By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
The cheetah, an animal capable of top speeds of 75 miles per hour, is racing toward extinction, with just 7,100 animals left in the wild. Recently, in another expression of the callous disregard trophy hunters show for the world’s most endangered and at-risk animals, an American who killed a cheetah in Namibia has applied to import trophy parts from his kill into the United States.
If approved, it would be the first time on record that the U.S. government would have authorized the import of a cheetah trophy under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). This could set a terrible precedent and very possibly encourage more trophy hunters to go after cheetahs, exacerbating their tragic fate.
We recently learned that another American has also applied to import the trophy of a black rhino, also killed in Namibia. There are now just 5,500 black rhinos remaining in the wild.
It defies understanding that our government would even allow trophy hunters to apply for permits to import animals fast disappearing from earth and protected under the ESA. Both black rhinos and cheetahs are listed as endangered under ESA and can only be imported if the FWS finds that hunting the animal would enhance the survival of the species. A trophy hunter killing an animal for thrills and bragging rights clearly does not meet that standard.
Sadly, in recent years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, instead of doing its job of protecting animals listed under the ESA, has enabled an escalation of attacks against them. Beginning in 2017, the FWS reversed more enlightened policies, making it easier for American trophy hunters to import trophies of endangered and threatened animals. The agency also established the International Wildlife Conservation Council, a body stocked with trophy hunters and firearms dealers, tasked to advise on federal wildlife policy decisions – a decision we’ve challenged in court. And last year, the FWS proposed changes to weaken the ESA, which is the bedrock law that protects endangered and threatened animal species and their habitats. Those harmful changes could be finalized any day now.
Late last year, despite our objections, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service granted an import permit to an American hunter who paid $400,000 to kill a 35-year-old male black rhino in Namibia in 2017.
Scientists warn that at the rate black rhinos and cheetahs are disappearing, they could be lost forever. Like rhinos, cheetahs face a number of threats, including massive habitat loss and degradation. These distinctive, spotted animals, known as the fastest land mammals, have already lost 91% of their historic range and 77% of their remaining habitat is not in protected areas, leaving them open to attack. Cheetahs also become victims of retaliation killings by humans due to conflict with livestock and game farmers, and trafficking of live cheetahs for the illegal pet trade. The last thing they need is to be shot for fun by a trophy hunter.
For trophy hunters, the rarer the animal, the more valuable the trophy is, and the greater the prestige and thrill of killing it. But most Americans know better and oppose trophy hunting, as we've seen from the backlash against trophy hunters that usually follows when they post their conquests on social media. With so few cheetahs and black rhinos left in the world, every animal counts. Please join us and urge the FWS to do the right thing by rejecting these two applications.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.