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Sunday, December 10, 2023 | Back issues
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Judge Maintains Federal Protections of Antelope

WASHINGTON (CN) - The government can give a reprieve to three species of captive-bred antelopes that are otherwise hunted under an Endangered Species Act exemption, a federal judge ruled.

When the endangered scimitar-horned oryx, dama gazelle and addax joined the endangered species list in 2005, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service adopted a blanket captive-bred exemption to the hunting ban. It did this in purported recognition of the value of captive herds in conservation efforts.

Animal rights groups fought the blanket exemption, however, and persuaded the the D.C. Circuit to strike it down in the 2009 resolution of Friends of Animals v. Salazaar. The court said activities otherwise prohibited under the Endangered Species Act must be approved on a case-by-case basis.

To comply with the decision, the agency removed the captive-bred exemption.

Two groups filed suit in response. Safari Club International, a hunting group, wanted the court to block the 2005 listing of the three antelope species as endangered. The Exotic Wildlife Association, representing ranchers, wanted to continue the exemption for captive-bred antelopes.

U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell rejected both maneuvers Tuesday. The groups have not shown a likelihood of winning the merits of their cases, and they have not shown the potential for irreparable harm if the regulations take effect before a full trial.

The wildlife agency listed the antelope species as endangered after many years of research and consultation.

"The FWS decision to remove the exemption rather than to promulgate an alternative regulation, or to delist the captive-bred three antelope species, has not been shown to be arbitrary and capricious," Howell wrote. "Accordingly, SCI [Safari Club] has not demonstrated that the initial listing decision was 'arbitrary and capricious' and thus has not shown that it is likely to succeed on the merits."

Howell also rejected the "hyperbole" in claims that new hunting permit requirements would reverse conservation gains and decimate antelope ranches.

Safari Club had said that the permit scheme would depress the market for the antelope, resulting in "fewer breeders, fewer animals, depressed value and a stark reversal of the conservation achievements won through a free market and sustainable use conservation."

Exotic Wildlife similarly said that the system "robs the Exotic Wildlife Ranchers of the economic incentive - destroying the private captive breeding system that has saved these three African antelope species from extinction."

The USFWS countered that conservation would be better served by a permitted take process that would require breeders to disclose the numbers of animals killed and the size of their herds. It also noted that the permit system would not destroy the economic incentive to maintain herds because hunting of the three antelope species would still be allowed under the system.

Even assuming truth to the claims of market damage, Howell said they still do not warrant injunctive relief where the regulations involve endangered species.

By not simply applying for the proposed take permits, the ranchers might be shooting themselves in the foot, according to the decision.

"In analogous circumstances, plaintiffs who decline the opportunity to avail themselves of a regulatory scheme to avoid the very harm for which they seek injunctive relief have been denied the relief," she said.

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