Is it really better for endangered species to vanish from existence than to be hunted?

It is for Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals. For her, the bottom line is that endangered species should never be hunted. Her main concern is for the African scimitar-horned oryx. This species of antelope is extinct in the wild and flourishes only on captive-breeding ranches in Texas.

As featured in a recent 60 Minutes episode, the breeding of exotic animals in Texas is a billion-dollar industry that supports over 14,000 jobs. Each year, ranchers provide guided hunts that kill off no more than 10 percent of each herd, and the proceeds they collect from these hunts allow the ranchers to keep breeding the animals.

Leading conservationist Pat Condy estimates that there is now a population anywhere between 6,000 and 10,000 of the scimitar-horned oryx in Texas. In contrast, Friends of Animals, which does not allow hunting, has a reserve in Senegal with about 175 of these antelopes. These numbers illustrate how the economic and recreational benefits that arise from hunting provide the necessary incentives to preserve and grow this population of endangered species. Private ownership inspires stewardship for conservation and growth.

In 2005, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued a rule exempting activities associated with the captive breeding of the scimitar-horned oryx, addax, and dama gazelle from Endangered Species Act (ESA) permitting requirements. The rationale behind the ruling is that hunting “provides an economic incentive for…ranchers to continue to breed these species [which] reduces the threat of the species’ extinction.”

This went counter to the interests of Friends of Animals. As Heritage regulatory policy fellow Diane Katz reported in January, Friends of Animals successfully sued the FWS, with the result that

the court ordered the agency to force ranchers to jump the multitude of bureaucratic hoops that render the [ESA] a regulatory nightmare. Specifically, the FWS must now solicit public comment whenever a rancher (or zoo or wildlife refuge) seeks an exemption from the ESA. We know what that means: protracted delays and onerous expenses for the folks who actually save animals from extinction as opposed to, say, Friends of Animals, who are far more interested in protecting regulation than endangered species.

The court ruling poses a great risk to these species. Charly Seale, a rancher in Texas, stated that the worth of those animals since the ruling has been cut in half. He estimates that the total population of these species will begin to sharply decline over the next 10–15 years.

This example illustrates some of the problems with the ESA. According to Heritage research:

While being highly successful in violating private property rights and hampering economic activities—especially for farmers, ranchers, and loggers in the rural West and elsewhere—the [ESA] has done little to protect species. In its decades-long existence, only a very small percentage of the listed species have actually recovered or even shown any increase in their numbers.

A forthcoming Heritage report will address these and other problems with America’s major environmental regulations and will chart a forward course for environmental conservation based on the values of individual liberty and the power of free markets.

Aurelian Braun is a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit