The Monster Rests

The Monster Rests

rhinoNPR’s fuzzy wuzzy reporting in the last few days about the northern white rhino is high school journalism. I’m not suggesting that this story needs the due diligence of Jared Kushner’s Russia contacts, but what is an important battle between science and performance NPR has reduced to a smiling emoticon.

NPR reported as if it were new a crowdfunding campaign for in vitro fertilization to save the last three known surviving northern white rhino. In fact the campaign has languished for more than sixteen months. And there are good reasons it’s languishing.

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Blast Away!

Blast Away!

LemurFriday the European Union announced an emergency program to slow the decline of African predators that will focus on mitigating the human/wildlife conflicts that are at the center of this problem.

It’s a pitifully small sum of money, less than $15 million, that I wonder may already have been spent in just creating the working groups, research, guidelines and publications that resulted in the announcement Friday. On the other hand, I really like their approach.

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Dog Dangers

Dog Dangers

wilddoghuntAfter a decade of successful recovery by a worldwide effort to save wild dogs they are threatened once again.

Enough habitats have been secured and enough bred in the wild and reintroduced that except for one obstruction, they would currently be thriving. That one obstruction is human: farmers whose stock has been taken down.

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People or Wildlife?

People or Wildlife?

angry villager fight eleIt’s immoral to support saving wildlife at the expense of saving people. It’s that simple and today in Kenya I realized first-hand this travesty.

It begins with climate change. Surely you notice weather is changing where you live, and I’ve often explained that the developed world is more capable of adjusting to this than the developing world.  But when you feel compelled to assist efforts to mitigate climate change in the developing world, shouldn’t you consider the people who live there rather than just the wildlife?

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Year of the Jackal

Year of the Jackal

jackalskilledFile “science as scandal:” For a long time South Africans have culled heavily in their national parks even as many scientists vociferously argued against doing so. Now it seems that in some kind of warped tolerance if not outright trickery South African officials managed a big cull of jackals… to prove that culling jackals doesn’t work!

Why would they cull to prove culling doesn’t work? Well, that we don’t know. What we do know is this:

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Elephant in The Room

Elephant in The Room

elephantintheroomCOP17, the CITES treaty working group, is winding down like a firecracker with the biggest boom possibly yet to come. Southern African countries prevailed in a bitter fight to keep all elephants from being listed as imminently going extinct, and the fight over lions begins today.

CITES was absolutely fundamental in saving elephants from extinction 30 years ago. But times have changed. Has it lost its power to politics?

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CITES Senses

CITES Senses

elephantgraphsMore than two thousand ardent scientists and advocates are in Johannesburg today preparing for next year’s CITES. Historical treaties like the Geneva Convention may actually effect our daily lives more noticeably but only CITES has attracted such global consensus that enforcement is aggressive and routine.

Today horse trading like you’ve never seen is going on, but in the end unlike so much else in today’s troubled world, everybody really will come together.

Sound nice? Yes, it is, but there’s still this one thing….

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Be Careful What You Support

Be Careful What You Support

raisedtobekilledWild animals in Africa are threatened as never before by western hypocrisy.

Thursday two wildlife organizations, Panthera & WildAid, announced a “Cecil Summit” to plan the allocation of $1.25 billion raised annually to save the lion. This campaign is as absurd as it is distasteful, a stunt playing on good people’s feelings and essentially unmasked by its own hypocrisy.

Cecil was a trophy lion killed by a Minnesota dentist last year which brought to public attention the horrors of “canned hunting,” raising and containing captive lions specifically to be shot for sport.

The public reaction to the story of Cecil was extensive: The U.S. slapped new restrictions on lion hunting and United Airlines forbid future transporting of lion trophy parts were just two of many such actions reflecting widespread public outrage.

Donations flooded into wildlife organizations.

All this was well and good. Lions are in trouble. The world’s top lion researchers concluded in October that the population has declined 43% in the last 21 years down to around 20,000 remaining individuals. This excellent study, however, becomes nearly as hypocritical as the “Cecil Summit” when it analyzes the causes.

