Administrative Law-Elephant Trophy Importation Ban Correctly Survives Challenge from an International Hunting Club

By Perrino, Nicholas | Suffolk Transnational Law Review, Winter 2018 | Go to article overview

Administrative Law-Elephant Trophy Importation Ban Correctly Survives Challenge from an International Hunting Club


Perrino, Nicholas, Suffolk Transnational Law Review


ADMINISTRATIVE LAW--Elephant Trophy Importation Ban Correctly Survives Challenge from an International Hunting Club--Safari Club Int'l v. Jewell, 213 F. Supp. 3d 48 (D.C. Cir. 2016).

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international treaty that provides a framework for member nations to establish their own legislation to protect "endangered plants and animals" by regulating their international trade. (1) For American game hunters abroad, who hunted an animal for sport and wish to bring their hunted trophy back to the United States, they must comply with regulations set forth in the Endangered Species Act (Act). (2) In Safari Club Int'l v. Jewell, (3) the United States District Court of the District of Columbia was tasked with determining whether the suspension of the importation of sport-hunted elephant trophies was supported by evidence in the administrative record of the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Service (Service). (4) The Court held that the Service's decision, based on a lack of complete information regarding Zimbabwe's elephant management plan and population status reports, to suspend the importation of sport-hunted elephant trophies was not arbitrary or capricious. (5)

On April 4, 2014, the Service imposed a temporary suspension of the importation of sport-hunted elephant trophies from Zimbabwe. (6) In and enhancement finding, the Service reasoned that the ban was imposed primarily because of the government of Zimbabwe's failure to provide the Service with enough information to help determine whether importing sport-hunted elephant trophies would enhance the survival of the species. (7) Acknowledging the lack of data, the Service requested more information from the government of Zimbabwe in order finalize a decision. (8) On July 22, 2014, upon receiving documents from the government of Zimbabwe that outlined their current elephant hunting management plan, the Service issued another enhancement finding and again denied to make a positive finding that would lift the ban. (9) Finally, on March 26, 2015, after receiving even more information regarding the country's management plan from the government of Zimbabwe and several NGOs, the Service extended the ban indefinitely and issued a final enhancement finding, again expressing a lack of information to make a decision. (10)

The plaintiffs in this case, the Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association (NRA), filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to challenge the Service's suspension of imports of sport-hunted elephant trophies. (11) Plaintiffs asserted, among other claims, that the Service failed to gather enough information regarding elephants in Zimbabwe and that (1) the Service misinterpreted the data available to them when the enhancement findings were released and (2) that the trophy importation ban was irrational because of the invalid enhancement findings. (12) Safari Club International and the NRA believed the Service "ignored, rejected or discounted" information given them and asked the Court to review the Service's decision and declare the ban invalid. (13) After reviewing the parties' briefs for summary judgment, the Court ruled for the Service on all but one issue, holding the Service's decision to impose the importation ban was not "irrational, arbitrary, or capricious" because the findings were based on a rational determination of the data made available to them. (14)

The Convention was signed in March 1973 with the purpose of protecting the survival of animals, such as African elephants, involved in international trade. (15) The United States upholds the objectives of CITES through the Act and is enforced by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, and offers considerable protection to African elephants compared to protection offered in CITES. (16) As a result, the Service established the Special Rule Governing African Elephants (Special Rule), which imposed stringent regulations regarding elephant trophy trade and gave the Service power to determine when trophies may be imported to the United States. …

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Administrative Law-Elephant Trophy Importation Ban Correctly Survives Challenge from an International Hunting Club
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