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International Trophy Hunting
March 20, 2019 R45615
International trophy hunting is a multinational, multimillion-dollar industry practiced throughout the world. Trophy hunting is broadly defined as the killing of animals for recreation with the purpose of collecting trophies such as horns, antlers, skulls, skins, tusks, or teeth for display. The United States imports the most trophies of any country in the world. Congressional interest in trophy hunting is related to the recreational and ethical considerations of hunting and the potential consequences of hunting for conservation. For some, interest in trophy hunting centers on particular charismatic species, such as African lions, elephants, and rhinoceroses. Congress’s role in addressing international trophy hunting is limited, because hunting is regulated by laws of the range country (i.e., the country where the hunted species resides). However, Congress could address trophy hunting through actions such as regulating trophy imports into the United States or providing funding and technical expertise to conserve hunted species in range countries.
International trophy hunting generates controversy because of its potential costs and benefits to conservation, ethical considerations, and its contribution to local economies in range states. Proponents of trophy hunting contend that the practice provides an estimated millions of dollars for the conservation of species in exchange for the hunting of a proportionally small number of individuals. Further, they argue that trophy hunting can create incentives for conserving habitat and ecosystems where hunted animals roam and, in some impoverished areas in range countries, can provide a means of income, employment, and community development. Critics of trophy hunting contend that the practice can lead to the decline of rare and endangered species and that the pathway of moving funds from hunting to conservation can be fraught with corruption and mismanagement. Further, some contend it is unethical to kill animals for sport, or at all, and that animals should not be valued according to how much a hunter would pay to hunt them.
The international community, including the United States, has laws and regulations related to international trophy hunting. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement that creates a series of incrementally more stringent restrictions on imports and exports of wildlife, depending on the sustainability of such trade. The European Union (EU) also addresses trophy hunting through regulating trade of trophies, issuing permits for trade of trophies, and suspending certain species from trade with the EU if the species is in peril. In the United States, international trophy hunting is addressed by several laws, including the Endangered Species Act (ESA; 16 U.S.C. §§1531–1543), which implements CITES. ESA does not regulate trophy-hunting activities within range countries directly; rather, the law governs what can be imported into the United States. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) regulates trophy hunting, in part, by issuing permits to import trophies of species that are listed as threatened or endangered under ESA.
Congress could address international sport hunting by regulating trophy imports and funding conservation and research activities overseas, among other options. Some activities that Congress could consider, according to observers, include
- directing the U.S. government to work with foreign governments and partners to monitor hunting practices and game species to help ensure a positive impact from trophy hunting in range states;
- creating uniform standards for evaluating trophy import permits, specifically whether trophy hunting could enhance the survival of a population as addressed under ESA or be nondetrimental to a population as defined by CITES;
- mandating that permit applications and decisions be made publicly available; and
- creating an independent third-party certification system to evaluate trophy hunting operations.
Congress also might evaluate alternatives to trophy hunting in the wild. In Africa, for example, some countries have banned trophy hunting altogether and support wildlife viewing and tourism in its place. Some countries, such as South Africa, have large, fenced game ranches where animals can be hunted in a practice called captive hunting. Some contend these operations do not allow for fair chase hunting (i.e., hunting wild animals without boundaries) or contribute to conservation, whereas others argue that they facilitate wildlife management and reduce poaching.
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