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Here's one way to protect endangered species: Don't let their trophy heads and skins into California

Here's one way to protect endangered species: Don't let their trophy heads and skins into California
  (Kathy Willens / Associated Press)

A bill in the California Senate would prohibit the possession of trophies — including heads, parts or skin — of some of the most captivating and exotic animals in Africa. The bill, SB 1487, would cover the possession of 11 species considered endangered, threatened or vulnerable.

The state of California can't stop a misguided African government from allowing the hunting of endangered animals in its country. Nor can it stop the U.S. government from permitting the importation of these trophies. But it can discourage such hunting by barring hunters from bringing new trophies to California and keeping them in their homes or elsewhere. This bill would mean no new elephant heads mounted on walls should it be approved.

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Sponsored by Social Compassion in Legislation and introduced by Sen. Henry Stern (D-Canoga Park), the bill affects trophies of African elephants, lions, leopards and giraffes, as well as the black rhinoceros and the white rhinoceros, among other species. Most of those are listed as endangered or threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The status of the giraffe is under review by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

U.S. laws already in place govern the sale of the trophies from various animals; this bill is only about possession.

The measure would allow anyone in possession of such trophies before Jan. 1, 2019, to keep them. It would also allow trophies to pass through California, as long as they aren’t here longer than 30 days. A passel of hunting organizations has opposed the bill.

Of course, there are laws and treaties in effect worldwide that seek — with mixed results — to preserve species facing threats. Some African countries, for instance, ban the hunting of certain species.

But enough hunting takes place to make conservationists and animal welfare advocates worry for the future survival of these animals. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulates the importation of animal trophies, imposing various conditions on permits, in order to conserve species. But conservationists and advocates disagree strongly with some of the agency’s decisions. Last year, the agency stirred an outcry — even from President Trump — when it said it would lift a ban on the importation of elephant and lion trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia. Since then, the agency has decided to allow imports on a case-by-case basis. That’s troubling to many conservationists.

Hunters also argue that the huge fees they pay to hunt in these African countries go toward conservation efforts — and therefore they are actually helping preserve species. That assertion has fallen under attack by various conservation groups, which contend that hunting groups have overestimated the amount contributed to African government conservation funds.

This bill allows California to play its part in trying to protect these vulnerable animals from extinction.

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