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June 22, 2009

Federal Court Blocks Canned Hunting of Endangered Species

The Humane Society of the United States

WASHINGTON — In a blow to trophy hunting groups like Safari Club International, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia today struck down a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule allowing sport-hunting of endangered antelopes at "canned" hunting facilities. Safari Club and other trophy hunting advocates intervened in the case, and argued in favor of legalizing the shooting of endangered animals trapped in enclosures.

The court rejected the Safari Club's arguments, and declared the rule to be contrary to the requirements of the federal Endangered Species Act.

"The Safari Club's outrageous position in favor of the drive-thru killing of endangered species shows just how far from mainstream American values this group really is," said Jonathan R. Lovvorn, vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation at The Humane Society of the United States. "Canned hunting is not sport, and certainly not conservation, and we are delighted that the court has rejected this inhumane and unsportsmanlike practice."

The suit was filed by The Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Born Free USA, Kimya Institute and several individuals, to challenge a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision allowing three critically endangered African antelope species — the scimitar-horned oryx, addax and dama gazelle — to be hunted for trophies at fenced "game" ranches in Texas, Florida and other states. The agency also allows endangered antelope "trophies" to be sold in the United States and abroad.

The plaintiffs challenged the agency's decision, which was based on the Orwellian proposition that the conservation of endangered species is dependent on killing them. "It is unconscionable that the trophy hunting industry would undermine global conservation efforts for sport and profit," noted Adam M. Roberts, senior vice president of Born Free USA. "We hope the Obama administration takes notice of today's ruling and ensures that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service no longer allows canned trophy hunts of endangered species."

Katherine Meyer, lead attorney for the groups, said that the decision is an "important vindication of the public's right to monitor how endangered species are being treated under the Act, who is given permission to harm them, and why."

Facts:

  • Canned hunts are generally reviled by the hunting community nationwide for violating the principle of fair chase. The Boone and Crockett Club and the Pope and Young Club, which maintain trophy records for big game hunting, will not consider animals shot at canned hunts for inclusion on their record lists.
  • Safari Club offers awards for killing a sufficient number of rare species. The "Cats of the World" requires a trophy hunter to kill four of the big cats, such as a lion, leopard, cheetah and jaguar. The "African Big Five" requires a leopard, elephant, lion, rhino and buffalo. Add a hippo and crocodile to that list and you can also have the "Dangerous Game of Africa." The "African 29" requires an arrangement of impala, gazelle, pygmy antelope, eland, oryx, waterbuck, wildebeest and others. To complete all 35 "Grand Slam" and "Inner Circle" award categories at the "Diamond" level, a Safari Club hunter must kill hundreds of animals of different species and subspecies.
  • Canned hunts have proliferated over the past decade, with an estimated 1,000 or more operations in the United States alone. Hunting guides escort their clients to feeding and watering stations where the semi-tame prey proves an easy target. Since the land is fenced, the animals have no chance for escape, and many operations offer "No Kill, No Pay" guarantees.

The plaintiffs are represented in the case by the public-interest law firms Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, Washington, D.C.

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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the web at humanesociety.org.

Born Free USA works to alleviate captive animal suffering, rescue individual animals, protect wildlife — including highly endangered species — in their natural habitats, and encourage compassionate conservation globally. More at bornfreeusa.org.

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