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United States Department of the Interior
 Washington, D.C. 20240
     In Reply Refer To:                                                                                                                     MAY 21, 1985

To: Associate Director - Federal Assistance 
Associate Director - Wildlife Resources 
Regional Directors, FWS, Regions 1-7 
From: Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  [Robert A. Jantzen]
Subject: Policy on Export or Reexport of Donated Wildlife 


A policy is needed to guide case-by-case decisions on export or reexport of donated wildlife of unknown or uncertain origin.

Many institutions, primarily zoos and aquariums, receive unsolicited donations of wildlife, either left anonymously on the doorstep or brought in by individuals. In the latter instance, the recipient institution may not be successful in obtaining good information as to the origin of the specimen. The donated animals include those found sick or injured by well-meaning citizens, pets which are no longer wanted for one reason or another, and probably quite a few where the owner knows, or is fearful, that he may be in violation of the law by possessing the animal.

The American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums (AAZPA) estimates that member institutions are offered upwards of 75,000 animals per year in this manner (both controlled and non-controlled species). They tend to accept controlled species because, in addition to humanitarian reasons, logic says that endangered or threatened wildlife should be protected and cared for because of that status. Some of these animals will fit into the institution's exhibition and/or breeding program. Many, however, will not for various reasons. For example, the institution may not have either an exhibit or a breeding program for the species involved, or the animal might not be suitable for breeding. In many cases, they may be unable either to continue to maintain the animal because of space or budgetary limitations, or to find a suitable use for it in this country. Good management and conservation practices dictate that if at all possible, a healthy young specimen of a listed species should be usefully maintained, even if that requires export or reexport.

There is relatively little problem when a suitable recipient in this country is found for wildlife listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), i.e., proper facilities, expertise and a proposed use which meets ESA purposes.

As long as the Service's Division of Law Enforcement (LE) approves of the transfer, and any necessary permits are issued, the transfer can take place. However, problems arise when the only suitable recipient that can be found is located in a foreign country, and the requirements of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) come into play.


There are several concerns with trade of donated wildlife when there are no data on the origins of the animals, especially when the donor remains anonymous. One, the Service does not wish to open a loophole for laundering of specimens which were illegally obtained by the donor, or by someone else in the chain of ownership. Two, there is a problem of meeting CITES criteria for issuance of these permits. Under Articles III and IV of CITES, an export permit may be granted only when the following conditions have been met: (a) the Scientific Authority has advised that it will not be detrimental to the survival of the species, and (b) the Management Authority is satisfied that the specimen was not obtained in contravention of the law by someone in the chain of ownership. A reexport permit may be granted only when the Management Authority is satisfied that the specimen was imported in accordance with the provisions of CITES. Without information on the origin of the specimen it is extremely difficult to justify issuance of a permit under CITES. Often, it is unknown whether the animal was imported or born in this country. When it is reasonably certain that the animal was imported, it is often impossible to determine whether it was imported legally. When it is reasonably certain that the animal was born in this country, it is often impossible to determine whether it was acquired legally, throughout the chain of ownership.


A strict interpretation of Articles III and IV of CITES essentially appears to preclude issuance of export or reexport permits in most cases because of the uncertainties cited above. However, it must be remembered that the basic underlying purpose of both ESA and CITES is to protect, preserve and benefit the listed species. Overly narrow interpretation and application of the law can operate to frustrate that purpose.

From a resource management point of view, the main concern should be that any policy the Service adopts does not lead to illegal or unnecessary take of animals from the wild, thus jeopardizing those populations. Properly regulated disposal and utilization of donated animals would serve to help satisfy demand, which in turn should operate to reduce pressure on wild populations.

The majority of the institutions which regularly receive such animals are public institutions. Acceptance of offered animals often strains available space and fiscal resources. Thus, to a large degree, the problem constitutes a public burden which the Service should attempt to alleviate within the framework of its authority and responsibility.

The key to CITES permit issuance for these animals is the determination of what constitutes Management Authority "satisfaction" as to their legality. We believe that the Service can, and should (with important provisos), make certain assumptions. Absent evidence to the contrary, donated animals apparently born in this country and held with LE approval by public institutions should be assumed to have been legally possessed throughout the chain of ownership; such animals which appear to have been imported should be assumed to have been imported legally. It can be argued that even if some illegally held or imported animals slip through the permit process due to lack of evidence, conservation and law enforcement have benefited by getting them out of the individual's hands. In addition, permits should be issued when the proposed transfers are in the best interest of the animals and their species. In this regard, the Secretary General of CITES was asked for his personal opinion. He felt that if definite evidence of illegality was missing and the proposal was in the best interest of the animals, CITES permits should be issued. Proposed transfers would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and the approval of the Division of Law Enforcement and, where appropriate, the Office of Endangered Species and the Office of the Scientific Authority would be required.

We believe that initially, at least, this policy should be restricted to public institutions as defined in 50 CFR 10.12. Should subsequent experience warrant it, institutions not meeting that definition could be included. We also believe that transfers under this policy should be on a donation basis, with no money or barter changing hands except as may be necessary for shipping costs or other expenses. Operations under this policy would be closely monitored for evidence of laundering such as large numbers of animals or a series of rare and valuable animals being handled by a small number of people.


It is the policy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to issue Endangered Species Act permits and/or CITES documentation for export or reexport of unsolicited donated wildlife of unknown or uncertain origin held by public institutions as defined in 50 CFR 10.12, PROVIDED there is no evidence of illegality, and all other requirements of the law are met. Such institutions will be expected to monitor donations closely. More than one donation by the same individual or organization within a short time-span, or other suspicious circumstances, should be reported to the Division of Law Enforcement (LE) by the institution.

Before a permit can be issued, the specimen(s) proposed for transfer must meet the following criteria:

1. the institution must:(a) follow standard record-keeping practices (such as accession records) on each specimen, and (b) make reasonable efforts to obtain the information on the origins of the specimen that will be needed as standard supporting documentation for any subsequent permit application;

2. the proposed transfer must be a donation;

3. reasonable efforts must be made to find suitable recipients within the U.S., especially for domestic species listed under ESA and/or Appendix 1 of CITES, by advertisement in professional publications, contacting Endangered Species Recovery Teams, and/or other appropriate means ("suitable" means proper facilities, expertise and a purpose which is allowable by law);

4. if required, a favorable biological opinion (Section 7, ESA) and/or CITES non-detriment advice must have been rendered;

5. the application for a permit authorizing the proposed transfer will be submitted to LE for its approval; and

6. there must be reasonable assurance that the specimens) will be used for purposes allowable by law, and in the case of ESA- or Appendix 1-listed species, the proposed foreign consignee must have proper facilities and expertise to care for the specimen(s).

The  Federal Wildlife Permit Office will be responsible for implementing this policy, including insuring that all necessary coordination takes place prior to permit issuance.

For additional information regarding this Web page, contact Krista Bibb, in the Division of Policy and Directives Management, at 

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