There is a dangerous new attack on the trade in wildlife, including hunting trophies, game meat, and live animals, and Safari Club International (SCI) needs the help of everyone in the hunting and conservation community to fight back.
Animal rights groups have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to stop all imports, exports, and interstate shipping of wild mammals and birds, whether the animals are alive or dead. The Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council asked USFWS to impose this countrywide ban, citing concerns about the transmission of animal-borne diseases to humans. These groups are trying to exploit the tragedy of the Covid-19 pandemic to achieve their personal goal of shutting down the legal, regulated international trade in wildlife without scientific support and at the expense of the countries, communities, and people who rely on this trade.
“SCI has started its own petition to counter this misguided and potentially destructive request made to the USFWS,” said W. Laird Hamberlin, CEO of SCI. “SCI will not sit by and let these groups present a false narrative. You can support SCI by adding your name and making sure the Service knows you oppose the animal rights groups’ request.” That petition is found online at https://p2a.safariclub.org/djltdzs.
Using the above-cited fears related to the Covid-19 pandemic, these animal rights groups are trying to stop the import and trade of trophies into the U.S. from Africa, Canada, or anywhere else. At the same time, they want to halt the export of live or legally harvested wildlife from the United States. This would mean that antlers, game meat, and live animals could not be taken from the U.S. to Canada, Europe, or any other nation.
If acted upon by USFWS, this misguided petition would cripple the U.S. and international hunting industries, which are already suffering greatly from the Covid-19 pandemic. It would cut off essential funding for wildlife conservation and management funding, which comes directly from hunting fees and the sale of hunting-related goods.
“The petition would also shut down the sustainable, commercial use of wildlife, which has helped bring species back from the brink of extinction,” Hamberlin added. “Simply put, adoption of the petitioners’ request would be devastating for both humans and wildlife.”
The petition by the two animal rights groups relies on the alleged origin of the Covid-19 pandemic as coming from a wildlife “wet” market to justify an across- the-board ban on the import or export of mammals and birds. While SCI certainly supports responsible controls on live wildlife trade to ensure human safety and the welfare of the animals themselves, the petition improperly seeks to take advantage of the global pandemic to completely ban legal, regulated trade in all mammals and birds, both alive and dead. The petition relies on zero data to support its proposed blanket ban, especially with respect to imports of wildlife products.
The petition to USFWS also disregards the fact that the products of already- harvested wildlife are subject to strict controls and inspections before they ever enter international trade. Those existing safeguards are ignored so that the animal rights groups can pursue their radical ideological goals of shutting down the legal, regulated international trade in wildlife. These safeguards make wildlife trade one of the highest-regulated industries worldwide and ensures best practices for humans and wild animals.
Meanwhile, similar proposed bans have been strongly criticized by experts and community leaders. These experts include four scientific researchers at Great Britain’s University of Oxford who argued against just such a shutdown on international wildlife trade in their article “Coronavirus: why a blanket ban on wildlife trade would not be the right response.” That article was published on the website “The Conversation,” a nonprofit, independent news organization dedicated to unlocking the knowledge of experts for the public good.
The University of Oxford researchers note that such calls for widespread, all-inclusive bans on wildlife trade over Covid-19 concerns “are unfeasible because they overlook the complexity of the wildlife trade. The COVID-19 outbreak should not be used opportunistically to prescribe global wildlife trade policy. A more appropriate response would be to improve wildlife trade regulation with a direct focus on human health.”
As the article noted, enforcement of such bans is near impossible. In many instances, the trade would undoubtedly go underground and therefore operate without any current regulations and safeguards. More importantly, such bans would also cause huge economic problems for the people who rely on wildlife for their livelihoods and economic security.
Additionally, an open letter sent to the World Health Organization and the United Nations Environment Program by over 300 signatories asked both organizations not to support such wildlife trade bans. The signatories of the letter included scores of African- based conservation and community organizations. As the letter read, “Wet markets (not all of which sell wild meat) provide invaluable food security; billions of people worldwide trade or consume wild meat and rely on wildlife use for livelihoods, while diseases are transmitted from livestock as well as wildlife.”
The petition could devastate hunting in many countries that rely on legal, regulated hunting to fund and sustain their national conservation programs. Hunted species are already highly regulated, with safeguards and laws in place to ensure ethical and healthy practices for both the animals and hunters. These controls are monitored and administered by local, state, national, and even international wildlife authorities. For hunting trophies in particular, most exports are accompanied by veterinary inspection certificates. For species of conservation concern, import or export permits ensure the trade is legal and sustainable and must prove benefits to the hunted species.
Some of the largest threats to wildlife and biodiversity are habitat destruction and illegal poaching. For rural communities that live alongside wildlife and use scarce natural resources, there must be an incentive to protect habitats and local biodiversity, which often comes at a great cost to their livelihoods. Hunting and the sustainable use of wildlife resources create massive revenue and livelihood incentives that encourage habitat protection and reduce illegal poaching or retaliatory killing.
Adoption of this petition sent to USFWS would be devastating for both humans and wildlife because it would effectively erase those incentives for wildlife species and wildlife conservation by blocking off one of the world’s largest import markets. Fortunately, the petition request made by the above-mentioned animal rights groups is not legally supported by the Lacey Act of 1900, a U.S. law that combats the trafficking of illegally taken fish, plants, and wildlife, or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, the two major laws governing wildlife. But despite the lack of legal or scientific support, the petitioners and similar organizations who value their ideology over the well-being of wildlife and people will undoubtedly continue to seek to obtain greater restrictions on legal, regulated wildlife trade.
“SCI will continue to fight against this petition and any similar attacks on sustainable-use conservation,” Hamberlin vowed. “SCI truly is First for Hunters, and we will vigorously oppose all such attacks on hunting and wildlife conservation in the United States and across the globe.”