Capt. Scott O’Grady, who has been nominated by President Donald Trump to become the next assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, killed two elephants during a 2014 hunting trip in Zimbabwe, according to documents O’Grady filed as part of his testimony before a House committee six years ago.
O’Grady, co-chair of the group Veterans for Trump, gained international attention in 1995 when his F-16 was shot down by a Bosnian Serb missile. The Air Force officer managed to survive and evade capture in hostile territory for six days before being rescued. His nomination to the Pentagon post was announced Tuesday.
In 2014, O’Grady testified before the House Committee on Natural Resources after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service temporarily suspended the importation of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Tanzania. The agency, then under the Obama administration, determined that “questionable management practices, a lack of effective law enforcement and weak governance have resulted in uncontrolled poaching and catastrophic population declines of African elephants in Tanzania. In Zimbabwe, available data, though limited, indicate a significant decline in the elephant population,” according to a statement the agency released.
O’Grady argued against the suspension, noting that he had just returned from a three-week safari in Zimbabwe and could attest that “their elephant population is not only robust, but is exceeding the land’s carrying capacity.”
As part of his testimony, O’Grady submitted a letter from a Zimbabwe-based safari hunting company confirming his elephant-hunting record. The letter noted that O’Grady killed his first elephant on March 11, 2014, and his second on March 23, 2014.
The crux of O’Grady’s testimony, a common argument made by trophy hunters, is that the fees trophy hunters pay for elephant-hunting licenses help communities in many different ways—from funding local services to helping combat poachers and wildlife traffickers.
While it’s true that some of the licensing fees for elephant hunting (and the hunting of other big game like lions and giraffes) can help local communities and conservation efforts, figuring out where this money ends up is often a difficult task. Corruption and kleptocracy often lead to a large amount of these funds lining the pockets of politicians and other local leaders.
Ecotourism—where tourists spend money to stay at hotels and pay fees to see the flora and fauna in sub-Saharan African countries—is much more helpful for conservation in the long run and much more sustainable, plus it helps the local economy.