Born Free USA applauds the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for publishing a new rule eliminating a shocking regulation that exempted captive-bred African antelopes (scimitar-horned oryx, addax, and dama gazelles) listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) from ESA protections (“Antelope Rule”).
This victory is long overdue. In September 2005, after a 14-year delay, the FWS finally listed three species of imperiled African antelope — the oryx, dama gazelle and addax — as endangered under the ESA. But our celebration was short-lived: That very same day, the agency created a sweeping exemption to allow canned hunting of the three species by trophy hunters on private ranches in the United States — despite their endangered status! The consequences were cruel, unjust and unprecedented. In the first time during its 30-plus years, the ESA was allowing any person to automatically kill, export, sell or commercially transport these live endangered animals (or their “sport-hunted trophies”) without question.
Born Free USA, along with a coalition of other wildlife protection groups, filed suit in federal court shortly thereafter, arguing that by simply rubber-stamping a severely exploitative activity, the blanket exemption violated the ESA. In June 2009, Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia overturned the “Antelope Rule.” On July 7 of this year, the FWS published notice in the Federal Register indicating that it would eliminate the canned-hunt exemption under the ESA and, thankfully, asked the public to comment. On Aug. 8, we submitted public comment on the proposal.
This action is an important vindication of the public’s right to know how the agency approaches conservation of endangered species and upholds the expectation of the majority of Americans who believe the primary purpose of the ESA is to protect endangered wildlife from exploitation. Although hunting of captive-bred endangered wildlife may still occur, rescinding the “Antelope Rule” avoids a dangerous precedent whereby commercial exploitation of listed species is automatically permitted — without requiring individuals to first obtain an FWS-approved permit and provide the public an opportunity for notice and comment — merely on the ridiculous theory that captive breeding, in and of itself, enhances survival, even if done for the purposes of trophy hunting.
We will continue to fight for strict enforcement of the ESA to protect animals from all dangerous loopholes!