U.S. Fish and Wildlife is contributing to a decline of the elephant population, opening the door to hunters with two new policies that were issued without public notice or public input, Friends of Animals stated in a legal brief filed in federal court

The legal brief was filed as part of Friends of Animals continuing effort to save the elephants in Africa, whose population continues to dwindle. The African elephant population has plummeted by 30 percent in seven years, with just 350,000 left in the world where once there were millions.

The elephants face threats from U.S. hunters who shoot them to mount on their walls, as well as poachers who continue to slay elephants for their ivory tusks. 

Under the Trump administration, the Department of Interior, led by Ryan Zinke, has thrown open the doors to U.S. hunters who travel to Africa to kill the elephants and import their body parts as trophies.

The new rules issued by FWS loosens restrictions on trophy hunting. The rule change allows the agency to issue permits to trophy hunters on a case-by-case basis, abandoning findings in 2014 and 2015 that banned the import of trophies from Zimbabwe because it would imperil their chances of survival. The rule change also allows FWS to make policy changes without providing notice in the federal registry.

“The population of African elephants continues to decline at an alarming rate, and U.S. policies contribute to this decline by allowing trophy hunters to kill these massive and intelligent creatures and display their remains as ‘trophies,” said FoA Wildlife Law Program Assistant Director Jennifer Best. “In order for these elephants to continue to exist in the wild, our government needs to consider the information of experts in the field and ban this barbaric practice.”

The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force joined FoA in its lawsuit, which was initially filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. in 2017 with Zinke as a named defendant. Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association intervened to defend the new pro-trophy hunting rules.

In addition to the lawsuit FoA is pushing for legislation in New York known as the Big Five African Trophies Act that would prohibit the trophies of elephants, lions, leopards and black and white rhinos from being brought into its port. New York is the busiest port of entry in the U.S.

For more about FoA’s legal efforts to protect African elephants, click here.