Agency Mulls Delisting Captive-Bred Antelope

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will conduct a year-long status review of three species of captive-bred African antelope to determine if they should be delisted or removed from the endangered species list.
     The action comes in response to two petitions filed by the breeders’ group Exotic Wildlife Association (EWA) and the hunters’ group Safari Club International and Safari Club International Foundation (SCI).
     The EWS petition asked the agency to “correct the Endangered Species Act listing of scimitar-horned oryx, dama gazelle, and addax to specify that only the populations in the portion of their range outside of the United States are classified as endangered.”
     The SCI petition requested that U.S. captive populations be removed from the list. Both groups maintained that the agency’s interpretation of the original data was in error, while the EWA petition claimed that the captive populations have recovered.
     The status of the African antelopes under the Endangered Species Act has been under consideration since 1991, when the agency proposed to list all three species as endangered wherever found. The action stalled until February 2005, when the agency added new proposed regulations for the captive populations of the antelopes because it determined that the animals were dependent on captive breeding for their conservation.
     The final rule listing the three antelope species as endangered “in their entirety” — wherever found — came in 2005, with an exclusion for U.S. captive-bred animals from some prohibitions of the rule. The regulation was then challenged by environmental groups, and a federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled in 2009 that the action had not provided public notice and opportunity for comment regarding the provisions for the captive populations, the action noted.
     To comply with the court’s ruling, the agency’s January 2012 final rule removed the exclusion for captive antelopes.
     The agency’s current finding that the petitions merit further study reopens the issue of applying separate designations for wild and captive populations. The petitioners asked for separate designations and cited a 1992 action that raised wild chimpanzees to endangered status while retaining the prior threatened status for captive chimps as a precedent.
     Because the USFWS has no concrete policy that differentiates between wild and captive populations, it determined that the requested action may be warranted, but cautioned that the finding is “not a status assessment of the species,” just an opportunity to “consider this question in more depth and detail” over the course of the 12-month status review.
     The agency indicated that it will consider the separate designation question regarding the antelopes when it reconsiders the classification of the captive and wild chimps.
     Native to several countries in northern Africa, the scimitar-horned oryx, dama gazelle, and addax face habitat loss and “wanton” killing that have severely limited the numbers of individuals in the wild, with the oryx believed to be possibly extinct in the wild, the addax numbering fewer than 300, and the dama gazelle fewer than 500.
     Managed breeding programs in private collections and on private game farms and ranches have stronger population numbers, but reintroduction into the wild is “nonviable” in most cases due to continuing habitat loss and killing, the agency noted in the proposed rule.

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