Updated at 1:46 p.m.
A group of sport hunters have lost their bid in Washington federal court to bring home elephant "trophies" that were legally killed in Mozambique.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which grants permits for the import of animals killed during sport hunting, denied the hunters a permit on the grounds that authorities in Mozambique had failed to provide enough information to show that there was an effective elephant management plan in place.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, in an opinion (PDF) published Thursday, found that the agency had reason to deny the permits. Without "sufficient information" about Mozambique’s elephant management plan, the agency, according to policy, errs on the side of caution.
“Indeed, the record suggests that Mozambique’s conservation efforts were poorly organized, underfunded, and in no position to oversee the controlled killing of elephants,” Lamberth wrote.
The four sport hunters were represented by John Jackson III of the Conservation Force, a Metairie, La., nonprofit that served as the fifth plaintiff. The group promotes wildlife and habitat conservation, including through hunting, noting in the complaint that fees associated with hunting fund a number of conservation efforts.
Jackson, who also serves as president of the Conservation Force, said they plan to appeal.
"The Mozambique program … has a model program, set up by experts, and is considered one of the foremost programs in the world," Jackson said. "The fact that the service sat on permits for years and then when they’re sued they invent reasons to deny permits and the court lets them do it, is pretty disappointing."
A representative for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could not immediately be reached.
Two of the individual plaintiffs had shot and killed at least one elephant in Mozambique between 2000 and 2006, and the two others had filed for permits in advance of hunting trips, according to the complaint (PDF). Following what the agency acknowledged was an “extreme delay,” it denied the permits in 2006.
Mozambique lifted a ban on sport hunting in 1999. The agency decides whether to issue import permits for hunted species through provisions of the federal Endangered Species Act, which requires a finding that the import “will be for purposes which are not detrimental to the survival of the species involved.”
The total number of elephants in Mozambique is unknown – a fact the agency cited in determining that officials there lacked an effective management plan – but according to Lamberth’s opinion, the number is believed to have dropped from between 50,000 and 65,000 in 1974 to between 11,000 to 13,000 in 2002.