For Immediate Release, November 19, 2021


Sarah Uhlemann, (206) 327-2344,

Lawsuit Aims to Speed U.S. Protection for Foreign Birds, Butterflies

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WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for failing to propose Endangered Species Act protection for seven foreign wildlife species. The species — four butterflies and three birds — are parked on the Service’s “candidate” waitlist, where some have lingered unprotected for more than 30 years.

“We’re suffering a global extinction crisis, but the U.S. government is still dragging its feet on protecting wildlife abroad,” said Sarah Uhlemann, International program director at the Center. “These seven birds and butterflies need U.S. help. Biden officials promised bold conservation action, both domestically and internationally, but instead they’ve kept to the Trump administration’s snail’s pace in actually protecting imperiled animals.”

In August the Service acknowledged that all seven animals warrant Endangered Species Act safeguards, but officials deemed those protections “precluded” by other agency work. Yet the Trump administration listed only seven foreign species throughout its entire four-year tenure, raising questions about why the Service couldn’t find time to work on the birds and butterflies at the center of today’s lawsuit.

With a similar budget, the Obama administration listed more than three times as many foreign species on average each year. Despite conservationists’ hopes that the Biden administration would clear the backlog, the Service has protected only one foreign species since his inauguration.

The birds awaiting protection include the Okinawa woodpecker in Japan, the black-backed tanager of Brazil and the southern helmeted curassow of Bolivia. Brazil’s beautiful Fluminense swallowtail is also waitlisted.

Scientists predict the world will lose a million species in the coming decades without urgent, transformative action to combat habitat loss, overexploitation and other threats.

More than 600 foreign species are covered by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The Act protects foreign endangered species by banning their import and sale, increasing awareness and providing financial assistance.

Today’s lawsuit was filed in federal court in Arizona.

Species Backgrounds

Okinawa woodpecker: Found only on the island of Okinawa in Japan, this woodpecker is one of the world’s rarest birds, with an estimated population of only 50 to 249 mature individuals. The species relies on old-growth forests, including forests located within the U.S. Marine Corps’ Jungle Warfare Training Center on Okinawa. Scientists requested the Okinawa woodpecker’s protection in 1980, and the Service deemed listing “warranted” in 1984. The woodpecker has now lingered on the “warranted but precluded” list for more than 35 years.

Fluminense swallowtail: This beautiful butterfly has a tiny range near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Its coastal habitat is threatened by draining of swamps, primarily for development. The species has also been found in the insect curio trade, a market that is notoriously hard to monitor. The Service received a petition to list the swallowtail in 1994 but has not yet proposed protection.

Black-backed tanager: A colorful bird with a turquoise breast and reddish head, the black-backed tanager lives in Brazil as well. Its rapid decline is likely due to habitat loss and fragmentation. It has also been found in the cage-bird trade and has been waitlisted for protection since 1994.

Kaiser-i-Hind swallowtail: Inhabiting high-altitude Himalayan regions of Bhutan, China, India and other nations, this rare butterfly is orange and iridescent green. It suffers from habitat destruction and is collected for trade, where it is highly valued. The Service received a petition to list the Kaiser-i-Hind swallowtail in 1994.

Southern helmeted curassow: This ground-dwelling bird has a large, distinctive pale-blue casque on its head and lives only in central Bolivia. The species is threatened by hunting and habitat destruction, especially as “protected” land is converted to coca plantations, and the species lacks international trade protections. It has lingered on the Service’s “warranted but precluded” list for more than 25 years.

Jamaican kite swallowtail: This blue-green and black beauty is Jamaica’s most endangered butterfly. It is threatened by habitat loss and collection for trade, with a single specimen recently selling for $178. The Service received a petition to protect the Jamaican kite swallowtail in 1994.

Harris’ mimic swallowtail: This mostly black butterfly has beautiful white and rose-red markings. It inhabits only Brazil’s coastal Atlantic Forest region and is threatened by habitat destruction and collection for the curio trade. A single specimen recently sold for $2,200. The Service received a petition to list the Harris’ mimic swallowtail in 1994.

Fluminense swallowtail. Photo by Joe Schelling. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.