USA: Fish and Wildlife Service publish final rule on African elephant imports

Apr 2, 2024 | News

By Ashley Curtin, Nation of Change

New restrictions on imports of African elephant hunting trophies and live elephants were adopted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The amendment to the 4(d) rule for African elephants is said to protect and conserve African elephants both in the wild and in captivity.

The final rule will only allow trophy and live elephant imports from countries that annually certify their elephant populations are biologically sustainable. These countries must also have adequate conservation legislation in place, but this part of the amendment doesn’t take affect until 2026, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

“The Service values collaborative conservation of wildlife all around the world and is committed to improving implementation of international conservation law” Martha Williams, U.S. Fish and Wildlife service director, said. “Our actions today will help support range countries’ efforts to manage and conserve African elephant populations and will further protect African elephants that are imported to the United States. We are optimistic that with this final rule and by continuing to work in partnership with range countries, wild African elephant populations will be sustainable into the future.”

Objections to the new restrictions said the final rule stopped short of a total ban on imports and “allows any biologically sustainable trade instead of requiring that elephant populations be stable or increasing before trophy trade is permitted,” the Center for Biological Diversity reported.

“I’m truly crushed this rule doesn’t ban trade in elephant hunting trophies to the United States, and it doesn’t even require stable elephant populations to allow trophy imports,” Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said. “These magnificent animals are globally cherished but under threat, and it’s high time we stop letting wealthy trophy hunters turn them into décor.”

The United States is a one of the largest importers of hunting trophies globally followed by the European Union.

The final rule came after the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s 2020 reassessment of elephants “found that forest elephants are critically endangered and savannah elephants are endangered,” the Center for Biological Diversity reported.

According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the rule will benefit African elephants, whose numbers have fallen from as many as 26 million individuals at the end of the 18th century to an estimated 415,000 in the wild today, by:

Supporting countries that import elephants to the United States to enact national legislation necessary to enhance elephant conservation and protections, including penalizing illegal trade.
Requiring that the authorized imports of trophies and live elephants will contribute to enhancing conservation and not contribute to the decline of the species.
Ensuring that imported live African elephants have strong protections once in the United States, including by requiring that these elephants and their offspring go only to facilities suitably equipped to house and care for them.
Clarifying sport-hunted import regulations and permit requirements to increase transparency with stakeholders.

“We face a devastating biodiversity crisis that requires an elephant-sized response,” Sanerib said. “These are mouse-sized rule changes that continue to treat elephants like commodities. We need global change that prioritizes biodiversity over profits.”

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