- Associated Press - Thursday, March 20, 2014

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - A new federal law that took effect this week makes it easier to hunt endangered African antelope that are raised on Texas ranches and have become a lucrative market for breeders and others.

The measure introduced by U.S. Rep. John Carter, a Republican from Round Rock, eliminates two federal permits that once were required for three species of antelope in Texas. The total cost of the two permits - one needed to register the animals and the second to hunt or sell them - was $700.

The antelope are native to North Africa where hunting and habitat loss have greatly diminished their numbers, according to the Austin American-Statesman (http://bit.ly/1dg09JJ ). The three species that have been bred for years on Texas ranches are the scimitar-horned oryx, addax antelope and dama gazelle. The antelope, prized for their horns and meat, were listed as endangered in 2005 under the Endangered Species Act and have long been the subject of a fierce struggle between an animal rights organization, Friends of Animals, and supporters of the hunting ranches.

Carter argues Texas ranchers now will be motivated to breed more antelope because they can profit from them through hunts.

“This law opens the door for owners and ranchers to handle their own herds, including selective harvesting, without the federal government stepping in with burdensome regulations that could ultimately be detrimental to the growth of these breeds,” Carter said.

But critics say there’s no basis to claim that hunting the animal will lead to a growth in their numbers.

“You ask the congressman if he has one scientific report anywhere that shows the hunting activity of captive animals has contributed to the success of restoring wild populations,” said Michael Harris, a lawyer for Connecticut-based Friends of Animals.

Texas ranches have bred the antelope by the thousands. As long as they raised some of the creatures for conservation, they could sell others to hunting ranches, some of which offered the public a chance to hunt them at prices of up to $4,000 each.

But that changed a few years ago when a judge sided with environmental groups that argued the animals shouldn’t be killed without a permit. The ruling prompted the legislation introduced last year by Carter.

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Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com