Guns and Gear

Texas hunting ranchers fight for right to save African antelope species

A court case filed by one animal rights group may cause three endangered species to become extinct.

The three species of African antelope — the scimitar-horned oryx, the addax and the dama gazelle — are already nearly extinct in their native Africa. But they are thriving on the plains of Texas, mostly on ranches where hunters pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of hunting them.

For decades this practice has meant roughly 10 percent of the herd on any given ranch is culled annually, with the proceeds allowing the ranchers to continue to feed and breed these animals.

But animal rights activists generally oppose all hunting, including hunts on exotic game ranches. They have successfully sued to have it stopped, and now the ranchers are faced with a dilemma: How do they continue to support animals which they have no economic reason to keep, but are prohibited from killing?

Since 2005 an exemption to the Endangered Species Act has allowed ranchers to raise the three species, and hunters to stalk them, without a special permit. In all, Texas ranchers had about 1,800 of the animals in 2004. With the exemption in place, those numbers swelled to more than 17,000 by 2011.

CBS News aired a “60 Minutes” feature story about the controversy on Jan. 29. Priscilla Feral, president of the animal rights group Friends of Animals, told correspondent Lara Logan that she has waged a seven-year legal battle to get the exemption overturned.

Feral won. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a new regulation, scheduled to go into effect on April 4.

On that date, the agency says, “the three antelope species will be treated the same as all other captive-bred endangered species in the United States. Individuals in the United States who possess these three antelope species and wish to carry out otherwise prohibited activities, including interstate or foreign commerce, import, export, culling or other forms of take, must obtain a permit or other authorization from the Service.”

Addax on a Texas game ranch (Christian Mungall, courtesy of
Kyle Wildlife LP and the Exotic Wildlife Association)

Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Vanessa Kauffman told The Daily Caller that the permitting process is neither difficult nor expensive, and said her office is moving to expedite the permitting process for the ranchers.

The ranchers disagree.

Exotic Wildlife Association executive director Charly Seale, a game rancher himself, told TheDC that while the permitting process is not particularly expensive — just a few hundred dollars — it involves a difficult and lengthy process.

“It’s not expensive. It is arduous,” he said. “One permit is seven pages, the other is two pages. Under perfect conditions where every ‘T’ is crossed and every ‘I’ dotted it’s taking six months to get the permits.

“This is our private property,” he insisted. “We shouldn’t have to fill out even a half-page permit to do what we want with our property.”

Petitioning the government is just the beginning. In a time when animal rights groups are increasingly litigious and vocal — and, some say, dangerous — permit applicants’ personal information is also made public.

“You have to put your full name and address on them,” Seale said. “They put you in a registry where every animal rights wacko out there knows who you are.”

Darren LaSorte, who manages government affairs issues for the National Rifle Association, agreed that hunters’ safety is bound to be a problem when the government publicizes their names and addresses. The first hunter who took a wolf when hunting was reopened in Montana, he said, had “animal rights wackos bombard” him with threats.

The government maintains that the Friends of Animals court case forced its hand, but LaSorte said it was nothing of the kind.

“We believe they could have waited until the appellate case ran its course,” he told TheDC. “Knowing that this was going to be appealed, they should have waited until the appellate court had its say.”