In November of 2017, the Trump administration announced its decision to reverse the federal ban on elephant trophy imports. Two days later, after public outcry, President Trump reversed the reversal.
"Put big game trophy decision on hold until such time as I review all conservation facts. Under study for years. Will update soon with Secretary Zinke. Thank you!" he wrote on Twitter.
Put big game trophy decision on hold until such time as I review all conservation facts. Under study for years. Will update soon with Secretary Zinke. Thank you!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 18, 2017
Apparently, it took only one day for President Trump to review all the conservation facts and make up his mind.
"Big-game trophy decision will be announced next week but will be very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal," he tweeted.
Big-game trophy decision will be announced next week but will be very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2017
But something must have pressed the President really hard, because in March 2018 his administration quietly made it legal once again to bring elephant and lion parts into the US as trophies.
The whole debacle was deeply confusing, but thanks to a recent review from The Associated Press (AP), the final decision makes a lot more sense.
According to The AP, a new White House wildlife advisory board, created by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to rewrite federal rules on animal imports, is filled to the brim with - wait for it - trophy hunters.
Meet the members
Instead of appointing scientists or conservation experts, the International Wildlife Conservation Council is composed almost entirely of celebrity hunting guides, representatives from rifle and bow manufacturers and, of course, wealthy trophy hunters who like to boast about all of their "Big Five" souvenirs.
After reviewing the backgrounds of the new council's 16 board members, The AP found ten members of the council are high-profile members of Safari Club International, which is a hunting organization that lobbied hard against the (recently overturned) federal ban on elephant and lion trophy imports.
Members on the council include the president of Safari Club himself, Paul Babaz, who is also the National Rifle Association's director of hunting policy, John Jackson III, who is the ex-president of Safari Club, and Peter Horn, the ex-vice president of Safari Club and vice president for the gun-maker Beretta.
Incidentally, Horn also co-owns a private New York hunting preserve, along with Trump's two sons, who are themselves avid trophy hunters.
Let us not forget Chris Hudson, the ex-president of Safari Club's Dallas chapter, who has made headlines in the past for auctioning off a $350,000 permit to kill an endangered black rhino in Namibia.
Next up: Steven Chancellor, a long-time Republican fundraiser and perhaps the most prolific hunter of all the members. In his time, Chancellor has logged nearly 500 kills – including at least 18 lions, 13 leopards, six elephants and two rhinos.
But what would a wildlife advisory committee be without a few spicy celebrities? Hunting guide and TV show personality Keith Mark is a friend of Trump Jr. and another member of the advisory council.
Keeping Mark company is Cameron Hanes, a celebrity archer and friend of Trump Jr., who believes hunting allows animals to "have value."
As if two celebrity hunters was not enough, TV personality and former Mrs. America pageant contestant Olivia Opre is also on the council. Opre, who received the Safari Club's Diana Award for female hunters, has killed about 90 different species on six continents, collecting some 150 animal carcasses in total.
"I'm tired of hearing the words 'trophy hunter'," she told The Telegraph in 2016.
"We're helping to preserve wildlife; we hunt lions because we want to see populations of wildlife continue to grow."
All in all, there are only two non-hunters that have been named to the board. One is Terry Maple, a former director of the Atlanta Zoo, who helped write a book by Newt Gingrich on the conservative case for environmentalism.
The other is Jenifer Chatfield, a zoo and wildlife veterinarian professor, whose expertise is somewhat undermined by her family business of buying and selling exotic animals.
In the past, her father has even been accused of using his business to divert endangered zoo animals to the private market, and he was eventually expelled from the American Zoological Association.
Let the protests begin
Zinke may like to think that his council represents a "strong partnership" between federal wildlife officials and hunting aficionados, but a coalition of 20 environmental and animal welfare groups have objected strongly to the one-sided makeup of the council.
The coalition has argued that Zinke's council violates the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires boards to not only be balanced in terms of points of view, but to also be free of special interests.
"If Trump really wants to stop the slaughter of elephants for trophies, he should shut down this biased, thrill-kill council," said Tanya Sanerib, a spokeswoman for the Center for Biological Diversity.
"The administration can't make wise decisions on trophy imports if it only listens to gun-makers and people who want to kill wildlife."
An Interior Department spokeswoman disagreed.
"There are members on the council that represent all areas of conservation and varying opinions," Heather Swift said, without offering any examples.
Nevertheless, Zinke is confident that the council will be able to provide all the conservation facts the President could ever want.
"This council will provide important insight into the ways that American sportsmen and women benefit international conservation from boosting economies and creating hundreds of jobs to enhancing wildlife conservation," said Zinke in a statement last year.
Several recent studies have suggested trophy hunting leaves already vulnerable animal populations significantly weakened. But with such a one-sided council, these sorts of studies are likely to be dismissed.