Trophy Hunting and the new USFW Rule.
United States Fish and Wildlife (USFW) has changed the rules relating to the import of lion trophies into USA.
Most animal welfare orgs have reported the news superficially e.g. "On December 23, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that lions in central and western Africa will be listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, while lions in southern and eastern Africa will be classified as threatened—meaning that the importation of the heads, tails, and skins of lions like Cecil will be prohibited, except in limited circumstances. This new rule will undoubtedly reduce the number of lions shot by cruel hunters, such as Walter Palmer, who kill these sensitive, social animals just to hang their body parts on their walls."
Such a paragraph hardly does justice to a 230 page document, and is misleading. It confuses the intention with the execution. It will not reduce the number of tame lions shot which in SA represent 99% of all lions hunted – in fact, it does not deal with farmed lions at all.
However, the hunting industry is also uncertain about the scope of such a comprehensive and scientific study, and is anxious to know how it will impact its profits.
This is what Safari Club International (SCI) sent out to its members:
For Immediate Release
SCI Membership Alert on the FWS African lion listing
On December 21, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced a final rule to list African lions under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The rule, which was published in the Federal Register on December 23, 2015 lists African lions as two separate subspecies – Panthera leo leo, found in western and central Africa, and Panthera leo melanochaita, found in southern and eastern Africa. Lions in western and central Africa will be listed as endangered, while southern and eastern Africa lions will be listed as threatened. The rule goes into effect on January 22, 2016.
Together with the listing rule, the FWS issued a special “4(d) rule” that will require ESA permits for the importation of threatened lions harvested from eastern and southern Africa. These permits will be required for all lions hunted on or after January 22, 2016. The FWS will need to make enhancement findings before they will issue any such permits. It is not yet clear when or how the FWS will issue these permits or make the required determination that hunting and subsequent importation enhances the survival of the species. (my emphasis)
According to the FWS, lions hunted before January 22, 2016 will not need an ESA permit for importation. Hunters should ensure that they document the date when their lion was hunted. This can be with a hunting license, notarized letter, or similar official documentation that proves the lion was harvested before January 22, 2016.
Safari Club International is still in the process of reviewing the 230-page listing rule and will provide further information when our analysis is complete. The final rule and additional information can be found here.
SCI President Larry Higgins today expressed his displeasure with the Obama Administration’s final listing rule and rule requiring permits to import lions. “Clearly, the White House is attempting to prevent U.S. hunters from engaging in lion hunting,” said Higgins. “We will look to challenge parts of the rule as appropriate, but this battle will not be resolved quickly. The Administration is imposing restrictions and obstacles that will not help lions, but will block U.S. hunters from participating in sustainable use conservation. Sadly, the rural communities of Africa that embrace hunting as part of their local economies will also suffer with the loss of U.S. hunters. As a result, local communities could lose their incentives to participate in lion conservation and as a result more lions will potentially die from poaching, animal control and retaliatory killings than hunters could ever take.”
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Confused? You should be.
Here is what you need to know about the new Rule:
* USFW has done its homework here. This is a comprehensive and thorough analysis of the plight of the African (and Indian) lion.
* USFW accepts that African governments are generally too incompetent and corrupt to be trusted to protect their own wildlife heritage. (It uses less blunt language)
* Further, and most importantly, USFW finds overwhelming evidence that the hunting fraternity has so little regard for conservation imperatives, such as widespread abuse of quotas, that trophy hunting has become a major threat to lion conservation in Africa. (my emphasis)
* Accordingly, USFW will now require U.S hunters to obtain an import permit for their lion trophies before the hunts take place. i.e. the burden of proof is now on the hunter to prove that his proposed hunt will enhance the survival of lions.
* Specifically, the hunter will have to show that his hunt will have a beneficial effect on one or more of the three major threats, namely, loss of habitat, loss of prey base and human/animal conflict.
Alas, this all looks so impressive on paper, but it will be all too easy, with the eager cooperation of captured African conservation structures, for hunters to obtain their enhancement certificates. Big Money talks louder than USFW in Africa.
At the very least, this is a clever public relations coup for USFW. USFW can claim to be protecting lions (which it is not); can claim to be supporting weak African conservation structures (which it is not) and can claim to be controlling the hunting industry (which it is not). Other than adding a layer of bureaucracy to the foreign trophy hunter’s paperwork, and infuriating the hunting thugs, nothing will change on the ground. Canned lion hunting will continue unabated.
Although most decent people object to hunting because of the senseless cruelty, the word ‘cruelty’ does not appear in all 230 pages of text. So USFW has not yet come to understand that hunting is to conservation what pornography is to art – but it is moving towards that realization.
USFW has been convinced that, provided trophy hunting is well regulated and scientifically applied with regard to herd and pride dynamics, it can be a tool of conservation. Namely, it can fill the vacuum left by the lamentable failure of African governments to protect their remaining wilderness. Short of neo-colonising African conservation structures, USFW has the good intention to impose better governance on African conservation services by the new Rule. (Isn’t the road to Hell supposed to be paved with good intentions?)
But the hunting industry has certainly been put on notice by the new Rule: ‘Get your act together boys, or you can expect the next step to be a total ban on the import of all lion trophies.’
It is going to happen, for sure. The trend is clear.