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Trump Admin Grants First Lion Trophy Import Permit Since Listed as Threatened

Animals
A male african lion plays with his 4 month old cub at Big Marsh in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Nick Garbutt / Barcroft Media / Getty Images

A Florida man has been allowed to import a Tanzanian lion's skin, skull, claws and teeth, a first since the animal was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, according to US Fish and Wildlife Service records uncovered by the Center for Biological Diversity through the Freedom of Information Act.


The documents show that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a permit in May for hunter, Carl Atkinson, to bring home the lion trophy which was taken from a game preserve in July or August, according to Courthouse News. The hunter's attorney, John Jackson III, is a member of the Interior Department's own International Wildlife Conservation Council, which Ryan Zinke created as Secretary of the Interior to highlight the "economic benefits that result from US citizens traveling to foreign nations to engage in hunting," as CNN reported.

"This is tragic news for lion conservation, and it suggests that the Trump administration may soon open the floodgates to trophy imports from Tanzania," said Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. "Tanzania is a lion stronghold, but it's been criticized by scientists for corruption and inadequate wildlife protections. Opening the U.S. market to these imports doesn't bode well for the lion kings of Tanzania."

Tanzania is thought to be home to 40 percent of Africa's lions, though exact populations are difficult to count. It has a history of mismanaging populations of lions, elephants and other threatened animals. By allowing hunters to bring their trophies back to the U.S. there are ripple effects. Hunters often seek out mature male lions, which make desirable trophies. Yet, killing one lion often leads to the death of many more. Since those mature male lions are usually pack leaders, a new pack leader will move in and assert dominance by killing the hunted lion's offspring, resulting in the loss of many lions, as the Center for Biological Diversity noted.

There is no evidence in the acquired documents acquired that the Fish and Wildlife Service considered this in assessing Atkinson's permit application. However, Sanerib said the occurrence is so well-documented that she has absolute faith the agency is aware that the import authorization results in the death of more than just one lion. The outcome is not only harmful because of the death of additional lions but because it diminishes the genetic pool, she said, as Courthouse News reported.

Sanerib also fears that the Fish and Wildlife Service will start to ramp up the speed with which it processes these applications, opening the door for big game hunting. The Trump administration has already lifted an Obama era ban on elephant trophy imports from Zimbabwe. The Trump administration also recently allowed a Michigan hunter to import the skin, skull and horns from a rare black rhinoceros he shot in Namibia, according to the Independent.

The rhino hunter was also represented by Jackson who says his group Conservation Force is protecting animals, claiming that hunting promotes healthy populations in the wild.

"I'm working to save wildlife from animal protectionists," Jackson said, as CNN reported.

Sanerib worries that the influx of money into Tanzania from wealthy hunters will imperil more than just lions.

"We're waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it may land on Tanzania's elephants," said Sanerib, in statement. "This administration reversed course and lifted the ban on elephant trophy imports from Zimbabwe. I'm worried Trump officials will do the same for Tanzania. In the face of the global extinction crisis, we shouldn't let rich Americans kill imperiled species for fun."

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.