Foreign animals also get Endangered Species Act protections

3:00 PM, Mar 28, 2013   |    comments
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Fort Myers (News-Press) -- The lesser slow loris hunts at night, using its huge eyes and strong hands to capture and crush insects. Weighing about a pound-and-a-half, this loris doesn't have a tail but does have a grooming claw, a specialized nail found in certain primates that is more spike-like than fingernail.

These nocturnal primates are found in Southeast Asian forests, but they are also found on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's list of protected foreign species. The Endangered Species Act requires that all animals, regardless of location and home range, must be considered, assessed and, if necessary, managed by this arm of the federal government.

Member nations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, met last month in Bangkok to discuss the health and population trends of endangered and threatened animals in 177 countries.

Biologists tout the program as a way to safeguard against illegal animal trafficking while at the same time cutting down on the number of invasive animals poachers try to smuggle into the United States. And while many Floridians are well-versed in animal protection and guarding against invasive species - such as the Burmese python - not everyone in Southwest Florida is pleased with the FWS foreign push and what it might mean for local animals.

Hyacinth macaws are already listed by FWS, but Hendry County macaw and parrot breeder Judy Leach said the federal government's foreign species program is comparable to prohibition of alcohol in the United States nearly a century ago, which led to the moonshine industry.

The additional layers of government protections have some local animal breeders worried that more harm than good may be done to the very animals FWS is trying to protect.

"Now you have poachers making money because it's illegal," Leach said. "Are they protecting the animals or dooming them? Every time the federal government makes something illegal, that is a boon to their (poacher's) business because now they're the only ones who bring them in."

The Florida panther, manatee and American alligator were some of the first animals protected under what is now the Endangered Species Act. Half a century later, that list has grown to nearly 1,400 animals and includes the North African addax and the ala balik, or Turkish trout. While the FWS may list animals found outside U.S. borders, the laws and regulations only apply to people under the jurisdiction of the United States.

Florida has particularly odd animal challenges as critters like Nile crocodiles are protected by some nations in which they live, as well as the United States government. In Florida, Nile crocodiles are considered an ecological nightmare as a handful have escaped to the wilds in recent years. One known specimen remains on the loose, and the state issued a rare "shoot to kill" order last year for all its wildlife officers.

The international listing process starts when groups like the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Born Free USA, Humane Society of the United States or Defenders of Wildlife files a review request with FWS's Branch of Foreign Species. From there scientists review population numbers and trends, habitat and range of the animal and work with nations in which the animal lives or did live to create a management plan that is used to guide biologists.

The ultimate goal with any endangered, threatened or species of special concern is to re-establish or grow native populations to the point where human activities no longer cause significant decline.

African lions are proposed for the list to make it more difficult for American hunters to travel to Africa, shoot the animals (which are often baited), have them mounted and shipped back to the States.

"You're looking at about 500 or more African lions imported to the United States every year at a time when the African lion population is in decline," said Adam Roberts, with the nonprofit conservation group Born Free USA in Washington. "If it is listed, an American would have to obtain a special permit and show how killing that animal is beneficial to the species in its native range."

Roberts attended the CITES meeting in Bangkok and said commercial fish species and commercial timber operations were some of the more popular topics.

Roberts said he thinks the FWS foreign species program is helping many species in other nations because it highlights the importance of the animal on a global level and it makes it more difficult for Americans to participate.

"I think there's a much greater awareness about wildlife trafficking being as profitable as gun running and human trafficking," Roberts said. "Globally, you have a much greater awareness of the problems wildlife trading can create. It used to be in Africa you had a full on verbal war over ivory trade. This past meeting you had an African nation putting the west African manatee on the list, and i think that was a huge message of collegiality.

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