ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – A token donation to environmental causes allows circuses and hunters to vault the hurdles of regulations protecting endangered species, animal lovers claim in Federal Court.
Though the Endangered Species Act prohibits any level of possessing or transporting endangered species except under strictly limited circumstances, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is authorized to issue permits for importing and exporting endangered animals only “to enhance the propagation or survival of the affected species.”
While such enhancement permits were intended to cover “extremely narrow” circumstances, PETA says in a May 8 complaint that Fish and Wildlife Service routinely flouted environmental principles with a “pay-to-play” policy that allowed permit applicants justify their hunting trophies by claiming that their display of the animal’s carcass heightens public commitment to conservation and thus enhances the species’ survival.
After the government finally rethought this policy in 2011, PETA’s complaint says, permit applicants must now connect their proposed activities “to the survival of the species in the wild.”
In arguing that this standard is still too lax, PETA notes that one circus continuously receives permits to take elephants and big cats abroad to stand on their heads and dance in conga lines, as long as it makes a new contribution to a conservation project with each application.
PETA’s complaint also takes aim at the permits given to two hunters whose trophies are the subject of identical lawsuits in New York and Washington, D.C., by the group Friends of Animals.
These men won Namibian hunter permits in an auction by the Dallas Safari Club, and FWS granted them permits to bring black rhino carcasses into the U.S. based on their claims that the revenue their sport-hunting generated would “provide essential budget revenue for rhino conservation authorities and leaders in Africa,” according to the complaint.
PETA notes that circuses cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for numerous animal-welfare violations, including circuses that have kept their elephants standing in undiluted formaldehyde or in feet of waste, have also received enhancement permits.
One of these circuses allegedly gained its permit by making a single $500 donation to an organization that works with captive elephants in Asia, and PETA says another got a permit by pledging $50,000 over three years to conservation efforts that included paying the salary of its own employee. PETA notes that this individual was not trained in animal conservation but led the circus’s conservation efforts.
Fish and Wildlife’s pay-to-play policy directly contravenes the purpose of the strict permit regulations of the Endangered Species Act, the 16-page complaint alleges.
PETA says a “conservation benefit must directly stem from the proposed use of the endangered species.” It calls collateral activities that may enhance the survival of a species, such as giving money to unrelated conservation efforts, “legally irrelevant.”
By issuing permits for the use of endangered species without any scientifically beneficial reason, the government gives a government stamp of approval that leads the public to believe that entertainers do not neglect or mistreat their animals, PETA said. The animal-advocacy group says this practice frustrates its mission to educate the public on the harms of using animals in entertainment.
PETA wants a federal judge to find that that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell have violated the Endangered Species Act, the Administrative Procedure Act and various FWS regulations.
PETA is represented by staff attorney Jeffrey Kerr in Washington, D.C.
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