On April 4th, 2013, the USFWS issued the first Endangered Species Act, ESA, import permit for a black rhino hunting trophy. The permit was for a 34-year-old black rhino taken in Waterberg Plateau National Park in Namibia in October, 2009. It will be the first import of a black rhino hunting trophy since the black rhino was listed as “endangered” in 1980, 33 years ago. It is the first trophy import permit for any ESA “endangered” listed species taken in the wild since the ESA was passed in 1973. The black rhino is listed on Appendix I of CITES and as “critically endangered” on IUCN’s Red List. That said, both CITES and the IUCN African Rhino Specialist Group support the trophy trade. Like the bontebok, another ESA endangered listed species that is importable from South Africa but treated as a “captive bred” exception, black rhino permits will be processed on a permit-by-permit basis. We expect the conservation revenue arising from the hunting will more than double with the addition of the US market, the largest market by far. The following will give readers an understanding of the positive development for rhino.
First and foremost, this is about saving the black rhino. The goal of the Namibia conservation strategy is not the hunting. The hunter’s rights to his trophy are also not a factor considered by USFWS when making such a determination. The goal is the conservation of the species. This is a form of safari hunting or tourist hunting that has come to be called “conservation hunting.” Conservation hunting is regulated hunting strategically designed to benefit a species in special need by generating essential conservation revenue like management revenue and stimulating local incentives to value, tolerate and support the animal. Being a game animal gives the rhino a “leg up” or extra value to authorities and locals as well as operating revenue in the struggle for survival. The permitting is about using regulated hunting as a tool or force for conservation. This is of itself important to all interests except extremists who readily admit they would prefer that animals cease to exist rather than be sustainably used or produced when there is any use.
Namibia has the foremost black rhino conservation program and plan in the world. It is the real champion and deserves to be richly rewarded, particularly when the reward is more revenue for essential management actions.
This decision was a big and important step for USFWS that is to be congratulated. That said, it must be understood that this is not a blanket approval. Although it is a precedent and recognition of the benefits, each and every future application will be individually handled and will have to undergo three (3) levels of fact-finding and decision making. Be sure, this is a discretionary area for the USFWS, who made the right decision in this instance. Still, it did not just happen by accident. It was the right thing to do.
USFWS must determine that the purpose of the import is (1) not detrimental and (2) the permitted activity does not jeopardize the species. These two separate determinations must be made by two separate divisions, the Division of Scientific Authority (DSA) and the Division of Management Authority (DMA) with Division of Scientific Authority concurrence. The third and most important determination has to be made by the Division of Management Authority that the import will actually “enhance or benefit the propagation or survival of the species” in the wild. The determinations are way beyond whether the take is within sustainable limits. This is about stepping up the program and saving and securing the species.
The hunter was literally the first American to take a rhino in Namibia since Namibia was granted its quota of five per year by CITES CoP13 in 2004. He is a very experienced dangerous game hunter who has taken all the Big Five (not black rhino) a number of times. Satisfied with the conservation value and biological necessity of the hunting, he took his chances with whether he could ever import his trophy. He says, of all the Big Five, it was one of his best hunts. It was a fair chase hunt and truly dangerous. Conservation Force started representing the permit applicant as pro bono legal counsel for the good of the cause, ourselves convinced of the necessity of the hunting.
The expert African Rhino Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, SSC/IUCN, has been an important participant in Namibia’s program from the inception. They knew well that safari hunting had played a crucial role in saving the white rhino in the past and expected hunting to be a force for black rhino as well. In time, the success in Namibia became widely recognized. Then, at CITES, the important benchmark was the quota resolution passage at CoP13. Two preambular clauses of the quota Resolution explain the potential benefits arising from conservation hunting quite cogently:
RECOGNIZING also that the financial benefits derived from trophy hunting of a limited number of specimens will benefit the conservation of the species directly and provide additional incentives for conservation and habitat protection, when such hunting is done within the framework of national conservation and management plans and programmes;
RECOGNIZING that some range States have made significant advances in the conservation and management of this species and the restoration of their national populations but require additional incentives and means to finance such conservation and management;
Res. Conf. 13.5
It is obvious that the quota created by CITES was thought to be more than a non-detriment finding by the CITES Parties acting as a body. It was recognition that Namibia’s program constituted far more than ensuring hunting offtake was within biologically sustainable limits. It was engineered from inception to save the rhino.
Conservation Force was at that CoP, but we had started working on using regulated hunting as a tool to save the black rhino long before that. Back in 1992, after yours truly favorably resolved the suit to import Namibia’s elephant hunting trophies, the Minister of the Namibia Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) had asked me what “enhancement” meant under the ESA and if I would help his country. He explained that Namibia was successfully managing its resources and should not be punished. Instead, it was important and necessary to reward the people of Namibia, give them room and reason to be proud. In time, I gave him my personal word to help and pledge to see it through. My personal pledge of help to him was one of the primary reasons Conservation Force was founded just a few years later. Following the promise, Conservation Force became expert at removing regulatory barriers to using hunting as a force for conservation of species in special need. The Enhancement Permitting Initiative
has taken 20 hard years for this one enhancement import permit success. This is longer than the Wood Bison Initiative, 14 years, and the soon to be completed Straight-Horned Markhor Initiative
. Permits were not processed, then were denied in both Initiatives. Almost impossible downlistings have had to be pursued. The same with the Cheetah and Black-Faced Impala Initiatives
, permits that have been denied.
Trophy trade of black rhino parts are also covered by a special CITES regulation of the FWS, 50 CFR 23.74. First, only one black rhino a year may be imported by a hunter. Second, all parts, including but not limited to horns, skull and skin, must be separately marked. This is still true if whole mounted, so it may be wise not to whole mount your trophy before import, unless you want to take it back apart at the port of entry. In fairness to the USFWS, that is how the CITES Quota Resolution for black rhino also reads. Conf. Res. 13.5. It is also interesting to note that this USFWS regulation on marking was adopted in 2007, two years before this hunt.
We stand ready to assist permit applicants in the future.