A federal appeals court has ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cannot prohibit the release of the endangered black rhino from the eastern state of South Africa.
The agency issued a statement Friday saying the ruling “is the latest development in the ongoing litigation” over whether the government can prohibit the transfer of the critically endangered species.
The Fish and Game Service (FWS) was sued in April 2016 by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the Sierra Club, two groups that filed a federal lawsuit challenging the agency’s decision to prohibit the sale of rhino horns.
The case has been a lengthy and highly publicized one, with the plaintiffs alleging that the government’s decision was driven by political expediency.
The South African government has long maintained that rhino horn is an important food source for its native African people and rhino poaching is a global problem, according to the South African news agency SBS.
South Africa has banned the sale and trade of rhinoceros horns since 2007.
The ban was lifted in 2013 when the country signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Wildlife (CITES).
In its ruling Friday, the appellate court said that the agency was “unable to say whether there is a constitutional right to sell horns” and that “the scope of the agency authority to ban the sale is broad.”
The appeals court said the government did not “specifically allege that the horn sale would pose a threat to public health or safety” and added that the “agency’s position is based solely on the facts and facts are relevant to the agency action.”
“The fact that the rhino is in the wild does not make it less dangerous to humans or wildlife, as some have argued,” the ruling reads.
“The agency has failed to show that the horns would pose any direct threat to the public or the environment.”
The ruling is one of several federal appeals courts to reach a similar conclusion on rhino-related matters.
A federal judge in Texas ruled earlier this year that the Trump administration can’t stop the federal government from regulating the export of rhinos horns to China.
In a separate ruling in July, a three-judge panel of the U-S.
Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned the government shutdown of the federal Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and ordered the agency to re-open on Sunday.
The VA reopened on Wednesday after months of closure, following a year-long shutdown of its health care system that was triggered by the shutdown of federal health care facilities.
The VA was one of the first federal agencies to reopen after President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
The court ordered the VA to open on Saturday.
The ruling did not address the government shutting down the VA’s health care, but rather said the agency has the authority to decide whether to reopen.
A senior administration official told NBC News that the administration does not believe that the ruling will have a “material adverse impact” on the health care delivery system in the U to the VA.
The ruling came as a surprise to many, including many veterans and veterans organizations.
“We are disappointed with the court’s decision today and will be reviewing our options to take the necessary steps to ensure the health of our Veterans,” the American Legion said in a statement.
“While the court did not specifically address the possibility of a return to VA health care services, it did find that the Department of Defense has the discretion to make decisions on whether to open.”
The American Legion has been working with its veterans to provide assistance and advice to veterans affected by the VA shutdown, including access to VA clinics and health care.
The group said it plans to appeal the ruling.
Veterans groups also expressed their disappointment with the ruling and called for more action from the administration to prevent further shutdowns.
“As Veterans we are disappointed that the court has decided to strike down VA’s ability to act to protect our Nation’s veterans and their families,” said Steve Ellis, president of the National Council of Veterans of Foreign Wars.
“We remain steadfast in our mission to defend our Nation against all threats to our way of life, including from foreign aggressors and our own Government.”
The Center for Biological Diversity said in an email to NBC News Friday that it will “continue to monitor this important issue closely.”