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Federal Court Upholds Endangered Listing for Three Antelope Species

Conservation and animal protection groups call on Fish and Wildlife Service to reject future permits for captive hunts of the species

Defenders of Wildlife, Born Free USA

In a blow to trophy hunting interest groups, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld a 2005 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule listing the Scimitar-Horned Oryx, the Addax and the Dama Gazelle as endangered. Defenders of Wildlife, The Humane Society of the United States and Born Free USA applaud the court’s decision requiring FWS to continue to apply the restrictions of the Endangered Species Act to these antelope species, even when they are held in U.S. captive hunting facilities, where shooters pay top dollar to kill captive animals for trophies.

Now, with the court’s clear acknowledgement that both captive and wild individuals are protected under the Endangered Species Act, the groups are urging FWS to stop issuing permits to captive shooting facilities that  allow trophy hunters the opportunity to kill these endangered antelope.

Michael Senatore, vice president for conservation law at Defenders of Wildlife said: “Experts agree that captive hunting does not contribute to the overall conservation of the species in their native habitat. The court’s ruling is an important step to protecting endangered species worldwide.”

In 2005, FWS listed these African antelope species as endangered, but at the same time, the agency issued a regulation for captive hunting operations that waived the Endangered Species Act permitting requirements – essentially allowing these pay-to-play operations to allow the killing of endangered species. However in 2012, following a previous lawsuit filed by Defenders of Wildlife, The HSUS and Born Free USA, the agency formally rescinded that captive hunting regulation. As a result, endangered antelope can only be killed after obtaining a federal permit, and such permits can only be issued for legitimate conservation purposes.

Recently, Safari Club International and the Exotic Wildlife Association filed two lawsuits arguing that both the 2005 endangered listing rule and the 2012 revocation of the captive hunting regulation were unlawful. Defenders of Wildlife, The HSUS and Born Free USA intervened in this litigation to defend the agency’s decisions to apply ESA protection to these critically-endangered species and the court rejected SCI’s and EWA’s arguments.

Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation at The HSUS said: “Shooting endangered animals behind fences for trophies and profit is unethical, and contrary to the purposes of the Endangered Species Act. We hope the Obama administration takes notice of this ruling and ensures that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service no longer allows captive trophy hunts of endangered species.”

The court’s ruling, along with the Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent denial of petitions from hunting groups to delist captive antelopes, confirms the Endangered Species Act applies to both captive and wild animals of those species. However, the groups are disheartened to know that the agency actively facilitates captive hunting of these endangered antelopes, publishing guidelines for ranches to easily apply for a permit by pledging to donate 10 percent of trophy hunting proceeds to trophy hunting interest groups.

Adam M. Roberts, executive vice president of Born Free USA said: “It is unconscionable that the trophy hunting industry tried to undermine global conservation efforts for sport and profit. Captive hunting is not conservation, and the Fish and Wildlife Service was right to list both captive and wild individuals of these species as Endangered.”

Bill Eubanks, lead attorney for the groups, said, “This 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.”

The conservation organizations are represented in the case by the Washington, D.C. public interest law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal.

Captive Hunting Facts:

  • Animals in captive hunts are stocked inside fenced enclosures, allowing ranches to often offer guaranteed trophies, “100 percent success” rates, and advertise “no kill, no pay” policies.
  • 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.
  • At more than 1,000 commercial captive hunt operations in the United States, trophy hunters pay to shoot native and exotic mammals – from zebra to endangered Scimitar-Horned Oryx – confined in fenced enclosures.
  • Many of the animals on these ranches have become accustomed to humans, making them easy targets for shooters.

Media Contacts:
The HSUS: Kaitlin Sanderson, 301-721-6463; ksanderson@humanesociety.org
Born Free USA: Rodi Rosensweig, 203-270-8929; rodicompany@earthlink.net