Scott O’Grady, a famous former Air Force officer recently nominated for a top Defense Department role in the Trump administration, hunted and killed two elephants in Zimbabwe in 2014 and lobbied Congress to lift trophy hunting restrictions.
O’Grady, who became a national sensation after surviving behind enemy lines in Bosnia when his jet was shot down during the NATO peace-keeping mission, hunted the elephants on a 2014 safari. He said it was the “fulfillment of a life-long dream,” for which he paid $75,000, more than his annual income at the time.
After returning from Zimbabwe that spring, Mr O’Grady, who was nominated Tuesday to be assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, testified before a Congressional subcommittee on wildlife affairs in support of lifting the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) April 2014 suspension on importing elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Tanzania.
The agency said elephants were “under siege” in both countries, saying poor “management practices, a lack of effective law enforcement and weak governance have resulted in uncontrolled poaching and catastrophic population declines of African elephants.”
Mr O’Grady argued in his testimony that trophy hunting helps fund conservation, and that he was accompanied by Zimbabwean government wildlife officials who monitored the hunt.
“I passionately believe that we all have a unique responsibility to conserve wild places and wild species,” he told the committee , adding “hunters are conservationists.”
Mr O’Grady did not respond to requests for comment.
At the time, Robert Mugabe was still in power in Zimbabwe. Mr Mugabe, who ran the country as a kleptocracy for nearly four decades, reportedly once ate baby elephant during a $1 million birthday celebration in 2015, and sold over 90 elephants to China and Dubai to help fund wildlife conservation.
He also criticized “white-owned” and American safaris for their impact.
“They can’t say ‘allow our people to visit, allow our people to have safaris,’ to kill our lions and take safari trophies to America,” Mr Mugabe said in 2015.
Prior to his testimony, Mr O’Grady reportedly prepared for “several weeks,” with Safari Club International, a hunting and conservation organization, who did not respond to a request for comment. He’d also previously met with FWS leadership to discuss the trophy ban in May.
The 12-year Air Force veteran is a co-chair of the Veterans for Trump group, and has previously retweeted a variety of right-wing conspiracy theories online, which included supporting Q-anon followers, as well as retweeting those labeling Dr. Anthony Fauci a member of the “deep state” and calling Covid a plot to install Marxism, according to Media Matters For America, a liberal watchdog group.