AZA News Releases

Association of Zoos and Aquariums CEO Statement on USFWS Proposed 4(d) Rule Regarding Importation of Elephants

Silver Spring, Maryland (November 16, 2022) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today issued a proposed rule regarding the importation of wild elephants. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) President and CEO, Dan Ashe, issued the following statement in response:

“The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and its members believe that all trade in African elephants must support range country conservation programs to ensure that wild elephants have secure homes in their native lands. The rule proposed today by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) supports that belief and is a step forward.

“AZA-accredited zoos in the U.S. have imported live African elephants twice in the past two decades, consistent with our belief that legal, safe and ethical importations promote equitable access, inspire empathy and concern for elephants, and are an integral part of the elephant conservation landscape. Those imports have complied with all national and international laws, and the elephants have thrived at facilities fully equipped to provide excellent care. Moreover, trade in live elephants to U.S. zoos has, in no way, contributed to any decline in elephant populations. On the contrary, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has approved those imports and determined that they met all legal requirements and have not been detrimental to any wild populations.

“Any AZA member facilities that anticipate future live capture and non-commercial importation of free-ranging African elephants expect to be held to very high standards. Our members understand that any future importation will need to ensure that the wellbeing of the captured animals is placed above all else; ensure that populations are stable or increasing and that any proposed capture would support, not injure, the prospects for sustaining that population; ensure that the capture meets all legal requirements and is transparent to the public; and ensure that the capture is coordinated with, supported by, and beneficial to local African communities.

“We believe the proposed rule reflects these expectations. We will comment on its substance, including ways that it might be improved, but we believe our members can meet and exceed these standards.

“Killing elephants legally and importing their remains as trophies is a more difficult issue. Elephant trophies should be held to even higher standards, and the proposed USFWS rule, while it could be stronger, is a welcome and positive step forward.

“This proposed rule needs to be considered in light of the challenges that African nations, communities, and people face everyday living with elephants, especially those countries where elephant populations are growing. They need to be supported in making decisions about balancing growing elephant populations with growing human populations and often conflicting human needs, just as we need to manage human-wildlife conflicts here in America with species like grizzly bear, gray wolf, and bison. This proposed rule positions the U.S. to better support Africa-led management and decision-making. We should all support that.

“AZA will have comments on the proposed rule, but we applaud the USFWS and the Biden Administration for addressing these issues squarely and transparently through this public rulemaking process.”

Dan Ashe is the President and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and served as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director from 2011 to 2017.

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