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2017-11-23 16:56
Big-game hunting was once a glamorous pursuit that inspired admiration of its practitioners. Ernest Hemingway went to Africa to shoot lions, rhinoceroses, leopards and other animals. On their safaris, Theodore Roosevelt and his son killed over 500 animals, including hippos and zebras.

But those days are gone. Today, to be photographed grinning over a majestic animal's corpse is to invite mass condemnation ― as Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer learned in 2015 after killing a much-beloved lion in Zimbabwe.

Donald Trump Jr. got a taste of the same when he was photographed holding a knife and the severed tail of an elephant he had shot.

A measure of the ignominy that attaches to this pastime came last week when the Trump administration announced its decision to allow the import of trophy elephants bagged in Zambia and Zimbabwe, scrapping a ban imposed by the Obama administration.

There were the expected protests from groups that advocate for conservation and animal welfare. But the move was condemned even by hard-core conservative commentators Laura Ingraham, who tweeted that she feared it would "INCREASE the gruesome poaching of elephants," and by Michael Savage, who wrote that President Donald Trump would "forever lose the independent, animal-loving voter" if he didn't reverse it.

Almost immediately, the president did reverse it, saying the step would be put off so he could give it more consideration. Later, he tweeted that its supporters would "be very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal."

The argument for allowing such imports is that countries can raise funds for conservation by allowing wealthy hunters to harvest elephants and other big game. If the beasts are a lucrative source of revenue, the theory goes, governments and their people will have big incentives to ensure the health and survival of the species.

The Obama administration allowed elephant trophies from South Africa and Namibia, though it banned trade in ivory from African elephants.

It's not clear how much good can be achieved through the paradoxical policy of allowing elephants to be destroyed in order to preserve elephants. "The hunting-safari business employs few people, and the money from fees that trickles down to the villagers is insignificant," writes Virginia Morell in The Atlantic. It's also hard to imagine that a country as badly governed as Zimbabwe can be trusted to police poaching.

In any case, the moral implications make it hard to defend any hunting of African elephants, intelligent animals that are listed as "threatened" under U.S. law. Americans, like people of many nationalities worldwide, have come to grasp the intrinsic value of such creatures.

Trying to justify their hunting undermines the ethic needed to ensure the long-term survival of animals whose numbers have dwindled. Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, asked, "What kind of message does it send to say to the world that poor Africans who are struggling to survive cannot kill elephants in order to use or sell their parts to make a living but that it's just fine for rich Americans to slay the beasts for their tusks to keep as trophies?"

The day when humans can no longer justify shooting such creatures for mere pleasure is coming. By keeping the ban on these trophy imports, the president could hasten that day.


This editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune and was distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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