Breaking! A Lawsuit Filed Today Aims To Save An Estimated 300 Leopards Each Year From Being Imported Into The United States By Hunters As So-Called “Trophies”

Conservation and animal protection organizations filed a lawsuit today challenging decisions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that authorize leopard trophy hunting imports from Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Zambia into the United States.

The United States is a major global importer of leopard “trophies.” On average, the country imports nearly 300 leopard “trophies,” which is 52% of all leopard trophies in trade each year. During the most recent five-year period for which data is available, the United States imported 1,037 leopard trophies from Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Zambia alone.

“Federal officials are dishing out leopard import permits right and left despite lacking the data to know how trophy hunting harms this highly imperiled species,” Tanya Sanerib, International Legal Director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “Regulations clearly require our government not to OK imports without adequate info about these beautiful big cats and all the ways humans are harming them.”

Leopards are vulnerable to extinction. Scientists believe that African leopard populations are plummeting due to habitat loss, prey depletion, persecution by people, poaching for the illegal skin trade, and unsustainable trophy hunting. The actual rate of leopard decline remains largely unknown, and most nations lack population estimates.

Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the leopard trade is permissible only under exceptional circumstances. Nevertheless, bowing to politics and diplomatic negotiations, parties to the international treaty recently sustained unjustifiably high quotas or caps on the number of leopards that can be traded annually as so-called “trophies.”

The lawsuit challenges the Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to meet this obligation by authorizing U.S. trophy hunters to import leopard trophies from Africa. The hunters rely on these decisions when traveling to Africa to hunt this beautiful species. Due to travel restrictions and COVID-19 risks, fewer hunters are traveling to Africa, meaning the leopards covered by the challenged import authorizations are likely still alive and could still be saved from import.

Today, the organizations also gave the Fish and Wildlife Service notice of their intent to sue over the agency’s failure to make a 12-month finding on their 2016 petition to list all leopards as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act.

Most leopard populations in Africa are currently listed as “threatened” and are not given the law’s full range of protections. Furthermore, an endangered listing would increase transparency and give the public the ability to voice their opposition during a comment period on trophy hunting import applications.

WAN and Peace 4 Animals believe that leopards should be protected without question under the Endangered Species Act, and all trophy hunting imports into the United States should be banned indefinitely,” stated the organizations. “If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and CITIES do not step up to help this imperiled species, we might lose them to extinction in the near future.”

The Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society International, the Humane Society of the United States, and a South Africa-based photographic safari operator filed the lawsuit.

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