WASHINGTON (CN) – Americans who hunted and killed endangered African elephants in Zambia cannot bring trophies of their prey back home, a federal judge ruled.
“Plaintiffs paid a princely sum for the opportunity to shoot African elephants in Zambia and then they wanted to import the animals’ corpses back to the United States,” Chief U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth. “The trouble is that plaintiffs’ attempts at post-mortem importation run up against some complex law.”
Those laws are the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a multilateral treaty that protects wildlife vulnerable to trade.
The African elephant is listed in the first and most restrictive appendix of CITES, which entrusts the U.S. government to decide whether proposed importation of a species would hurt that species’ survival, Lamberth said.
Under the Endangered Species Act, importers must prove to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that killing such an animal for sport actually enhances its chances of survival.
Lamberth found that elephant populations do not meet such criteria. Zambian elephants have faced rapid decline since the 1970s amid escalating ivory hunting.
In 2002, a CITES panel declined an application filed by Zambia to drop the elephants down to appendix II of the treaty, which would facilitate sport hunting of the animals by foreign travelers.
The plaintiffs in the case, four men who each killed at least one elephant in Zambia, sued U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2009 after the service denied their requests for permits to import their trophies. They claimed that the denial was arbitrary and capricious, and violated the Administrative Procedure Act.
Lamberth denied their motion for summary judgment, instead granting the government’s crossmotion for the same.
“Plaintiff’s desire to keep these corporal mementos from their African adventures doesn’t trump the law, which the agency applied rationally in this case,” the 36-page decision states.