Close Endangered Species Trafficking Loophole

Target: Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Goal: End legal loophole that has permitted the trading of 1,375 endangered animals.

Over the past five years, 1,375 endangered animals have been trafficked into the U.S. due to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issuing permits obtained via a legal loophole in animal trafficking laws. This leads to the exhibition of animals that do not do well in captivity.

United States law prohibits the importation of endangered species into the country for use as trophies. However, a loophole in this law allows organizations to import them if they can demonstrate that the importation will “enhance the survival of the species.” The majority of importation applicants have met this requirement through charitable donations.

Two years ago, the Fish and Wildlife Service was sued for allowing the use of two elephants on a circus tour for the Tarzan Zerbini Circus in Mississippi. Elephants do not thrive in captivity–they are social and active animals. In the wild, they walk as much as 30 miles per day. They also gather in herds of at least six, while zoos are only required to keep two or three elephants. Because of these and other factors, captive elephants suffer from high mortality rates. The infant mortality rate for zoo elephants is 40 percent–triple what it is in the wild.

In addition, the Fish and Wildlife Service does not conduct due diligence on their applicants or the organizations they donate to. Tarzan Zerbini Circus only contributed half the money that it had promised to an elephant charity and did not raise money from its patrons as it had pledged to do. The permit for the circus was later suspended. The agency does not confirm for itself that donations have been made or that the charities they go to are worthy, instead relying on applicant documentation.

If efforts are not made to ensure applicant credibility and different species’ responses to captivity are not taken into account, then the “enhancing survival” loophole does more harm than good. Tell the Fish and Wildlife Service to shut it down.


Dear Mr. Ashe,

The loophole allowing the importation of an endangered species if it “enhances the survival” of that species must close. In the past five years, this loophole has allowed for the trading of 1,375 endangered animals. Not all of these animals are suited for the captivity. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not verify the donations allegedly made by its applicants or the circumstances of the charities they donate to. End this loophole and put a stop to the animal cruelty it causes.

The Fish and Wildlife Service was recently sued by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) for allowing the Tarzan Zebini Circus to use two elephants on one its tours in exchange for charitable donations. Elephants do not thrive in captivity. They require miles worth of space and a herd to socialize in, neither of which are available at circuses or zoos. To add insult to injury, the Tarzan Zebini Circus did not make the full charitable donation it promised nor did it raise money among its patrons as it had said it would.

The endangered species trafficking loophole imprisons animals that fail in captivity in exchange for dubious financial promises. Close it and fulfill your organization’s mission to protect wildlife.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: James Holden

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One Comment

  1. ban the fish and wildlife for issuing permits to ship sacred wildlife now.

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