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.

Read more

End Hunting

End Hunting

chargingeleLast month British Columbia joined a slowly growing list of governments when it banned big game hunting (of brown bears). The trend is clear and provocative. In Africa it has nearly led to civil war.

Nothing is as contentious in the challenged world of conservation as hunting. Although the majority of any population seem to have no strong opinions about it, the minorities’ strong opinions are fierce.

Read more

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 safariBwana.com 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 www.huntingreport.com 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.

Lion Realities

Lion Realities

Excellent photo by Rich Mattas on my March Great Migration Safari.
Excellent photo by Rich Mattas on my March Great Migration Safari.
Never ‘in my life’ would I have expected to be concerned about declining lion populations in Africa, but despite grossly misunderstood and badly used statistics, they are definitely in decline.

I always thought of lions, I suppose, like kitty cats: They’re ubiquitous! In fact, they are more of them than my birder friends think there should be, and where I live feral cats likely outnumber deer.

At the top of the food chain, what could possibly threaten lion?

The framing of my question reveals the mistaken notion of trying to figure out what’s happening to a wild animal strictly by what’s happening in the wild.

What threatens lions is development: people, roads, buildings, dams … all the things that make for a modern world.

Development impinges on lions directly, but by also constricting the freedom and growth of lion food – other animals – it’s a doubly whammy.

I’m astounded by the inability of research organizations to get a firm number on lion declines in Africa. It ranges from popular charities like NatGeo’s low balling to many others suggesting twice the number. Either way it’s a serious, rapid decline, but why no consensus on actual numbers?

The best researchers, like Craig Packer of the University of Minnesota, refuse to deal with the issue in the aggregate, assuring me that compiling trusted aggregate numbers is too difficult.

LionAlert was my guide for many years, but they’ve been unable to make a prediction beyond the 35,000 they published for 2012.

NatGeo among many other organizations is appealing to your pocketbook to fund their missions to stem the decline. It’s a waste of money.

Although the actual numbers in decline might not be known, the reasons are.

Craig Packer’s many scholarly articles and popular publications sum it all: His 2004 study in Ngorongoro started the news that lions were in serious decline, building on an earlier 1996 study about how lions were growing increasingly vulnerable to viruses.

By 2005 Packer had the lions in the Serengeti well understood, and it’s really on the basis of this detailed although localized research that I think we can generalize to the continent as a whole.

Subsequent reports and studies would confirm that serious human/animal conflict was the driver of decline, not just building roads.

By 2009 researchers were no longer reticent about blaming the Maasai’s poisoning of lion as a major contribution to decline in East Africa.

Don’t put too much emphasis on that, though, because it’s really all a part of the same problem. Lion attacking livestock occurs not simply because lion have decided it’s easier than pulling down a wildebeest.

It’s as much because there are fewer wildebeest and the lion’s range is declining because of overall human spread.

Maasai poisoning lion is identical to Montana farmers poisoning wolves.

This decline will not stop by contributing to NatGeo, and once again I’m infuriated by so-called conservation organizations driving their general fund with appeals of imminent catastrophe that they claim to know how to stop.

Much better to support the more difficult-to-understand but lasting attempt by Kenya to list lions as an endangered species.

That was set back this summer when efforts to do so were curtailed, in this case mostly by NRA-driven hunting groups that would be most effected immediately. As a result, South Africa – a powerhouse in determining African conservation policy but also one of the last easiest places to arrange a lion hunt – declined to support the listing.

But Kenya battles on and so should we. I can’t suggest that human development be held hostage to protecting lions. But I can definitely tell hunters to go take a walk.

Caring or Counting?

Caring or Counting?

TodaysLionScoreThe ongoing battle to “list lions” as an endangered species is heating up: notably NatGeo in an embarrassing flip-flop and FWS cowering in the shadows.

A year ago the conservation world was rattled when America’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) agreed to consider whether the African lion should be placed on America’s Endangered Species List.

It would be a revolutionary approach to dealing with the decline in lions documented in Africa over the last decade.

Revolutionary, because whatever African animal goes on America’s Endangered Species List means that CITES will definitely consider interdicting it globally as well. And among all the other ramifications, hunters would no longer be able to bring their lion trophy home, and in some cases, not even hunt them.

