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Trump Administration Reverses Ban on Elephant Trophy Imports

Animals
Trump Administration Reverses Ban on Elephant Trophy Imports
Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. Steven dosRemedios / Flickr

The Trump administration has agreed to allow the remains of elephants killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia to be brought back to the U.S., a reversal of an Obama-era ban.

In 2014, the President Obama's administration banned the imports of elephant trophies to protect the species. "Additional killing of elephants in these countries, even if legal, is not sustainable and is not currently supporting conservation efforts that contribute towards the recovery of the species," they said at the time.


African elephant populations had once numbered between three to five million in the last century, but have been severely reduced to its current levels of 415,000 animals due to hunting and the illegal ivory trade, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), an agency within the Department of Interior, said Tuesday that reversing the ban would help preserve the species.

“The hunting and management programs for African elephants will enhance the survival of the species in the wild," a FWS spokesperson said.

“Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation."

Under the new change, hunters who legally hunt or hunted an elephant in Zimbabwe from Jan. 21, 2016 to Dec. 31, 2018, or in Zambia between 2016 to 2018 can apply for a permit to import their trophy into the U.S.

Incidentally, the policy switch was first announced by Safari Club International, a hunting advocacy group that teamed up with the National Rifle Association to sue to block the 2014 ban.

“These positive findings for Zimbabwe and Zambia demonstrate that the FWS recognizes that hunting is beneficial to wildlife and that these range countries know how to manage their elephant populations," said Safari Club International 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."

But Elizabeth Hogan, World Animal Protection U.S. Wildlife Campaign Manager, said she was “appalled" at the decision by the Department of the Interior and is urging the Trump administration to reconsider.

“Trophy hunting causes prolonged, immense suffering for elephants and fuels demand for wild animal products, opening the door for further exploitation," Hogan said.

“The U.S. must do all we can to ensure the genuine protection of African elephants, a species listed under the Endangered Species Act. The stalking, chasing and killing of animals for game hunting is abhorrent, and we should not prop up this sordid industry of trophy hunting. Wild animals belong in the wild—not targeted and killed in the name of entertainment."

Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, similarly condemned the new policy.

"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," he wrote in blog post.

Pacelle also criticized Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke's department for forming the so-called International Wildlife Conservation Council—an advisory group that he said "would allow trophy hunters an even more prominent seat at the table of government decision-making, ignoring the copious science that trophy hunting undermines the conservation of threatened and endangered species."

But Sec. Zinke, an avid hunter, said the 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."

President Donald Trump's sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, are also hunting enthusiasts. Trump's sons have been criticized by animal rights' groups for posing in photos with their exotic and endangered big game catches such as elephants and leopards.

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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