Verdict issued against rhino shooter Corey Knowlton, Safari Clubs, & coplaintiffs
DALLAS, Texas––The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on March 20, 2017 ruled that Delta Airlines is under no legal obligation to carry hunting trophies.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling against trophy hunter Corey Knowlton, who paid $350,000 at a Dallas Safari Club auction in 2014 to kill an endangered black rhino in Namibia, the Dallas and Houston Safari Clubs, the pro-hunting organizations Conservation Force and Campfire Association, and the Tanzania Hunting Operations Association.
Delta & others banned “Big Five” trophies
“Primarily at issue,” the three-judge Court of Appeals panel wrote, “is whether Delta Air Lines’ banning ‘Big Five’ hunting trophies as cargo violates federal common or statutory law, or Texas state law.”
On August 4, 2015, recited the court, Delta announced that “Effective immediately, Delta will officially ban shipment of all lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo trophies worldwide as freight.”
The Delta statement reinforced a previous policy calling for “absolute compliance with all government regulations regarding protected species,” Delta said.
Delta also pledged to “review acceptance policies of other hunting trophies with appropriate government agencies and other organizations supporting legal shipments.”
“Threatens the safari hunting industry”
Knowlton, who shot the black rhino he paid the Dallas Safari Club to kill in in May 2015, sued Delta in October 2015, alleging along with his co-plaintiffs that “Delta’s embargo threatens the tourist safari hunting industry’s entire user-pay, sustainable use-based conservation paradigm.”
Knowlton and Conservation Force also filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation, alleging they were the victims of illegal discrimination.
Dismissing the case, a lower court “concluded that, despite a duty to treat all shippers equally, a common carrier does not have to treat all cargo equally,” the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision summarized.
Discrimination complaint rejected, too
Ruled the lower court, “Delta is free to hold itself out as a carrier of some, but not all hunting trophies, even if the justification for that decision is the avoidance of adverse publicity.”
The lower court also dismissed the discrimination complaint, with prejudice, meaning that it could not be refiled.
The plaintiffs appealed the lower court verdict, but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld in entirety both the verdict and the legal reasoning behind it.
Ruling on the case were Judge Rhesa H. Barksdale, appointed in 1989 by then-U.S. President George H. Bush, a life member of the Safari Club, and Judges James E. Graves, Jr. and Stephen A. Higginson, both appointed in 2011 by then-U.S. President Barack Obama.
Ruling may help 44 other airlines
Barksdale, Graves, and Higginson stipulated that their ruling should not be considered a precedent for other cases. The arguments and legal reasoning that they upheld, however, would appear to constitute a complete defense for any of the other 44 airlines which quit accepting for transport hunting trophies of the so-called Africa Big Five––African lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, and Cape buffalo––amid the international outrage that followed the July 2015 killing of an African lion named Cecil by U.S. dentist and trophy hunter Walter Palmer at Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe.
The Cecil case also led to the passage of a New Jersey law forbidding the import or export of trophies from threatened or endangered species. Conservation Force, among the losing plaintiffs in the case heard by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, in July 2016 filed a lawsuit seeking to have the New Jersey law overturned.
First Safari Club loss since Trump took office
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals verdict against Knowlton et al was the first legal or legislative setback for the Safari Club since the January 20, 2017 inauguration of current U.S. President Donald Trump completed a trifecta of pro-hunting Republican leadership, also including majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
Notably, on February 16, 2017 the U.S. House of Representatives approved and sent to the Senate a bill by Alaska Republican Don Young to rescind the Fair Chase rule introduced by the U.S. Department of Interior in August 2016, four months from the end of the Obama administration. Every Republican in the U.S. Senate approved the bill on March 21, 2017.
Favors hunting wolves
Pertaining to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands in Alaska, the Fair Chase rule prohibited killing bear cubs and their mothers in their winter dens, and limited the use of baiting, trapping, and the use of aircraft to track and shoot bears and wolves.
Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association in an open letter to House members contended that the Fair Chase rule preempts the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s presumption of authority on national wildlife refuges.
Safari Club International and member chapters also celebrated when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on March 3, 2017 stripped gray wolves of endangered species status in Wyoming. Safari Club International was among the intervenors in the case, which allows Wyoming to introduce hunting rules permitting wolves to be hunted throughout most of the state.
Hunting permit auctions
Safari Club International is funded in large part from the proceeds from auctioning off permits to hunt rare species, selling the rights to kill 314 mammals for $2.7 million in 2015, according to a Humane Society of the U.S. analysis of posted auction information.
Financial filings from 2014 indicate that of $23.8 million total income, Safari Club International raised $14.7 million at the annual convention where most of the hunting permits were sold.
Altogether, Safari Club International claims more than 50,000 members, among more than 150 chapters. About 25,000 hunters and family members reportedly bid on the lives of 280 South African animals, among about 1,000 animals in all, at the January 2017 Safari Club International convention in Las Vegas.
On the South African hit list, along with elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards, and buffalo, were also giraffes, hippos, zebras, baboons, wildebeest, sable antelope, warthogs, greater kudu, impala, springbok, blesbok, and caracals.
All profits go to lobbying
But the highest price hunt, with bidding expected to start at $72,000, was the chance to kill a Canadian polar bear.
“All profits from the trophy hunts will go directly toward funding Safari Club International to actively lobby the U.S. government,” reported Adam Cruise of Traveler 24. “The group will hope to wield considerable influence on the Trump Administration, especially the Department of the Interior, which manages natural resources.”
“Over the past 10 years,” recently blogged Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle, “American trophy hunters have killed 5,552 African lions and brought their parts back home. From 2005 to 2014, they brought home more than 1.2 million trophies of more than 1,200 different kinds of animals.”
In addition, Pacelle noted, “Trophy hunters have killed approximately 29,000 American mountain lions within the last decade in western states, with almost all of the kills achieved by chasing the cats with packs of dogs and shooting the quarry out of trees. The five states with the highest body counts are Idaho (4,833 lions), Montana (4,407), Colorado (3,414), Utah (3,200), and Arizona (2,893).”
Trophy prices fall
But, reported Kevin Crowley of Bloomberg News on February 22, 2017, “Wildlife prices are tumbling in South Africa, as game breeders are squeezed by restrictions imposed on trophy hunting following the killing of Cecil the lion in 2015, and the worst drought on record,” which “forced farmers to sell animals.”
Assessed Crowley, “The average price of a buffalo bull fell 71%” in 2016 “according to Vleissentraal, an auction house. Prices of golden wildebeest, black impala and kudu bulls dropped 60% to 80%.”