Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 23, 2021


Sarah Uhlemann, (206) 327-2344,

Lawsuit Challenges U.S. Failure to Protect Foreign Wildlife

Three Birds, Four Butterflies Await Urgently Needed Protections

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit today challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to protect seven imperiled animals found outside U.S. borders. The animals include two beautiful Brazilian butterflies and a woodpecker threatened by U.S. jungle warfare training activities in Japan.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has acknowledged that all seven species warrant Endangered Species Act safeguards, but the Trump administration deemed protections “precluded” by other agency work. Yet the Service listed only eight foreign species throughout the Trump administration’s four-year tenure.

“Protecting these imperiled birds and butterflies would help fulfill the Biden administration’s promise of bold conservation action, both domestically and internationally,” said Sarah Uhlemann, International program director and an attorney at the Center. “The Fish and Wildlife Service should make good on those commitments by finally protecting these seven amazing animals and all others that need the Endangered Species Act’s safeguards.”

Some of the birds in the Center’s lawsuit have been on the Service’s “candidate” wait-list for over 30 years. The birds include the Okinawa woodpecker in Japan, the black-backed tanager of Brazil and the southern helmeted curassow from Bolivia. Four butterflies, including Brazil’s Fluminense swallowtail, are also wait-listed.

Scientists predict the world will lose a million species in coming decades without urgent and transformative action to combat habitat loss, over-exploitation and other threats. There are more than 600 foreign species 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.

“As we suffer a heart-breaking extinction crisis, U.S. leadership can help save wildlife around the world,” said Uhlemann. “The Biden administration can reverse Trump’s dismal record and protect these and other deserving creatures now, before it’s too late.”

Today’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District 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. Yet the woodpecker has lingered on the “warranted but precluded” list for over 35 years.

Fluminense swallowtail: This beautiful butterfly has a tiny range near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Its coastal habitat is threatened by the 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 protections.

Black-backed tanager: This colorful bird with a turquoise breast and reddish head inhabits Brazil. Its rapid decline is likely due to habitat loss and fragmentation. It has also been found in the illegal cage-bird trade. The black-backed tanager has been wait-listed for protection since 1994.

Kaiser-i-Hind swallowtail: Inhabiting high-altitude Himalayan regions of Bhutan, China and India as well as Vietnam and Thailand, this rare butterfly is orange and iridescent green. It suffers from habitat destruction and is collected for the commercial 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-inhabiting bird has a large, distinctive pale-blue casque on its head and is found 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. This curassow has lingered on the Service’s “warranted but precluded” list for over 25 years.

Jamaican kite swallowtail: The 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 list 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 by Joe Schelling. Image is available for media use.
Okinawa woodpecker by Arco Huang. 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.

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