The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has completely vindicated the need to ban American sport hunters from killing Zimbabwe’s dwindling elephant population. This is a positive development in the lawsuit Friends of Animals filed on Nov. 22 challenging U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s hurried, irrational decision made in November to reverse its three-year policy on prohibiting U.S. hunters from importing elephant trophies from Zimbabwe.
“This is important for Friends of Animals lawsuit because it underscores that the ban was based on solid evidence that the Zimbabwe government was not doing a good job at protecting elephants,” said Michael Harris, director of Friends of Animals’ Wildlife Law Program.
The court did, however, find that in issuing the ban in 2014, FWS failed to provide for sufficient opportunity for public participation. “While the hunting community will no doubt grasp on to this technical deficiency in the original decision to ban American elephant hunters from Zimbabwe, it in no way undermines the fact that Zimbabwe has been shown to be a horrible protector of these amazing animals and that trophy hunters are only contributing the decline of Zimbabwe’s remaining elephant population,” says Harris.
More importantly, Friends of Animals argued to the Court of Appeals that these type of “enhancement findings” must be made through a public process. Indeed, the need for public transparency is underscored by the secretive reversal of the ban under Trump, who has issued more than 16 permits to important elephant trophies from Zimbabwe. “This is something we are glad to see, because it prevents FWS from secretly reversing the ban as they have done. Now we can go to court and say that that reversal also must go through public notice.”
Also noteworthy is the court completely shut the door on the Safari Club’s repeated arguments that American hunters have a legal right to hunt elephants in Zimbabwe, and repeatedly found that the Endangered Species Act requires FWS to ‘increase’ elephant survival on the whole, taking into account the full biological and institutional context bearing on the health of the species.
Friends of Animals is an international animal protection organization founded in New York in 1957, which advocates for the rights of animals, free-living and domestic