Imperiled Leopards Are One Step Closer To Gaining Increased Endangered Species Act Protection

Yesterday, In response to a lawsuit by animal protection and conservation groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) finally agreed to a June 2027 deadline to determine if leopards warrant increased protection under the Endangered Species Act. Increased safeguards would ensure closer scrutiny of African leopard “trophy” imports and help boost funding to counter suspected population declines.

Humane Society International, Humane Society of the United States, and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition in July of 2016 requesting additional protections for leopards. The groups sued in November of 2021 after the Fish and Wildlife Service missed its legal deadline for responding to the petition and failed to even set a timeline for its response. As part of the settlement, USFWS agreed to the new, binding deadline.

“The leopard is being driven to extinction by so many human-induced threats already, and U.S. hunters who kill these magnificent animals only to satiate their selfish desire for macabre trophies to display in their homes or to take selfies with their kills are only exacerbating their decline,” said Sarah Veatch, wildlife policy director for Humane Society International. “It is critical that this iconic species receives the full Endangered Species Act protections they so desperately need before it is too late.”

Wild populations of African leopards are declining due to habitat loss and fragmentation, human persecution, illegal wildlife trade, ceremonial use of their skins, prey decline, and trophy hunting. The United States is the world’s largest importer of African leopard hunting “trophies.” Between 2014 and 2018, U.S. hunters imported “trophies” of 1,640 leopards, more than half of which were globally traded.

The leopard is legally protected as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, but the animals are currently exempt from the ESA’s strictest limitations on “trophy” imports. The lax existing provisions facilitate the outsized role the United States plays in driving trophy hunting of the species.

“The government left imperiled leopards to languish in legal limbo, but now we’re hoping for decisive action to protect these beautiful animals,” said Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These iconic big cats are tanking. While we have the legal tools to help them, the government hasn’t acted. With an extinction crisis looming larger than life, we need proactive wildlife protection from the Biden administration to save life on Earth.”

The heightened protections sought in the petition would ensure closer scrutiny of African leopard “trophy” imports, making it more difficult to import them into the United States.

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