The United States will decide by June of 2027 whether to protect threatened leopards under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The deadline follows a lawsuit demanding closer scrutiny on African leopard trophy imports. Photo by Gernot Hensel/EPA
Feb. 13 (UPI) -- The United States will decide, within the next four years, whether to protect threatened leopards under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, according to the Humane Society which announced the new deadline Monday.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to a June 2027 deadline to decide whether to protect the leopards after a lawsuit by animal protection and conservation groups demanded closer scrutiny of African leopard trophy imports.
"The leopard is being driven to extinction by so many human-induced threats already, and U.S. hunters who kill these magnificent animals only to satiate their selfish desire for macabre trophies to display in their homes or to take selfies with their kills are only exacerbating their decline," Sarah Veatch, wildlife policy director for Humane Society International, said in a statement.
"It is critical that this iconic species receives the full Endangered Species Act protections they so separately need before it is too late," Veatch added.
In July of 2016, Humane Society International, the Humane Society of the United States and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition requesting additional protections to save leopard populations. The groups sued USFWS in November of 2021 after it failed to set a timeline. Monday's announcement of the binding deadline is part of that settlement.
"Today, USFWS finally agreed to a deadline for determining if African leopards will get increased safeguards under the Endangered Species Act," Center for Biological Diversity tweeted Monday. "As the world's biggest importer of leopard hunting trophies, the U.S. must act to protect them."
USFWS had not commented Monday on the leopard protections deadline.
The groups argue wild populations of African leopards are believed to be declining because of habitat loss, ceremonial skins, illegal wildlife trade and poorly managed trophy hunting. The United States is the world's largest importer of African leopard hunting trophies, according to the Humane Society, which says U.S. hunters imported more than half of the 1,640 globally traded leopard trophies between 2014 and 2018.
While the leopard is currently protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, leopards are currently exempt from the ESA's strictest protections.
"The government left imperiled leopards to languish in legal limbo, but now we're hoping for decisive action to protect these beautiful animals," said Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
"These iconic big cats are tanking. While we have the legal tools to help them, the government hasn't acted," Sanerib said. "With an extinction crisis looming larger than life, we need proactive wildlife protection from the Biden administration to save life on Earth."