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Donald Trump's White House has confirmed it will allow hunters to import the heads of elephants killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia back to the U.S. as part of a bid to encourage hunting.
The decision reverses a policy from former President Barack Obama's time in power which aimed to protect endangered African elephants who are targeted for ivory.
Under the move, hunters who killed elephants between January 21, 2016 and December 31, 2018 can apply to bring their trophies back to the US.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced the reversal at the African Wildlife Consultative Forum, co-hosted by Tanzania and Safari Club International Foundation.
The agency reported that it had made "positive enhancement findings" proving that legally hunting elephants in the two African countries would benefit wildlife in the region.
"These positive findings for Zimbabwe and Zambia demonstrate that the Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes that hunting is beneficial to wildlife and that these range countries know how to manage their elephant populations," said SCI President Paul Babaz.
"We appreciate the efforts of the Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior to remove barriers to sustainable use conservation for African wildlife."
Although African elephants are listed as endangered, the US government is open to hunters killing the animals and importing their trophies if they can prove it helps conserve the species.
The agency said it found that "well-regulated sport hunting" would help preserve the species and allow more money to be spent on conservation efforts.
In 2014, Obama's administration banned importing elephant trophies as part of a plan to protect the species whose populations were declining rapidly.
This led to Zimbabwean and Zambian officials making greater efforts to tackle poaching and to keep track of hunting permits and quotas.
The U.S. government's decision has been lauded by the Safari Club and the National Rifle Association (NRA), who have praised the administration for recognising the importance of "sound scientific wildlife management".
"By lifting the import ban on elephant trophies in Zimbabwe and Zambia the Trump Administration underscored, once again, the importance of sound scientific wildlife management and regulated hunting to the survival and enhancement of game species in this country and worldwide," Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement.
Donald Trump Jr. Credit: PA
Hunting is a beloved sport for several members of the Trump administration, including the president's son, Donald Trump Jr. who has previously been pictured holding a severed elephant tail.
However, animal rights groups have vilified the government's reversal, saying the move encourages trophy hunters and ignores threatened species.
"Let's be clear: elephants are on the list of threatened species; the global community has rallied to stem the ivory trade; and now, the U.S. government is giving American trophy hunters the green light to kill them," Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, wrote in a blog post slamming the decision.
Featured Image Credit: PA
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