What is a Big Game Hunter without a Lion?
In my opinion, a Bully without a Victim.

So you can imagine what a storm that decision last year caused. Hunter organizations around the world descended on the FWS like the NRA descended on Congresspeople trying to do something about the Sandy Hook massacre.

So guess what? The normal 90-day review period that FWS imposes on itself once a decision to consider listing is made, has come and gone, come and gone, come and gone… Kudus to FWS for not yet caving, but here’s all they’re saying at the moment: click here …. not 90 days after announcing their decision to consider, but 406 days after.

I guess it doesn’t look good for lions.

Meanwhile, more and more studies are coming out trying to explain the continuing decline. I’ve written about the human/lion conflicts in increasingly urbanized Africa, about increased poisoning by farmers, and even a brilliant scientist’s study that found a virus in buffalo that lions kill to eat was migrating into lions and killing them.

One of the newest and most intriguing studies is that global warming in particular is hitting the population hard.

I imagine it’s a combination of all the above. And when a species decline is attributed to so many separate factors, it doesn’t look good. You can work on one of the problems, then another, and find in the process that the solution to one is exacerbating the other.

Whether or not hunters should be allowed to shoot lion and hang their trophy above their fireplace is, in fact, rather incidental to the problem of saving them. Relatively speaking there are so few lions shot each year compared to those dying of all the other dreaded reasons, it’s fair to recognize this as a distraction.

On the other hand, it is a moral debate that won’t go away.

When a species is in decline, do you allow a recreation that hastens it, however incrementally?

I was appalled last year when National Geographic said YES.

NatGeo has truly morphed from what it originally was. Anyone who flips to their cable television shows about Arizona cops or reality TV understands they’ve moved from caring to counting.

And that backlash that editorial referenced above caused was enormous. So today, guess what? They’ve flipped:

“Why Are We Still Hunting Lions?” a NatGeo editorial of July 31 asks, advocating an end to hunting lion and a listing by FWS.

Well, they could answer themselves with their editorial last year, but I doubt they will.

Here’s a more credible answer: The International Fund for Animal Welfare has just completed an exhaustive study that concludes that the big game hunting of lions contributes meaninglessly if at all to any form of conservation.

The report also shows that the big game hunting industry is actually supported more by hunting species like buffalo than lion, and that any obstacle for hunting lions that would result from FWS or CITES listing lion would be insignificant.

So you have your answer. It’s morally wrong to hunt an animal in decline and economically insignificant to stop hunting them.

So NatGeo, what do you say about this … now … this time?

Who Gets The Ivory?

Who Gets The Ivory?

justafewexceptionsA nasty America is emerging in response to new Obama rules to prohibit the sale of ivory within the U.S.

It’s never been fully recognized that the second largest market for ivory sales after China is the United States.

*****
EleStip: My necessary interjection whenever I write of poaching or ivory is to stipulate that I don’t believe that poaching is the most serious problem facing African conservation, today, or even elephants themselves. It’s (a) the human/elephant conflict; and separately (b), elephant overpopulation.
*****

Readers of this blog and other conservationists might not realize that there’s a huge part of America which doesn’t like conservation.

When the Obama administration first proposed the rules in February, there was a huge outcry. Hunters, musicians, retailers and rich grandmothers protested so vehemently that the rules have been toned down.

Fish & Wildlife’s new rules will not formally be implemented until June and can be continually downgraded as the public outcry increases. But I expect they will be severe enough to curtail the ivory market in the U.S.

Sales, auctions, and even gifting of preowned ivory will likely be prohibited.

The theory is that constricting the demand for something reduces its commercial value, which is precisely what conservationists want to happen with elephant tusks.

But the devil is in the detail, and while I applaud the overall move to further regulate ivory, note the alarming exceptions likely to be promulgated with the new regulations in June:
– trophies from shot elephants;
– antique ivory owned prior to 1976; and
– ivory acquired “legally” before 1990.

Those exceptions (and probably others) are so remarkably political in nature that they grossly undermine whatever morality the Obama administration is trying to evince.

It reminds me of the fact that Obama himself is the only chief executive in the history of the world to have issued a waiver to a hunter to bring a shot rhino from Africa back home.

