Tucson hunting organization behind push for elephant trophy imports

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TUCSON, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

Elephants are listed as a theatened species, and it is against the law for hunters to bring elephant heads, tusks or other body parts known as trophies back to the United States from Zimbabwe and Zambia.

But last week, a hunting rights organization called Safari Club International (SCI), which is based in Tucson, made a surprise announcement. “US now allows elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia,” read the press release.

The question of why it was SCI that made the announcement, instead of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which made the decision to allow more elephant trophies into the U.S., was drowned out by the reaction to the move.

“There was instant public outcry,” said Kellye Pinkleton, who is the Arizona state coordinator for the Humane Society of the United States.

Pinkleton says the animal rights community was surprised by the announcement, but SCI is a familiar organization to them.

“They are very vocal. They are very powerful. Essentially, they are a club, a fraternity, if you will, for wealthy big game hunters,” said Pinkleton.

SCI’s website claims the organization has spent more than $140 million since 2000, advocating for conservation and hunting rights.

According to Federal Election Commission filings, the group’s political action committee donated just under $1 million to members of Congress and candidates for Congress during the 2016 election cycle. The politician who received the most money was Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Montana. He is now the Secretary of the Interior, and the man who would have ultimately signed off on any changes in elephant import rules.

“The safari Club International was very supportive of Secretary Zinke’s appointment,” said Pinkleton.

But on Friday, facing mounting criticism from across the political spectrum, President Trump announced on Twitter that he was putting the rule change on hold. He later made statements that indicate he is leaning against removing the ban.

Today, SCI sent a letter to Trump, asking him to allow for the elephant imports. The organization also sent an alert to its members to reach out to their lawmakers and to the Trump administration. Trump’s final decision is expected this week.

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Morgan  LoewMorgan Loew is an investigative reporter at CBS 5 News. His career has taken him to every corner of the state, lots of corners in the United States, and some far-flung corners of the globe.

Click to learn more about Morgan .

Morgan Loew
CBS 5 Investigates

Morgan’s past assignments include covering the invasion of Iraq, human smuggling in Mexico, vigilantes on the border and Sheriff Arpaio in Maricopa County. His reports have appeared or been featured on CBS News, CNN, NBC News, MSNBC and NPR.

Morgan’s peers have recognized his work with 11 Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards , two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for investigative reporting, an SPJ First Amendment Award and a commendation from the Humane Society of the United States. Last fall, Morgan was inducted into the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Silver Circle, in recognition of 25 years of contribution to the television industry in Arizona.

Morgan is a graduate of the University of Arizona journalism school and Concord Law School. He is the president of the Arizona First Amendment Coalition and teaches media law and TV news reporting at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

When he’s not out looking for the next big news story, Morgan enjoys hiking, camping, cheering for the Arizona Wildcats and spending time with his family at their southern Arizona ranch.

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