Conservation Force has had another uncommon success. One by one, the petitions for remission that Conservation Force had to file to save leopard trophies imported from Namibia have all been granted/won. These are the leopard trophies that were retained and seized as they were imported because the skin tags were not considered to be the “self-locking” type recommended in the CITES leopard quota resolution. We hope that word of our pro bono legal representation was received by everyone whose leopard was formally seized; otherwise, they will have lost their trophy. Each petition for remission had to be separately filed within separate deadlines. To top off our satisfaction from this success, one of the hunters whose trophies was formally seized for destruction is a world renown big game hunter/writer who has long served this community and his country. The release of that deserving hunter’s leopard is icing on the cake. A special thanks is due to the Department of Interior and USF&WS Solicitors for their equitable applications of the seizure rules in each instance.
We thank Don Causey’s Hunting Report, Dallas Safari Club, Houston Safari Club, the African Safari Club of Florida, Shikar Safari Club International, the Weatherby Foundation and others for helping get the word out that Conservation Force was on top of the issue and would provide pro bono representation as a necessary service to the hunting community and Namibia.
The Namibia Professional Hunters Association (NAPHA) credited Conservation Force for the successful release of the leopard trophies in its recent news bulletin. We are proud partners with NAPHA and serve on two of its standing committees. Its CEO accompanied us to the 14th Conference Of Parties of CITES in the Hague this past summer. Namibia itself is an outstanding hunting destination with particularly competent and responsible professional hunters and a wildlife ministry that is second to none.
It is uncommon to get the release of CITES Appendix I trophies when a permit or related tag is technically defective or invalid. In fact, it has been almost impossible in the United States with very few exceptions. Time and again we’ve seen hunters lose trophies that cost as much as a new automobile without any relief. To quote from the written decision of one of the Solicitors reviewing the petitions for remission, “Many innocent and unknowledgeable persons experience the same problem each year when the wildlife they are attempting to import into the United States is siezed for CITES and Endangered Species Act import violations. We sympathize with them for the inconvenience and monetary loss involved. However, the US Fish and Wildlife Service in enforcing the Endangered Species Act and CITES cannot allow importations where US laws are broken and regulations are breached if wildlife is to be protected and preserved pursuant to international treaties and domestic laws and regulations.” (That is nicely said, but licensed, regulated hunting does not really threaten species simply because of after-the-fact technical errors in the paperwork or tagging.)
Though it was not yet applicable in these seizures, in September a new internal CITES regulation was adopted by the USF&WS International section that expressly allows the import of trophies when the defect in the paperwork or tagging is solely the fault of the range nation’s government (exporting government authority). Since it is expressly limited to mistakes of the exporting government, mistakes of the professional hunter, taxidermists, shipping agent or other third persons are not included.
Conservation Force and the partnering organizations it represented in the comments to those new regulations persuaded the Service to include Appendix I trophies in their proposed regulations. As initially proposed, the relief would only have applied to Appendix II and III species. Nevertheless, trophies have been seized and destroyed for years due to mere errors and mistakes by exporting country authorities. It is only fair since it is not within the individual hunter’s control. This too is another victory due to Conservation Force and its coalition of supporting organizations combining forces. No one else made the specific comment that the proposed rule should include Appendix I species, and most hunting organizations did not file a comment on the esoteric rules at all. All this said, we are still not satisfied with the relief provided because the new rule is limited to the mistake of government authorities and does not appear to apply to mistakes of expert, independent contractors that one has to rely upon. That kind of change requires a Congressional fix. Hunters will continue to absorb the full loss of their trophies, including the costs of processing and transporting in the meantime. Of course, hunters may have private recourse against those independent contractors who are negligent, but that is seldom practical and not what we want from our leisure time when we go hunting.