So while the rules are severe enough to massively reduce the trade of ivory within the United States, the few exceptions are the politically powerful NRA, celebrity antique dealers and other rich well-connected families whose inheritances are now more secure.

In other words, big donors.

Worldwide, in fact, the ivory market is constricting. More and more large commercial retailers in Asia are themselves banning the sale of ivory.

This follows numerous moves throughout China over the last several years to ban retail sales of ivory.

I’m sure that these much publicized efforts have their loopholes, too, but it is discouraging that in America, far from where elephants live, the closest to the elite that rule our country and the richest and most powerful are exempt from doing what’s right.

Urgent Appeal for The Serengeti

Urgent Appeal for The Serengeti

Dear Grace & Other Careful Readers
Thanks. This blog is in error. The “petition site” (automatically) contacted me (their deadline for the petition is next week, June 1, 2014) and fed me the links that I took to be current. Fellow bloggers did the same and we contributed to each other’s errors. All the news below is one year old. As far as we know the eviction process is on hold as a result of a suit filed by Maasai leaders which is still alive in the Tanzanian courts.

Petition site organizers believe if they reach 34,000 signatures by June 1, 2014, they will continue the pressure needed to keep the evictions on hold, so please proceed reading and sign the petition. But my apologies to all my readers for syncing off by a year.

– Jim Heck


Desperately needed: your signature on and broadcast of a petition to stop Tanzania from giving away part of the Serengeti to Mideast princes.

Sign this petition and circulate it, now, now. We have little time.

Last year I reported that Tanzania President Kikwete announced that he was going to evict 30,000 Maasai from their homeland in Loliondo in northern Tanzania to enlarge an existing hunting preserve owned by potentates in Dubai and Jordan.

As with the stopped Serengeti Highway, the outcry was substantial, especially locally from the Maasai. Nothing more happened. Until now.

Presuming the resistance had died out, Kikwete announced last week the sale was going ahead.

Manipulating Tanzania’s incredibly corrupt laws, Kikwete has decided to designate this area as a “wildlife corridor” which allows hunting but forces the eviction of the Maasai.

Don’t be fooled by this sinister sobriquet. Kikwete and past Tanzanian presidents have close relationships with Mideast potentates, where most of these old politicians’ money is stashed.

This is a land grab if ever there were one.

And this time the impact is actually less on conservationists and tourists than on local Tanzanians.

“My people’s livelihood depends on livestock totally,” a prominent Maasai politician, Daniel Ngoitiko, told the Guardian. “We will die if we don’t have land to graze.”

And don’t think this means there’s a bunch of dirty nomads running around half naked chasing dying cattle. Loliondo has become an important agricultural hub for Tanzania. We’re talking about modern ranching.

Ngoitiko’s comments could just as easily be said word-for-word by any Texas rancher afraid of a government land grab.

I’m infuriated by Kikwete’s dictatorial stance on this, his total disregard for the Maasai community which is trying so hard and doing so well to modernize.

So just as they begin modern farming techniques, he drives a stake through their back forty. There’s everything in his actions to suggest he’d rather send the Maasai back to the Stone Age than help them develop.

Ngoitiko told the Guardian, “We will fight against it until the last person is gone,” he said. More than fifty local Maasai officials said they will resign if the move goes through, effectively leaving a huge area without any local governance.

In an incredibly condescending dismissal Tanzania’s minister for natural resources and tourism, Khamis Kagasheki, was then quoted in the Guardian article as saying: “If the civic leaders want to resign, they can go ahead. There is no government in the world that can just let an area so important to conservation to be wasted away by overgrazing.”

This is equally a blow to the Serengeti, which the area is contiguous with. It’s a wedge between Kenya’s beautifully protected Maasai Mara and the Serengeti National Park.

Inserting hunting this far into the area could disrupt normal wildlife behaviors.

Please help. Sign the petition and circulate far and wide.

Black, Blackie or Blacker?

Black, Blackie or Blacker?

KillToSaveTexas hunters, National Geographic, President Obama and one old hippo in the Cleveland Zoo .. My gosh, what a ‘tail to tale!’

By now you must have heard about the Dallas Safari Club’s auctioning off
a “black rhino hunt” in Namibia that fetched $350,000 … for black rhino conservation.

