The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s practices in issuing permits to trophy hunters, circuses, zoos, breeders and theme parks is called into question
Earlier this week articles in The Hill and Reuters reported on alleged transgressions of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) with respect to issuing permits to trophy hunters to kill endangered animals and giving circuses permission to mistreat endangered tigers and elephants: U. S. Representative Brendan Boyle claimed in a letter sent to the agency’s director, Daniel Ashe, that demanded an end to the practice.
Trophy hunters and circuses effectively purchase permits to harm the animals by sending money to conservation charities, Boyle wrote. Boyle said he uncovered more than 1,300 cases over the last five years in which the USFWS granted these endangered species permits in exchange for payment.
“The FWS has issued permits to companies to use endangered tigers and elephants in traveling circuses, as well as to individuals whose only aim is to kill highly endangered rhinoceroses for sport,” Boyle wrote in the letter.
According to The Hill, Boyle stated, “In the case of trophy hunting, there is little evidence that killing individual animals or contributing money to groups that promote the practice help endangered species generally.” Hunters, circuses, zoos, breeders and theme parks are issued permits to import, export or sell endangered animals if they can demonstrate that the transactions will “enhance the survival” of the species.
Often, records show, this requirement is met in part by making a cash contribution to charity; usually a few thousand dollars. The practice has angered both animal-rights activists who say it exploits wildlife and exhibitors who describe the process as unfair and arbitrary.
According to an investigation by Reuters, for a $2,000 pledge, the USFWS issued permits for two threatened leopard cubs to be sent from a roadside zoo to a small animal park. After a $5,000 pledge, the agency approved the transfer of 10 endangered South African penguins to a Florida theme park.
An application now under final consideration would permit a South Carolina safari park operator to send 18 endangered tigers to Mexico to participate in a multimillion-dollar movie for a $10,000 donation to charity.
Craig Hoover, a senior USFWS official, said his agency considers many factors before granting an endangered species permit: among them, a species’ biological needs, threats and population size. Charitable contributions to conservation programs are just one factor in granting permit evaluations, and not a requirement, he said.
“It’s not necessarily all that is considered,” said Hoover. “There may have been an education component, an outreach component, a captive breeding component.”
Under the Endangered Species Act, exception permits may be granted only “for scientific purposes or to enhance the propagation or survival of the affected species.”
A recent U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service document reviewed by Reuters stated: “Very few of the Endangered Species Act permits that we issue have direct benefits to the species in the wild. Most applicants provide an indirect benefit, such as monetary support, to meet the enhancement requirement.”
Boyle said exemptions to the endangered species law are intended for humanitarian or environmental purposes, such as providing medical attention to a wounded animal, not commercial uses. He said the charity pledges are “unreliable at best and amount to an empty promise in exchange for an exemption to our bedrock species conservation law.”