The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is currently evaluating two applications requesting authorization to import a sport-hunted black rhino trophy. On November 6, 2014, the Service published a receipt of the applications (a requirement under the Endangered Species Act) in the Federal Register, initiating a 30-day public comment period, which closed on December 8, 2014. We have received more than 15,000 public comments, all of which much be examined for substantive information that may assist us in making this decision.
To view the Federal Register notice, click here.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
What criteria must be met for the Service to consider issuing a permit for the import of a black rhino hunting trophy from Namibia?
A: The black rhino is listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). Before an import permit can be issued for a CITES Appendix-I species, the Service must determine that the import will not be detrimental to the survival of the species. For a species classified as endangered under the ESA, the Service must determine that allowing the import will enhance the species’ survival. The ESA also requires that any federally authorized activity may not jeopardize the continued survival of the species. To make these findings, the Service looks at the biology and overall management program for the species. Factors we consider include: the biological needs of the species, possible threats to the populations, current population estimates, management plans, legal protection (for sport-hunted trophies this includes hunting regulations and any applicable quotas), local community involvement, and, if any funds are generated by the import, how funds are used for conservation. Obtaining the information on a country’s management program may entail a lengthy consultative process between the country of export and the Service.
A: In March 2013, the Service issued one permit for the import of a sport-hunted black rhinoceros. That is the only permit that has been issued to date.
A: In 2003, Namibia instituted the “Black Rhino Conservation Strategy for Namibia” with very specific management goals in the areas of range expansion, biological management, protection, policy and legislative framework, capacity-building and sustainability. As part of this strategy, Namibia authorized an annual harvest of five post-reproductive male black rhinos. The removal of limited numbers of males has been shown to stimulate population growth in some areas. Removing specific individuals from a population can result in reduced male fighting, shorter calving intervals, and reduced juvenile mortality. All known black rhinos in Namibia are ear-notched to assist in identification and monitoring. This ear-notching system makes it possible for the Namibian Government to select specific individuals for culling based on age, reproductive status, and other factors that may contribute to the overall health of the population.
Further, the Namibian government requires a significant contribution to the Game Products Trust Fund (GPTF) for any sport hunting of black rhino to ensure that revenue is directed towards conservation. Money accrued from trophy hunting of black rhinos has been used to fund annual black rhino counts, improved rhino crime investigation and prosecution, and to ensure the traceability of all rhino horn owned by Namibia.
The permit issued in March 2013 applied to a black rhino taken in Namibia in 2009 in accordance with a scientifically-based selection process within Namibia’s national strategy and with significant funds ($175,000) directed to the GPTF. We found that the importation of that sport-hunted black rhino trophy did enhance the survival of the species. However, the issuance of that permit does not guarantee the issuance of future permits for the import of black rhino sport-hunted trophies from Namibia or elsewhere. The review of any future applications will be based on the eligibility of the applicant, biological data of the specific black rhino being hunted, as well as any new information available at the time the application is received.
A: The Service has only received two applications to date, one for a rhino taken in Namibia, which we have now issued, and one from South Africa, which we are evaluating. While we anticipate receiving additional applications now that we have issued the first permit, the Service could only issue up to 10 import permits annually (five each for Namibia and South Africa), since this would be the maximum number of exports that could be made under South Africa’s and Namibia’s CITES-approved quota. However, we have not determined whether imports from South Africa would meet the requirements for import under the ESA.
In addition, while we have now issued one permit for an import from Namibia, we have not determined that all such imports could be authorized. For each application submitted, the Service would need to review the specific facts and determine on a case-by-case basis if additional imports from Namibia could be authorized.
A: When the Service published receipt of the application (a requirement under the Endangered Species Act), we received several comments that supported the import of this black rhino trophy from Namibia.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which has worked in Namibia for over 20 years and has provided technical support and assistance to Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism on a range of programmatic issues and species conservation activities, including monitoring black rhino populations; expansion of rhino range to wildlife conservancies organized and overseen by local communities; and development of a National Black Rhino Management Plan, supported the import of the trophy.
We also received positive comments from the Namibian Association of Community-Based Natural Resource Management Support Organization, a national body of 14 non-government organizations (NGOs) and the University of Namibia, as well as the Texas Wildlife Association, Safari Club International (SCI), Conservation Force, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Hunting and Conservation Organizations coalition, and the National Rifle Association (NRA).
We did not receive any comments in opposition.
A: Black rhinos are very territorial. The removal of post-reproductive males can reduce competition with younger bulls, potentially providing those younger bulls with a greater opportunity to reproduce.
A: In the United States, CITES-implementing regulations (50 CFR 23.55) clearly state that an Appendix I sport-hunted trophy may only be used for non-commercial purposes. Selling such a trophy after import constitutes a violation of the Endangered Species Act. Sale in international or interstate commerce would violate the wildlife trafficking provisions of the Lacey Act. ESA violations carry a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine; conviction under the Lacey Act is punishable by a prison term of up to 5 years and a $250,000 fine. Furthermore, the CITES requirements for black rhino trophies require that all parts of the trophy be marked with identifying information; these requirements are incorporated into the U.S. CITES regulations.
A: In general, whether it is a native or foreign species, the ESA prohibits the import, export, interstate commerce or foreign commerce of any listed species, including its parts or products, without a permit. The take prohibition, including harassment, applies as well. (Generally accepted animal husbandry practices, such as veterinarian care and other activities outlined in the Service definition of “harassment”, are not considered "take.")
A: In a large part, CITES prohibits international trade in specimens of Appendix-I species except when the purpose of the import is not commercial, for instance for scientific research. In these exceptional cases, trade may take place provided it is authorized by the granting of both an import permit and an export permit (or re-export certificate).
A: The Service has found that the import of trophies from bontebok, an endangered antelope from South Africa, benefits the species by supporting the overall species management program established by the South African Government. The Service routinely issues import permit for sport-hunted bontebok. If we can determine that the import will enhance the survival of the species, and not jeopardize the continued existence of the species, the Service could issue import permits for sport-hunted trophies of other endangered species. Under the Endangered Species Act, otherwise prohibited activities, including import, export, take, and interstate or foreign commerce, may be permitted if the Service finds that the activity will enhance the propagation or survival of the affected species and is determined to be consistent with the purpose of the ESA. The Service would look at the overall management program for a species in each country. Factors considered include: the biological needs of the species, possible threats to the populations, current population estimates, quotas, management plans, legal protection, local community involvement, and use of hunting fees for conservation. Obtaining the information on management programs may entail a lengthy collaborative process between the country of export and the Service.
A: The 16th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES took place March 3rd Bangkok, Thailand. At this meeting, CITES member countries agreed to a series of decisions that call for specific actions by both rhino range States and consumer countries to more effectively combat poaching and illegal rhino horn trade, including country-specific, time- bound actions with particular focus on Mozambique and Vietnam. The affected countries are required to report to the CITES Secretariat on their actions to comply with these decisions. The Secretariat is then required to report to the CITES Standing Committee, which in turn is to consider the progress being made, or lack thereof, and determine whether any further actions should be taken, including compliance measures that might be applied to countries that fail to take appropriate action.
The Wildlife Without Borders Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Fund is working to restore rhino and tiger populations to healthy numbers in the wild. Learn more.
Click here for details on Operation Crash, a nationwide undercover investigation of illegal trafficking in rhinoceros horn.