Your leopard hunt was truly “the hunt of a lifetime.” Everything went flawlessly. Your travel to and from Africa proceeded without a hitch. Your Professional Hunter could not have done a better job. The accommodations were beautiful and comfortable. You took an amazing leopard on the 11th day of your 14-day hunt. You hired a broker to make sure that your trophy would meet all export and import requirements. It was perfect…and then it wasn’t.
Months after the hunt, your broker calls. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has seized your leopard trophy. It seems that something is wrong with your CITES Export Permit and tags. Your broker says the problem has to do with “quotas” and “Block 11a.” None of this makes any sense.
How can this happen? The answer is truly complicated. It involves treaties, resolutions, quotas, several different countries and a tremendous amount of paperwork. It boils down to the fact that different people have conflicting opinions about the meaning of the paperwork requirements for the export of leopard trophies.
A leopard trophy cannot be imported from its range country without an export permit. The requirements for export permits are established by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) – an international treaty between 176 countries. CITES recommends specific requirements for the exportation and importation of leopard trophies. Among those requirements are quotas for the number of trophies that can be exported from a range country in a given year. In addition, CITES recommends that importing countries accept only leopard trophies accompanied by documentation showing the annual quota of the range country and “the calendar year to which the quota applies.” CITES Resolution Conf. 4.13.
Unfortunately, not all of the parties to CITES interpret the “calendar year” quota identification requirement in the same way. Some understand the resolution to refer to the quota established for the year the leopard was taken from the wild. Other countries interpret the term to refer to the quota of the year that the trophy is exported from the range country. The quota and calendar year information must be provided in Box 11a of the CITES Export Permit and on the tags attached to the trophy. But due to the confusion over which year applies, many forms include the wrong information in Box 11a and/or on the tags. The confusion is enhanced by the fact that trophies that are hunted during one calendar year often do not leave the range country until the following year. That is due to the length of time it takes for the processing and taxidermy to be completed.
Because the quota informational requirement lends itself to multiple interpretations, not all shippers in the exporting countries are providing the same type of information in the documents and tags they prepare for the exportation of leopard trophies. As a result, the FWS decides that some of the leopards presented for importation into the U.S. lack the correct export documentation. Unfortunately, in the U.S. errors in documentation translate to violations of the law.
The FWS treats any and all errors involved in the exportation and importation of a hunting trophy — including minor, technical and paperwork errors — as violations of the federal Endangered Species Act. It matters not whether anyone has any intention of violating the law. For that reason, when export or import requirements are violated, even if the violation is a result of confusion or ignorance, the FWS can and will seize the trophy involved. What makes the problem even worse is that when such an error occurs, it does not matter who caused the error: shipper, professional hunter, taxidermist or the hunter. The consequences of any exportation or importation error rain down on the hunter and the hunter alone. It is no defense that the hunter placed his trust with others or that the hunter was unaware that another caused a violation. In the eyes of the laws implemented by the FWS, the individual whose trophy is being imported is the one who has breaks the law.
For the above reason, over a period of several months, many leopard trophies arrived at U.S. ports with export documentation that the FWS considered incorrect, prompting law enforcement personnel to seize those trophies. Hunters and brokers were caught completely off guard. It appears that on one day the FWS accepted export documents with one type of quota information and then overnight the same type of information became unacceptable. Shippers and foreign management authority officials were confused about what the FWS would accept as correct documentation.
The hunting community sought help and they received it. Safari Club International met with representatives of the FWS, seeking a solution to what appears to be an unfair consequence of confusion over CITES requirements. SCI facilitated meetings between the FWS and governments of South African countries to try to resolve this confusion and to remedy problems with other export processes. In addition, SCI took the issue to the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council, a federal advisory committee of hunting organizations that advises the Secretary of the Interior and the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service on issues of concern to the hunting community. The Council appointed SCI to an ad hoc committee to meet with representatives of the FWS to work on proposed solutions to the leopard problem and other importation concerns. SCI helped the Council draft a letter to FWS Director Dan Ashe that includes several recommendations for changes in the CITES requirements and in the procedures that FWS Office of Law Enforcement personnel should follow when dealing with procedural or technical violations involved in trophy export and import documentation.
Some brokers recognize that getting information out to shippers in the range countries is the key. For example, Cindy and John Rulon and Lynette Lilley of Well Worldwide Energy Logistics contact shippers, government officials and professional hunting associations to ensure shippers understand exactly what information the U.S. expects to see in Box 11a of the CITES Export Permit and on the tags that must be attached to the leopard skins. As the information reaches the right people and the expectations of the U.S. become clear, Well Worldwide sees fewer and fewer permits coming through with the wrong quota information and fewer and fewer leopard trophies being seized.
Is the crisis over? The answer is an unequivocal “yes and no.“ Thanks to the efforts of the many individuals and organizations, the crisis with leopards may finally be under control. To further reduce the possibility of future leopard export quota problems, the U.S., together with South Africa and Botswana, has proposed a clarification of leopard quota requirements to be considered at the next CITES Conference of the Parties to be held in March of 2013. Unfortunately, leopard quota issues are only one of many technical and procedural exportation violations that result in trophy seizures. Other species have similar quota requirements that can result in confusion. Apart from that, there are many additional export informational obligations that fall prey to inadvertent errors, violations of the law and trophy seizures.
How can unnecessary trophy seizures be prevented? There’s no absolute fix to the problem, but information is and always will be the key. One of the best strategies is to make sure that your PH, taxidermist, or shipper sends a copy of your export paperwork to you and/or your broker in advance of shipping your trophy. You and/or your broker can trouble shoot the documents. You can also ask a representative of the FWS to review the export documentation before the trophy is sent to the U.S. It is generally too late to fix any documentation errors once your trophy is submitted for import at a U.S. port. The FWS will not pre-approve the importation of your trophy if it examines your documents, but agency personnel can help you to identify and possibly correct errors that can result in the seizure of your trophy once it reaches U.S. soil.
Many other simple and important strategies can help you avoid the catastrophic loss of a prized trophy due to an export or import error. To learn more tips, plan to attend one of the “Making Sure Your Trophy Gets Home” seminars at the SCI Convention in Reno, Nevada, in January 2013. Learn these tips from SCI attorneys, representatives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and brokers who deal with importation issues on a daily basis. And don’t come alone. Make sure your PH, outfitter, taxidermist and all of your friends come, too. Panelists will provide you with information as well as valuable online resources that you can access long after the Convention ends. These seminars are held on Tuesday, January 22, 2013 – 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.; Wednesday, January 23, 2013 – 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.; and Saturday, January 26, 2013 – 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. We look forward to seeing you there and to making sure that your trophy makes it home with you.– Anna Seidman