In February 23, 2009 the International Affairs section of the USF&WS separately but simultaneously denied the final appeal of permit applications to import cheetah and black-faced impala from Namibia. This ended two initiatives to import trophies of those “endangered” listed species that began 17 years ago and set the course of my life. Those initiatives are over, and there is little hope any longer of ever importing those trophies into the USA. It is no longer advisable for US hunters to take those two species in Namibia with any expectation that they will be importable.
The appeal before the Director of USF&WS for the cheetah was orally made in 1997 after the test import permits were denied and our request for reconsideration was also denied. At that time we were frankly told that there had never been a better documented case to import an endangered listed species and that the USF&WS would grant the permits and asked yours truly not to file suit. The promised import permits never materialized. Later, after President Bush took office, the permits were repeatedly promised, but we were told a change in practice of that nature had to be approved at the White House level. It was not approved. Instead, each time it was proposed by the highest level in the Interior Department and the USF&WS, it was not approved by the White House.
The final denial of the cheetah permits only cites two (2) simple reasons: 1) “We have found no evidence that Namibia, either at the time you hunted or currently, has had a robust management program for cheetah that would provide for a sustainable harvest of the species,” and 2) “In addition, neither at the time you hunted or currently, has there been a reliable scientifically based estimate of the number of cheetahs in Namibia….Without this basic information and a well-developed management program that incorporates sport hunting, it is not possible for the Service to determine if the import of a sport-hunted trophy would meet the criteria established under the Act.”
The reasons conflict with the facts and prior findings. The management program is the best in the world, and the hunting is an integral and express part of that plan. The management plan was completed by the IUCN Cat Specialist Group and remains today one of the most comprehensive ever drafted for any wild cat and acts as a model for others. The cheetah population estimates that exist are as good as any wild population of cats in the world and have reflected a stable or increasing population. The reasons for the denials were engineered after two Administrations (Clinton and Bush) failed to follow the advice of the USF&WS and DOI to permit the imports and only after the Acting Director that signed the final denials asked me to voluntarily dismiss the applications without deference for the 17 years worth of work behind them.
The only remedy remaining now that the denials are final is filing suit in Federal District Court in Washington, D.C., which we are considering. That will be an enormous undertaking, considering we have 17 years of material that will take several months just to review.
As with the cheetah, the appeal of the black-faced impala permit application denials was orally argued before the Director in July 2006. On February 23, 2009 all those test import applications were denied. A two-fold reason was given. “No government-sponsored comprehensive management plan for black-faced impala existed or was being implemented in Namibia at the time your trophy was taken. In addition, sufficient steps were not being taken at the time of your hunt to ensure that the existing populations of black-faced impala in Namibia did not become hybridized with common impala introduced from South Africa to game farms within Namibia.” (Emphasis added.) The first is not entirely true in the sense that Namibia has long had a plan that did reintroduce the black-faced impala, though out-of-date. The second is true, for Namibia has not adopted or implemented the new plan drafted that was recommended to them and necessary to prevent the hybridization. That hybridization of black-faced impala is the threat today and must be taken seriously, but the plan to deal with it has not been adopted, much less put into effect by the authorities in Namibia.
We initially undertook this at the request of the Minister in Namibia, who has long since departed office. We must advise hunters that they will not be able to import black-faced or even hybridized impala from Namibia until the plan is adopted. We will continue the black-faced impala initiative, monitor and participate, but imports will not be possible until Namibia chooses to adopt the plan that has been drafted. We have no plans to file suit over the denials. Those denied can resubmit their permit applications if and when Namibia adopts the plan addressing hybridization.