On April 4th, in a victory for scientists and animal
protection groups, the U.S. District Court has denied the
government's motion to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the
granting of import permits for imperiled argali sheep trophies
by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
The Fund for Animals, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Earth
Island Institute, Argali Wildlife Research Center in Mongolia,
former USFWS scientist Ronald Nowak, and Mongolian
scientists Sukh Amgalanbaatar and Zundui Namshir filed the
suit a year ago, charging that the permits issued by the
USFWS to trophy hunters violate the Endangered Species
Act and other rules specific to argali sheep. The plaintiffs
also argue that the government has illegally failed to issue a
timely final rule listing the sheep as an endangered species
throughout its range in Asia.
The argali sheep is the largest species of wild sheep in the
world, weighing 210-310 pounds, with massive spiral horns
up to 75 inches long and 20 inches in circumference. The
species has experienced a significant decline in habitat and
range, due to factors including domestic livestock
encroachment on their habitat and hunting by foreign trophy
hunters, including U.S. citizens. The argali is currently listed
as endangered throughout most of its range, but only as
threatened in the countries of Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, and
A decade ago, the USFWS issued a special rule setting forth
stringent conditions that would have to be met before
import of argali trophies from those countries would be
allowed, and the USFWS proposed changing the listing from
threatened to endangered because of increased concern for
the survival of the species. Many years later, the proposed
rule is still outstanding. Remarkably, despite the prohibition
on importation, the USFWS has granted more than 550
permits for the importation of argali trophies into the U.S.
According to Michael Markarian, Executive Vice President of
The Fund for Animals, "It is unconscionable that hundreds of
animals in this imperiled species have been killed simply so
wealthy American trophy hunters can add more heads to
their collections. The USFWS has acted illegally and
irresponsibly by granting hundreds of import permits, by not
soliciting public comment, and by leaving this proposed rule
in limbo while the argali population continues to decline."
Added Dr. Ronald Nowak, former USFWS scientist, "The
government claims it has no money to list additional species,
yet it has thrown away legal expenses and limited resources
to fight against its own responsibilities under its own
regulations and to benefit a small, privileged constituency.
The USFWS has created a grotesque parody of its old
endangered species program."
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