The study concludes that “indiscriminate killing in defense of human life and livestock, habitat loss, and prey base depletion” are the three principal causes.

Put into simpler terms: human/wildlife conflict and habitat erosion.

That’s fine and they should have ended it there. Instead, in what can be considered nothing short of pandering to African governments and rich westerners at home, the study further claimed that “trophy hunting can … be a tool for conservation but also a threat, depending on how it is regulated and managed.”

Anyone with a tiny bit of experience in Africa knows that in areas outside southern Africa the regulation and management of trophy hunting has been a joke for years. Ping-ponged between authoritarian decisions easily swayed by bribing, to flawed policies imposed by the World Bank, trophy hunting in Tanzania for example has been a corruptible mess for generations.

This duplicitous analysis takes it right from high science into abject hypocrisy.

Imagine you’re an African businessmen or farmer, the family’s breadwinner. Imagine a lion killing two of your cows. Imagine having four children and sixteen grand children with only one child having gainful employment and living next to a wilderness area with lots of bushmeat.

Now imagine that as you try to survive, by getting rid of the lion that’s killing your cows or going out to your backyard and trapping a wildebeest for food, that wildlife officials paid by Panthera or WildAid find you, fine you and imprison you … while a rich Texas businessman is blowing animals – including lions – to smithereens and pasting his trophy pictures all over the internet.

There’s little difference between canned hunting and “wild” hunting, or as it is more egotistically called, “trophy hunting.” You kill an animal. One is a bit tamer than the other, so easier to kill certainly, but the act is exactly, precisely the same.

Canned hunting is simply a more honest version of wild hunting. Each time a lion is shot there is one less lion, and that is not conservation.

Why can a rich Texan break the law? How do you explain this to the businessman or farmer trying to survive?

You can’t. And when you try to, your whole mission is impugned in hypocrisy.

No Longer a Trophy

No Longer a Trophy

pheasanthuntSports hunting impedes conservation and may contribute to species extinction.

The Democratic staff of the House Natural Resources Committee says so in a press release issued a few days ago about their 25-page report, “Missing the Mark.”

The report infers that the killing of Cecil, the lion, was an inflexion point in U.S. legislators’ positions on sports hunting and concludes that “trophy hunting” as currently regulated threatens big game and derails conservation.

Lawmakers won’t dare say this yet about wolves or bobcats, and they can’t say it about deer or wild turkeys, and of course it wouldn’t apply to “canned hunts” of so-called wild pheasant or cats on private reserves. But the reasoning is sound, and the reasoning is easily applied to the hunting of all living animals.

It’s reasoning that I came to slowly over a number of years of working in Africa. I believed for most of my life that big-game hunting contributed to African conservation.

Completely protected areas (like national parks) were surrounded by hunting reserves which seemed to create a “buffer” against poaching in the completely protected area. Revenue from hunting was significant and notably greater than those assessed tourists.

Both those dynamics changed in the last 15 years. Big-game countries like Tanzania began hither-and-yon designations of where hunting could occur and made it even more complex by giving some authority over hunting to several different local authorities which often competed with federal laws for the same turf.

The anti-poaching buffer no longer exists.

Although the costs of big game hunting declined with the massive increase in demand – especially from America and Russia – government revenues from it were eclipsed by new taxes on tourism. Sports hunting is no longer considered a significant contributor to the government treasury while non-hunting tourism is.

There are many excellent scientific studies to this effect, some of which are quite old, but not until now are they getting the look they deserve.

I have to admit somewhat sheepishly that it was these two phenomena – the collapse of anti-poaching zone buffers and the diminution in government revenues from trophy fees – that led me away from my benign support of big-game hunting for so many years. Once released, though, I honestly recognized that I’d been pushing the moral argument into the deep background.

Isn’t that often the case? The questionable morality of something becomes revealed over time, when enough experience proves it true?

Last December the Obama administration listed lions on America’s Endangered Species Act and this has began a worldwide movement to do so on CITES’ list as well. Since December, any American who goes to Africa to hunt a lion could be in violation of federal law, and even those careful hunters who follow now difficult regulations paint themselves as anti-conservationists.

