On August 7, 2013, the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced it intends to revise the proposed rule to reclassify the straight-horned markhor (Capra falconeri jerdoni) from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This is the same date the final downlisting rule was due and should have been issued. Instead, the USFWS announced that a revised proposal is going to be re-noticed in the Federal Register for comments due to issues with the taxonomy. It is expected to be re-noticed around September 30th.
The proposed rule includes a special rule that would allow the import of straight-horned markhor trophies from approved management programs such as the Torghar Hills project in Pakistan. Approved programs will be those that provide enhancement to the survival of the species in the wild.
The planned revisions to the proposed rule are the result of new information that the USFWS received during the public comment period indicating that Capra falconeri jerdoni is no longer a valid taxon and has been combined with Capra falconeri megaceros by some caprinae specialists. The combined taxon is still “straight-horned markhor,” but includes both Sulaiman and Kabul as a single subspecies, thus the revised proposal will be to downlist both of these subspecies instead of just the Sulaiman.
In our June 2, 2011, 90-day petition finding, we requested information on the taxonomy of C.f. jerdoni and C.f. megaceros to determine if these constitute a single subspecies. We did not receive any information regarding the correct nomenclature that should be followed. During our status review, we did not find consistency in the use of C.f. jerdoni or C.f. megaceros. We found that papers published around the same time as each other often used both classifications to describe subspecies of markhor. Therefore, until it is clear, we will continue to recognize the distinct subspecies of C.f. jerdoni and C.f. megaceros, as they are currently listed under the Act, with the straight-horned markhor (C.f. jerdoni) being the focus of our status review. We are again requesting from the public additional information on the taxonomy of Capra falconeri to determine the proper nomenclature that should be followed (see Information Requested for details).
In response, some commenters stated that the two should be treated as one under the name C.f. megaceros, as Schaller and Khan (1975) suggested based on horn shape and body characteristics. Believe me, we are reviewing that. In this instance it would broaden the downlisting to include populations doing very poorly and that some state are distinct. The markhor proposal is in response to a downlisting petition filed by Conservation Force, Dallas Safari Club, Houston Safari Club, African Safari Club of Florida, The Conklin Foundation, Grand Slam/OVIS, Wild Sheep Foundation and individuals Jerry Brenner, Steve Hornady and Alan and Barbara Lee Sackman on August 17, 2010 after learning in litigation (Markhor I – the first markhor suit) that the USFWS had not taken any action to process a downlisting petition filed more than a decade earlier. In court, the USFWS claimed that so much time had elapsed that the first downlisting petition was no longer enforceable as a matter of law. We appealed the Federal District Court judge determination that the original petition of 1999 was no longer enforceable, which appeal has been argued and is still awaiting a decision by a three-judge appellate panel. We then filed a wholly new downlisting petition, which is the basis of the current proposal. The new petition also had to be enforced through suit (Markhor III – the third markhor suit). That suit ended successfully in settlement and, in due course, lead to the proposal where the USFWS itself is proposing the reclassification from endangered to threatened.
The USFWS and Pakistani authorities have been using the scientific name Capra falconeri jerdoni for the straight-horned Sulaiman markhor subspecices, while some have used Capra falconeri megaceros to describe the Kabul and Sulaiman as one subspecies. The USFWS listed the Sulaiman markhor (C.f. jerdoni) as “endangered” in 1975 (40 FR 44329, September 26, 1975). It also separately listed the Kabul (spelled “Kabal” in the listing) markhor subspecies (C.f. megaceros) as endangered. The USFWS has treated them separately since that time. In our petition to downlist, we described the “population of Sulaiman, straight-horned markhor in Pakistan whether Capra falconeri jerdoni or C.f. megaceros” and cited 64 FR 51499 (the 1999 petition to downlist 90-day finding when USFWS itself described that markhor as either or both) to avoid the confusion that has arisen. When the USFWS made its positive 90-day finding on Conservation Force’s petition, it stated the subspecies to be “Capra falconeri jerdoni or C.f. megaceros” as we did in the petition to downlist. The USFWS named the subspecies as Capra falconeri jerdoni in the proposal to reclassify the subspecies on August 7, 2012 at page 47012.
Now the USFWS will revisit the nomenclature after re-noticing the proposal with its explanation of the issue and suggested way forward. In the meantime, Grand Slam/OVIS is coming to the rescue. Dennis Campbell is producing photographs of both Kabul and Sulaiman markhor. This will demonstrate that the two are distinct and qualify as two separate subspecies. The poor status of the Kabul should not prevent the downlisting of the Sulaiman as proposed (C.f. jerdoni), though in fact no population of the Kabul subspecies is significant. Conservation Force will keep readers advised.