MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
On March 1, Donald Trump's Interior Department lifted the ban on importing big-hunting elephant kill trophies to the United States. Trump, in the past, claimed he was not a fan of safaris and the killing of large animals in Africa for sport. However, as he's done on a large number of policies, Trump has changed his mind.
Maybe he did so because safari hunting is a rich man's sport. Maybe it was a family matter. After all, a 2017 Guardian article states that "Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump are prolific big-game hunters and during the 2016 campaign, images re-emerged of the pair on a 2011 hunting trip posing with animals they had killed on safari, including an elephant, a buffalo and a leopard."
The Trump male heirs are passionate braggarts about shooting down sought-after prey in Africa, including animals that potentially face extinction.
According to an article in Live Science, big-game hunting and killing date back thousands of years:
These hunts were carefully orchestrated and conducted for the amusement of royalty and as demonstrations of their strength, Linda Kalof, a professor of sociology at Michigan State University, told Live Science in an email.
"Ancient canned hunts were spectacular displays of royal power and dominance, and always took place with the king's public watching from the sidelines," Kalof said. "A successful hunt requires the death of unrestrained wild animals — animals who are hostile, shun or attack humans, and are not submissive to human authority."
Even today, acquiring trophy animals is a way of displaying power, Kalof noted. In some African countries, where big-game hunting and trophy display are expensive forms of entertainment practiced predominantly by white men, hunting recalls ideologies that are deeply rooted in colonialism and patriarchy, Kalof said.
Live Science quotes biologist Chris Darimont as noting that "by sharing images of their trophies on social media, hunters can now trumpet messages about their personal wealth and social status to a global audience."
Certainly, Trump's decision fits his behavior of a conspicuous display of wealth and power like a glove.
Indeed, part of the reason big game hunting is a symbol of wealth is because it is so costly. A 2015 New York Times article is headlined, "Big Game Hunting Is Also Big Business for Wealthy Few." The Times article notes that "plane tickets, specialized gear and weapons, safari guides and astronomical hunting fees determined by what kind of animal you want to kill – a lion costs more than $50,000, experts say – keep the pastime out of reach for most hunters."
Given this background, it would make sense that Trump would approve the importation of kill souvenirs. Not only is he endorsing a talisman of wealth and power, but he is restoring a practice that resonates with "colonialism and patriarchy." Trump may not himself be a big-game hunter, but he hardly appears to have a Dr. Doolittle heart of compassion for the animals of Africa. Although the US does not engage in the type of colonialism in Africa that certain European countries once did, it is an economic colonial power.
It is difficult to believe that, following the easing of the elephant-trophy ban, other bans on "souvenirs" of safari-hunted animals will not also eventually be eased. In the meantime, Trump is allowing a murderous symbol of wealth to enter the country. He is also rewarding the cult of masculinity that wealthy males engage in, which is inextricably intertwined with patriarchy.
The World Wildlife Fund lists the African elephant as vulnerable. That should be enough to stop a presidential administration from encouraging any actions that diminish the herds, especially the forays of wealthy men conducting patriarchal rites of passage.