Frankly, I now embrace the notion that hunting almost anything can’t contribute to conservation and in our current fragile world is actually contributing to wide-scale species decline. Let me explain.

Hunting wolves and bobcats is lunacy, a political allowance that should be immediately stopped. There’s too much science to prove this.

Hunting deer (and waterfowl) now carries the stigma of immorality, but may be unstoppable. Deer populations have been managed for sports hunting for so many years in the United States that hunting may now be, unfortunately, linked to the animals lifestyle and likely, survival.

Canned hunts of lion in private reserves here and in Africa, or such canned hunting as for pheasants, has always struck me as immoral and pointless.

We have a lot of problems on planet earth and many wonderful organizations working to remedy or mitigate them. It’s time that more people like me come out of the closet and admit that sports hunting does not contribute to conservation and that it actually hastens that species decline.

It’s no great leap from that to conceding that sports hunting is immoral.

Wildly Good News

Wildly Good News

goodnewsdogWild dogs are on the rise throughout sub-Saharan Africa and there is probably no better marker species for the overall health of the wilderness. Hey. This is a very good news story!

Together with a number of wildlife organizations reporting significant decreases in poaching, I think it’s fair to say the African wilderness has taken a great turn for the better.

Wildlife organizations began acknowledging the comeback of the dogs since the beginning of 2015, but many of us guides noticed it several years earlier.

Check out my “OnSafari” blogs for the last 4-5 years and you’ll see an amazing account of wild dog sightings. Dogs are “definitely back” and maybe even better than they historically were.

Wow! So what does that mean. Well if it’s true, it could be that dogs are filling in the gaps being left by the definite and serious decline in lions. Filling such an important gap at the top of the food chain would be a critical need of the overall wilderness.

The story of the dogs’ comeback also gives us a good indication of what methods for conserving the wilderness work best.

Last week a sixth pack of wild dogs was released in the northwest Serengeti to great fanfare. This is in such marked contrast to only a decade ago when wildlife organizations had to keep secret their work in saving the dogs, because local farmers and businessmen so hated them.

So that’s the first big change: people in the area no longer express such animus to dogs as they showed only a short time ago. That doesn’t mean that ranchers don’t get awfully mad when a dog kills domestic stock. With government and wildlife organization funds to fairly compensate ranchers that have lost stock to dogs, though, many fewer ranchers are retaliating.

To mitigate the problem of more well educated Africans and not enough jobs, a number of “wildlife” organizations have dedicated serious resources to the social plight of Africans. Wildlife Works created 85 jobs in an area with a fragile peace between people and game.

“The key to preserving wildlife here is human relationships,” explains Wildlife Works’ Amy Lee in an op-ed published in the New York Times last week. Her organization is now the third largest employer in Kenya’s wild Rukinga district, and Amy credits this fact with saving the wilderness and wild dog in particular.

But there is also a real sense that the dogs are taking less domestic stock. The dog take less domestic stock because there’s more wild stock for them. Again this could be a reflection of the serious decline in lion, dog’s most aggressive competitor. But there is also a healthy increase in hyaena, and the total increase in dog and hyaena seems greater than just filling a gap left by lion.

That means the entire ecosystem must be improving. The persistence of organizations like the Frankfurt Zoological Society to continue reintroducing dogs over the last 30 years has finally paid off.

Finally a number of subtle social/wildlife collaborations all around the Serengeti have proved enormously beneficial.

A group of American zoos led by Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo continues an aggressive campaign to freely inoculate Maasai pet dogs against common diseases that surround the Serengeti. I’ve written before about this highly successful program.

Wild dogs, being more inbred than pet dogs, easily succumb to common dog diseases. This program has the added benefit of pleasing the people who surround the wilderness.

It’s always hard to tell a conservation success story: We worry that it will lower our vigilance. We know how fleeting it can be and with climate change how unpredictable now the tools that we’ve developed for monitoring and improving are becoming.

But at least for the moment, give yourself a pat on the back!