I just don’t get what all the fuss is suddenly about. This isn’t the first time. The exact situation happened before and the Obama administration even blessed it. No problem then. Why so much attention, now?

Do you know how wonderful the Redwood smells? I think we should start a campaign now on MoveOn to auction off a few trees from Muir Woods and then donate the proceeds to Redwood conservation.

And I think we can just keep the ball rolling, then. Based on personal experience, I’ve also always felt that if you just get rid of a few of us old farts now rather than wait for us to keel over, society would be so much more attractive!

We have entered, truly, the world of the absurd: Kill it to save it.

Yet it isn’t the first time, folks! It’s not the second or tenth time, in fact. And such lofty characters as National Geographic and the Obama Administration have been fully invested in such ideas until now.

Kill it to save it” is not a new concept. And it is the principle by which so much hunting – including in Africa – has been done for years and years.

Deer harvests are the most obvious example. Deer hunting has been a carefully regulated and nurtured social activity for six to seven generations, and today management of the deer population is a science extraordinaire. Were deer hunting to be summarily banned, there are plausible arguments that the entire population would crash.

And with a crash in one species, a panoply of similar and related species are jeopardized. Everything from their predators and scavengers (like wolves and crows) to the plants they consumer (like mustard garlic).

Of course it begs the question why hunting deer was ever nurtured then regulated in the first place. But that takes us well back into the 1800s and is such a lengthy period of human management of nature that the explanation is probably mute.

In Africa big game hunting, of which the black rhino was once an essential ingredient, was always regulated in a way that at least appeared to contribute to conservation.

Hunting reserves whether intentionally or by default surrounded the fully protected wilderness areas where no hunting was allowed. Those areas became known as the “buffers.”

Big game hunters in Africa are notoriously tyrannical. I have little doubt that when they lose their jobs they became commanders in blood diamond wars. So the “buffer” area around the national parks was policed in ways African governments could only hope could be the case inside the parks.

That protected the parks from poachers.

More to the point, people pay so much to kill a big African animal that the revenue stream into Africa was simply too much to refuse. This revenue stream was at least in part supposed to be used to nurture the fully protected parks.

This, in fact, is the argument used by Safari International. In October, though, CBC radio unmasked the real intention in a thoughtful interview of the safari auction’s lawyer. He admitted that the main reason hunters want to conserve anything is to be able to kill them, later.

Abe Lincoln once said something about being able to fool people but not always. Well, the public has been fooled for a very long time about hunting. You don’t kill something to save it.

In the current situation, the Dallas Safari Club’s most invoked second argument (after the first argument that the proceeds aid conservation) was that the rhino chosen was an old marauding male that was interfering with otherwise expected successful breeding in his community of wild rhinos.

Uncle Tom at a dashing 75 could charm the buttons off every prom girl in his community, and there were members of the family who wanted to bump him off, but we prevailed.

Don’t end this story, here. Remember that it was President Obama’s administration which was the first in the history of the Endangered Species Act and its worldwide equivalent, CITES, to issue a presidential waiver to a hunter
in Wisconsin to bring back a rhino he had killed in Namibia.

That hunter purchased his Namibian rhino hunt at a safari club auction.

The argument used by the administration was that the money the man had spent on the hunt would contribute to rhino conservation.

And more recently, National Geographic criticized attempts to “list lion” as endangered and thus stop all lion hunting, because according to this lofty magazine, hunting can contribute to conservation.

The Obama Administration’s action was abhorrent. NatGeo’s arguments were as thin as the Dallas Safari Club’s.

But it gets worse with NatGeo, because this time around they’ve criticized the Dallas auction. So add hypocrisy to abhorrence and you get absurdity.

So what do we do with old creatures no use anymore to procreation?

We do exactly what the Cleveland Zoo did for decades of agony to its budget. Yesterday, the oldest hippo in North America, Blackie, died at 59 years old.

Blackie was a pain. When I was first introduced to him he tried to attack me. Years later he just floated in an off-site enclosure that was built at great expense and tended to with the greatest care.

But he was alive. And zoos and real conservation organizations are interested in life.

The Dallas Safari Club, the Obama administration and NatGeo, seem to have more important priorities.

