Animal rights activists have slammed Donald Trump Jr after it emerged he killed an endangered sheep in Mongolia and was retroactively issued a hunting permit by the country's authorities, raising questions about whether he received special treatment.
The US president's eldest son, who has come under fire in the past for his big-game hunting hobby, shot an argali sheep during a weeklong trip in August where he was accompanied by his son and supported by security details from both countries, according to a report by ProPublica on Thursday.
With its giant, curving horns, the species is considered a national treasure of Mongolia, and the right to hunt it is controlled by a murky permitting system beholden to political and financial influence, according to experts quoted by the US news outlet.
ProPublica said that Mongolian authorities issued a rare permit to Trump Jr on September 2, after he had left the hunting region.
He later met privately with the country's president, Khaltmaa Battulga, before departing for the United States, according to an official quoted in the report.
Kitty Block, the president of the Humane Society of the United States, wrote in a blog post that there are only 18,000 argali sheep left in the Mongolian wilderness, but between 2008 and 2018 US hunters imported 254 hunting trophies from the species from Mongolia.
"If Mongolia and other range nations continue to hand these animals out as prizes to the wealthy and the well-connected, there is no doubt we will soon see the last of this endangered animal," she said.
Others said the Mongolian government may have hoped to curry favor with the US.
"What are the chances the Mongolian government would've done any of that to someone who wasn’t the son of the United States' president?" Kathleen Clark, a professor specializing in legal ethics at Washington University in St Louis told ProPublica.
Trump Jr, who documented his trip on Instagram, was widely criticized on Twitter where many users mocked his hunting a ruminant as "cowardly."
He and his brother Eric are avid big-game hunters and photos of the pair posing with animals they killed, including an elephant, buffalo and leopard, resurfaced during the 2016 presidential campaign.
US law allows hunters to import animals on the US endangered species list if its killing is shown to be beneficial to the species overall, even though President Donald Trump has called the practice a "horror show" in the past and created an advisory group in 2017 to shape policy.
In September, the administration allowed a Florida man to import the remains of a Tanzanian lion for the first time since it was listed in 2016, according to a freedom of information request obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity.