On January 30, 2017, SCI and the SCI Foundation responded to the latest attempt by anti-hunting groups to interfere with sustainable use conservation. These animal rights groups have recently focused their efforts on African leopards. In November 2016, in response to a petition filed 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.” In a comment letter submitted to the FWS, SCI and SCIF explained why the FWS should not uplist African leopards from threatened to endangered status.
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–the information submitted with the petition and any data already in the FWS’s own files. The FWS must collect far more data to make a final decision whether to list a species.
When 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 proposing a rule to uplist the species 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.”
The FWS solicited 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 worked together to prepare comments that provide both scientific and legal information that will help the FWS to determine not to interfere with ongoing sustainable use conservation of the African leopard. We filed the comments on January 30, 2017. The FWS has indicated that it will continue to accept new information about leopards until they make the decision.
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 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 (note that as of this date, this fact sheet contains one error about exporting elephants harvested between April 4, 2014 and May 11, 2014 in Zimbabwe. Because of a legal victory by SCI, hunters who harvested an elephant in this time period should be able to apply for and obtain an import permit.)
Unrelated to the petition submitted by the anti-hunting groups, the Republic of South Africa did not allow the export of 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. South Africa recently reached the same conclusion for 2017.
SCI and SCIF will continue to 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. At the SCI Convention, SCI and the SCI Foundation presented the most recent information at a seminar entitled “Where Are We Now – The Latest on Elephants, Lions and Leopards.”