The elephants in question are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, but there is a provision in the act that allows the government to give permits to import these trophies provided that there is evidence that the hunting actually benefits conservation for that species.
The Fish and Wildlife spokesperson stated that "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."
This change only applies to elephants in Zimbabwe and Zambia, namely those hunted in Zimbabwe on or after January 21, 2016, and on or before December 31, 2018, and those hunted in Zambia during 2016, 2017 and 2018. The government has not actually announced this policy change yet, but it was reportedly announced at a wildlife forum in South Africa this week. Given the fact that poaching has been a problem in Zimbabwe for some time and that the hunting industry there faces corruption issues, the impact on the current Zimbabwe political situation and mentioned factors on the decision is unclear. A notice regarding this change with more details and justification.is expected to come on Friday in the Federal Register.
Savanna elephant populations declined by 30 percent across 18 countries in Africa from 2007 to 2014, putting their remaining numbers at just over 350,000.
Elephant hunting has been banned in Zambia several times over the years, but was re-established again in 2015 after surveys found a larger population in some areas.
According to the Federal Register notice, Zambian officials are managing elephant hunting through permits and quotas. In 2016, 30 elephants were allowed to be killed there as trophies but the government reported that only 12 males were killed. Controversially enough, fees paid by hunters are also used to fund the country's conservation efforts.