it was lifting its ban, Friends of Animals has learned.

According to records obtained by FoA through a Freedom of Information request, FWS started issuing permits in January.

“It is outrageous that despite finding that Zimbabwe has no effective program to conserve the African elephant population in that country, that FWS would covertly issue this year 16 permits authorizing the killing of elephants in that country by American hunters,” said Michael Harris, director of Friends of Animals’ Wildlife Law Program. “These permits were issued without any opportunity for non-agency scientists and other interested parties to provide information regarding the impact the issuance of these permits would have on African elephants in Zimbabwe, which will be completely devastating.”

The permits were issued between Jan. 1 and Nov. 16 of this year to trophy hunters from an array of a dozen states, with five going to Texans.

As a result of this information, FoA amended the lawsuit it filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 22 challenging FWS’s irrational decision to reverse its three-year policy on prohibiting U.S. hunters from importing elephant trophies from Zimbabwe.

The 16 permits were issued to:

Daniel Crippen, Burr Ridge IL; Michael Grieb, Charlevoix, MI; James Thompson, Houston, Texas; John Stevenson, Paradise Valley, Ariz.; Thomas Lobrano, Centreville, MS; Dennis Bristow, Wilson, WY; Alfred Schimpf, Dousman, WI; Michael Thompson, Nobleville, IN; Daniel Gorecki, Hartland, WI; John Tubbs, Belgrade, MT; Scott Dinger, Midland, Texas; Jimmy Tindol, Midland, Texas; Michael Smith, Carthage, Texas; Martin Vick, Mansfield, SD; Cliff Graham, South Ogden, UT; and Thomas Whaley, Marshall, Texas.

Zimbabwe’s overall elephant population has declined 11 percent since 2005, and in some parts of the country by 74 percent. Last year, a federal judge upheld the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2014 decision to ban imports of sport-hunted African elephant trophies from Zimbabwe—a case that Friends of Animals and Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force intervened in—striking down a challenge brought by the Safari Club and the NRA.

“Friends of Animals will not tolerate a gift to the Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association, which for decades have spent substantial money perpetuating that myth that trophy hunting is the best way to fund sustainable wildlife conservation in Africa, blatantly ignoring the evidence to the contrary that continues to pile up. Studies show that increased opportunities to legally kill these animals actually fuels poaching,” said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals.