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Federal Rule Limiting Captive Hunting of Endangered Species Goes Into Effect

Trophy Hunters’ Last Minute Request for an Injunction Denied

The Humane Society of the United States welcomes a rule by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cracking down on unrestricted captive hunting of three critically endangered antelope species at U.S. game ranches – the dama gazelle, addax, and scimitar-horned oryx – that went into effect yesterday. Captive hunts are privately owned fenced enclosures where shooters pay top dollar to kill semi-tame animals for trophies.

This new rule requires that canned hunt operators qualify for individual conservation permits before being allowed to shoot endangered antelope. It eliminates the previous blanket exemption which allowed the canned hunting of dama gazelle, addax, and scimitar-horned oryx for profit without any individual conservation permits or any public review or comment whatsoever. Safari Club International and the Exotic Wildlife Association filed a lawsuit to enjoin implementation of this new rule because they are worried that canned hunting operators will not be able to make the necessary showing of conservation benefit to the species.

“Shooting endangered animals behind fences is unethical, and contrary to the purposes of the Endangered Species Act,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation at The HSUS. “Canned hunting is not conservation, and the Fish and Wildlife Service was right to revoke this blank check to kill tame animals for trophies and profit.”

On Tuesday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied the canned hunter’s request for an emergency injunction against the rule, holding, among other things, that there was “no reason to entrust the interest of endangered species to private ranchers.”  U.S. canned hunt operators breed these antelope species in order to make a profit from captive hunting, not for the purpose of reintroducing animals into the wild. Recognizing this, several conservation organizations have actually refused funding from captive hunting ranches, rejecting the claim that captive hunting contributes to the overall conservation of the species in their native habitat.

In 2005, the USFWS issued a regulation that allowed the three endangered African antelope species to be shot at captive hunts without requiring a permit. The HSUS joined other animal welfare groups and filed suit in federal court challenging this regulation. Safari Club International and other extremist trophy hunting groups intervened in the case and argued in favor of exempting the shooting of these endangered animals trapped in enclosures from the federal Endangered Species Act. 

In 2009, the court ruled in favor of the HSUS, declaring the regulation to be contrary to the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, and in 2011 the USFWS proposed the new rule that would prohibit captive hunting of endangered species absent a permit issued under limited circumstances.

Captive Hunts:

  • A HSUS undercover investigation that aired on Animal Planet in 2011 exposed unsporting and inhumane practices at captive hunts across the country. 
  • Captive hunts are generally reviled by the hunting community nationwide for violating the principle of fair chase. Hunting groups such as 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 captive hunts for inclusion on their record lists.
  • U.S. Reps. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Brad Sherman, D-Calif., have introduced the Sportsmanship in Hunting Act, H.R. 2210, which would ban the interstate commerce in exotic mammals for the purpose of captive hunts and also bans the remote killing of animals via the Internet.

Media Contacts: Stephanie Twining, 301-258-1491, stwining@humanesociety.org