HSUS, HSI challenge U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over information blackout on lion and elephant trophy imports
Each year, American trophy hunters import a staggering 126,000 hunting trophies into the United States. This includes elephants and lions – animals whose numbers in the wild are in decline. That’s right. These animals, listed as threatened with extinction under federal law, are killed, taxidermied and shipped in crates so they can be mounted in someone’s living room or man cave.
After the Department of the Interior announced last year that it would start allowing the import of elephant and lion trophies from Zimbabwe for the first time in years – a decision we challenged in federal court — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pushed the permitting process behind closed doors, leaving the American public with no way of knowing how many lion and elephant trophies are being allowed into the country. Repeated requests by the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, other conservation organizations and media outlets to get this information have been stonewalled. The agency, which is increasingly pandering to trophy hunters, is barely willing to give the time of day to the rest of us.
Today, the HSUS and HSI filed a new lawsuit challenging this blackout of information that, under law, should be available to every American citizen. We are demanding that the USFWS proactively post, in a timely manner, and on its website, each application for lion and elephant trophies that it receives, as well as copies of each permit issued and the findings the agency makes in support or denial of each permit.
The world’s wildlife belongs to all of us, not just a handful of trophy hunters with deep pockets. It is imperative that organizations like ours have access to this information within a time frame that allows us to monitor compliance with the Endangered Species Act and provide scientific data to the agency in support of our view that trophy hunting does not promote the conservation of imperiled species, but rather, makes their situation worse.
An overwhelming majority of Americans abhors trophy hunting, as is evident from the anger that erupts each time we hear of a killing spree by an American trophy hunter abroad. In recent years, the killing of two well-known lions, Cecil and Skye, made headlines, and earlier this week an Idaho Fish and Game commissioner caused an uproar when he boasted of killing an entire family of baboons, a leopard, a giraffe, and other animals on a hunting trip to Namibia. Last month, Americans were outraged to hear that a Texas billionaire received approval to import the trophy of a critically endangered black rhinoceros from Namibia.
These instances are by no means isolated. American trophy hunters kill an estimated 10,000 animals each month for nothing more than the pleasure of the kill and to import their hides and heads. While we can calculate these numbers from international trade databases, such information only becomes available several years after an import occurs. If we are to help the world’s wildlife that is most at risk, we need access to this information far sooner, when the applications for permits are made.
The USFWS blackout is illegal. The fact that these types of records are so frequently requested triggers a specific duty for the agency, under federal law, to put this information online. With this lawsuit we are putting the agency on notice: we will not stand for our government to be complicit in covering up the killing of the world’s most precious wildlife.