SCI and the SCI Foundation are working together to respond to the latest attempt by anti-hunting groups to interfere with sustainable use conservation. Most recently, these animal rights groups have focused their efforts on African leopards. In response to a petition filed in July 2016 by the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, Center for Biological Diversity, International Fund for Animal Welfare and Fund for Animals, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a 90-day finding that an endangered listing for all African leopards currently listed as threatened “may be warranted.”
The FWS’s 90-day finding DOES NOT MEAN that all African leopards are now listed as endangered. Currently, leopards in 18 countries in Africa south of and including Gabon, Congo, Zaire, Uganda and Kenya remain listed as threatened. The FWS makes a “90-day finding” based on very limited data – solely on the information submitted with the petition and any data already in the FWS’s own files. The FWS must collect far more data in order to make a decision whether to list a species.
If the FWS makes a “may be warranted” 90-day finding, as it has for the African leopard, it must next complete a thorough status review, known as a “12-month finding.” To complete this task, the FWS must evaluate the “best scientific and commercial data available” to determine whether the petitioned action is “warranted.” In the Federal Register notice announcing the 90-day finding for the African leopard, the FWS itself stated “[b]ecause the Act’s standards for 90-day and 12-month findings are different, a substantial 90-day finding does not mean that the 12-month finding will result in a ‘warranted’ finding.”
Currently, the FWS is soliciting comments from the public including “scientific and commercial data and other information” regarding the African leopard to help inform its 12-month finding. SCI’s Litigation Department attorneys and SCI Foundation’s biologists are working together to prepare comments that provide both scientific and legal information that will help the FWS to make a determination that will not interfere with or harm ongoing sustainable use conservation of the African leopard. Comments are due on or before January 30, 2017.
If the FWS does make a 12-month finding that a species-wide endangered listing “is warranted” it will then publish a proposed rule to list the African leopard as endangered and will again solicit public comment on its proposed decision. If it becomes necessary, SCI and SCIF will collaborate on additional comments at that time, as well as evaluating other potential courses of action. The listing process, regardless of its possible outcome, will take the FWS many months to complete.
Currently, all African leopards are listed on CITES Appendix I and CITES has established maximum export quotas for the exportation of trophies from twelve African countries. In 2016, a handful of these countries made the requisite findings for exportation of legally hunted leopards. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has published a fact sheet that describes the process for importing legally sport-hunted leopards into the United States: https://www.fws.gov/international/pdf/factsheet-import-leopard-elephant-sport-hunted-trophy.pdf
Unrelated to the petition submitted by the anti-hunting groups, the Republic of South Africa did not export leopards in 2016 because its biologists were unable to make the required CITES determination that the export of leopards would not be detrimental to the survival of the species. SCI Foundation believes that it is probable that South Africa will not have the information they will need to reverse that decision in 2017. The SCI Foundation has offered to assist South Africa with their data collection process to help them achieve a non-detriment finding. SCI Foundation’s biologists will be meeting with a delegation from South Africa at the SCI Annual Convention to further address this issue.
SCI and SCIF will continue their work on this issue and to make every effort to ensure that the FWS has the best legal and scientific data available with which to make its decisions. In addition, we will continue to update the SCI membership as developments occur. SCI and the SCI Foundation will also be presenting the most recent information at a seminar at the SCI Convention entitled “Where Are We Now – The Latest on Elephants, Lions and Leopards” on Wednesday, February 1, 2017, Lagoon K-L, Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Las Vegas, Nevada, 2:00 P.M. – 3:00 P.M.