Hunters with ties to Trump allowed to import trophies of threatened African lions under loosened restrictions

More than three dozen permits were issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to U.S. hunters to bring back lion parts – known as trophies – from Zimbabwe and Zambia between 2016-2018. More than half of the hunters who received the permits have donated to Republicans or are connected to the Safari Club International.
The permits show that the current administration, not only has loosened restrictions on lion hunting, but is rewarding supporters.

Included on the list of 33 hunters who received a total of 38 lion trophy permits is Indiana resident Steven Chancellor, who raised more than $1 million for Republican candidates at a fundraiser at his home headlined by Trump in 2016. Chancellor, who has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republicans candidates and committees, was appointed by Trump’s Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to its newly created International Wildlife Conservation Council (IWCC), which is tasked with removing barriers to the importation of trophy hunted animals, reversing suspensions and bans on trade of wildlife, and advising the agency on the benefits of international hunting, among other things. (Zinke, who is currently under investigation by the DOI’s inspector general in a conflict of interest probe, received $10,000 from the Safari Club for his 2016 congressional campaign.) Chancellor received the permit to import lion parts from a July 2016 hunt in Zimbabwe, according to the information which was obtained by Friends of Animals through a Freedom of Information request to FWS. 

Virginia resident Kent Greenawalt, who has donated more than $100,000 to Republican candidates and committees and $5,400 to Trump, received two permits for lion trophies, one for a hunt in Zambia in 2017 and another for a lion killed in Zimbabwe in 2016. Other big GOP donors who received permits were Thomas Whaley of Marshall, Texas, and Justin Hedgecock of Gallatin Gateway, Montana.

Philip Glass, a Texas rancher who is the focus of the film “Trophy” that depicts his $100,000 lion killing safari exploits in Zimbabwe and who donated $800 to Trump, also is among the U.S. hunters who received permits. More than 85 percent of the hunters receiving permits were represented by attorneys from Conservation Force, a pro-hunting organization whose president, John Jackson, was also appointed to the IWCC. Conservation Force has also sponsored studies used by FWS to support trophy hunting.

“If African wildlife is to survive the next few decades in their homelands, these elephants, lions and other animals — coveted by hunters for their strength and beauty — must be worth more alive than dead,’’ said Friends of Animals President Priscilla Feral. “That means safeguarding habitat along with photographic safaris and ecotourism must outpace blood-drenched trophy hunting expeditions. Trophy hunting must expire and collapse from its own dead weight. Let’s press for an administration that stops catering to an industry that has actually been in decline with a dwindling number of hunters.”

In 2015, the killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe by U.S. dentist Walter Palmer spurred outrage. Cecil had been the subject of an Oxford University study by biologist Andrew Loveridge. A few months later, FWS under the Obama administration placed two African lion subspecies under ESA protection; the Panthera leo melanochaita, located in eastern and southern Africa, was listed as threatened and the Panthera leo leo, located in western and central Africa, was listed as endangered. A subsequent finding by FWS under the Obama administration led to further restrictions, including a ban of the import of lion trophies from Zimbabwe and any lion killed in enclosed parks (known as canned hunting) as well as a requirement that FWS issue permits only for hunts of the Panthera leo melanochaita that were proven to be part of a well-managed national conservation program in the country where the lions were killed. The Trump administration has since loosened the restrictions, now allowing hunters to import lions killed in Zimbabwe and issuing permits in all countries on a case-by-case basis. While there still has to be a finding by FWS that the lion hunting will enhance their survivability, the issuing of permits on a case-by-case basis excludes the public and conservation experts from commenting on the findings before the permit is issued.

The African wild lion population has plunged more than 40 percent in the past 20 years, according to the African Wildlife Foundation. There are only about 20,000 in the wild and Friends of Animals maintains that killing animals doesn’t help conservation of the species. Americans make up the greatest number of trophy hunters traveling to Africa for the kills and while trophy hunters promulgate the notion that without them there would be no money for conservation, in truth, there is no evidence to support that. However, there is growing scientific evidence that legal sport-hunting actually reduces the overall chance that these species can continue to survive in the wild. Legalized hunting falsely suggests that funds are being used to ensure the protection of wild populations and that the variety of species are recovering. Trophy hunting also reinforces the notion that the body parts of these majestic animals, often the subject of poaching, are a valuable market commodity and even the listing of a species as threatened doesn’t protect them from trophy hunters.

Research by Montana State University conservation biologist Scott Creel found that when Zambia issued a three-year moratorium on hunting, the lion population stopped declining and began to grow with more cubs being raised, according to The Guardian.

Friends of Animals has proposed legislation in New York and Connecticut to stop the importation of African lion trophies, as well as elephant, leopard and black and white rhino parts. Similar legislation has also been introduced in California and in 2015 the state of Washington passed a ballot measure that prohibits the sale and distribution of products made from lions, elephants, rhinos, tigers, leopards and other endangered species. A federal bill has also been introduced that would amend ESA to prohibit the taking of any endangered or threatened species in the U.S. as a trophy and the importation of any such trophy. Friends of Animals has also filed a lawsuit against FWS regarding the lifting of a ban on elephant trophy hunting.

“At a time when lions, elephants and other African wildlife is most threatened with extinction in the wild, this administration has actually ratcheted up the false narrative that hunting can somehow save them. Killing endangered animals so their remains can be hung as a ‘trophy’ in someone’s house or office is not going to save these species,’’ said Friends of Animals Wildlife Law Program Assistant Legal Director Jennifer Best. “It is time to open our eyes and accept the overwhelming evidence that trophy hunting is detrimental to the animals and their populations. This is why Friends of Animals filed a lawsuit challenging the government’s existing, pro-hunting policy. It is time to value these animals as living beings worthy of protection in their native habitat and stop turning a blind eye to the real evidence indicating trophy hunting must end.”

The data received by FoA shows that the greatest number of permits issued went to hunters from Texas whose residents received a dozen total.
Whaley of Marshall, Texas, who has given thousands of dollars to Republican candidates and the Republican National Committee, received two permits for lion hunts. Whaley received the permits for hunts in 2018 and 2017 and he also received a permit to import an elephant trophy from Zimbabwe in 2017. Thomas Zulim of Hockley Texas, also a GOP donor, received two permits for lion trophies for hunts in Zimbabwe in 2016 and 2017.  The other Texas hunters who obtained permits are Glass, Amanda Henson, Fred Rich, Robert Hixon, Daniel Welker, Mark Pease, Jason Webster, Jeffrey Smithers, Oscar Taunton and Cooper Ribman, a teenager who received the Dallas Safari Club 2018 Young Hunter Award. Ribman’s permit was paid for by his Dallas Safari Club sponsor, Trevo Ahlberg, a major GOP donor, who owns a payday loan company and is a big game hunter.

Stephen Crooks of Stanton, Michigan and Lawrence Patrick Rudolph of Paradise Valley, Arizona also received two permits for lion trophies.
The others who received permits were Dan Huber of Sulfer Springs, West Virginia; Stephen Crooks, of Stanton, Michigan; Dan Ongna, of Stevens Point, Wisconsin; William Katen, of Patchogue, New York; Richard Bodkin of Remsendburg, New York; Anthony Turiello of Santa Cruz, California; David Asai of Farmville, Virginia; John Wilson of Parkville, Missouri; Jon Dagel of Florence, South Dakota; Kelly Keithly of Yuma, Arizona; Timothy Haley of Palo Alto, California; Eric Rau of Union, Missouri; Andrew Cook of Honeoye Falls, New York and James Horrocks of Highland, Utah.

The full details of the applications can be found here.