WASHINGTON—After five years, a federal judge in the District of Columbia ruled last night that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can no longer withhold valuable wildlife trade data—such as tracking the imports of at-risk species killed by trophy hunters—into the U.S. The ruling to make that information available resulted from a lawsuit filed by Humane Society International in 2016.
LEMIS data, which stands for “Law Enforcement Management Information System,” is a source that tracks every import and export of wildlife into and out of the United States. This includes hunting trophies like those of imperiled giraffes and leopards; live animals like birds and reptiles imported for the exotic pet trade; monkeys used for experiments at research facilities; and animal skins such as those from snakes and lions. Organizations like the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International use this data to track trends in wildlife trade, petition the government for increased domestic and international protections for species threatened by international trade, and hold the government accountable for its actions.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service should have never removed access to this information and has been unlawfully withholding imperative data that impacts wildlife, conservation and global health. Transparency and justice prevailed this week,” said Laura Smythe, a staff attorney for the Humane Society of the United States, representing Humane Society International. “The United States is the world’s largest importer of both legal and illegal wildlife parts and products, and it is critical that the public has access to the full picture of the role our country plays in this destructive industry.”
Transparency is critical as scientists and the public are acknowledging the link between the wildlife trade and the threat of future global pandemics. The full extent to which the wildlife trade contributes to the spread of diseases is still unknown—but this information is crucial to solving those missing links and preventing future outbreaks.
Humane Society International has used LEMIS data to petition the Fish and Wildlife Service for Endangered Species Act protections of species such as African elephants and giraffes, which are at extreme risk of extinction from trophy hunting and trade in their parts. Humane Society International also used the data to petition for Endangered Species Act protections for pangolins. Access to this data allows Humane Society International to measure the United States’ demand for imperiled wildlife products such as pangolin scales and identify where increased protections are urgently needed.
Humane Society International also needs this information to work towards increased global protections for these and many more animals through CITES—an international agreement that regulates trade in imperiled species. The data is critical to knowing the role the United States plays in the destructive trophy hunting industry.