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Texas ranchers fight to breed, hunt endangered antelope

April 03, 2012 | Hunting Ranches

UPDATE: Judge Denies Texas Hunters' Injunction to Suspend Ruling

LA Times

By Molly Hennessy-Fiske

April 3, 2012

Houston- The scimitar-horned oryx was listed as endangered seven years ago, but a special exemption from the federal Endangered Species Act allowed breeders of the rare African antelope to nonetheless sell and hunt the animals -- at $5,500 a head. As a result, herds grew exponentially on exotic hunting ranches nationwide, especially in Texas.

That exemption for the oryx and two other African antelopes popular with Texas hunters, the addax and the dama gazelle, could disappear Wednesday unless a federal judge approves a last-minute appeal by ranchers for an injunction.

"It's our private property. We bought these animals, we have propagated these animals and conserved them," Charly Seale, executive director of the Exotic Wildlife Assn., told The Times. The Ingram, Texas-based group, which claims nearly 5,000 members, filed for the injunction from a federal judge in Washington, D.C.

The ranchers' battle to maintain their antelope herds began years ago, when a Connecticut-based animal rights group sued to overturn the exemption.

Ranchers argue that they helped revive the rare species, noting that in 1979, Texas had fewer than three dozen captive-bred scimitar-horned oryx; as of 2010, it had more than 11,000. During the same time period, ranchers added, the number of captive-bred dama gazelles increased from nine to more than 800; the number of addax from two to more than 5,000.

But animal rights advocates at Friends of Animals, which has established a preserve for antelope in central Senegal, say the animals are not truly being conserved on Texas ranches.

"While ranchers and hunters might think that's tantamount to conservation, we think that's a hoax," the group's president, Priscilla Feral, told The Times. "They're breeding those antelopes, they're selling them and killing them and calling it conservation. You live a year or two before your head's blown off -- the Endangered Species Act wasn't created for that."

A federal judge found in favor of the Darien, Conn.-based group three years ago, ruling that anyone who wants to hunt or transport the endangered antelopes needs a federal permit - anathema to many Texas breeders. In January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service upheld the ruling.

So far, only 58 people have applied for federal permits to register the antelopes, 52 to hunt them, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told the Austin American-Statesman. All but one of the applications were from Texas.

Most breeders cannot afford to keep their herds without charging fees to hunt the animals; rather than apply for federal permits, they've focused on fighting the rules change, Seale said.

"They do not want government intrusion into their lives," he said.

Seale's group wants their animals removed from the endangered species list, on which he says captive-bred antelope do not belong. He noted that similar efforts to de-list other species have succeeded across the country; some populations of gray wolves were removed from the list last year.

Several Texas officials have supported the effort to block the rules change.

Last week, Texas Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples submitted friend of the court briefs opposing the change. Abbott noted in a statement that the "burdensome new regulation" from the federal government" threatens the economic viability of Texas' exotic game ranches and the continued preservation of these rare animals."

"Leave it to the federal government to create a problem where one doesn't exist," Staples said. "All Americans should withstand overly burdensome and unnecessary regulations, and protect the rights of private citizens who have responsibly promoted the conservation of these exotic species."

Seale said he's sold his nearly two dozen oryx. He's convinced that, if Friends of Animals succeeds in blocking the exemption, the group will continue to try to remove more exotic animals from Texas' private hunting ranches.

"Once they get a foothold, they're not going to stop with these three animals. It's a ripple effect," Seale said. "Like a sheep-killing dog - they get a taste of blood and there's no way to stop them."

Comments

What's the plan for these animals now? What happens to them? Editors' Note: Scimitar-oryxes and dama gazelles are already reintroduced into Senegal -- their homelands. Donations to Friends of Animals are used to expand thousands of protected acres within Reserves along with providing other resources -- lands off-limits to hunting pressure.

And Now A Word From Mike, Today's Biggest Whiner: What liberal (#$%) you all are. None of you own dogs or cats? None of you eat beef, chicken, turkey, or any other animal that is slaughtered for the benefit of man? Hypocritical touch feely tree hugging morons. Please none of you get in a car crash and die it would just break my heart. I am sure this will not make it on your gay little post here, but I can think of another place you can put it. Editors' Note: We're so impressed you learned how to use a computer! Y'all take care of that unbroken heart.

shame on you (hunters-ranchers) for heinous cruelty

What happens now? Commercial transport and "takings" will be off-limits without federal permission. This applies to private parties and private land; it means a landowner is not allowed to harm an animal listed as endangered, or the animal's environment, on the given property. These animals (the ones who have so far evaded being turned into trophies) will now live out their lives in safety; any human who would try to exploit or otherwise harm them will be breaking the law. The breeders will stop breeding them to be used as tourist lures. We at Friends of Animals thank our donors and supporters for enabling the continued increase (up to 175 now) of oryx living in their own range in Africa, where they can survive and, with careful attention, one day thrive again as part of a flourishing biocommunity. That is the real meaning of saving an endangered species. It is deeply troubling to observe the trend to put animals on display and say we’re saving them. The ones offered to tourists in Texas might have been procreating – but most never got the chance to reach their second birthday. Yesterday was a major milestone in the conservation of oryx, addax and dama gazelles. Our gratitude goes out to everyone who cares about their well-being - which we'll continue, as advocates must, to zealously defend.

I saw the interview in 60 Minutes with Priscilla and I completely agree with her. To conserve means to protect something from loss, harm or decay. Not to kill at anyone's whim. I think the tables should be turned and put some of these Texans out on the ranches as targets. We could use the same methodology on them and see how they like it. Despicable people.

I agree with what Lynette D. wrote. What kind of nonsense is this? Why can't the government see this for what it really is. This clearly is not what conservationists had envisioned. The definition of Conservation is: an ethic of resource use, allocation, and protection, especially of the natural environment. Ethics have not been considered when there is money to be made nor has protection been considered when they end up killing these defenseless animals in the name of profit. Why do we think we can own animals? They were not put on the planet so we could make a profit such as circuses and zoos. How disgusting!

The breeders' argument is as ridiculous as arguments to allow the horrible conditions imposed on animals in CAFOs. Animals cannot go to court to speak for themselves. We have to speak for them. “Not until we extend the circle of compassion to include all living things shall we ourselves know peace.” - Rev. Dr. Albert Schweitzer

Typical hedonistic of human beings to invoke their might on the defenseless and helpless. This is why we of "Conscience" need to speak up and be the voice for the voiceless.

Money is more important than life. It buys stuff we don't need or sometimes even use. It's just being able to get the stuff that makes us high. It's the status of being able to show off those mounted heads. Makes it look like we traveled far and risked great danger to kill an animal. Looks good on the wall. We relish dead things, inanimate things, flashy things. People will envy us and look on us as though we're more special or important that most everyone else. It's the game of accumulation and status. To make the connection between the furs, precious gems, meat, etc. and the suffering and fear a living thing endured so that we could have these things, doesn't compute. It's unpleasant to think about so we just block it. We'll walk right past a homeless person lying on the street, assuming they're just lazy and want to live that way. We'll hit an animal on the road and keep on driving. We just don't give a damn. We're not really connected to anything or anyone else. And if we don't believe in any kind of life after death, so much the better. We'll answer to no one. We'd better be sure that's the case.

First paragraph of this article says it all - animals should not be private property owned by anyone.

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