Saturday, August 08, 2015

About that Lion and the Lacey Act

A lot has been said about the Minnesota dentist who killed Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe. From the perspective of this blog, the question being asked is whether the American dentist violated any U.S. laws. The short answer is that I don't know for certain whether any criminal laws have been violated.

What has come up in the trade context is whether the hunter violated the Lacey Act. Since Lacey impacts trade, it pops up in my practice and is worth a short exploration.

The Lacey Act was first passed in 1900 and is an early conservation law. As originally enacted, it protected animals from illegal hunting through criminal and civil penalties. The law also prohibits trade in protected animal and plant species that are hunted or harvested illegally.

It is a crime to import into the United States any injurious animals including brown tree snakes, big head carp, zebra mussels, and flying fox bats. 18 USC 42. Exceptions can be made for properly permitted (and dead) zoological specimens and certain "cage birds." A violator may be imprisoned  and fined.

More relevant is that the Lacey Act also makes it illegal to import any plant or animal taken in violation of a foreign law or regulation. 16 USC 3372. This is an important compliance issue for anyone that imports animal and plant products. If you happen to import wood to make violins, for example, you need to know that the wood was harvested legally. Assuming you purchase from a supplier who is a few steps removed from the actual person that cut down the tree, how can you prove that the wood was legally harvested? Keep in mind that the Act applies to derivative products as well. This is a paperwork and due diligence process familiar to importers who have to comply with lots of similar regulations. And, it is important. That is what Gibson Guitars learned when it agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a Lacey Act case.

So, what about Cecil and the dentist? The press has reported that Cecil was illegally lured out of a wildlife sanctuary. That makes the killing illegal under Zimbabwe law (at least that is what I have read). So, did the hunter violate the Lacey Act? Not yet. The Lacey Act only kicks in when the illegally taken wildlife is imported, exported, sold, or otherwise subject to interstate or foreign commerce.

The press also reported that Cecil was decapitated and skinned. I don't know much about hunting, but I do know something about spooky home d├ęcor. To me, that sounds like the hunter had the intention to mount Cecil's head and turn his pelt into a rug. Unless he has a home in Zimbabwe, that likely means he was planning to import said lion head and skin to the U.S. That, my friends, would be a violation of the Lacey Act.

It is unclear whether any part of Cecil was actually imported. So, it does not appear that there was a violation of U.S. law. Press reports also indicate that the U.S. has not charged the hunter with a violation of any U.S. law. I suspect the Department of Justice and the Fish & Wildlife Service are smart enough to ask about the present location of the remains. That's why the real issue for the dentist is whether he will be extradited to Zimbabwe for prosecution there.

1 comment:

Larry said...

A very astute reader points out that the American hunter may also have violated the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) if he failed to make a proper export filing with Census and declaration to Customs showing the exportation of his personal, non-automatic firearms and ammunition. This is covered by 22 CFR 123.17(c), which says:

(c) Port Directors of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) shall permit U.S. persons to export temporarily from the United States without a license not more than three nonautomatic firearms in Category I(a) of § 121.1 of this subchapter and not more than 1,000 cartridges therefor, provided that:

(1) The person declares the articles to a CBP officer upon each departure from the United States, presents the Internal Transaction Number from submission of the Electronic Export Information in the Automated Export System per § 123.22 of this subchapter, and the articles are presented to the CBP officer for inspection;

(2) The firearms and accompanying ammunition to be exported is with the individual's baggage or effects, whether accompanied or unaccompanied (but not mailed); and

(3) The firearms and accompanying ammunition must be for that person's exclusive use and not for reexport or other transfer of ownership. The person must declare that it is his intention to return the article(s) on each return to the United States. The foregoing exemption is not applicable to the personnel referred to in § 123.18 of this subchapter.