Some weeks ago, the Safari Club International (SCI) jubilantly announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had begun issuing several permits for American hunters to import elephants that are killed for sport in two African countries. Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, is believed to be the driving force behind this policy change.
Watchdog groups point out that, while in Congress, Zinke received several thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Safari Club International, and spoke at the hunting advocacy group’s 2016 veteran’s breakfast.
President Donald Trump put the import permits on hold soon after the news started garnering massive criticism on social media. But before that, Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, had called the announcement of the reauthorized permits “jarring.” Claiming that the move, “suggests an uncomfortably cozy and even improper relationship between trophy hunting interests and the Department of the Interior.”
Founded in 1972, SCI is an advocacy group with more than 50,000 members, and focuses on “protecting hunters’ rights and promoting the wildlife conservation.” It has been criticized long for giving out awards — with names like “Grand Slam African 29,” “African Big Five” and “Bears of the World” — to hunters who collect big game trophies.
The SCI’s support for Zinke, an avid hunter whose office features numerous taxidermied trophies, dates back to at least 2014 when the native Montanan had first run for the U.S. House of Representatives. The group’s political action committee had donated a total $13,500 to Zinke’s 2014 and 2016 congressional campaigns, according to Federal Election Commission data.
During the 2016 election cycle, SCI was one of Zinke’s top 20 contributors, according to data that was compiled by various sources. Only one candidate, Representative Bruce Poliquin, had received more money from the group.
In February of the year 2016, during his first term in Congress, Zinke was also featured as a speaker at SCI’s annual veteran’s breakfast, where he had “expressed his support of SCI and all the veterans they serve, then [led] the room in the Pledge of Allegiance,” according to a release by the group. SCI had endorsed Zinke in the election later that year.
SCI also celebrated last December when Trump tapped Zinke to lead the Interior Department — an agency that manages around 500 million acres of federal land, including 59 national parks. The former Navy SEAL “has stood with hunters for greater access and for wildlife conservation policies based on sound science instead of emotion,” SCI President Larry Higgins said at the time.