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Uproar Over Elephant Trophies Overshadows Changes To Lion Imports

NOEL KING, HOST:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently moved to lift the ban on importing parts of elephants killed by trophy hunters. There was a huge public outcry, but the government also loosened restrictions on hunters who want to bring back lion heads and lion pelts. The government wasn't required to make that change public, so a lot of people didn't notice.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Yeah, the news even slipped past Rachael Bale, who is a wildlife reporter for National Geographic.

RACHAEL BALE: We still have not seen the underlying science because there's no requirement for them to post it.

INSKEEP: She's talking about the argument in favor of big-game hunting. Now, the very idea is counterintuitive - the idea that in the big picture, killing endangered animals can somehow protect the species.

BALE: Trophy hunters spend a lot of money on safari, on the permits. And the idea is that the money they're spending goes back into the communities for community development, which incentivizes locals to protect wildlife rather than push it away or hunt it. And some of that money goes into conservation efforts to protect lions.

INSKEEP: OK, so giving people a financial stake in the long-term survival of the species even if some individuals are killed along the way. But Rachael Bale worries this might not work in places like Zimbabwe, which is a big destination for lion hunters.

BALE: A lot of the money has been siphoned away by corruption, so there are serious concerns with hunting management in Zimbabwe.

KING: And lions face another threat. It's not just poaching. It's not just habitat loss. There is also the lion bone trade.

BALE: Yeah, lion bone trade is something fairly new. As tigers are getting rarer, China has been starting to replace tiger bones with lion bones. They go into wine. They're ground up. There's all kinds of purposes in traditional medicine.

KING: Here's where we are now. President Trump has tweeted that he'll take a second look at the decision on big-game hunting.

BALE: He cannot change this policy by tweet. It's going to have to go back through an entire review process in order to actually happen.

INSKEEP: And Rachael Bale of National Geographic says it's not so easy to get to the end of that process. The Fish and Wildlife Service will have to make a new finding. President Trump says he will make an announcement next week.

(SOUNDBITE OF FROID'S "SOU ALASKA INSTRUMENTAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.