Important Stories for 2013

Important Stories for 2013

Important 2013 StoriesMisreported elephant poaching, a changed attitude against big game hunting, enduring corruption, a radical change in how safaris are bought and sold, and the end of the “Black Jews” in Ethiopia are my last big stories for 2013.

#6 is the most welcome growing opposition to big game hunting.

It’s hard to tell which came first, public attitudes or government action, but the turning point was earlier this year when first Botswana, then Zambia, began to ban big game hunting.

Botswana banned all hunting in December, 2012, and a month later Zambia announced a ban on cats with an indication they would be going further. Until now big game hunting revenues in Zambia were almost as much as tourism’s photography safari revenues, that’s how important these two countries are to hunting. (Kenya banned all hunting in the 1980s.)

The decision to ban a traditional industry is major. While some animal populations are down (lions and elephants) many like the buffalo are thriving, so this is not wholly an ecological decision. Rather, I think, people’s attitudes are changing.

Then in October a movement began to “list lion” on CITES endangered species list, which would effectively ban hunting of lion even in countries that still allow it. There was little opposition in the media to this, except surprisingly by NatGeo which once again proved my point the organization is in terrible decline.

The fact is that public sentiment for big game hunting is shifting, and from my point of view, very nicely so.

#7 is the Exaggerate story of elephant poaching. I write this way intentionally, to buff the hysteria in the media which began in January with a breaking story in Newsweek and the Daily Beast.

Poaching of all animals is showing troubling increases, and elephants are at the top of that list. But in typical American news style that it has to “bleed to read” the story has been Exaggerate to the point that good news like China’s turnaround is ignored and that the necessary remedies will be missed.

Poaching today is nowhere near as apocalyptic as it was in the 1970s, but NGOs are trying to make it look so, and that it infuriates me. Poaching today is mostly individual. Unlike the horrible corrupt poaching that really didn’t nearly exterminate elephants in the 1970s and 80s.

Poaching today also carries an onerous new component that has nothing to do with elephants. It’s become a revenue stream for terrorists, and the hysteria to contribute to your local NGO to save elephants completely masks this probably more urgent situation.

And so important and completely missed in the headlining is that there are too many elephants. Don’t mistake me! I don’t mean we should kill them off. But in the huge difference in the size of African people populations in the 1970s and those of today, the stress of too many elephants can lead to easy local poaching, and that’s what’s happening.

#8 is a tectonic change in the way safaris are being bought and sold.

The middle man, the multiple layers of agents inserted between the safari and its consumer have been eroding for decades. But in one fell swoop this year, a major South African hotel chain sold itself to Marriott, leapfrogging at least the decade behind that Africans were in selling their wares.

Most African tourism products are not bought by Americans, and so how safaris were are has mostly been governed by buying habits in such places as Europe. America is far ahead of the rest of the world in direct tour product buying, and the sale of Protea Hotels to Marriott signals to all of Africa that the American way is the world trend.

#9 is a depressing tale. After a number of years where Africa’s overall corruption seemed to be declining, last year it took a nosedive.

The good news/bad news flag came in September, when France’s President Hollande ended centuries
of deceitful collaboration between corrupt African leaders and the Élysée Palace.

Many of us jumped on this as a further indication of Africa’s improving transparency, but in fact, it was just the reverse and Hollande beat us to the punch. In November the European union gave Tanzania a spanking for being so egregiously corrupt.

And then Transparency International’s annual rankings came out. It’s so terribly disappointing and I’d like to think it all has to do with declining economies, but closer looks at places like Zimbabwe and South Africa suggest otherwise. I’m afraid the “public will” has just been sapped, and bad guys have taken advantage … again.

#10 is intriguing and since my own brush with “Operation Moses” in the 1980s, I’ve never stopped thinking about it. The last of Africa’s “Black Jews” were “brought home
” to Israel October 31.

A tribe in Ethiopia referred to as the “Falashas” has an oral history there that goes back to the 3rd century. Israel has always contended they were migrants from the land of the Jews, possibly the lost Tribe of Dan. Systematically, through an extreme range of politics that included the emperor Selassie, to the Tyrant Mengistu to today’s slightly more democratic Ethiopia, Israel has aided Ethiopia.

For only reason. To get the Black Jews back home. And whether they all are or not, Israel formally announced that they were on October 31.