Pangolins & African elephants one step closer to ESA protection

A petition to list African elephants and a petition to list all unlisted species of pangolins under the US Endangered Species Act both warrant a status review. Photo: © Scott HurdTomorrow, the US government will issue “90-day Findings” on two technical petitions that IFAW partnered in drafting and filing. 

And it’s good news for both: The US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) found that both a petition to list African elephants and a petition to list all unlisted species of pangolins as Endangered under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA), warrant a status review; in other words, it’s an acknowledgment that additional legal protection may be warranted for the species in both cases, based on the evidence presented in the petitions.

The ESA is the premier tool in the federal toolkit for safeguarding wildlife, whether that’s a domestic species like the bald eagle or grey wolf, or exotic animals (or their parts) that are brought to the United States to be sold as meat, pets, or other products like ivory.

By listing wildlife under the ESA, the government can restrict activities like over-hunting or trade that can be pushing these species towards extinction.

Wednesday’s decision means that both pangolins and elephants have cleared the first – but a significant – hurdle in the listing process, which will hopefully ultimately result in more comprehensive legal safeguards for these imperiled species. 

The pangolin petition focuses on the seven unlisted species of pangolins, and was filed jointly by IFAW, Born Free, Humane Society of the United States and the Center for Biological Diversity.  Currently, the Temminck's pangolin—one of the four African species—is the only species of pangolin listed under the ESA, and with many of the other pangolin species also in dire straits due to poaching, the time for an Endangered listing is overdue.

The African elephant petition was filed jointly by IFAW and the Humane Society. 

The USFWS decided to consider it in conjunction with a second petition, filed by the Center for Biological Diversity shortly after IFAW/Humane Society filed theirs, which may indicate their willingness to consider a broader scope of issues in the final decision, such as whether forest and savannah elephants should be treated as two distinct species. 

African elephants are currently listed as Threatened under the ESA, and the USFWS is in the midst of finalizing regulations that would cut down on the ivory trade and trophy hunting – but loopholes in the new rules may still allow the United States to contribute to the poaching crisis, and the science clearly supports even stronger measures to protect these iconic animals; a successful endangered listing could provide such protections.

I am encouraged by these findings. They show that the US government is taking notice of the grave situation that is affecting pangolins and African elephants.

I am also optimistic that once the US Fish & Wildlife Service conducts their investigation of the biological status of and threats to these species, they will provide both elephants and pangolins with the protections they need.


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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