The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that all leopards may qualify for “endangered” status under the Endangered Species Act. The decision comes in response to a legal petition submitted in July 2016 by the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Center for Biological Diversity and The Fund for Animals.
Leopards are at risk of extinction across their African and Asian range, having suffered a population decline in sub-Saharan Africa of more than 30 percent in the past 25 years, in part due to unsustainable trophy hunting by Americans. Yet due to a loophole in place since 1982, hundreds of leopard trophies per year have been imported into the United States without proper scrutiny by the federal government or scientific experts. In 2014, hunters imported 311 leopard trophies into the U.S.
In making its decision, the agency found that the group’s petition presented substantial scientific evidence that endangered protections may be warranted. The decision kicks off a comprehensive review of the status of the species.
Teresa M. Telecky, Ph.D, director of the wildlife department at HSI, said: “African leopard numbers are plummeting and as the largest leopard trophy importer in the world, the United States has taken a critical step toward ensuring that our consumption does not threaten the survival of this species.”
Jeff Flocken, IFAW’s North America regional director, said: “This is a crucial step forward in saving these imperiled animals. We thank the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for recognizing that enhanced protections under U.S. law may be warranted.”
Anna Frostic, senior wildlife attorney for the HSUS, said: “Initiating a status review of the species is long overdue and it is imperative that FWS expeditiously conclude this process and take action to increase oversight of African leopard trophy imports, as required by law.”
Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said: “Leopards in Asia and northern Africa have long been recognized as endangered, and the United States must extend this same level of protection to all leopards to reverse their disturbing decline.”
- In sub-Saharan Africa, the leopard population has declined by more than 30 percent in the past 25 years, and the species has lost 48-67 percent of its historic range in Africa.
- Between 2005-2014, at least 10,191 individual leopards were traded internationally as hunting trophies, with the U.S. as the top importer (accounting for 45 percent of this trade).
- The number of leopard trophy imports has remained over 300 per year since 1999, despite commitments from FWS in 1982 to only allow “very few” leopard trophies into the country.
- Panthera pardus is listed on CITES Appendix I, which prohibits international trade for commercial purposes, but this international agreement does not prohibit trade in hunting trophies.
- Competition for records and prizes, such as Safari Club International’s “Grand Slam Cats of the World” and others, drive wealthy trophy hunters to seek out the world’s rarest animals and encourage trophy hunting at a time when the long-held belief that such killing aided conservation efforts is crumbling under increasing evidence that ecotourism boosts economies more than hunting expeditions (PDF).
- Trophy hunting is under increased scrutiny following the 2015 killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe.
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