Texas Exotic Hunts Are Dangerously Unregulated

Some hunting ranches in Texas routinely offer hunts of endangered or threatened exotic species. This should not be allowed.


Addax antelope for $8,000, scimitar-horned oryx for $7,500—both endangered species advertised as available to hunt at a private game reserve in Texas as of April 2024. The scimitar-horned oryx, a species declared “Extinct in the Wild” 24 years ago, was reintroduced into Chad’s Ouadi Achim Faunal Reserve in February 2023 thanks to conservation breeding programs but is still listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).  Another species currently listed as “Extinct in the Wild” (the Pére David’s deer, originally native to China) is also available to hunt, according to information posted online by Greystone Castle Sporting Club in Mingus. 

Greystone Castle, an hour and a half drive west of Dallas, describes their resort online as the “premier luxury hunting lodge in Texas.” In April 2024, its website offered fully guided tour packages, premier accommodations, and “exotic hunts”; however, its descriptions of 30 available species did not disclose that several are facing declining populations and extinction threats in the wild.  At least two—the Addax antelope and the scimitar-horned oryx—remain on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. A spokesman for the ranch did not respond to a phone call and subsequent email requests for comment for this article. 

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) requires protection of endangered and threatened species regardless of the species’ country of origin, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Federal law prohibits actions that may further the decline of IUCN-listed species

Despite ESA protections, trophy hunting ranches can legally offer opportunities to shoot and kill threatened or endangered species, thanks to a loophole in federal law (created by U.S. Representative John Carter, a Texas lawmaker) that exempts certain animals popular on hunting ranches, Jennifer Best, the wildlife program director of the nonprofit Friends of Animals told the Texas Observer. The nonprofit more recently submitted a rulemaking petition that urges the FWS to close the loophole, but that remains pending, Best said.   

More than 1,000 captive trophy-hunting ranches operate in the United States, most of them in Texas. The FWS makes no effort to track the number of threatened and endangered exotic animals hunted on those ranches. An industry estimate published in the 2010s approximated over 11,000 scimitar-horned oryxes, 5,000 addaxes, and 800 dama gazelles, as well as thousands of other threatened and endangered animals. Many exotics offered to hunters were born and raised on the same Texas ranches, prompting Lauren Loney for the Humane Society of the United States to tell Texas Monthly in 2021: “Captive hunting is an egregious form of animal cruelty. The line between wild animal and livestock is very much blurred here”. 

In 2020, the Observer reported that some endangered species are now more common in their Texas enclaves than in their native lands. Decades ago, another private ranch participated in sending some animals back to their home country in an attempt to establish breeding populations; however, this specific circumstance does not excuse unregulated exotic hunting of imperiled species. 

For some fans of unique hunting opportunities, pursuing rare species is an achievement on their “bucket list.” In contrast, for many traditional hunters, participating in the eradication of a threatened or endangered species violates established ethical hunting practices.

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Texas has a longstanding history of hunting, cultivating a culture of recreational competition. Conservation and preservation of wildlife in the Lone Star state is funded by hunting, fishing, and weapon equipment sales. According to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD), 100 percent of hunting and fishing license fees and Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration allocations provide funding for conservation efforts. Participation in Texas exotic hunts requires either a standard resident or nonresident special hunting license. Although hunting licenses and equipment purchases provide funding for wildlife conservation, private sporting clubs receive tremendous profits outside of federal and state systems that do not recirculate to wildlife conservation. Private landowners control 94 percent of statewide land, resulting in limitations on officials’ ability to protect wildlife habitat. 

Under Texas law, it is illegal to hunt what are considered “dangerous” exotic animals, such as lions, tigers, and elephants. Outside of those few exceptions, state law does not prohibit the killing of other exotic animals, even for some threatened or endangered in their home countries. 

According to TPWD, “On private property, there are no required means and methods of take, state bag or possession limits, or closed seasons (hunting hours) on exotic animals or exotic fowl.” Although a hunting license and landowner permission is required to hunt exotics, lenient regulations create gray areas that transgress federal protections of foreign species. 

Private game reserves in the United States should adhere to the protections afforded to domestic endangered species or at the very least, be required to advise hunters about which species are threatened or endangered. To avoid impairing the extensive efforts of wildlife biologists, conservationists, and other professionals working to help secure the fate of these species, individuals should hunt with discretion, and consider the conservation status of each species. 

Hunting bans and legal protections in the United States,  Kenya, and Ethiopia for the endangered Grevy’s Zebra have allowed for recent population increases, offering support for collaborative efforts to safeguard endangered species. Hunting sustainably, ethically, and legally is how sport hunting should operate. To effectuate conservation-friendly exotic hunting in the United States, exotic hunting for nonthreatened species can continue; however, policies regulating privately owned threatened game species should be issued. The sooner protections for endangered exotics go into effect, the stronger the possibility the species can recover. Hunting ranches in Texas or elsewhere in the United States should simply not offer the opportunity to kill endangered or threatened species. Following a hunting ban for all affected species on private property, private owners could seek compensation by selling IUCN Red Listed exotics to captive breeding recovery programs that are legally permitted to propagate endangered species.