A hobby hunter from Florida has been given permission to can import a lion trophy from Tanzania – the first time the US has allowed such an import since it ruled the species should receive special protection three years ago.
Carl Atkinson shot the animal dead during an £80,000, 21-day safari in 2016.
But he had not been allowed to take the trophy – the head and mane – home because lions in Tanzania are classed as a threatened big cat under the US’s Endangered Species Act. An application was turned down shortly after his trip.
The service says it will review all future applications on a “case by case” basis, rather than refusing permits for entire species from entire countries.
“Legal, well-regulated 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,” the service said in a statement defending the decision.
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The shift was supported by the Trump administration's new International Wildlife Conservation Council which was set up with the aim of promoting hunting.
But conservationists fear it will directly damage efforts to save some of Africa's most endangered species by, to all intents and purposes, encouraging more Americans to take holidays killing them.
Tanya Sanerib, from the Center for Biological Diversity, based in Arizona, called the decision “really terrifying”.
Speaking to CNN, she said it was “tragic news for lion conservation, and it suggests that the Trump administration may soon open the floodgates to trophy imports from Tanzania”.
“You see an indication of that, I’m sure, in that email from Fish and Wildlife Service to Atkinson. How he’s the first one, it’s taking longer, it’s going to go faster after this.”
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She added: “Tanzania is a lion stronghold, but it’s been criticised by scientists for corruption and inadequate wildlife protections. Opening the US market to these imports doesn’t bode well.”