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Donald Trump Jr. Killed an Endangered Mongolian Sheep

Animals
Donald Trump Jr. Killed an Endangered Mongolian Sheep
Donald Trump Jr. killed an argali sheep like this one on a hunting trip in Mongolia. powerofforever/ iStock / Getty Images Plus

During a hunting trip in Mongolia this August, Donald Trump Jr. shot and killed an endangered argali sheep, and received a permit only after the fact.


ProPublica, which broke the news of the kill Wednesday, reported it was unusual for the Mongolian government to issue permits after a hunter has left the region. Trump Jr. was given other forms of special treatment. He was protected on his hunt by both U.S. and Mongolian security services, and afterwards had a private meeting with Mongolian President Khaltmaagiin Battulga.

"What are the chances the Mongolian government would've done any of that to someone who wasn't the son of the United States' president?" Kathleen Clark, a legal ethics professor at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Law, asked ProPublica.

Trump Jr.'s spokesperson said the trip was purchased at a National Rifle Association charity auction before his father ran for office. It is not clear if the trip included meetings with government officials or the chance to kill an argali. Trump Jr. also killed a red deer on the trip, a kill that also required a permit.

The argali is the largest sheep in the world, with curving horns that can measure more than six feet. The species overall is listed as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), but the Mongolian subspecies is considered regionally endangered, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The U.S. Endangered Species Act lists the argali as threatened. Between 1985 and 2009, their Mongolian population more than halved from 50,000 to 18,000, ProPublica reported.

Mongolia issues permits to hunt the sheep, a practice which is ostensibly intended to fund conservation. Those familiar with the permitting system told ProPublica that it encouraged favoritism.

Jandos Kontorbai Ahat, a member of the current president's political party who arranged the trip Trump Jr. won, said Mongolian trophy hunting permits were "very political."

There are also sometimes discrepancies between hunting quotas and the number of permits issued. While the hunters' fees are supposed to go to programs like population surveys, argali researcher Amgalanbaatar Sukh told ProPublica he had never received government funding for such a survey.

ProPublica could not determine if Trump Jr. imported the trophies from his argali kill into the U.S. To do so, he would have needed to apply for permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But his kill comes as U.S. law concerning the importing of hunting trophies is in flux, as The Guardian explained:

The legality of the importation of big game trophies into the United States has been, like many other issues in the Trump administration, confusing and ever-changing. The president himself has spoken out against the practice, calling such hunting practices a "horror show" despite his two sons being avid trophy hunters.

In order to import trophies of animals on the endangered species list, a U.S. hunter must show that its killing would be beneficial overall to the species at large. In 2017, the Trump administration pushed back against such restrictions on trophy hunting from the Obama era before reinstating the ban. A court ruling found thereafter it was done improperly, allowing imports to continue.

Environmental groups have criticized the Trump administration for its trophy hunting policies, including its decision to allow the import of lion and elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia and its creation of the International Wildlife Conservation Council designed specifically to promote trophy hunting.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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