WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that a petition to uplist southern African leopards to endangered species status merits further review due to increased trophy trade. The petition, submitted by the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Center for Biological Diversity and The Fund for Animals, is supported by conservationists Jane Goodall and Dereck Joubert. The positive 90-day finding on the petition means that the Service will initiate a 12- month status review that may result in a proposal to list the African panther as an endangered species throughout its range.
According to the petition, American trophy hunters imported trophies from 5, 575 individual leopards, representing more than one leopard killed for a trophy per day, every day, for the decade spanning 2005 to 2014.
The African leopard was included on the Service’s List of Endangered Foreign Fish and Wildlife in 1972. In 1982, the Service downlisted, from endangered status to threatened status, populations of African leopard that occur south of, and including, the countries of Congo, Gabon, Zaire, Uganda and Kenya, which amounts to 18 countries in southern, or sub-Saharan Africa.
“It is absolutely clear that leopards, like most wildlife in Africa, are at greater risk of extinction today than they were in 1982, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed southern African leopards as Threatened,” Goodall said in her supporting declaration.
The threatened status allows for an exemption to the prohibitions on harming the leopards, known as “take,” which is not allowed when a species is listed as endangered. The take exemption amounts to a “loophole” that is exploited by trophy hunters, according to the petitioners. The petition seeks “to eliminate a loophole put into place in 1982, whereby the standard Endangered Species Act permitting requirements are waived for trophy hunters for leopard imports from 18 countries in sub-Saharan Africa,” Humane Society International (HSI) said.
The leopard population has fallen more than 30 percent in southern Africa over the last 25 years and leopards have lost up to 67 percent of their historic range, according to the petition, yet the Service still allows the importation of hundreds of leopard trophies every year.
One of the problems with trophy hunting is the emphasis on hunting large male specimens. This allows younger males to move into territory previously protected by larger males. The younger males then attack and kill male infants. “The cubs of prime breeding males that are shot are left unprotected and vulnerable to incoming territorial males, whose first order of business is to kill cubs from other males. Each leopard that is shot as a trophy cannot be considered in isolation but as just the tip of the iceberg in a trickle down effect of destruction to the family and society of leopards he influences,” Derek Joubert said in his supporting declaration.
“Trophy hunters target large males in their prime, those who carry the genes likely to result in the perpetuation of strength and magnificence, splendid individuals whose decapitated heads disfigure the walls of countless wealthy homes. Trophy hunters routinely boast about the animals they have killed, posting photographs of their smiling faces hovering over the lifeless bodies of their conquests, even though the prey (which may be drugged or baited) is often shot with a high powered rifle from a safe distance. Trophy hunters sometimes defend this malicious slaughter by claiming that the money they pay for the pleasure of killing is what enables impoverished countries to pay for conservation of wildlife, but this argument has many flaws,” Goodall said.
Competitions for trophies, such as Safari Club International’s “Grand Slam Cats of the World,” encourage wealthy trophy hunters, including the sons of Republican President-elect Donald Trump, Honeywell CEO David Cote and Walter Palmer, the Minneapolis dentist who killed Cecil the Lion last year, to seek out the world’s most imperiled animals and encourage trophy hunting in the espoused belief that such killing aids conservation efforts, according to HSI. “The money paid to hunt a leopard or other trophy animal is often counted as profit by a hunting outfitter and does not usually end up in a conservation program,” Goodall said.
“The United States is the largest importer of leopard trophies in the world,” President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, Wayne Pacelle, said, “and over-privileged, desensitized Americans are killing animals in their overseas head-hunting gambits. At a time when we are asking African nations to invest in conservation, and show restraint in killing diminishing wildlife and exhibiting tolerance, it sends a crude and contradictory message for Americans to kill these animals for the thrill of it.”
The Service has determined that the petition presents sufficient evidence to initiate a 12-month status review, the second step in the Endangered Species Act process for listing, uplisting or downlisting species. The petition also seeks to immediately stop the import of leopard trophies until the Service updates “discredited” population estimates, HSI said.
“African leopard numbers are plummeting and as the largest leopard trophy importer in the world, the United States has taken a critical step toward ensuring that our consumption does not threaten the survival of this species,” HSI’s director of wildlife department, Teresa M. Telecky, said in response to the Service’s action.
Comments and information must be submitted by Jan. 30, 2017.