U.S. officials urged to reconsider approval of black rhino trophy import

Billionaire Texas hunter seeks to import endangered animal’s entire body

Humane Society International

  • Bob Koons/HSUS

WASHINGTON—Conservation and animal-welfare groups today urged Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider a federal decision to allow a Texas billionaire to import a critically endangered black rhino shot as a trophy hunt in Namibia.

The Fish and Wildlife Service gave notice Sept. 20 of its intent to issue the permit in 10 days. Black rhinos are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, but the government unlawfully approves trophy imports in a “pay-to-play” scheme.

Today’s letter from the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, Humane Society Legislative Fund and Center for Biological Diversity argues that such permits undermine conservation of Africa’s endangered wildlife, contrary to industry claims. “[K]illing a critically endangered rhinoceros and importing the trophy does not benefit the species,” the letter states.

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The approximately 27-year-old western black rhino was shot last year by the Dallas hunter, who has his own museum of trophy kills. The permit application notes the intent to import a life-size mount of the rhino.

“Approving this permit betrays the core principles of the Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service is endorsing the import of a hunting trophy of an endangered species under the pretense that killing animals promotes conservation,” said Anna Frostic, managing wildlife attorney with the Humane Society of the United States. “It is telling that the three endangered species that FWS has authorized trophy imports for — black rhinoceros, bontebok and cape mountain zebra — are highly prized by trophy hunters.”

Black rhinos are highly imperiled with roughly only 5,500 existing worldwide by 2015, of which 1,946 are in Namibia.

“It’s disgusting to see federal wildlife officials giving a Texas billionaire a pat on the back for blowing away this incredibly rare rhino,” said Tanya Sanerib, international legal director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We shouldn’t be sanctioning the death of this majestic animal by allowing this trophy into the United States. The cruelty of trophy hunting simply doesn’t comport with efforts to save Africa’s imperiled wildlife.”

Poaching of rhinos for their highly coveted horns still threatens to drive the species toward extinction. Official Namibian government figures show that rhino poaching escalated from nearly zero to more than 80 in 2016, and the vast majority of rhinos poached were black rhinos. Due to the poaching crisis, the country is under consideration to join a handful of “Priority Countries for Attention” at the meeting of the Standing Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which will meet in Russia next week.

The agency also approved elephant and lion trophy imports from Zimbabwe and Zambia last fall and has adopted policies favorable to trophy hunters.

The administration set up the International Wildlife Conservation Council, an advisory committee packed primarily with trophy hunters to further advise officials on how to liberalize trophy imports. The council is scheduled to meet later this week. The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, Center for Biological Diversity, and Natural Resources Defense Council, represented by Democracy Forward, have a pending lawsuit in New York challenging the various illegalities in the establishment and operation of the IWCC.

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