By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
We’ve just learned that Donald Trump Jr.’s trophy hunting trip to Mongolia, where he hunted an argali sheep—an animal listed as "threatened" under the U.S. Endangered Species Act—cost American taxpayers a whopping $77,000.
The revelation comes from the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which dug into expenses Trump Jr. incurred for this controversial trip made last year. Following an initial Freedom of Information Act request, the group was provided with Secret Service protection costs alone—around $17,000 for the trip. It was only after an appeal that CREW received information of other expenses, including flight costs and a stop Trump Jr. made in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, where he met with the Mongolian president, putting total expenses for that trip at the much higher figure of $76,859.36.
Trump Jr. is an avid trophy hunter and his exploits targeting at-risk animals, including leopards and elephants, are well documented. While all trophy hunting—done purely for fun and the thrill of killing a majestic animal—is unethical and disturbing, what is more outrageous about the president's son's pursuit of his deadly pastime is that Americans now have to pay for it.
The trip to Mongolia last August was an ethical minefield from start to finish. ProPublica, which originally broke the story of that trip, reported Trump, Jr. did not even have a permit from Mongolian officials when he shot the animal—it was offered to him afterwards, raising questions about whether he received special treatment from the Mongolian authorities. Argali are prized as a national treasure in Mongolia, and the permitting system for hunting one, according to ProPublica, is based on money, connections and politics.
The hunt itself was conducted at night, with a laser-guided rifle.
Back home, Trump Jr. has established himself as a champion of trophy hunting interests, peddling his famous last name for more privileges and perks, always at taxpayer expense because he receives Secret Service protection on all his trips. In February, he was the guest of honor at the Safari Club International’s annual convention, where the lives of 860 animals, including lions, polar bears, zebras and buffalo, were auctioned off. This included winning bids totaling $340,000 by two hunters for an opportunity to stay on a yacht with and join Trump Jr. in hunting black-tailed deer and sea ducks in Alaska.
Trophy hunters are usually a privileged lot with pockets deep enough to influence policies that favor their bloodlust. But Trump Jr. is not just any trophy hunter. As the president’s son he has an unparalleled ability to potentially influence our government’s policies on the world’s most endangered animals. But just like the Trump administration—which has launched repeated attacks against the most at-risk wildlife in the world, including hacking at the Endangered Species Act to benefit trophy hunters and mining and oil-drilling interests—Trump Jr. has failed to use his power to do good.
We are not staying silent. We’re challenging the administration’s changes to the ESA in court, and we are in good company, with many animal protection and environmental organizations joining us. We have also petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to refuse a permit for Trump Jr. to import the trophy of that sheep. Argali from Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Tajikistan are listed as threatened in the ESA, and import of a hunting trophy of an ESA-listed species can be authorized only if it furthers conservation. There is no evidence that this was the case here, or that recreational killing for trophies ever promotes conservation.
Being the president’s son may come with perks, like a retroactive permit from Mongolia to slay an argali and a red-carpet welcome from the world's largest trophy hunting group; but it also comes with the scrutiny of his questionable spending of taxpayer resources by organizations like ProPublica and CREW, and opposition to his wildlife-killing activities from animal protection groups like ours. Americans do not want their money misused in a manner that will do permanent damage to the world's most at-risk animals, and we will hold those who do so accountable, no matter how powerful and influential they are.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.