A federal agency that was secretly issuing permits authorizing U.S. hunters to import sport-hunted trophies of elephant parts from Zimbabwe and Zambia has failed to release information about the licenses in violation of Freedom of Information laws, Friends of Animals has alleged in a lawsuit.

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 a ban imposed in 2014. (President Trump then tweeted that he was putting the lifting of the ban on hold, creating even more confusion as to federal policies.) In December, FoA filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking all records relating to the permits and applications. To date, FWS has not provided any information in response to this request. 

“With this lawsuit, we seek to end the secrecy surrounding this administration’s policy on hunting African elephants and clear up confusion caused by conflicting statements between Trumps’ tweets and official agency decisions,’’ said FoA Wildlife Law Program Assistant Director Jennifer Best. “We intend to hold this administration accountable for complying with federal laws, and will keep fighting until the public gets the information they have a right to receive.”
In 2014, FWS imposed ban on elephant trophies from the two countries that was later upheld by a federal judge because the countries had inadequate conservation procedures and policies that could protect the elephant population from being wiped out.

Zimbabwe’s overall elephant population has declined 11 percent since 2005, and in some parts of the country by 74 percent.

Yet, despite even further political instability in Zimbabwe, FWS covertly issued 16 permits trophies between January and November of 2017 allowing U.S. residents to bring back the remains of elephants they hunted, failing to seek input from non-agency scientists and other on the impact the killings would have on the elephant population.

FoA obtained the names of the hunters from more than a dozen states who received the permits under a separate Freedom of Information request but the agency has refused to release any additional information about why the hunters were granted the permits, when the elephants were killed, what specific elephant parts the hunters were able to bring back to the U.S. and who else applied for permits.

Friends of Animals is suing the agency over its lifting of the ban and in December, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals vindicated the need to keep the ban and required FWS to comply with a transparent public process.

But the agency’s refusal to comply with Freedom of Information laws and disclose the data on elephant trophies signals it is keeping the public in the dark about the elephant killings.

FoA’s lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Colorado. For the full text click here.