New data reveals annual increase in US trophy trade trends between 2016 and 2020

“The vast volume of hunting trophies pouring into the United States represents a massive exploitation of wildlife during a global extinction crisis.”

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Image Credit: Reuters, Siphiwe Sibeko

Trophy trade from United States hunters was on a rise from 2016 to 2020 with more than 700,000 trophies taken from numerous animals from around the globe. Including mounts, skills, skin, and teeth, data showed a steady and sizeable annual increase in trophy trade.

The data is called the LEMIS data because it is generated by the Law Enforcement Management and Information System and “includes basic information about U.S. wildlife imports and exports,” according to a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity. It was release in conjunction with a lawsuit by the Center filed by Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Clinic last fall.

“The vast volume of hunting trophies pouring into the United States represents a massive exploitation of wildlife during a global extinction crisis,” Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center, said. “Giraffes, rhinos and other imperiled animals are gunned down for trophies, along with animals from wallabies, zebras and porcupines to birds and lizards.”

LEMIS data “captures the millions of plants and animals that enter and leave the United States each year for hunting trophies, the exotic pet trade, medicinal products, fashion, décor and more. It is a unique and invaluable source of information for conservationists, scientists and members of the media,” according to the Center. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stopped the release of the data in 2014 after it had been doing so, freely, for decades.

“That the Service is now releasing these data after years of refusal shows the importance of the Freedom of Information Act to conservation advocacy,” Ben Rankin, a second year at Harvard Law School, who is taking the lead on the case for the Clinic, said. “Over two million records of wildlife entering and leaving the United States have now been brought into the public eye.”

U.S. hunting trophy imports: 2016-2020. Credit: Tanya Sanerib, Center for Biological Diversity. Image is available for media use.

While giraffes were assessed as “vulnerable” to extinction in 2016 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, 554 giraffe trophies were imported into the U.S. in 2019 and in 436 giraffe trophies in 2020, according to the Center.

U.S. giraffe trophy imports: 2016-2020. Credit: Tanya Sanerib, Center for Biological Diversity. Image is available for media use.

“While most people in the United States were on lockdown, with many living paycheck to paycheck, elite trophy hunters were still jet-setting around to kill wildlife for skins, skulls, mounts, bones, wings, teeth and feet,” Sanerib said. “These types of revelations from the LEMIS data will be key to fighting human-caused extinctions and future pandemics, and we can’t wait to have a full data set.”

While the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now releasing data for imports from individuals post-2015, it is expected to make data on imports by companies public at the end of the month. Many call the information “unique and invaluable” for conservationists, scientists and members of the media and are urging the Biden administration to closely look at the data, according to the Center.

“The Biden administration should take a hard look at how greenlighting trophy imports contributes to the biodiversity emergency,” Sanerib said.

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