Four conservation and animal protection groups sued the Trump administration today over its secretive new policy of approving elephant and lion trophy imports behind closed doors. The lawsuit targets a U.S. Fish and Wildlife decision, outlined in a March 1 memo, to shut the public and scientists out of the process for evaluating the impacts of trophy hunting of elephants, lions and other African animals.

The Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, Ian Michler and Born Free USA filed the suit in U.S. District Court.

A federal court ruled in December that the administration needed to involve the public when making trophy import decisions. Instead of complying, Interior Department officials adopted a case-by-case permitting approach that fails to comprehensively consider the impacts of trophy hunting and severely decreases transparency. The day after quietly finalizing its new approach, the administration announced the first meeting of a pro-trophy hunting council convened to advise the Fish and Wildlife Service on increasing trophy hunting of foreign species.

“Despite ample scientific and economic concerns and tremendous public outcry over trophy hunting, this administration seems determined to allow Safari Club International and other special interests to unduly influence federal wildlife policy decisions,” said Anna Frostic, managing wildlife attorney with the Humane Society of the United States.

The memo rescinds numerous prior rules on trophy imports, wiping the slate clean of long-standing decisions pertaining to imports of trophies from elephants, lions and bontebok, a type of antelope. However, the USFWS has signaled that it still intends to rely on the bad science contained in its prior authorizations to import trophies.

“Elephants shouldn’t be killed for cheap thrills and the Trump administration shouldn’t make crucial trophy hunting decisions behind closed doors,” said Tanya Sanerib, international program legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Federal wildlife officials seem to be thumbing their nose at President Trump after he called for an end to the horror show of trophy hunting.”

Today’s challenge to the March 1 memo is being added to a pending court case contesting the administration’s decision last November to lift an import ban on Zimbabwe elephant trophy imports, as well as a decision allowing imports of lion trophies from Zimbabwe to the U.S.

“These are sentient and imperiled animals being gunned down for fun,” said Prashant Khetan, CEO and general counsel of Born Free USA. “Threatened species deserve better than to be shot and stuffed. These animals belong in the wild, not on living room walls.”

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