Cat Comp

Cat Comp

Does anybody in America realize that an elephant trampling to death a child on her way to school might be more tragic than a coyote eating a schnauzer or a bobcat taking a goldfish from the deck pond?

Bobcats are being widely hunted in America and I’d characterize it as outright slaughter with 10-15% of the population harvested annually. In Africa a global scandal develops every time an elephant is shot. How do you explain this to the parent of that African child?

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Lion Love

Lion Love

One of the hunter’s best friends on the African continent has been the South African Government. Until last week.

You might remember the dentist from Minnesota a few years back who shot the famous lion “Cecil” in a private Zimbabwean reserve. The outcry was profound, the ramifications wide. South Africa kept trying to sweep it under the rug and finally agreed to a comprehensive commission. Late last week the government accepted really strict anti-hunting regulations rcommended by the panel.

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Culling Politicians

Culling Politicians

Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe claim to have 250,000 elephants – which is a bit high – and their Heads of State met yesterday to decide how to handle “too many elephants.”

Botswana has a hotly contested election in five months. Elephants are a hot button issue in that election with the president decrying “too many elephants” and offering absolutely useless but provocative methods to reduce them. He hopes this glitzy gathering of mostly unpopular Heads of State will help his cause.

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Hours ago a Botswana government report was released recommending that the ban on elephant hunting and culling be revoked, because there are too many elephants.

“Too many” is, of course, a subjective determination. I argue vigorously that the vast majority of deer culling in the United States is wrong including most hunting, but I agree with the Botswana government that there are too many elephants. Culling might be the only answer. Hunting is not.

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Trump Cymbals

Trump Cymbals

tusks and cymbalsThis weekend the world’s largest big game hunting convention opens in Las Vegas very much as it has for each of the last 30 years. Except this year there’s one radically new component: It will be attended by the United States Secretary of the Interior with a delegation from the department in full hunting regalia.

That’s not surprising, but the agenda has shifted for this august group of officials. Unexpected meetings have been arranged to decide what to do about President Trump’s flipflopping about elephant tusks.

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Stick it to ’em!

Stick it to ’em!

elephant tusk ban rescindedHere’s the thing: we should all be upset with USFW’s reversing a ban on importing elephant tusks, but it’s not quite the story you think. As described below I could see a Hillary administration doing the same thing.

What Ryan Zinke did (please let’s stop pinning everything on the moron Donald Trump who doesn’t even know the difference between African and Indian elephants) will definitely set back wildlife conservation in Africa, but in the panoply of so many other anti-conservation actions in the last few years, it’s minor. It’s the panoply which is major, which makes every minor move that much worse.

You need to focus on the facts. Stick with me.

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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.

Broken Tool

Broken Tool

donthuntwolvesLegal hunting increases poaching and damages conservation.

Specifically, culling wolves in Wisconsin increases the illegal hunting of wolves, according to a breakthrough study published Wednesday.

Sports hunting enthusiasts from Africa to North America are wrong: regulated hunting is not a good tool for managing wildlife populations. If it once was, it’s now broken.

I once believed that big game hunting in Africa helped conservation. I listened first-hand to wannabe poachers who refused to enter the Maswa game reserve where big game hunting was sanctioned for fear of capture.

That was thirty years ago and has radically changed. Big game hunting in Tanzania became so commercial – so competitive – that it turned political and then corrupt. Good policies that regulated big game hunting thirty years ago are no longer applied. Bush meat poaching in Maswa is now widespread.

Understandably, African government attitudes towards hunting and conservation are often linked to foreign aid and tourism. Over the last thirty years world opinion on spots hunting has moved distinctly in opposition even while the number of sports hunters increased.

So African governments are beginning to ban all sports hunting. Botswana made the decision two years ago. Kenya banned hunting in 1986.

Zambia banned hunting, then unbanned it, now is considering rebanning it, together with Namibia.

It’s not a great leap to go from the specific Wisconsin study of wolves to the broader generalization that sports hunting everywhere is hurting conservation.

The study was jointly conducted by two professors from areas with controversial wolf predation: Wisconsin and Sweden. They carefully analyzed a lot of public data collected in Wisconsin over a period that included both complete wolf protection (no hunting at all allowed), to sanctioned government culling, to proposed regulated sports hunting.

At the very least, “We’ve undermined several pillars of the argument that hunting helps conservation,” the New York Times concluded from an interview with one of the scientists.

According to the study synopsis: “We show that allowing wolf … culling was substantially more likely to increase poaching than reduce it.”

The study has already raised a lot of ire and less than a week after its publication public institutions like the University of Utah are threatening to conduct studies to counter the conclusions.

