“Three Amigos” Provision Frees Up Exotics Ranchers

January 22, 2014

High fence hunting… preserve hunting… “canned” hunting…

Whatever you want to call it, it’s a hot topic with a lot of detractors.  However, when it comes to the opportunity to hunt exotic species in the U.S., high fence is the pretty much the only game in town (with a couple of notable exceptions).  As a result of the exotics hunting industry in the U.S., several species of african and asian wildlife are well-preserved in this country, even though they’re endangered (or even extinct) in their native lands.  In Texas, for example, there are more blackbuck antelope than there are in India.  And in some cases, such as the scimitar-horned oryx which is considered extinct in the wild, Texas hosts the only significant populations outside of zoological parks.  A key reason for the successful management of these animals is that hunters are willing to pay big money for the opportunity to hunt them.

Back in April of 2012, I posted about a legal decision by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) which set some pretty tough restrictions on exotics ranchers.  The regulation change impacted ranches where dama gazelle, addax, or scimitar-horned oryx were being raised, managed, and hunted.  It required the ranchers to file detailed plans for any hunting, breeding, or culling activities and provided a 30 day time period for anti-hunting organizations to challenge the planned hunts.  At least one such organization publicly stated that they would challenge every single application.

At the time, there was a pretty big outcry from the wildlife ranchers and organizations such as Safari Club International (SCI) and Dallas Safari Club saying that these restrictions would be a setback to the conservation successes these ranchers had achieved.  If it were too difficult to run hunts, then the money raised by the hunts would dry up.  Without that money, the incentive to continue cultivating these species would decrease to the point where some ranchers simply wouldn’t bother any longer.  They argued that many ranchers would simply liquidate their herds.  Others would stop their breeding and culling operations and just let the herds decline naturally.

In my post, I challenged the most alarmist arguments.  I also pointed out that the ruling did not actually ban hunting operations.  Hunting was still available, although the opportunities to do so were limited and more expensive.  However, I agreed then (and now) that the restrictions would definitely have a negative impact on the overall numbers of these three, endangered antelope.  Since 2012, I’ve spoken to several exotics guides and operators and learned that they have definitely felt the economic pinch and indeed, several ranches have dropped the scimitar-horned oryx and addax from their listed offerings.

Dallas Safari Club claims in a press release issued yesterday that, since the rule changes in 2012, scimitar-horned oryx populations have dropped to almost half of what they were in 2010.  That’s pretty significant, especially considering that, according to the USFWS the scimitar-horned oryx went from a low of about 36 animals in 1979 to over 11,000 in 2012.  Now I know these numbers can be a little sketchy, and I’ll admit that my own research was relatively cursory, so no doubt there was probably more to the population surge than hunting ranches alone.  But there is no question that these ranches are contributing a big chunk to the conservation and restoration of these species… including projects to send animals from Texas to re-stock the native herds in India and Africa.

But the real reason for yesterday’s press releases (I got one from SCI and one from Dallas Safari Club) was to herald the signing of the 2014 Omnibus Bill, which includes a provision that exempts exotics ranchers from the Endangered Species Act restrictions… essentially returning them to the status they had prior to 2012.  While I am certainly pragmatic enough to recognize that this is primarily a financial and business victory for the exotics ranching industry, there is no doubt that it’s a positive outcome for the future of the animals as well.

So if you’ve been putting off that oryx or addax hunt because you thought you’d missed your chance… well, here’s your chance again.  And let me say for the record, that scimitar-horned oryx doesn’t just make a great mount… they’re also damned fine on the table.


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