As the result of an HSUS and Friends of Animals assault on a rule exempting captive U.S. members of three antelope species from Endangered Species Act prohibitions, those three species are now in jeopardy. While HSUS and Friends celebrate a success in court, the ramifications of their empty victory have undermined conservation efforts for these species in the United States. Although scimitar-horned oryx, dama gazelle and addax have either disappeared, or all but disappeared in their home ranges in Northern Africa, captive herds of the species have been thriving on ranches here in the United States, in great part due to the ranchers’ ability to sell, trade, breed and allow hunting of members of these captive populations without ESA restriction. The freedom to manage these animals has encouraged private owners to raise large herds and these animals now number in the thousands in the United States. Though, in 2005, the FWS listed the three species as endangered, at the same time the agency adopted a rule that would exempt captive members of the three species in the United States from ordinary ESA restrictions.
HSUS and Friends of Animals filed suit to challenge that rule. Their goal was to prevent the hunting of individual animals, regardless of the cost to the species as a whole. They did not succeed. The court did not find that hunting of these species was illegal and rejected HSUS and Friends’ assertions that hunting in the U.S. encouraged poaching or brought any other harm to members of the species outside of the U.S. The court also dismissed the animal rights groups’ allegations that they were in any way harmed by the hunting of the species in the United States.
The Court ruled in the two groups’ favor on only a single issue. The judge decided that the ESA does not allow a blanket exemption to endangered species prohibitions and that those who wish to hunt or otherwise conduct activities that amount to a “taking” of these three antelope species, must apply for an individual enhancement of survival permit from the FWS. The judge ruled that because the permit applications must be published in the Federal Register, the notice of the application makes it possible for individuals and groups to comment on the proposed activities.
The judge’s ruling forecasts the end to the system that has allowed the three species to increase in the United States. The additional bureaucracy and delays introduced by the application and Federal Register notice procedures will make it more difficult and more expensive for ranchers to raise these animals. More likely than not, ranchers with existing herds will no longer wish to raise and breed these animals. Fewer and fewer ranchers will keep their herds and as a result, the next few years will see a dramatic decline in the number of herds and ultimately the number of animals in the U.S. HSUS and Friends of Animals are busy patting themselves on the back over their “victory” in the courts. Ironically there is no victory for anyone. HSUS and Friends did not succeed in making hunting of scimitar-horned oryx, dama gazelle and addax illegal. They only succeeded in sabotaging an amazing conservation effort for these three species.