Yesterday, an article published by the Reuters News Agency should raise more than a few eyebrows. In summary, the article showed that via “charitable contributions” traders could gain exemptions to US Fish and Wildlife Service regulations restricting or banning imports and exports of species listed on the US Endangered Species Act.
While not mentioned in the article, we are all aware of a licence given to Corey Knowlton to shoot an endangered African Black Rhino in Namibia. Facilitated by the Dallas Safari Club and the Namibian Government, a “donation” of $350,000 was supposedly paid to the Namibian Game Products Trust Fund (GPTF). The last public audit for the GPTF was published for 2008/2009 and revealed considerable funds supposedly used for conservation was diverted to other activities. Corey shot the rhino as recorded by CNN and the USFWS granted an import permit. Precedent was established by a lesser-known US hunter (David Reinke) who previously killed an endangered Namibian Black Rhino in 2009 for a similar “conservation” contribution to GPTF and was also granted an import permit.
But back to the Reuters article. It would appear that the USFWS hands out permits like cookies. Reuters states that “In the last five years, the vast majority of the 1,375 endangered species permits granted by the Fish & Wildlife Service involved financial pledges to charity…”
The article, rightly, shows that a “pledge” does not translate to actual funds. But the “pledge” seems sufficient to have a permit issued?
More importantly, what “charitable organization” would accept a “pledge” to allow movement of endangered penguins to a Florida theme park? What charity would accept a $10,000 donation to allow sending tigers from South Carolina to Mexico to participate in a movie? Who are these charities and what do they contribute to conservation of species in the wild? How do such contributions match their mission statements? Also concerning is that the USFWS, while issuing permits, does not confirm that the donations to charities, often located outside the USA, are “worthy” recipients and whether monies were received and in any way allocated to responsible conservation projects.
No wonder that Congressman Bredan Boyle (Democrat, PA) serving on the House Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committee called on the USFWS to halt the practice. We would urge the Congressman to go one step further and initiate an investigation to determine what charities received what funds, whether such charities are legitimate entities, and how such received funds were meaningfully applied to realistic conservation of the endangered and threatened species identified on the USFWS permits.
And as financial benefactors of this “scheme”, the charities should come forward to admit participation in what seems essentially a system to give permits for money? Or accept to be later named and shamed in a follow-up investigation?