Sports hunting has become so emotional exactly because public policy became so political. It’s plausible that Bernie Sanders won’t make the finish line because of his position on sports hunting and gun ownership.

So I find it difficult to present the topic within the confines of conservation, because reactions and positions become so emotive. I find myself sucked into the political arena even though I know the overwhelming motivation should be conservation.

On the other hand if my firm belief like this study is correct, that sports hunting in a modern world hurts conservation, is the politicization simply a successful ploy to delay urgent action?

Leave the whirlpool of politics then take a careful look at this study (and others). Climate change is happening so fast, wildlife management policies are so political, that never the twain shall meet … in time.

Wolves is a perfect example. Overall public policy in the U.S. in the last conservative era has seriously jeopardized the wildlife management plans that brought wolves in North America back from the brink. Now with populations regaining some health, hunters are regaining control, just as Climate Change is gaining control.

Today, in our marred and fractured world, hunting hurts conservation.

Click or Bang

Click or Bang

NorthLuangwaThe tug between conservation and hunting has reached a crescendo in Zambia where 30 years of effort by the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) is in jeopardy.

The vast wilderness of eastern Zambia is divided into two great reserves, North & South Luangwa. Like the Serengeti some of the land at the periphery of the these national parks is used for sports hunting.

But unlike the Serengeti Luangwa can well nigh afford hunting. While it contains the richest biomass in Zambia, it’s scant compared to the Serengeti. So as tourism demand increased over the last thirty years Zambian officials correctly reduced leases for hunting.

But in the last 4-5 years tourism has declined continent-wide while there has been a marked increase in demand for sports hunting. So Zambian officials are reversing themselves and allowing more and more hunting.

The most dramatic reversal came in August, 2014.

There was an outcry from the public. This remark taken off the Zambia National Park’s Facebook page is representative:

“Trophy hunting for rich foreigners will not bring tourists to Zambia, it will deter them from coming… I can assure you, I will not visit any country which squanders its wildlife for the pleasure of a few disturbed individuals.”

Immediately the parks authority reversed the reversal, but immediately after that the umbrella state agency above tourism reversed back to the original reversal. The state of confusion has never been resolved.

I see two obvious forces at work here: The first is that sports hunting is on the increase, particularly from Russia and the United States, with very strong increases from a number of South American countries like Argentina. The revenue lost from tourism hurts. From a business point of view, it makes sense to increase capacity in response to increased demand.

But second is probably more significant: the rank confusion reigning between Zambia’s various authorities suggests corruption is rampant. Hunters tend to be quite rich and professional hunting guides are the government pay masters.

Three weeks ago the German embassy hosted a party in Lusaka to celebrate three decades of partnership between FZS and the Zambian government conserving North Luangwa.

A recent elephant survey showed that North Luangwa has the densest elephant population in the country and the most promising black rhino programs.

“I think it is fair to say that 20 years ago no one would have anticipated this development,” the project leader, Ed Sayer, told the guests.

In fairness one of the reasons North Luangwa’s elephant population is the most dense is because there has been so much poaching in the country’s other reserves.

According to Katarzyna Nowak, a South African elephant researcher, Zambia’s Kafue reserve lost almost half its elephant population to poaching since 2004.

North Luangwa is the most remote of Zambia’s reserves. That applies equally to tourists, hunters and poachers. Kafue is much more accessible.

Moreover, hunters themselves are disparaging of Zambia’s reduced game:

“…the quality [of lion and leopard hunting in Zambia] is on the decline due to hunting pressure and one needs a good deal of time to be sure of a good trophy,” writes which labels itself “The African Hunting Authority.”

Last year neighboring Botswana banned all hunting, and until then it had been a significant hunting destination.

Scraping the old barrel to get the last bit of honey out of it might just crack the barrel.

Time for Odd Bedfellows?

Time for Odd Bedfellows?

oddbedfellowsHey, conservationists! How about big game trophy hunting to protect national wilderness areas? And will you put your money where mouth is?

Africa’s asking.

I don’t know yet how I’ll answer, but I want to clearly lay out the questions for all of us.

Fact 1: For the first several years running in my entire 40-year career, wildlife numbers are declining slightly.

Droughts and wars have taken serious tolls on East Africa’s wildlife in decades past, but animal populations always rebounded quickly. Unfortunately, good data compilations are still not available since competing NGOs remain provincial and selfish with their data, but my personal sense of what is in the public domain, combined with lots of anecdotal evidence convinces me of this slight decline.

There are two main reasons for this: rapid climate change and increasingly rapid economic development.

