Why List Foreign Species?

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) to list species as endangered or threatened regardless of which country the species lives in. Benefits to the species include prohibitions on certain activities including import, export, take, commercial activity, interstate commerce, and foreign commerce. By regulating activities, the United States ensures that people under the jurisdiction of the United States do not contribute to the further decline of listed species. Although the ESA's prohibitions regarding listed species apply only to people subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, the ESA can generate conservation benefits such as increased awareness of listed species, research efforts to address conservation needs, or funding for in-situ conservation of the species in its range countries. The ESA also provides for limited financial assistance to develop and manage programs to conserve listed species in foreign countries, encourages conservation programs for such species, and allows for assistance for programs, such as personnel and training.

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How does a species become listed?

The listing process may begin in two ways—through a petition from a citizen or an organization, or through the Service's annual assessment of candidate species. The ESA provides that any interested person may petition the Secretary of the Interior to add a species to the list or to remove it from the list. Through the candidate assessment process, Service biologists identify species as candidates for listing.

For a detailed description of the listing process, see the "Listing a Species as Threatened or Endangered, Section 4 of the Endangered Species Act" factsheet.

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How many foreign species are listed under the ESA?

The number of species in foreign countries listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA changes as we add or remove species from the list. View the current list of threatened and endangered species in other countries.

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What activities does the ESA prohibit?

Except by regulation or permit issued for specific purposes consistent with the ESA, it is unlawful for any person subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to:

  • Import into and export from the U.S. listed species.
  • Take—which includes harassing, harming, pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding, killing, trapping, capturing, collecting, or to attempting any of these—of listed species within the United States, its territorial waters, or on the high seas.
  • Possess, sell, deliver, carry, transport, or ship listed species taken in violation of the ESA.
  • Sell or offer for sale in interstate or foreign commerce; or deliver, receive carry, transport, or ship listed species in interstate or foreign commerce in the course of commercial activity.

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Does that mean that a U.S. citizen or resident may hunt an endangered species or a threatened species in another country?

The ESA does not prohibit hunting listed species outside of the United States. In fact, the ESA does not have the authority to do so. While foreign countries determine whether hunting an endangered or threatened species within their boundaries is lawful, the ESA does regulate the importation of such species.

To import a trophy of a listed species, a person is required to obtain an import permit from the Service's Division of Management Authority. Since the purpose of importing a sport-hunted trophy is for the hunter's personal use, an import permit may only be issued if the import is for purposes that enhance the propagation or survival of the species. While the Service does not regulate take (i.e., hunting) in foreign countries, the import of listed trophy species may only be shown to enhance the species if it is taken from a well managed and supported conservation hunting program. It should be noted that the Service has only authorized the importation of endangered trophy species under very limited circumstances. In addition, some threatened species may be imported without an import permit if there is a special rule under the ESA that allows such an activity.

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In addition to the Ecological Services Program, does the Service have other programs that deal with international species?

Yes. Foreign endangered species are primarily managed under the International Affairs Program (IA).

IA promotes, facilitates and supports vital conservation efforts across the globe. The primary tool for achieving this is through empowering local people by building their appreciation for and capacity to conserve wildlife. Governments, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, and communities play an instrumental role in program delivery and success. Since 1989, the Service has provided more than 4,200 grants for international conservation totaling nearly $283 million.

IA also ensures that international trade in plant and animal species is sustainable and based on sound biological understanding and principles. This is accomplished through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as well as various U.S. laws. In response to ever-increasing pressures of wildlife trade and habitat loss on species worldwide, IA dedicates effort to conserving species at risk from over-exploitation for trade and implementing policies that have a broad impact on wildlife conservation overall.

The Service's wildlife inspectors are the nation's front-line defense against the illegal wildlife trade—a criminal enterprise that threatens species worldwide. These professional import-export control officers ensure that wildlife shipments comply with U.S. and international wildlife protection laws.

Stationed at the Nation's major international airports, ocean ports, and border crossings, wildlife inspectors monitor an annual trade worth more than $1 billion. They stop illegal shipments, intercept smuggled wildlife and wildlife products, and help the United States fulfill its commitment to global wildlife conservation.

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What is the difference between listing a species under the CITES and under the Endangered Species Act?

CITES is a multinational agreement through which countries work together to ensure that international trade in CITES-listed species is legal and not detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild. To ensure sustainable use, Parties (member Nations to CITES) regulate and monitor international trade in CITES-listed species—that is, their import, export, and re-export—through a system of permits and certificates. CITES lists species in one of three appendices—Appendix I, II, or III.

Species listings under CITES and the ESA involve different processes and standards. Listing a species in Appendix I or II requires a two-thirds majority vote of the CITES parties that the species meets the CITES listing criteria, including whether it is affected by trade or may be so affected. Listing a species under the ESA is done through a U.S. public rulemaking process based on ESA listing criteria.

A species may be listed under CITES or the ESA or both. There is no direct correlation between the way a species is listed under CITES and the way it is listed under the ESA. A species listing of CITES Appendix I and II is not the same as an ESA listing of endangered or threatened. For examples, the Asiatic black bear is listed in Appendix I of CITES, but is not listed under the ESA, and the African wild dog is listed under the ESA as endangered, but is not listed by CITES.

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What international cooperation has helped endangered or threatened species?

The Service does not have jurisdiction in other countries, and, therefore, cannot directly regulate activities that may be threatening these species. Conserving these species depends on the affected communities; however, there is often a conflict between conserving a species and providing for the needs of the community. For example, as human populations expand into remote areas, natural habitat for animal species may be cleared and destroyed for agricultural purposes. As the species? range is compressed, the animals may wander into villages and damage crops. People may kill the animals to protect their crops, and people may be killed trying to fend off the animals. Also, these communities often don't have the financial or personnel resources to protect their species and habitats. Conservation actions that balance the needs of the species and the needs of the community are needed. This may involve actions such as incorporating cultural beliefs of the local community into a conservation plan, setting up protected areas, providing socio-economic planning, and educating and training the local people. 

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What are the challenges for saving these species?

The Service is the lead federal agency for the development of international wildlife conservation grants and capacity building. International Affairs administers funds to protect some of the world's most iconic species, including elephants, great apes, marine turtles, rhinos, and tigers. They also work to mitigate the most severe and emerging threats to globally-valued endangered species found outside U.S. borders. Funds support surveys, monitoring, anti-poaching measures, public awareness campaigns, resolution of human-species conflict, habitat protection, and conservation capacity building. Most projects have a local or regional scope, and are performed in species range countries by diverse local and international partners.

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What can I do to help?

You can donate to the Multinational Conservation Funds through the Service's Division of International Conservation. The Multinational Species Conservation Funds support the protection, conservation and management of these species and their habitats. Your donation to the Funds helps to conserve populations of elephants, tigers, rhinos, great apes, and marine turtles in their natural habitats.

You can also join or support any conservation organization supporting endangered species abroad.

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We provide national leadership in the recovery and conservation of our nation's imperiled plant and animal species, working with experts in the scientific community to identify species on the verge of extinction and to build the road to recovery to bring them back. We work with a range of public...
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