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'My sons love hunting, I don't.' Trump's soft spot for elephants

Donald Trump had been clear on his dislike of hunting well before he effectively reversed a decision on hunting big game in Africa.

President Donald Trump has put on hold an administration rule that would have allowed parts of hunted big game to be brought to the United States from Africa.
President Donald Trump has put on hold an administration rule that would have allowed parts of hunted big game to be brought to the United States from Africa.Read moreEvan Vucci / AP

Conservationists who have a visceral emotional reaction to words like "carbon emissions" and "TransCanada" and "Rick Perry" rarely find themselves closely allied with President Trump's opinions on the proper stewardship of the planet.

Trump has consistently dismantled Obama-era environmental protections, using the common refrain that his administration desires to "better balance conservation strategies and policies with the equally legitimate need of creating jobs for hard-working American families."

So, some who've criticized Trump might have done a double take when they read one of his tweets Friday morning. The message effectively put the brakes on a new administration policy that would allow American hunters to bring pieces of recently slaughtered African elephants back to the United States:

But Trump's opposition to big-game hunting isn't new. Just ask Cher. In 2012, the outraged celebrity tweeted a story with a picture of Donald Trump Jr., a belt of ammunition around his hips, posing with slain animals: an elephant, a leopard, and a water buffalo, among others. Cher's point was clear from the Gothamist headline: "Photos: Donald Trump's Sons Awesome At Killing Elephants And Other Wildlife."

But the elder Trump took to Twitter to set the record straight:

The younger Trump, on the other hand, has consistently defended his hunting from occasionally profane critics, saying he's not going to let fear of the "PETA crazies" stop him from posting hunting pictures.

The president's tweet led to the quick — and likely fleeting — redrawing of a few battle lines. It was also part of a quick-moving flurry of activity regarding African elephants this week.

As the Washington Post wrote, on Wednesday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to end a 2014 ban on big-game trophy hunting in Zimbabwe and Zambia. Its justification was that killing elephants and bringing pieces of their corpses back to the United States to grace hunters' dens would help the species. Coincidentally, helping the species is the only way that hunters can legally bring elephant trophies back to the United States.

The ruling, and its justification, angered environmentalists and elephant lovers. In a tweet, Fox News host Laura Ingraham expressed her dismay.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce, R-Calif., suggested that the Fish and Wildlife Service's move could pump money into Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe is being asked to resign or face impeachment.

"In this moment of turmoil, I have zero confidence that the regime, which for years has promoted corruption at the highest levels, is properly managing and regulating conservation programs," Royce said. "Furthermore, I am not convinced that elephant populations in the area warrant overconcentration measures."

It was unclear whether Trump had heard the words of elephant lovers or his fellow Republicans, but he thumbed out the tweet saying the Fish and Wildlife Service's decision was on hold.

His tweet had environmentalists thanking the president.

Trump's stance on hunting is more closely allied with that of Democrats. As the Post wrote last year, "Animal welfare remains an issue more heartily embraced by Democrats, however, who tend to be less tight with farming and gun-rights groups that are often at odds with animal- and wildlife-protection organizations."