The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will allow an American trophy hunter who killed a critically endangered black rhino to import the animal’s body parts into the United States, in complete disregard for the precarious status of this species and despite overwhelming opposition from the American public.
FWS today approved the import permit for the black rhino trophy from Namibia – where rhino poaching has dramatically increased in recent years – even after thousands of members of the public weighed in during a 30-day public comment period, opposing the import. Ironically, the FWS action comes just two days before the world celebrates these unique animals on World Rhino Day this Saturday. Black rhinos are critically endangered, with fewer than 5,500 left in the wild, and just 1,946 left in Namibia. But for trophy hunters, the rarer the animal, the more valuable the trophy is, and the greater the prestige and thrill of killing it.
Two trophy hunting organizations, the Dallas Safari Club Foundation and Conservation Force, auctioned off the rhino hunt in December 2016 for $275,000. The auction was won by a Texas billionaire who hunted the animal on February 26, 2017, at the Veronica Game Lodge in Namibia. Conservation Force then filed the import permit application on April 12, 2017.
The granting of this permit is another example of how the FWS is increasingly catering to trophy hunting interests, and acting without any consideration for conserving some of the world’s most endangered and threatened animals. After the new administration took office last year, the FWS allowed the import of elephant and lion trophies from Zimbabwe – a decision we are opposing in court. The agency also established the International Wildlife Conservation Council, a body stocked with trophy hunters and firearms dealers, putting it in charge of federal wildlife policy decisions – another decision we’ve challenged in court. To top it all, the FWS, in July, announced its intention to gut protections afforded to all threatened and endangered species.
Over the years, the HSUS and Humane Society International have been instrumental in establishing key protections for commonly trophy-hunted species like lions, and we have petitions currently pending with FWS to maximize ESA protection for leopards and elephants. But increasingly, we find ourselves playing defense or protesting inaction from the government on important wildlife decisions.
In early 2017, the HSUS had filed a legal petition asking the FWS to list giraffes – another species who are finding themselves increasingly in the crosshairs of American trophy hunters – as endangered, thus restricting the import or interstate sale of giraffe trophies and products. However, the FWS has so far refused to act on our petition. So this week, the HSUS and HSI, along with our partners, notified the FWS and the Department of the Interior of our intent to file a lawsuit in federal court if the agency does not immediately respond to our petition.
Giraffe populations are facing precipitous declines – up to 40 percent over the last 30 years – due to poaching and habitat loss. These beautiful animals are targeted by U.S. trophy hunters at an alarming rate, with more than one giraffe trophy coming into American ports every day, on average. A recent HSUS undercover investigation clearly demonstrated the significant role the United States plays in the international and domestic commercial trade in giraffe bones and other parts.
By filing our intent to sue, we are making it clear to the FWS that we will not stand by and watch while they cater to a few wealthy trophy hunters who hunt rare and endangered animals abroad for the thrill of it and who do not represent or speak for a majority of Americans.
Polls show that more than 80 percent of Americans oppose trophy hunting of big game, and even President Trump has called trophy hunting a “horror show.” But in the current FWS, trophy hunters have found a willing partner, as these recent rollbacks of protections and now the granting of the black rhino permit indicates. It is time for the rest of America to stand strong against this bloodthirsty assault on the world’s wildlife by a privileged few. Let the FWS know that the proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service would weaken ESA regulations by making it harder to secure and maintain federal protections for imperiled species. The FWS and NMFS should keep existing ESA protections to save threatened and endangered animals from extinction.