That problem I previously told you about regarding African trophies stuck in transit has been favorably resolved after four months of work and worry. The Office of Law Enforcement for the US Fish & Wildlife Service has issued a Chief’s Directive clarifying its permitting requirements for trophies that transit intermediate countries. Simultaneously the USF&WS released trophies that had been “seized” or were being “detained” in nearly every port of embarkation in the USA. Tons of other trophies that were awaiting resolution of the issue are now on their way to happy hunters. There are some caveats, however, making it important for hunters to understand when they must acquire import and/or re-export permits from transited intermediate countries.
To recap what has happened: On August 31 the port of Chicago started seizing CITES-listed hunting trophies that had passed through (transited) South Africa because the transit period of time was not “immediate.” USF&W began requiring this “immediate” transit under the new regulations the agency put into effect this past summer. Because the transit was not “immediate” the USF&WS required a re-export permit from CITES authorities of South Africa. That in turn would have required the shipment to be opened and inspected and the re-export permit verified before departure. The industry and African authorities were surprised and bewildered by the new USF&WS requirement that threatened the importation of trophies from Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe and perhaps other countries. The South Africa CITES Authority said it was unnecessary, served no purpose and would add problems and delays.
Importantly, the normal delay necessary to change cargo carriers in South Africa was not the cause of the in-transit delays that triggered the seizures by USF&WS. It was a regulation from another US agency. Because of US Department of Agriculture (USDA-APHIS) requirements, the wood parts of containers and crates used in trophy shipments must be fumigated before entering the US. Though the fumigation occurred under South Africa’s customs control without the shipments ever clearing customs and thus without official entry, the South Africa passage (transit) did not conform with the new UFS&WS regulations that the transit be “immediate.”
The problem grew worse. What started in Chicago in late August spread to most other ports in a period of weeks. Other enforcement officers joined forces behind the Chicago interpretation. We then learned of a “guidance” being circulated within the enforcement division reinforcing the new “immediate” requirement and spelling doom for the safari industry of Southern Africa. Freight forwarders and trophy brokerage firms on both sides of the Atlantic grew frantic as tons and tons of trophies backed up.
By late October, we had a full understanding of the problem and had completed a comprehensive review of the CITES in-transit article that has always exempted in-transit shipments from permitting requirements. The new USF&WS regulation had added a condition that the passage through an intermediate country be immediate, while the CITES “exemption” article only required it to remain in Customs Control. After consulting all the respective experts and authorities, Conservation Force filed a formal petition with the USF&WS director and the Secretary of Interior to have the USF&WS revise its new regulation and suspend its enforcement in the interim.
The petition was on behalf of Conservation Force, South Africa and Mochaba Developments, perhaps the largest and most responsible trophy shipping agents in Africa. Though they were not parties in the petition, Coppersmith, Inc. helped identify the problem and helped avoid unnecessary seizures. Due to their help, a lot of seizures were avoided during the months of uncertainty when the problem seemed to worsen and the USF&WS seemed unresponsive to the petition.
Sensitive intragovernmental communications took place behind closed doors between South Africa and USF&WS CITES authorities, as well as the CITES Secretariat itself. There were also sleepless nights at Conservation Force, at Mochaba and some hunters’ homes. Conservation Force began drafting a suit for declaratory and injunctive relief that it did not have to file, and at least two hunters had to file petitions for remission for the return of their seized trophies. In late December, the crisis resolved when the USF&WS “clarified the intent of the regs so it does not happen again.” It sent a clarification to all inspectors “recognizing the realities associated with some of those shipments.” The so-called Office of Law Enforcement Guidance issued by the USF&WS is in the form of a Chief’s Directive. After giving the history it states, “Guidance: Imports of non-living specimens destined for the United States that have been shipped through an intermediary country and remained in Customs Control will be cleared for import into the United States, provided no other violations exist,” signed by the Chief, Office of Law Enforcement.
The explanation in the Chief’s Directive is important. It states that “[t]he primary intent of the new regulation is to prevent the misuse of the in-transit exemption, particularly when delays could be used to deliberately circumvent permitting requirements of an intermediary country. However, we have recognized that some shipments transiting intermediary countries experience delays that are beyond the exporter/importer’s control.” In the case of South Africa, it knew well of the delay and approved of it. Moreover, the delay was because of a US regulation requiring fumigation of the packaging before import.
Importantly, the regulation remains in effect. The “shipment must remain under Customs Control while in the intermediary country” (not new regulation) and must “stay only for the time needed to immediately transfer the specimen to the mode of transportation used to continue to the final destination.” In short, we solved the problem arising from the necessary delay in South Africa, but only there and for the purpose of fumigation. Other delays are not included in this exemption. For example, two argali trophies were detained by the inspector in Chicago and were re-exported in lieu of seizure because the hunter left them in bond while he stayed over for two days in an intermediary country. He could not get a re-export permit from the intermediate country, though he tried, because the trophies never officially entered the country. So it is over, but it is not.
The overall magnitude of this crisis demonstrates the vulnerability of safari hunting and the conservation dependent upon hunting. The USF&WS emphasizes it is going to be monitoring in-transit delays closely. Conservation Force has once again served one of its purposes, but a special debt of gratitude is due the USF&WS for recognizing the realities associated with these shipments. When the new regulation conflicted with reality, they could have taken an uncompromising stance, which is what at one point they appeared to have done.
The Chief Directive for CITES In-Transit Shipments is posted on the Updates & Alerts page of Conservation Force’s web site at www.conservationforce.org/news.html.