Conservation Force is providing free legal representation to all US hunters who have had their Namibia leopard trophies seized by the US Fish & Wildlife Service. The USF&WS has been seizing leopard trophy imports from Namibia for the past six months, beginning in December of 2006. In typical form, the USF&WS has been penalizing the innocent hunter instead of timely corresponding with its CITES counterpart in Namibia. If your trophy has been seized, don’t sign the forfeiture notice. If you sign it, you are waiving your rights and your trophy will be destroyed and you may still be fined or prosecuted for technically violating the law under the Lacey Act. Call John J. Jackson, III at Conservation Force and send the written "notice of seizure" to him.
The seizures are arising because of Namibia’s use of metal tags that are wired on the skin instead of permanently attached, i.e., they are not permanently attached. The original CITES quota resolution for leopards contains a non-binding "recommendation" that leopard skins have permanent tags. The USF&WS does not have any present regulation requiring permanent tagging, but it does have a regulation that has been proposed that is expected to become law in June or July of this year, 2007. It first proposed the regulation in 2000. It is part of the same bundle of regulations that contains a prohibition against donations of Appendix I trophies, excludes the making of any utilitarian items by changing the "definition" of a trophy, and eliminates the return of trophies of Appendix I species when any technical error (such as tagging) occurs, etc.
"Recommendations" of CITES are not automatically binding. It is the position of the USF&WS that it can pick and choose which recommendations it chooses to give the force of law. Import of leopard is an extreme example in the new proposed regulations. The USF&WS will not accept leopard quotas set by the Parties of CITES at its conferences, but will mandate the permanent tagging recommendation contained in the same Quota Resolution. In effect, the USF&WS has divided the CITES Resolution to its liking and rejected the primary intent of the Parties.
It is hard to imagine the unlawful and infrequent fraudulent tagging of leopard by tag transfers being of any biological consequence whatsoever, given the low leopard quotas set by CITES. The USF&WS treats both tagging and the quota far more seriously than the true gravity of risk. On the other hand, CITES in recent years has even eliminated the need for special country reports on leopard trade, which is of little biological consequence. While the rest of the world is easing up, the USF&WS’s International Affairs office is tightening up as never before.
The CITES authorities in Namibia, which is certainly one of the most responsible countries in the world as regards wildlife matters, claim to have used the wired-on tags for over a decade. There was no intergovernmental communication before the seizures began, nor was there any advisory to the hunting community. The proposed US regulation mandating permanently attached tags is not yet the law. The innocent hunter is made to bear the costs and the loss. This seems to be another example of the harsh regulatory attitude of the USF&WS towards international hunters and range nation programs.
It remains to be seen whether or not the USF&WS will destroy or return the trophies in this debacle. We here at Conservation Force are ready to go to the limit on this one. It is time to join forces and be a force.