Endangered Species for Sale

Your government wants to facilitate trophy hunters importing markhor from Pakistan and wood bison from Canada, leather manufacturers importing crocodiles from Guatemala or Belize, and zoos and circuses importing Asian elephants for display and entertainment.

The Bush Administration has undertaken a new assault on the Endangered Species Act (ESA), one of the world's most important conservation laws. On August 18, 2003, the Department of the Interior published a notice in the Federal Register announcing its intent to alter dramatically the conditions under which permits would be granted for the importation of endangered species from other countries.

With some exceptions, the ESA prevents the import of foreign endangered species, over 500 species across the globe. One exception is when such an action would be for scientific purposes or "enhance the propagation or survival of the affected species"; in other words, when the import of some individual animals would have a significant benefit to the wild population as a whole.

The new plan would drastically lower the bar that zoos, circuses, or trophy hunters must meet to qualify for this exemption to the detriment of countless animals. Unabashedly, the notice absurdly refers to highly imperiled Asian elephants as "'surplus' animals"!

This scheme is based on the unjustified suggestion that there may be some conservation benefit when live animals—or even the parts and products of slaughtered ones—are sold in the U.S. market. The unsubstantiated claim is that when this sort of commerce occurs, money goes back into conservation projects in the country of origin.

In fact, the proposed policy change would contain few restrictions and little public oversight. The policy suggests that permits would be granted in "limited situations" though there is no guidance as to what that means. Furthermore, the program that is being funded should be "designed" to promote conservation in the wild. There is no guarantee that it will promote such conservation at all. And once the endangered animal is on U.S. soil, there is no chance that the individual would be sent back to the wild if the exporting country does not live up to its end of the bargain.

The Bush Administration is putting a price tag on the head of every endangered species on earth—and it would allow these animals to be sold at any price. AWI will submit detailed comments against this change and post them on our website.