US to approve import of black rhino killed in hunt

US to approve import of black rhino killed in hunt
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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) plans to approve within ten days a request by a hunter to import the trophy of a black rhino killed in a controversial hunt last year, according to an official email reviewed by The Hill.

Lacy Harber, the owner of a taxidermy museum in Texas, shot and killed the black rhino during a February 2017 hunt in Namibia. The black rhinoceros is considered a critically endangered species, but Namibia allows up to five of the animals to be killed in hunts each year, according to FWS.

Harber, who news reports say is 80 or 81 years old, won the chance to hunt the rhino after bidding $275,000 at a Dallas Safari Club event in 2016. He said he viewed the hunt as a way to raise money to protect the black rhino. The World Wildlife Foundation estimates there are currently fewer than 5,500 wild black rhinos left.

“I didn’t want that permit. I knew there was going to be a lot of controversy about it, but I did that to save the black rhino,” Harber told the Herald Diplomat in January.

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While Harber’s hunt was legal and his subsequent import request is authorized under U.S. law, both were challenged by wildlife groups opposed to the idea of hunting for conservation.

The Humane Society of the United States and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) fought to restrict the import of the rhino Harber killed since he first submitted a request for a permit this past January.

FWS alerted CBD last Thursday of its plans to approve Harber’s permit request within ten days.

“It’s disgusting to see federal wildlife officials giving a Texas billionaire a pat on the back for blowing away this incredibly rare rhino,” said Tanya Sanerib, CBD’s international legal director, in a statement.

“We shouldn’t be sanctioning the death of this majestic animal by allowing this trophy into the United States. The cruelty of trophy hunting simply doesn’t comport with efforts to save Africa’s imperiled wildlife.”

Both groups wrote a letter Monday to Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeAlaska oil and gas lease sale nets .5 million Former Koch adviser to oversee Interior Department's FOIA requests The Year Ahead: Dems under pressure to deliver on green agenda MORE and Acting FWS Director Jim Kurth, arguing that the permit should not be granted.

“We dispute that permits can be issued under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) for sport-hunted trophies of endangered or threatened species. Section 10 of the ESA authorizes the permitting of actions that enhance the survival of a species,2 and killing a critically endangered rhinoceros and importing the trophy clearly does not benefit the species,” they wrote in their letter.

Harber's permit request for the black rhino trophy will only be the forth FWS has granted from Namibia. Two were granted in 2015 and one in 2013, FWS told the Hill. FWS has never denied a permit application for the rhino.

FWS officials defended the practice of granting hunters the ability to import their trophies in the name of species conservation.

“Legal, well-regulated hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation," a FWS spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added that by law the agency does not allow trophy imports of certain protected species that were hunted in nations whose conservation programs fail "to meet high standards for transparency, scientific management and effectiveness."

A frequent U.S. method of limiting overhunting internationally is to limit or ban imports of the carcass or other animal parts from being shipped back to the country to be used in trophies.

Few hunters are interested in spending thousands of dollars to hunt an animal and not be able to bring the trophy home. The U.S. has implemented such restrictions on elephant trophy imports from various African countries deemed to not be in compliance with FWS measures of hunting conservation.

The Trump administration last fall overturned an Obama-era ban on the imports of elephants from Zambia and Zimbabwe, a move scorned by animals rights groups and others.

More recently, animal rights groups have called for a ban on the imports of giraffes, which some believe should also be listed as an endangered species. CBD, the Humane Society and the Natural Resources Defense Council formally threatened to sue the administration last week.

Harber owns and operates the Harber Wildlife Museum in Sherman, Texas, described on its website as what “may be the greatest, most complete collection of big game animals anywhere in the world.”

It pictures displays of various animals, including lions and a giraffe, that have been taxidermied.

This story was updated 9:10 p.m.