“Wildlife in Kenya is in serious trouble with numbers declining at around 3.2% per year while agriculture [is]… increasing at 8% per year at the cost of herbaceous wild habitat,” writes Calvin Cottar of the iconic Cottar tourism family in Kenya.

Fact 2: Also for the last several years, photography tourism – the main support of African wildlife reserves – has declined while big game hunting has increased.

In South Africa, a large consulting firm called the tourism decline “unprecedented” while big game hunting has increased and claimed the tourist industry there was losing 1600 people, 4 jumbo jets, daily compared to only a few years ago.

South Africa is stable and beautiful, and what’s more, has a Rand value against the Euro and dollar that has made vacations there more affordable than ever. So the decline is absolutely not linked to African politics, stability or terrorism, despite those scandalous claims often heard.

Rather, the decline is linked to the global economy, particularly the very poor economy in Europe and the crashing economies of Asia. But even America, with a relatively robust economy and overseas tourism that is soaring more than 5%, showed a whopping 13% decline to Africa in 2014.

America’s case may be slightly anomalous to the rest of the world. We are in an election cycle with heightened concerns about security that are reaching hysterical levels. I’m absolutely convinced that the world as a whole is not deterred traveling to Africa because of “terrorism,” but Americans may be.

Yet given South Africa’s predicament – located far from any terrorism – the conclusion that African politics, stability and “terrorism” is not a significant contributor to the current decline remains reasonable.

Calvin Cottar’s resume claims that his family has been operating safaris for 90 years in Kenya. In his piece in Nairobi Destination Magazine last month, he argues that conservationists have to give strongly in two areas:

First, they’ve got to get financially involved in ways they aren’t. By the way, he’s not only arguing for us foreigners to do this, but Kenyans and African governments as well:

“Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) – the leasing of land for conservation… involves philanthropic or other entities paying local people for the use of their land … to maintain wildlife.”

Cottar implies a situation which I believe goes too far: a sort of wholesale privatization of wilderness, although he concedes that isn’t politically realistic at the moment. Moreover, he cites numbers which are staggering: “Kenya requires $700 million per year … to secure just our existing wildlife populations and habitats – or 150,000 sq kms of land.”

Yet he insists it will work, because “Our experience in land leasing for PES in the Mara is that it is 100% corruption free.”

Major red flag. Nothing in the world is 100% and when people try to support their positions with such purity, I for one am turned off. Nevertheless, Cottar’s point with regards to PES is taken.

Second, we’ve got to allow hunting, which currently Kenya does not. This is a second article in the digital magazine which follows Cottar’s, and it is attributed to him, so I’m not sure if he simply wanted to duck the radar or if it is from someone else.

Regardless, it is certainly one of the most controversial strategies that exists.

Whether it is Cottar writing the article or someone else, it is a well compiled if somewhat disorganized discussion of the morality and practicality of promoting big game hunting, in the main as a hedge against poaching while generating the funds needed to local conservation:

“And as we grope our way toward wildlife preservation and sustainability, [big game sports hunting] appears to be more of an ally than a foe.”

It’s hard to see a good outcome, here. If overall wildlife statistics are hard to obtain, statistics about hunting are even less clear and generally wildly exaggerated by both sides. But the possibility of rounding up three-quarters of a billion dollars annually to preserve what is still a small part of the current East Africa wilderness seems completely unlikely.

What do you think?

Help Lions

Help Lions

lionhuntingfunIt’s time to ban hunting lion in the wild. You can help.

Lion populations are declining drastically. My post several weeks ago provides some explanation, but I was aghast to discover that lion trophy hunting is increasing and especially from America.

Trophy hunting of lion is only one of the causes for the decline, but it is one that ought to be easily ended. “Recreational” hunting, as it’s often referred to, is appropriately named. People do it for fun.

I can’t imagine how someone considers it “fun” to hasten the decline of a species in trouble. Once I was persuaded that lion hunting in Africa contributed to its conservation, much as today duck hunters claim the same.

Whether that was true in the past or not is now irrelevant, because it definitely is not the case, today. Follow my link above to my earlier article for the scientific corroboration.

Then go to and filter to “lion hunts.” In this morning’s report you’ll find 45 accounts of recent lion trophy hunts in Africa. (The list is actually 65 reports long, but 20 of those are mountain lions in Canada, the U.S. and Argentina.)

Of those reported hunts 15 are in South Africa, 12 in Tanzania, 10 in Zimbabwe, 3 in Namibia and 6 in Burkina Faso.

These are reports voluntarily submitted by individual hunters over the last several year period, so like any social media platform, they don’t necessarily represent an average recreational hunter.

Nevertheless, it’s the only reference we have and it’s very disturbing.

