WASHINGTON (CN) - Several Americans who hunted and killed endangered African elephants in Mozambique cannot bring their trophies home, a federal judge ruled.
The United States had denied the petitions of five hunters who wanted to import trophies of at least one elephant that they had hunted or intended to hunt.
After exhausting their administrative appeals, the hunters and their booking agent filed suit along with Conservation Force, a nonprofit that advocates species protection through hunting. They named Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as defendants to the action for declaratory relief.
On Thursday, Chief U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth dismissed the case on summary judgment.
"Thrill-seeking safari hunters willingly pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of shooting an African elephant," he wrote. "Sport hunting is legal in many African countries and can often benefit threatened elephant populations where the practice is carefully managed and revenue from hunting licenses is recycled into conservation programs. Without an effective wildlife management plan, however, the haphazard sport-killing of elephants may - intuitively enough - be detrimental to their survival as a species."
The hunters claimed that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied their permit requests, after an "extreme delay," and said it could not verify whether Mozambique had an effective elephant-management plan.
The Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) entrusts the U.S. government to decide whether proposed importation of a species affects its survival. Potential importers must prove to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that their sport kill actually enhances the population's chances for survival. CITES lists the African elephant in its first and most restrictive appendix of endangered species.
"Defendants are entitled to summary judgment because the administrative record demonstrates that the service acted rationally in denying plaintiffs' permit application," Lamberth wrote.
According to the court, the number of elephants in Mozambique appears to have declined from between 50,000 and 65,000 in 1974 to an estimated 11,000 to 13,000 in 2002. Experts directly attribute the decline in numbers to illegal poaching for ivory.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.