A lion trophy from Tanzania has been approved for import to the US, the first such case since lions began receiving protections in January 2016 as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, a conservation group says.
Documents obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity via a Freedom of Information Act Request and shared with CNN on Thursday show the hunter was represented by a member of the Interior Department’s own International Wildlife Conservation Council, a controversial panel convened to advise on how trophy hunting helps conservation.
The group also says the findings in the documents suggest the Trump administration is preparing to approve the importation of other species — such as elephants — from Tanzania. According to the documents, the trophy, which was approved for import to the US between July 11 and August 8, cannot be sold within the US.
The Trump administration had previously signaled an openness to allowing some big game trophy imports on a “case-by-case” basis, deciding an issue that split President Donald Trump and his Interior Department in 2017. The decision to allow some imports came after public backlash to the rollback of Obama-era restrictions on importing trophies of elephants and lions from some African countries by the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service.
CNN has reached out to the FWS, which approved the import, for comment.
Tanya Sanerib, the international legal director for the center, told CNN that the approval “is tragic news for lion conservation, and it suggests that the Trump administration may soon open the floodgates to trophy imports from Tanzania.”
“Tanzania is a lion stronghold, but it’s been criticized by scientists for corruption and inadequate wildlife protections. Opening the US market to these imports doesn’t bode well for the lion kings of Tanzania,” she added.
Last week, an American hunter faced backlash after he was granted a permit to import a black rhino he killed in Namibia as part of a hunting trip. The hunter was represented by John Jackson III, an attorney who, according to the documents shared with CNN, also represented the hunter who was granted the lion permit. The attorney believes his group, Conservation Force, is ultimately doing more to protect animals, claiming hunting promotes healthy populations in the wild.
“I’m working to save wildlife from animal protectionists,” Jackson said recently of his efforts.