Gun rights groups sue federal government over ivory import ban

The Safari Club International and National Rifle Association sued the federal government on Tuesday over the right to import hunted African elephants into the U.S. from Zimbabwe.

The gun rights groups claim the sport hunting of elephants in the African country works toward conservation efforts and helps to prevent poaching.

The groups were prompted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service posting on its website March 26 its decision to continue the ban, according to court documents. Because the new decision was not published in the federal register, the gun rights groups claim the public was not given an opportunity to comment.

The 2015 Importation Ban violates the law by failing to acknowledge data on how the legal hunting of elephants contributes to “conservation and anti-poaching” in the African country, the complaint reads.

The groups further contend that because regulated hunting creates a need to maintain elephant populations and therefore acts to conserve the animals, blocking the importation of them into the U.S. violates the Endangered Species Act.

“This loss of a source of income and food increases the incentives for poaching both by those who kill elephants only to sell the ivory and those who kill elephants only to provide food for their families and communities,” the complaint reads.

Blocking the importation of elephants takes away from the overall hunting experience, thus making hunters less likely to want to go on safari, the groups contend.

A great number of (Safari Club International) members will not invest in an expensive elephant hunt if they cannot import the symbol of their successful hunt,” the complaint reads. “Many SCI members booked their upcoming hunts in Zimbabwe years in advance, invested significant funds towards the trip, and have been or will be unable to recover the funds already expended if and when they cancel their bookings.”

The Obama administration and Wildlife Service first implemented attempts at a complete ivory ban in February 2014 for the protection of a number of species hunted for the precious material. The importation of ivory has been largely banned since 1990, but because any ivory harvested before 1976 is exempt, much of the illegal ivory imported in the U.S. remained undetected.    

Recent importation ban efforts caused panic among some who thought ivory-laden guns already in the U.S. would be confiscated, prompting legislation to protect the firearms.