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SOS Rhino : In the News : Outrage Over US Move On Endangered Species

Outrage Over US Move On Endangered Species

  The East African (Nairobi)
November 17, 2003
Posted to the web November 18, 2003

John Mbaria, Special Correspondent

CONSERVATION groups in East Africa are up in arms against a proposal by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (US-FWS) to ease restrictions on importation of threatened and endangered species as provided for in the US Endangered Species Act (ESA).

"We have written to the US-FWS objecting to the proposal," said Elizabeth Wamba, head of public affairs and campaigns officer with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in Nairobi.

This was in response to a US-FWS notice dated August 13 inviting interested parties to submit comments on the proposal. Initially, US-FWS had given interested parties upto November 17 to respond, but later extended the deadline to December 10.

In the letter to Chris Nolin, chief of the Division of Conservation & Classification at US-FWS, IFAW's regional director for East Africa James Isiche says: "The intended policy change will bring to naught all the efforts and resources that countries such as Kenya have for so many decades put into conservation of endangered species. Encouraging trade in endangered species will only intensify poaching."

Internationally-renowned conservationist Jane Goodall describes the proposal as "terrifyingly shameful and an onslaught against the ESA that could lead to more African animals being killed or captured for profit."

"This is the most outrageous of all the Bush administration's sustained attacks on the ESA because it advocates the direct killing of endangered species and thus targets the 558 species listed as endangered in foreign countries," said Block Evans of the Endangered Species Coalition in the US.

In the proposal, US-FWS argues that when the large US market for animal trophies and hides is combined with the demand for exotic pets and circus animals, it could create "positive" conservation incentives in many countries. It also proposes permission for the importation of wildlife by US nationals from countries with effective conservation programmes and plans.

"Market-based incentives" are seen in the proposal as being among the "few available means" of encouraging conservation efforts in other countries. An assistant director for international affairs in US-FWS, Kenneth Stansel, was quoted by Ecoterra International as saying that the ESA "provides poor countries with no incentive to protect dying species."

But this stand is disputed by conservationists. ESA was signed into law in the US in December 1973. Among other things, the Act severely restricts trade in the US in endangered species, including their parts, and offers protection for endangered species from many countries in the world.

What is most important for conservation in East African countries is that, besides listing over 1,700 threatened species in the US for protection, ESA extends its coverage to wildlife in other countries by listing 561 species, a large number of which are mammals.

But now the US-FWS is moving against this legislation, which bans the commercial exploitation of rare species on the grounds that US demand for these species will further deplete their numbers.

Conservationists accuse the hunting lobby, circuses, zoos and pet traders in the US of putting pressure on the US government to ease the ESA restrictions. "Currently-protected wildlife species are being put at risk to please groups like the Safari Club International," said Mr Evans. Safari Club International is a hunting advocacy group in the US that is alleged to have contributed large sums to Republican candidates running in the 2000 US elections.

Although the proposal emanates from the US, conservation groups say the implications are likely to affect African countries with strict conservation laws such as Kenya.

"It would severely impact on all nations who have endangered species within their borders," said Christine Wolf, the director of government and international affairs in the US-based Fund for Animals, adding, "Even if a nation has strict regulations prohibiting hunting or live trade, this action by the US will give even more fuel to the black market."

Countries with weak wildlife protection agencies are also at risk. A Kenyan conservationist working with great apes in Central Africa, Karl Amman, said that if the legislation is enacted, it will mean that Central Africa's efforts to protect wildlife from bushmeat trade will only end up in US sport hunters "coming and blasting them away or some animal dealer to catching them for some new safari park [in the US]."

Conservationists have also drawn parallels with an initiative by big-time game ranchers in Kenya to have the country's 1977 ban on hunting lifted.

In a hotly debated proposal, the Kenya Wildlife Working Group - an outfit that brings together top ranchers in Nakuru, Laikipia and Machakos wildlife forums - called on the government to allow the exportation of live species and officially recognise wildlife cropping as a legitimate wildlife use.

Copyright © 2003 The East African. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media