The Trump administration will allow American hunters to import elephant trophies to the US, reversing an Obama-era 2014 ban, US media report.
A federal government agency said imports could resume on Friday for elephants that are legally hunted only in Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) said hunting fees could aid conservation of the endangered animals.
Experts say that populations of African elephants are plummeting.
Their numbers dropped by about 30% from 2007-14, according to the 2016 Great Elephant Census.
The nonprofit group’s report found a population drop of 6% in Zimbabwe alone.
Despite their listing under the Endangered Species Act, there is a provision in US law that allows permits to import animal parts if there is sufficient evidence that the fees generated will actually benefit species conservation.
USFWS told US media outlets it had received new information from officials in Zimbabwe and Zambia that supported reversing the ban.
There is currently an apparent military coup taking place in Zimbabwe.
USFWS argued that rather than depleting the elephant population, killing the animals “will enhance the survival of the species in the wild”.
The agency’s statement 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.”
Officials had announced the forthcoming policy change during a forum hosted this week by the pro-hunting Safari Club International Foundation, which partnered with the National Firearm Association to lobby for the rule change.
Every year since 2010, elephant populations in Africa have dropped by 7% on average – more than 30,000 deaths per year.
Elephant advocacy groups reacted angrily to the news.
“Reprehensible behavior by the Trump Admin,” tweeted The Elephant Project, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to the conservation of African pachyderms.
“100 elephants a day are already killed,” the group said. “This will lead to more poaching.”
Many social media commentators, including some notable Trump supporters, such as Fox News’ Laura Ingraham, also criticised the move.
President Trump’s sons are known to visit Africa for big-game hunting trips.
One photo of Donald Trump Jr shows him holding the amputated tail of a dead elephant.
In 2015 a US dentist from Minnesota killed a famous lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park.
Cecil’s death triggered an outrage in the US and Zimbabwe, and briefly forced the hunter into hiding.
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