(Reuters) - Conservation groups decried U.S. President Donald Trump's decision this week to allow trophy hunters who kill elephants in two African countries to bring home the endangered animals' tusks or other body parts as trophies.
The move triggered protests from conservation groups and a frenzy on social media from opponents who posted pictures of Trump's adult sons, who are avid hunters, posing with the cut-off tail of a slain elephant and other dead wild animals on Twitter.
"Infuriating," Chelsea Clinton, daughter of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, wrote on Twitter. "Will increase poaching, make communities more vulnerable & hurt conservation efforts."
Reversing a policy implemented by the Republican president's Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service disclosed at a meeting in Tanzania organized by a pro-trophy hunting lobbying group that it would allow the import of trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia through 2018.
It said the two countries had developed robust conservation programs that would enhance the survival of African elephants, the world's largest land animals.
The move came the same week Zimbabwe was rocked by a coup d'etat that left its president, Robert Mugabe, under house arrest.
"The original ban was enacted based on detailed findings on the condition of elephant populations on the ground, and it strains credulity to suggest that local science-based factors have been met to justify this change," M. Sanjayan, chief executive of Conservation International, said in a statement.
The outrage echoed that seen in 2015 after a Minnesota dentist killed a well-studied lion nicknamed "Cecil" after he was lured out of a protected national park.
The population of African elephants had fallen by some 30 percent between 2007 and 2014, with poaching the primary reason for the decline, according to a report released last year.
A growing number of countries, including China, Singapore and the United States, have banned the trade in ivory.
Advocates for big-game hunting contend that it can help preserve wildlife by generating income for poor countries that can promote conservation and improve the lives of impoverished people.
"Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit certain species," the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a statement.
Hunting group Safari Club International, which sponsored the meeting in Africa, praised the decision.
"These positive findings for Zimbabwe and Zambia demonstrate that the Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes that hunting is beneficial to wildlife," said the group's president, Paul Babaz.
(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; additional reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; editing by Jonathan Oatis)