The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not released information on who it issued or denied permits to import sport-hunted African elephants, in violation of federal law, Friends of Animals is alleging in a lawsuit filed in federal court this week.

FoA requested information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regarding how many permits FWS has issued in the last year and whether it has made the necessary findings to authorize the import of elephant body parts for trophies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to respond as required by public records laws, the complaint says.

“Elephant populations continue to decline, threatened by both legal and illegal killing. It is critically important that the government is transparent in decisions that impact the future survival of African elephants,’’ said Jennifer Best, assistant director of FoA’s Wildlife Law Program. 

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. Elephants are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Despite this, the Trump Administration reversed a policy that protected African elephants in Zimbabwe and Zambia as well as Tanzania from being hunted and brought back to the U.S. as trophies and announced, without any input from the public, that it would allow permits on a case-by-case basis. The rule change abandoned findings in 2014 and 2015 that banned the import of trophies from Zimbabwe because it would imperil their chances of survival. FoA has also filed a lawsuit challenging this FWS policy change allowing the imports.

In a previous FOIA request, FoA learned that the FWS had quietly issued 16 individual permits authorizing the import of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe before announcing its policy change to the public. (Read more about that here.)

In addition to the lawsuits, 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.

FoA is also supporting a federal bill introduced by U.S. Reps Ted Lieu, (D-California) and Sheila Jackson Lee, (D-Texas) called the ProTECT Act that would amend the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to prohibit the taking of any endangered or threatened species in the United States as a trophy and the importation of any such trophy into the United States.