WASHINGTON— U.S. hunters imported more than 700,000 trophies taken from giraffes, rhinos and many other species around the globe from 2016 to 2020, according to data newly obtained from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The data shows a steady and sizeable annual increase in U.S. trade in hunting trophies — including mounts, skulls, skins, teeth and other parts — throughout the Trump administration. The trophy trade declined only after the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
The data was released to the Center for Biological Diversity following a lawsuit filed on its behalf 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,” said Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center. “Giraffes, rhinos and other imperiled animals are gunned down for trophies, along with animals from wallabies, zebras and porcupines to birds and lizards. The Biden administration should take a hard look at how greenlighting trophy imports contributes to the biodiversity emergency.”
The data — called LEMIS data because it’s generated by the Law Enforcement Management and Information System — includes basic information about U.S. wildlife imports and exports. The 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.
“That the Service is now releasing these data after years of refusal shows the importance of the Freedom of Information Act to conservation advocacy,” said Ben Rankin, a second year at Harvard Law School, who is taking the lead on the case for the Clinic. “Over two million records of wildlife entering and leaving the United States have now been brought into the public eye.”
The data further shows that, even during the pandemic, wealthy U.S. trophy hunters were likely still traveling the globe to kill exotic wildlife. In 2019, for example, 554 giraffe trophies were imported to the United States; in 2020 giraffe trophies dipped only slightly to 436 specimens imported, despite a raging pandemic.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature assessed giraffes as “vulnerable” to extinction in 2016.
“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,” said Sanerib. “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.”
The agency freely released the LEMIS data for decades until it stopped doing so in 2014, prompting two U.S. courts to order the disclosure of earlier data. The Service is only now releasing post-2015 data for imports by individuals; data on imports by companies is expected at the end of March.