For close to a decade, Safari Club International has been working toward removing restrictions that impose obstacles to the use of hunting for the conservation of U.S. herds of three exotic antelope species – the scimitar-horned oryx, dama gazelle and addax. In 2005, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed all three species as endangered because there are very few if any remaining in their native ranges in Africa. Their story is very different in the U.S. In several states, primarily in Texas, the three antelope have been thriving on private ranches. Ranchers have been working to conserve the three antelope through sustainable use management that allows the ranchers to breed and trade members of the species, provide habitat suitable for large populations and provide hunting on their ranches to help them manage their herds.
When the FWS listed the three species, the agency adopted special regulations that exempted the U.S. populations from restrictions and prohibitions that apply to endangered animals. Animal rights groups, ignoring the beneficial impact that hunting had played in the species’ conservation, filed suit to challenge those regulations. Sadly, their suit was successful, forcing the FWS to withdraw the exemptions. This changed the way that the ranchers could manage their captive populations. In particular, ranchers could no longer provide sustainable use hunting without first submitting to an onerous permit application process. The new restrictions and obligations caused the value of these animals to plummet. Many ranchers were forced to reduce their herd sizes or abandon their conservation efforts entirely.
SCI and the Exotic Wildlife Association each sued the FWS, challenging the agency’s decision to include the U.S. populations in the endangered listing of the species. SCI argued that the Service’s actions undermined the purposes of the ESA by listing the three species to their conservation detriment. That lawsuit is ongoing and SCI expects a ruling imminently.
In 2010, SCI and the EWA also petitioned the FWS to remove the U.S. populations of the three species from the endangered species list. The FWS failed to meet its statutory deadlines for acting on SCI’s petition and SCI sued to challenge that failure. The Service settled that suit and SCI received a small monetary settlement. SCI’s Executive Committee has approved the donation of those funds to the Bamberger Ranch in Texas for conservation and research on scimitar-horned oryx. SCI’s investment of these funds in actual conservation distinguishes SCI from animal advocacy groups that use litigation awards for further litigation and membership expansion.
In June 2013, the FWS issued a 12-month finding that rejected SCI’s petition to delist the U.S. populations. The FWS based its finding on the premise that the Endangered Species Act prohibits the agency from treating exclusively captive populations differently from those in the wild. The FWS’s reasoning for not delisting the three antelope species contradicts the agency’s separate listings for captive populations of species like the Nile crocodile and chimpanzee. SCI is currently considering a challenge to the FWS’s refusal to delist the U.S. populations.