Big game and big guns: Trump’s ‘Wildlife Conservation Council’

The panel, created and chosen by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a hunter himself, is chaired by Steven Chancellor

WASHINGTON: A new high-level council advising President Donald Trump’s government on wildlife conservation is made up of big game hunters and professional hunting guides.

The Interior Department’s International Wildlife Conservation Council had its first meeting in Washington on Friday.

But it was already having an impact since the end of last year, when the department moved to allow the importation of lion and elephant safari trophies from certain African countries, which sparked outrage among conservationist groups.

The bans were set years ago to protect the species, and hunting groups have been pushing hard for the government to lift them and allow hunters to bring back the heads and pelts of game animals.

The panel, created and chosen by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a hunter himself, is chaired by Steven Chancellor.

The coal mining tycoon and top Republican donor is known for his Indiana home which is jammed full of hundreds of stuffed animals — lions, bears, leopards, antelope and others, attesting to his love for hunting.

Online photographs at an Argentina hunt show him dressed like an old-west gunslinger, in a black leather hat, black shirt, and black leather chaps, with a six-gun and bullets around his waist.

The board also sports Paul Babaz, president of Safari Club International, and John Jackson, a former president of the pro-hunting group.

Zimbabwe native Ivan Carter, one of Africa’s leading hunting guides, is a board member, as well as two other American guides.

Of four women on the board, one, Olivia Opre, has her own cable television reality show where she is known as the “Extreme Huntress”. Another, Denise Welker, was recently named the Houston Safari Club’s “Huntress of the Year 2018”.

A photograph on Safari Club International’s website from 2013 shows Welker in front of a massive, felled African elephant, with a text from her businessman husband describing how she downed it from five paces.

Zinke announced the formation of the International Wildlife Conservation Council in August, to provide him advice and recommendations.

“This council will provide important insight into the ways that American sportsmen and women benefit international conservation from boosting economies and creating hundreds of jobs to enhancing wildlife conservation,” Zinke said.

The tilt of the Trump administration toward big game hunters is not totally surprising: his sons Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr are hunters. Pictures published in 2012 showed Eric Trump holding the tail cut from a dead elephant, a knife in his other hand.

But the International Wildlife Conservation Council has no representatives from the non-hunting conservation community.

It does include, however, the gun community. It includes two former lobbyists of the powerful National Rifle Association. Babaz was recently nominated to the NRA board. Another board member is an executive of gunmaker Beretta USA.


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