Species in Danger of Extinction Shouldn’t be Shot for Profit, Groups Say
San Francisco, CA — Wildlife protection groups filed suit today in the Northern District of California to prevent the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) from allowing canned hunting of three endangered antelope species. The plaintiffs include The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Defenders of Wildlife, Born Free USA, the Kimya Institute, and a number of individuals.
The plaintiffs contend that a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service decision announced last month violates the Endangered Species Act by allowing trophy hunters to kill the three species on game ranches in the United States. The plaintiffs also contend that the rule will undermine conservation efforts for wild populations and set a damaging precedent for the commercial exploitation of other endangered species.
Last month, after a fourteen-year delay, the FWS finally listed the scimitar-horned oryx, addax, and dama gazelle as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. However, on the same day, the FWS published a sweeping exemption that would allow hunters to kill captive bred antelope animals on privately-owned ranches located anywhere in the United States and sell their “trophies” to hunters from the United States and abroad.
“The federal government is trying to create a ‘canned hunt’ exemption to the Endangered Species Act so that trophy hunters can bag endangered animals in drive-thru killing operations,” said Michael Markarian, HSUS executive vice president. “That’s not sport and it’s certainly not conservation.”
Canned hunts have proliferated over the past 10 years, with an estimated 1,000 or more current operations in the United States alone. Hunting guides escort their clients to feeding stations and watering holes where their semi-tame prey is an easy target. The guides handle removal of the carcass and arrange for the taxidermied trophy to be delivered to the client.
The Bush Administration first proposed allowing widespread killing of international endangered species for commercial purposes in 2003, but tabled the proposal after it came under massive criticism from the public, the scientific community and members of Congress.
“This rule is the same wine in a different bottle,” said Carroll Muffett, Senior Director for International Conservation at Defenders of Wildlife, “And it’s as invalid for these antelopes as it is for the other 500 species the Administration threatened with their ‘kill them to protect them’ plan. We don’t get clear skies by increasing pollution; and we won’t save endangered species by killing them for profit.”
Decades of overhunting and habitat loss have driven the three antelope species to the verge of extinction. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) lists the scimitar-horned oryx as extinct in the wild, the addax as critically endangered, and the dama gazelle as endangered. The three species are captive bred and regularly offered to hunters at game ranches in the United States:
- The scimitar-horned oryx, with its large, curving horns, is an icon of the Sahara desert. JN Ranch in Rocksprings, Texas offers the opportunity to kill one of the endangered animals for a fee of $2,750.
- The addax’s unusual, spiraling horns are coveted by game hunters. Wilson Whitetail Ranch in Sabinal, Texas lists the fee for bagging an addax at $4,500.
- Near San Antonio, Texas, dama gazelles are found at the 777 Ranch where they are “priced upon request.” The 15,000 acre ranch boasts of offering one of North America’s largest herds of exotic animals, guided hunts, first class accommodations, and hunts conducted from “custom jeeps.”
All three receive the highest level of protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), prohibiting commercial international trade and requiring both export and import permits to trade in live specimens or their parts and products. While wild populations of the species have declined to the point of near or complete extinction, the numbers of captive-bred antelope have increased; 4,000–5,000 scimitar-horned oryx, 1,500 addax, and 650 dama gazelle can be found in captivity — mostly on game farms — in the United States. In four decades of operation, U.S. ranches that allow canned hunting have never provided any antelope for reintroduction efforts despite widespread knowledge of their critical status.
According to wildlife trade experts, far from helping conserve African antelope in the wild, the new exemption will further endanger their survival by creating a legal market through which illegally hunted trophies could be laundered, providing the opportunity and incentive for the poaching and trade in wild antelope.
More than 20 conservation and animal protection groups submitted comments opposing the exemption when the FWS proposed it last spring.
The plaintiffs are represented in the case by the public-interest law firms Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, Washington, D.C., and Evans & Page, San Francisco, California.
Defenders of Wildlife is a leading non-profit conservation organization recognized as one of the nation’s most progressive advocates for wildlife and its habitat. With more than 490,000 members and supporters, Defenders of Wildlife is an effective leader on endangered species issues. On the web at www.defenders.org
The Humane Society of the United States is the nation’s largest animal protection organization representing more than 9 million members and constituents. The non-profit organization is a mainstream voice for animals, with active programs in companion animals and equine protection, disaster preparedness and response, wildlife and habitat protection, animals in research and farm animal welfare. The HSUS protects all animals through education, investigation, litigation, legislation, advocacy, and field work. The group is based in Washington and has numerous field representatives across the country. On the web at www.hsus.org
Born Free USA and its companion organization in England, Born Free Foundation, work to alleviate animal suffering, protect threatened and endangered species in the wild, and encourage everyone to treat wildlife everywhere with respect and compassion. On the web at www.bornfreeusa.org
William Lutz, Defenders 202-772-0269
Brad DeVries, Defenders 202-772-0237
Rachel Querry, HSUS 301-258-8255
Adam Roberts, Born Free 202-337-3123