President Donald Trump created a new US advisory board to help rewrite federal rules for importing the heads and hides of African elephants, lions, and rhinos. But the board is filled with trophy hunters, including some members with direct ties to Trump and his family.
A review by the Associated Press of the backgrounds and social media posts of the 16 board members appointed by interior secretary Ryan Zinke, who is an avid hunter, indicates they are likely to agree with his position that the best way to protect critically threatened or endangered species is by encouraging wealthy Americans to shoot some of them.
One appointee co-owns a private New York hunting preserve with Mr Trump’s adult sons. The oldest son, Donald Trump Jr, drew the ire of animal rights activists after a 2011 photo emerged of him holding a bloody knife and the severed tail of an elephant he killed in Zimbabwe.
Under Trump, the Fish and Wildlife Service has quietly moved to reverse Obama-era restrictions on bringing trophies from African lions and elephants into the United States.
A licensed two-week African hunting safari can cost more than $50,000 (£36,000) per person, not including airfare, according to advertised rates. Advocates say money helps support habitat conservation and anti-poaching efforts in some of the world’s poorest nations and provides employment for local guides and porters.
In a statement last year, Mr Zinke said, “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”.
But environmentalists and animal welfare advocates say tourists taking photos generate more economic benefit and hunters typically target the biggest and strongest animals, weakening already vulnerable populations.
There’s little indication dissenting perspectives will be represented on the Trump administration’s conservation council.
Appointees include celebrity hunting guides, representatives from rifle and bow manufacturers and wealthy sportspeople who boast of bagging the coveted Big Five – elephant, rhino, lion, leopard and Cape buffalo.
AP reported last month that the Trump sons were behind a limited liability company that purchased a 171-acre private hunting range in the bucolic Hudson Valley in 2013, complete with a wooden tower from which owners and their guests shoot at exploding targets.
Trump Jr also is friendly with another member of the advisory council: hunting guide and TV show personality Keith Mark. He helped organize Sportsmen for Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign and recently posted photos on his Twitter page of himself with Trump Jr and Ryan Zinke, standing before an array of mounted big-horn sheep and a bear.