The son of the Republican nominee for President - the son who favors killing elephants and leopards over golfing and says he wants to become secretary of the Interior Department (which oversees trophy imports) if his father is elected president - might have to set his gunsights elsewhere if HSUS and HSI get our way. On the heels of a series of successful efforts to restrict the import of elephant and lion trophies by upgrading protections for the species and highlighting corrupt management practices in African nations, we filed a legal petition this week to protect yet another of the Africa Big 5 coveted by American trophy hunters: the African leopard. We have petitioned the federal management authority to list African leopards as endangered - a designation that, if adopted, would make it very difficult for American hunters to import trophies of these big cats in the future.
Leopard populations in sub-Saharan Africa have plummeted by more than 30 percent in the last 25 years and experts agree that leopard trophy hunting is unsustainable. But for trophy hunters, who spend thousands of dollars on luxury safaris in a pay-to-slay scheme with a limited number of African nations, leopards are a sought-after prize. An HSUS and HSI analysis shows that between 2005 and 2014 alone, Americans imported parts equating to at least 5,575 individual leopards, nearly half of the global trade in leopard trophies during that period.
And given the cascading population impacts from removing males in their prime, an untold number of leopard cubs have lost their lives to infanticide by incoming males filling the territorial void. The situation is so dire that South Africa - one of the major exporters of leopard trophies - prohibited their export in 2016. Leopards are also losing habitat and prey (who are also targeted by bushmeat hunters) by the minute.
In our legal petition, we provide evidence to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to warrant listing all leopards in Africa as endangered and immediately prohibit the import of leopard trophies unless stringent permitting requirements are met under the Endangered Species Act. The import of live leopards and other leopard parts (such as pelts for the fur trade) are already required to meet these standards, and it is incomprehensible that American trophy hunters have enjoyed a regulatory loophole waiving such requirements since the early 1980s. We are grateful to Dr. Jane Goodall and Dereck Joubert for their support in protecting this majestic animal.
In December 2015 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service changed its regulations in response to our petition to list African lions under the Endangered Species Act, and in 2016 to date no lion trophies have been imported into the United States (following many years when an average of 560 lions were imported as hunting trophies per year). Following another petition we filed, FWS recently cracked down on African elephant trophy imports as part of its effort to address the ivory poaching crisis.
It is time to provide the same level of protection to the African leopard. Donald Trump Jr., Honeywell CEO David Cote, and other over-privileged animal exploiters can use their wealth to entertain themselves in other ways and let these animals be.
This article first appeared on Wayne Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.