By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
An American trophy hunter who killed a black rhino in Namibia will receive the Trump administration’s consent to bring his spoils home. This is the third time the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a permit to import a black rhino trophy since 2017, and it illustrates, yet again, how this taxpayer-funded agency is pandering to a few wealthy trophy hunters while showing a callous irresponsibility toward critically endangered species.
The FWS notified us last week that it will issue the import permit to a wealthy businessman from Michigan who killed the animal in May last year in Namibia's Mangetti National Park. The man agreed to pay $400,000 to a Namibian government fund in exchange for the permit.
This pay-to-slay scheme has become increasingly common in the United States and elsewhere, with trophy hunters claiming that they are benefiting African economies and helping conservation efforts when they kill already imperiled animals. But as studies have shown, there is little evidence that the money actually helps threatened species or communities—in reality, it mostly goes toward lining the pockets of hunting companies and corrupt officials. What is clear is that trophy hunting is driving some animals—already under threat from poaching, habitat loss, and trafficking—to extinction.
There are fewer than 2,000 black rhinos left in Namibia and rhino poaching there is on the rise, with criminals targeting the animals for their horns. According to news reports, 27 black rhinos were poached in Namibia in 2017 and 57 in 2018. This is hardly the time for the United States—which should be leading conservation efforts to save these animals—to instead contribute to their decline by facilitating the ambitions of privileged Americans who want to kill them for trophies and bragging rights.
U.S. law is also very clear: under our federal Endangered Species Act, it is illegal to import trophies of endangered species unless such action is determined to enhance the propagation or survival of the species. Allowing this Michigan trophy hunter to import a critically endangered animal’s trophy, whose numbers in the wild are already dangerously low, clearly does not meet this standard.
In giving its blessing to such imports, our government is also ignoring the fact that most Americans do not support trophy hunting; polls show that more than 80 percent of Americans oppose trophy hunting of big game. A similar decision by the FWS to allow another American trophy hunter to import a black rhino trophy last year was met with outrage and disgust on social media.
President Trump famously derided trophy hunting as a “horror show.” But despite this, trophy hunters have found a willing partner in the FWS under his administration, and we have seen a steady rollback of laws protecting endangered species since 2017, including scaling back of protections for elephants and lions. Last month, the government finalized several regulatory changes to weaken the Endangered Species Act, the bedrock law that protects at-risk species and their habitats—a decision we are challenging in court.
There is no justification for a handful of people with deep pockets and friends in high places to continue robbing the world of its most prized and beautiful wildlife. And there is no justification for our government to continue making it easier for them to indulge in their dangerous hobby. We urge the FWS to stop issuing permits to allow trophy hunters to import the body parts of some of our world’s most endangered animals, and instead do what most Americans want—take the lead in saving these animals, for themselves, for the earth, and for all of us who would rather see an animal in the wild than as a head on someone’s wall.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.