Issue of the Week: USFWS Changes Definition Of ‘Hunting Trophy’


Today, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published a “final rule” that has major implications for U.S. hunters. The rule affirms revisions made to existing FWS regulations that control international trade in wildlife and plants protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).  One of many revisions includes a new definition for the term “hunting trophy,” which characterizes what is and what is not considered a hunting trophy by the United States.

The old definition of hunting trophy limited what a hunter could import into the United States.  Only for personal use, a hunting trophy could be imported if it included raw or tanned parts of the hunted animal.  The import of hide, horns, teeth and other raw parts were allowed. Not allowed were any worked or manufactured items, jewelry or other utilitarian items made from the animal.  So if a hunter wanted to make something out of the hide or hair, such as clothing or a bracelet, the item could not be imported as a hunting trophy.

The new definition is very close to what CITES adopted in 2015, which reflects the definition collectively drafted by Safari Club International Foundation and The European Federation of Associations for Hunting & Conservation (FACE).  The definition is less restrictive and allows the import of certain manufactured items.  Additional language added by the FWS ensures that all parts of the hunting trophy are together in the same shipment, all items are properly identified on permits, and the number of items is no more than can be expected from one animal.  With some exceptions, the new definition gives freedom to U.S. hunters, allowing them to import whatever he or she considers the memento of their hunt.

The Final Rule and language of the new definition of “hunting trophy” can be found here: rule is effective June 26, 2014.


Some may be confused by the necessity for FWS to make this change in definition.  As a Party to CITES, the United States is obligated to change their national regulations to more effectively implement the CITES convention.  The CITES Parties modify regulations every two or three years, as necessary. Therefore, to keep pace with these changes, and to ensure that U.S. businesses and individuals understand the requirements for lawful international trade in CITES specimens, the FWS periodically updates their CITES-implementing regulations.

So what does this change in definition mean in real life?  First of all, the United States will have a definition that is aligned with the rest of the world– 180 countries will use the CITES definition.  This means less complication for exporting countries trying to abide by U.S. rules.  This also means fewer seizures at the U.S. border that result from confusion on permits.

It also means less administrative burden.  Fewer permits will be needed to ship items made from the game animal.  Fewer permits means less complication for hunters, lower cost, and hopefully reduced workloads for exporting government staff and US government border inspectors.

With lower risk of seizure and complications with importation, U.S. hunters are more likely to employ African small businesses and local people to create what they envision as the memento of their hunt.  In addition, the experience of having cultural handicrafts made from game animals, which is part of some hunting experiences, will no longer be burdened with additional required permits.

Most importantly, the new definition embraces all hunters.  Hunters live around the world.  They have various cultures and ethics regarding the harvest of an animal. Equally diverse to the men and women who hunt is what they consider a hunting trophy to be. The CITES definition was intended to be general enough to include the various perspectives of what a trophy is.  Now United States citizens, who have various heritages, can import a hunting trophy, as they define one to be, to their home state of residence.

Twice a week, SCI Foundation informs readers about conservation initiatives happening worldwide and updates them on SCI Foundation’s news, projects and events. Tuesdays are dedicated to an Issue of the Week and Thursday’s Weekly Updates will provide an inside look into research and our other science-based conservation efforts. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more SCI Foundation news. 

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