Lion is listed as “endangered” in Burkina Faso by CITES, yet recreational hunters still go there to hunt them. Given today’s science, this is unacceptable.

Legislation is pending in both Canada and the United States which would ban recreational hunters from spending any money in America or using any banks in America that facilitates hunting in Burkina Faso.

Legislation is also possible that would ban the importation of any lion trophy. That is often the most effective way to stop recreational hunting.

But I suggest you lobby your representative to go even further.

Both the EU and the United States are proposing that lions be “listed” by the international treaty that protects endangered species as threatened enough that lion hunting would be stopped or massively restricted.

Although the Obama administration can move unilaterally on this, I don’t think it will. Obama’s record on conservation has been less than stellar, and given the current political climate and upcoming elections, I think that Congress must at least be moved to consider.

Tell your Congressman to support “Fish & Wildlife’s Proposed Legislation to Protect the Lion.” Ask for documentation on his/her actions.

Those of you who have been reading my blog over the years know that my personal position on big game hunting as changed. Originally I was neutral, having had positive experiences in my life time with hunters and hunting organizations that definitely contributed to conservation.

In my view that changed a decade or more ago, and with our current science on the state of the wild and rapid decreasing of our planet’s biodiversity, “recreation” should be an easy thing to eliminate to help save the world.

And lions in particular.

Ivory Ends

Ivory Ends

Only ivory can be so minutely and intricately carved yet remain so tough and durable.
Only ivory can be so minutely and intricately carved yet remain so tough and durable.
There may still be too many elephants in East Africa, but Tanzania is acting so irresponsibly with regards to increased poaching that the scales may soon tip.

This week a group of environmental organizations led by the EIA petitioned the U.S. government to withhold aid from Tanzania until elephant poaching abates.

It’s unlikely that the appeal directed to Secretary of State John Kerry will be seriously considered. Tanzania is on the front-line of the Obama administration’s war on terror, and the “elephant problem” is considered incapable of trumping “homeland security.”

The flaw in this reasoning is simplistic and ultimately fails because our homeland security policy with regards to terrorism is failing.

The explanations for Tanzania’s “elephant problem” also reveal why the country is so incredibly corrupt, why it has grossly mismanaged its treasure of natural resources including oil and gold, and why its powerful oligarchy can with abandon relocate thousands of Maasai to appease a few Dubai hunters.

Recently Dick Cheney agreed that enhanced interrogation techniques were a means to an end and were justified.

Facilitating if not outright supporting Tanzania’s corruption is also a means to an end that the Obama administration apparently feels is distant enough from public understanding to be acceptable.

I’ve often written that the elephant poaching problem is serious but exaggerated. Increasingly this year, though, the situation has grown more troubling. I hesitate to cite specific numbers, because they’re all over the place.

The EIA report looks sound to me, but I’m subsequently infuriated that they introduce it on their website with an ITN video that grossly misstates acceptable numbers. I just wish for once that these good environmental organizations working to save elephants would be more scientific and less evangelical.

London’s Guardian newspaper is probably the best resource in the world for accurate news on current elephant poaching. The Guardian contends that “Chinese demand for ivory is devastating Tanzania’s elephant.”

I agree, but what is missing from the hysteria is the fact that the growing development of Africa has enormously constrained elephant habitat in just the last ten years: not just national parks, but more importantly the vast areas peripheral to the national parks as well as the quasi protected corridors that connect distantly separately massive wildernesses to allow for elephant migrations.

These “corridors” and “donut edges” are often private land or land in trust, and demands for their development have grown exponentially. Farming, mining as well as simple village growth now impinge on what was only a short time ago elephant bush.

The tension between the needs of a growing and developing human population with the enormous amounts of land required for wild elephants is at the highest ever.

Until that tension is squarely addressed, corrupt officials will play god. Local communities engaged in ivory poaching will be given a pass, since the government is inept or incapable of giving them work, instead.

This is the real problem. Distant foreigners’ hearts may break when pictures of poached elephants appear on their TV screen. The world should continue to encourage China’s incremental movements to change a thousand-year culture that covets ivory as no other collectable.

And as the Guardian brilliantly pointed out, the disconnect between westerners’ campaign to stop endangered animal poaching and their allowance that these same animals may be legally hunted and harvested, has to be closed.

So the problem is not as simple as hysteria presents, but the problem is getting worse. It may not be the extinction of elephants that looms any more likely than the end of enough larger wild areas to support families of such a large wild animal in East Africa.

For the first time in my opinion, that is a plausible claim. Whatever the remedies, they certainly do not include ends-justify-means tests of what’s right to do.