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The law considers wildlife to be property, with the distinction being that the “owners” are state and federal governments. This means wildlife enjoys certain protections under the law, which include regulations that prohibit or permit (within limits) hunting, trapping and other taking of wild animals.
Hunting and trapping laws and regulations are generally left to individual state governments and every state has laws that govern what type of animals can be taken (exempting endangered animals), how they can be taken (rifles, bow and arrows, leaving bait) and when they can be taken (in a particular season of the year). Wild animals are also confined in private, for-profit hunting preserves called “canned hunts,” where animals who are often accustomed to the presence of humans become easy targets for the so-called hunter willing to pay the right price for a trophy.
The federal law that most impacts individual animal species is the U.S. Endangered Species Act. This law provides special protections for plants and animals that are considered threatened or in danger of extinction and regulates the “taking” of these species. International law is also concerned with the taking of trophies from animals who are not listed as “endangered” in the U.S., but are hunted in Africa or elsewhere.
The challenges facing wolves have also been addressed by both federal and state laws. Once near extinction, wolves have been bred and re-introduced back to their native habitats through conservation management plans, yet the success of these efforts has resulted in more “confrontations” with humans and livestock. Ranchers, hunters and deliberately frightened members of the public turn to legislative initiatives to allow for hunting of these animals.
Wild horses, an icon of the old west, also face challenges as the “management” of wild herds consists of rounding them up and relocating them to distant holding pens where they may be sold or adopted.
The pet trade also includes acquisition of wild animals—often dangerous wild animals.
Wild animals are also kept for entertainment purposes, such as large cats (lions and tigers), elephants, bears and even wild hogs. Some of this entertainment is illegal, such as hog-dog rodeos, but most of the time only a license is needed to use wild animals in entertainment. This is true whether the wild animals are land animals or marine mammals. While marine mammals have their own federal protections, these protections allow the continued exploitation of killer whales at marine parks throughout the U.S. Even endangered species of whales are at risk when the U.S. government conducts sonar testing in ocean waters inhabited by these animals.
NAVS makes it easy to take action on behalf of wildlife by tracking federal and state legislation and alerting animal advocates of opportunities or threats to their well-being.