Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 26, 2021


Tanya Sanerib, (206) 379-7363,

Lawsuit Launched Over Dismal Pace of Foreign Wildlife Protections

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity announced its intent today to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to propose Endangered Species Act protection for 19 foreign wildlife species. The species, which include five butterflies, 13 birds and a clam, are parked on the Service’s “candidate” wait list, where some have lingered unprotected for over 30 years.

In early August the Service acknowledged that all 19 animals warrant Endangered Species Act safeguards but claimed protection for them was “precluded” by other agency work. The agency added only one foreign species to the ESA and removed none during the fiscal years of 2019 and 2020. But when the agency had a similar budget under the Obama administration it averaged five listing actions a year. Despite conservationists’ hopes that the Biden administration would clear the backlog, the Service has protected only two foreign species since President Biden’s inauguration.

“Perpetuating the Trump administration’s snail pace of protecting foreign wildlife is unacceptable for the Biden administration in this global extinction crisis,” said Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center. “Beautiful, unique butterflies and birds are facing extinction without the protection of the Endangered Species Act, and we won’t sit by while they languish on a government waitlist. At least 20% of wildlife in trade goes to the United States so it’s imperative we don’t trade them into oblivion.”

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

Scientists predict the world will lose a million species in coming decades without urgent, transformative action to combat habitat loss, overexploitation and other threats. There are more than 600 foreign species covered by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The Act helps to protect foreign endangered species by banning their sale and import, increasing awareness and providing financial assistance.

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 its listing “warranted” in 1984. Yet the woodpecker has lingered on the “warranted but precluded” list for more than 35 years.

Fluminense swallowtail: A beautiful butterfly with a tiny range near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this swallowtail’s 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’s notoriously hard to monitor. The Service received a petition to list the swallowtail in 1994 but has not yet proposed protection.

Black-backed tanager: This colorful bird with a turquoise breast and reddish head lives in Brazil, where 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: Native to 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: A ground-dwelling bird, the southern helmeted curassow 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 more than 25 years.

Jamaican kite swallowtail: This blue-green and black beauty is Jamaica’s most endangered butterfly. It’s 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: A mostly black butterfly with beautiful white and rose-red markings, this swallowtail survives 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.

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