TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) — U.S. regulations that let big game hunters import leopard trophies from four African nations violate U.S. law, because the government failed to show that hunting the big cats — which face declining habitat and other threats — would not put the species at risk, three non-profits said in a federal lawsuit Wednesday.
Leopard skins or other parts should not be allowed from Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia, or Zimbabwe, according to the lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, and Ian Michler, a former safari guide and environmental journalist.
Federal law allows the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to issue import permits only if the hunting would not harm the species, the plaintiffs said.
Because the leopard population in those southeastern African nations is being squeezed by predation from people, loss of habitat and poaching, the species is harmed by U.S. imports from the four countries, where basic data on leopard populations isn’t even available, the plaintiffs claimed.
The non-profits decried the practice in a news release.
“The agency does not even have basic information about the number of animals left in the countries where they are being killed,” said Laura Smythe, staff attorney at the Humane Society of the United States. “Despite this glaring lack of data, and without even considering many of the other threats to the species, the agency is arbitrarily deciding that allowing these imports will not harm the species.”
U.S. hunters, who import almost 300 leopard trophies per year, account for 52% of all global leopard trophy trade, the center said in the release.
Populations in Africa have declined by 30% in the past 23 years — especially in the nations named in the lawsuit — because of trophy hunting, ceremonial use and poaching, but the four nations named do not know the population of leopards within their borders, the 64-page lawsuit claims.
Without that information, U.S. government agencies can’t possibly know the trophy imports do not harm the species, the plaintiffs claimed.
“Federal officials are dishing out leopard import permits right and left despite lacking the data to know how trophy hunting harms this highly imperiled species,” said Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Regulations clearly require our government not to OK imports without adequate info about these splendid cats and all the ways humans are harming them.”
A spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday evening.
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