News and notes from Hartsfield-Jackson, the world's busiest airport

Delta sued by hunter over exotic animal trophy ban

An expert in animal law has flown to the defense of Delta Air Lines after a group of safari hunters sued the airline over its ban on transporting exotic animal hunting trophies.

The Dallas Safari Club and one of its members, hunter Corey Knowlton, joined other hunting groups in suing Delta last week, arguing that the airline is "vilifying [U.S. tourist safari hunters] by refusing to transport the fruits of the hunt," including elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards and buffalo.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Texas, alleges: "Not only is Delta's embargo unconscionable -- it is illegal" because the airline "is failing to fulfill its obligations as a common carrier" and the ban discriminates against hunters. A number of safaris were cancelled, said John Jackson, president of Conservation Force, a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Delta declined to comment on the suit.

Earlier this year, a petition on Change.org asked Delta, the only U.S. airline serving South Africa directly, to stop transporting exotic animal hunting trophies. The petition was filed by Chris Green, a Delta Diamond Medallion frequent flier who has since become the executive director of the animal law and policy program at Harvard Law School.

This week, Green responded to the lawsuit in a letter on the Change.org petition page, writing that public response to the lawsuit "will confirm to Delta Air Lines that it did exactly the right thing by listening to the majority of its customers," adding that "Delta should be commended for sticking to its principled stance." The post generated hundreds of comments in support in less than 24 hours.

The airline initially responded that it was in compliance with U.S. and international regulations. But in August, in the wake of the outcry over the notorious killing of a lion known as Cecil by an American hunter, Delta said it would ban shipment of lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo trophies as freight.

Corey Knowlton, the lawsuit says, paid $350,000 to legally hunt a black rhino in Namibia, but was unable to ship the rhino back to the United States on Delta and "had to use a different carrier."

Delta's embargo appears to be "motivated by a desire to placate a noisy and ill-advised group of Facebook posters," according to the lawsuit. The suit also contends that Delta's ban jeopardizes the conservation benefits of tourist hunting.

After Delta banned exotic animal trophies as freight, Sandy Springs-based shipping giant UPS declined to implement such a ban.

On Tuesday, UPS spokeswoman Susan Rosenberg said, "We choose not to ban legal items because we don't want to take on the role of regulator, inspector, compliance agency, when the respective country has legal customs authority." In the past five years, UPS has "only had 19 shipments" of wild or domesticated animals from Africa, she said.

Her comments echoed a statement by the company after Delta imposed its ban: “There are many items shipped in international commerce that may spark controversy. The views on what is appropriate for shipment are as varied as the audiences that hold these views."

Reader Comments ...

About the Author

Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi covers airlines and the airport.