Rhino Trophy Permits Raise Alarm in Court

     BROOKLYN (CN) – Uncle Sam is letting two hunters add the carcasses of black rhinoceroses killed in Africa to their collections, a federal complaint alleges.
     Colorado-based Friends of Animals brought the complaint on April 17 over two hunters’ recent “trophy” plans. Neither hunter is a party to the action against U.S. Fish and Wildlife director Daniel Ashe and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.
     By granting these men permits, Fish and Wildlife Service may “cause the future, unnecessary deaths of black rhinos among an already critically endangered population,” the 19-page complaint states.
     One of the hunters got a green-light from feds to bring his 2013 kill from Namibia to the United States, according to the complaint. Friends of Animals says the other hunter got approval for a hunt in Namibia that has not yet taken place.
     A representative with the agency declined to comment Monday.
     The black rhino has two horns and is distinguished from the white rhino by a “prehensile upper lip” which it uses to eat twigs from woody plants.
     Its population drop from about 850,000 to about 2,400 in the 20th century represents “one of the most dramatic crashes of any large mammal species in recent history,” the complaint states.
     And while the rhino’s population has since risen to about 5,500 in South Africa and Namibia as of December 2012, there are only about 30 left in the United States, Friends of Animals notes.
     The International Union for Conservation of Nature has listed the species as “critically endangered.” The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora listed the species as endangered in 1980.
     In 2004, the latter group allowed sports hunters to bring back five black rhinos each year from sport-killings in the African countries.
     “While great emphasis is rightfully placed on the threat to black rhinos from modern day poaching, the impact of hunting rhinos for sport over the past century or more cannot be overstated,” according to the complaint. “Sport-hunting was the primary reason for the original decline in the population” of the species.
     By “commodifying” the species and “decreasing the sigma attached to the killing of rhinos,” Friends of Animals says the government is undermining conservation efforts.
     Several African countries then legalized sport-hunting of the animal. South Africa, home to the largest black rhino population, got permission from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to sell permits for trophy hunters in 2004.
     “The country has since seen a marked rise in illegal rhino poaching,” according to the complaint.
     South Africa has seen a loss of more than 2,000 rhinos between 2013 and 2014, the lawsuit states.
     Friends of Animals wants a federal judge to find that the government violated its own laws in permitting the men’s requests to import their “trophies.” It is represented by Jennifer Barnes, acting pro hac, out of Centennial, Colo.

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