WASHINGTON (CN) - Of requests for status changes for 29 species, only 16 merit further review, including African elephants, pangolins and bumble bees, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed rule. The Wednesday action, known as a 90-day petition finding, includes recommendations on petitions to list, delist, uplist or reclassify 29 species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
For the 16 species that will receive status reviews, 12 are petitioned for listing under the ESA, three are delisting petitions, and the African elephant is petitioned to be uplisted from a threatened species to an endangered species, and reclassified as two species, the forest elephant and the savannah elephant.
The agency was petitioned on behalf of the African elephant twice, once by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Humane Society International, Humane Society of the United States and the Fund for Animals in February 2105, then again in June 2015 by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). The agency's finding addresses both petitions together.
"Although CBD requested that the listed African elephant be reclassified from a single species (Loxodonta africana) into two separate species, the forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) and the savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana), a taxonomic change is beyond the scope of our initial 90-day finding, and we will instead consider whether such a change is warranted as part of our status review and 12-month finding for the species," the agency said.
Elephant populations have been decimated by the ivory trade. Even though tusks and teeth of several species, such as walrus, hippopotamus and whales, are used for ivory, it is elephant tusk ivory that is the most desired, according to the agency.
African elephants were listed as a threatened species under the ESA in 1978. A moratorium on the import of African elephant ivory was established in the United States in 1989, but the population has continued to decline. After a 50 percent population drop over a ten year period, the species was moved to Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1990, according to the agency.
"Poaching levels continue to pose an immediate risk to the survival of African elephants with the overall poaching trends in 2015 showing the Africa-wide elephant populations still in decline, with serious threats to populations in Central and West Africa," a CITES finding released earlier this month noted.
According to the CBD, the United States is one of the biggest ivory markets in the world, and U.S. regulations covering the ivory trade are so complex that they still leave African elephants vulnerable to poaching and illegal trade in this country. "The Fish and Wildlife Service has made substantial progress in combating ivory trade in the United States," CBD scientist Tara Easter said. "But an 'endangered' listing would send a strong message to the international community that elephants need every protection to survive."
The other foreign species meriting further review in the 90-day petition finding are seven species of pangolin, which were also petitioned by the CBD, with Born Free USA, Humane Society International, Humane Society of the United States and the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Not as well known as elephants, pangolins are considered to be one of the most trafficked animals in the world, a trade fueled by the demand for their meat and scales, which are believed to have healing properties in Asian medicine.
"In 2014, authorities seized more than 11 kilograms of traditional Asian medicines containing pangolin, and seized an additional 460 individual medicine containers that also had pangolin parts. Our research shows that these products are sold here in the U.S. both online and in stores. Listing all pangolin species as Endangered will end the role of the United States in this harmful trade," Humane Society International's Teresa Telecky said.
The eight other species that had substantial petition findings were domestic plants and animals, including Leoncita false-foxglove, Rio Grande chub, Rio Grande sucker, western bumble bee and yellow-banded bumble bee, petitioned to be listed under the ESA, and the American burying beetle, Deseret milkvetch and Southwestern willow flycatcher, petitioned to be delisted.
The agency found that petitions for the Arizona night lizard, Arizona wetsalts tiger beetle, Bezy's night lizard, Cheoah bald salamander, Cow Knob salamander, MacDougal's yellowtops, Monito skink, Patagonia eyed silkmoth, reticulate collared lizard, South Mountain gray-cheeked salamander and southern dusky salamander do not present substantial information for a listing status, and petitions to delist the Navasota ladies-tresses and Acuna cactus similarly do not provide sufficient information.
Comments and scientific information is requested by May 16.