WASHINGTON — The Trump administration said it will allow the importation of body parts from African elephants shot for sport, contending that encouraging wealthy big-game hunters to kill them will aid the vulnerable species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a written notice issued Thursday that permitting elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia to be brought back as trophies will raise money for conservation programs. A licensed two-week African elephant hunt can cost more than $50,000 per person, not including airfare, according to advertised rates.

The change marks a shift in efforts to stop the importation of elephant tusks and hides, overriding a 2014 ban imposed by the Obama administration. The new policy applies to the remains of African elephants killed between January 2016 and December 2018.

“Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve those species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation,” the agency said in a statement.

Animal rights activists and environmental groups expressed skepticism Thursday that killing elephants could help save them. Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, said the policy change sends the wrong signal amid international efforts to curb illegal poaching.

“What kind of message does it send to say to the world that poor Africans who are struggling to survive cannot kill elephants in order to use or sell their parts to make a living, but that it’s just fine for rich Americans to slay the beasts for their tusks to keep as trophies?” Pacelle asked.

But the move was quickly praised by groups that champion big-game trophy hunting, including Safari Club International and the lobbying arm of the National Rifle Association.

Chris Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, called the action “a significant step forward in having hunting receive the recognition it deserves as a tool of sound wildlife management, which had been all but buried in the previous administration.”

“By lifting the import ban on elephant trophies in Zimbabwe and Zambia the Trump administration underscored, once again, the importance of sound scientific wildlife management and regulated hunting to the survival and enhancement of game species in this country and worldwide,” Cox said.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday referred questions about the policy change to the Fish and Wildlife Service, saying no announcement had yet been “finalized.”

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