Hunters Fight New Jersey Ban on Big-Game Imports

     TRENTON, N.J. (CN) — New Jersey residents should be allowed to import the body parts of African elephants, lions, leopards and black and white rhinoceros, a wildlife conservation group claims in court.
     Conservation Force and seven other plaintiffs on Friday sued New Jersey State Attorney General Christopher Porrino and Bob Martin, commissioner of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, seeking to challenge a New Jersey law that prohibits residents from importing animal products and parts, among other actions.
     Conservation Force works closely with safari-hunting operators that provide anti-poaching incentives to local communities near wildlife, including the African elephant, lion, leopard, and black and white rhinoceros, referred to collectively as the Big Four.
     Plaintiff Vincent Spinella, a New Jersey resident and big-game hunter, intends to hunt elephant and Cape buffalo in South Africa next year
     He looks forward to the opportunity but fears he will not be able to import an elephant trophy if the laws are enacted, according to the New Jersey Federal Court lawsuit.
     Another big-game hunter, plaintiff Richard Nordling, intends to harvest a leopard with the $8,000 permit he bought for the Waterberg National Park. He hopes to be able to get his trophy from a taxidermist in Pennsylvania.
     Although it is lawful to import traditional trophies of successful hunts under federal regulations and federal permits, New Jersey has attempted to outlaw the practice with two bills.
     As the author and primary sponsor, New Jersey Sen. Ray Lesniak admitted that the bills are intended to “end trophy hunting,” the complaint states. One of the bills has been signed into law, while another only becomes effective if New York passes a similar law.
     Conservation Force, however, argues that disrupting the hunting of the African game animals is misguided.
     The human population in these regions has quadrupled in the past 50 years, the complaint states, making competition for space between wildlife and humans a major issue.
     The group says regulated tourist hunting directly addresses the discord between humans and wildlife.
     According to the lawsuit, since hunting areas are more than five times the size of national parks, safari hunting generates millions of dollars to fund law enforcement operations, creates community incentives to reduce threats to wildlife, and sustains anti-poaching game scouts.
     Rural communities also benefit because the big-game hunting industry provides thousands of jobs to local residents and offers protein-starved residents thousands of kilograms of game meat, the complaint states.
     Conservation Force claims that safeguarding regulated tourist safari hunting will actually help recover the Big Four populations in Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and other range nations.
     “The income is invested in the projects: buildings and electrifying schools and clinics, digging water holes, purchasing heavy equipment and vehicles, paying school tuition and pensions, and more,” the lawsuit states. “Benefits from safari hunting improve rural livelihoods and living standards, thus incentivizing the people living alongside dangerous wildlife to conserve it instead of treating it as a threat and nuisance.”
     The complaint says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly found “that licensed, regulated tourist safari hunting benefits the species in a measurable way.”
     Money brought in from tourist hunting funded about 80 percent of wildlife authority anti-poaching efforts in Zimbabwe and Tanzania, Conservation Force claims.
     Southern and Eastern Africa have also reportedly relied on tourist safari hunting to maintain sustainable use-base conservation, since hunts in the area are the highest priced and bring in the most revenue and benefits.
     In addition to providing a list of benefits hunting generates, Conservation Force also submitted academic papers, government statements and other articles supporting its assertions.
     The group and the individual plaintiffs are represented by Brendan Judge with Connell Foley LLP in Roseland, N.J.
     Porrino and Martin had not commented on the lawsuit by press time Monday.

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