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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No Lone Wolves

No Lone Wolves

lone wolfNext week the House votes on a series of bills to roll back the Endangered Species Act of 1973. These are acutely, expertly crafted pieces of legislation. They will absolutely do their trick.

But interestingly if the Senate agrees and Trump signs, the effects will be devastatingly quick in Africa. A new U.S. administration might reverse the reversal fast enough – for example – to save wolves and condors and whooping cranes in America. But elephants, lions in Africa?

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The Hunting Horizon

The Hunting Horizon

neitheroneorotherAttitudes towards hunting are changing in the same way that they’ve already changed with regards to the LGBT communities. In remarkably short order hunting of all kinds may be curtailed.

This is a very widespread and expansive cultural change. It applies almost equally to sports hunting as to native society subsistence hunting and even to scientific culling. It is, in fact, the scientific community evincing the most dramatic change. The driver is climate change.

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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.

Cecil & Swales

Cecil & Swales

bloodyface.lion.dena.435.skew.apr07The killing of Cecil the lion has now been followed by the killing of Swales the guide. Both tragedies are pathetic examples of horrifically poor safari management typical of Zimbabwe. Neither would have happened in Kenya, Tanzania or South Africa.

I haven’t written about Cecil until now, although canned hunting, which was the cause of Cecil’s murder, is a subject I’ve often blogged about.

The 2013 canned hunting scandal with cable start sportsperson Melissa Bachman rattled her employer, National Geographic, so much that they fired her.

Bachman had proudly displayed a lion she had shot on a canned hunt … just like the dentist did with Cecil.

But Bachman was a celebrity. The dentist wasn’t until now, and there are literally hundreds of Americans each year who book canned hunts in southern Africa… and, by the way, in Texas.

A lion almost as famous and certainly as monitored as Cecil, named Nxaha, was responsible last week for killing the Zimbabwean safari guide, Quinn Swales.

The American media jumped on the incident as a way of recounting the interest in Cecil, but the fact is that the two incidents are quite different.

Cecil was a sanctioned, canned hunt. The bluster currently being shown by the Zimbabwean government, going so far as to “demand” the extradition of the dentist back to Zimbabwe to face trial, is absurd.

They did nothing illegal. In fact, hundreds of Americans every year sanction this kind of thing by purchasing it. It was the dentist’s poor experience as a hunter that led to the lengthy tracking of the wounded animal.

In the more recent case it was abject incompetence if not complete stupidity.

Swales was taking a small party on a walking safari, and he is clearly not the one to do so. He recognized the tracks of lion, including cubs. Multiple reports, including from his employer and Zimbabwe parks, confirm that he recognized cub tracks.

You don’t walk towards lion cubs.

But he did, and they saw him.

“We can confirm that Quinn did everything he could to successfully protect his guests and ensure their safety, and that no guests were injured in the incident,” the owners of the camp Swales was associated with said in a statement.

Well, that’s wonderful.

But the event should never have happened in the first place.

Walking safaris are increasingly risky in Africa as human populations engulf wilderness areas and the habitat for big game decreases. I no longer allow my clients to walk in East Africa under any circumstances.

Southern Africa is different, although I wouldn’t recommend that anyone do anything in Zimbabwe, frankly. The country is a mess, conservation is in ruins and its national parks are badly managed.

But in all cases, you do not walk towards lion cubs.

None of the reports indicated how old the cubs were, and that could make a difference. If they were 9 or 10 months or older, then the protective instincts of the parents would have waned. I’m presuming this was not the case. For one thing a 9-month old male cub is about the same size as his mother.

I’m glad none of the tourists were hurt. But their very presence in Zimbabwe is an indication of further incompetence.

Incompetence in the wild is unforgivable. Second chances are very rare.

Can You Be Too Right?

Can You Be Too Right?

Wildebeest survive, but Maasai must move on.
Wildebeest survive, but Maasai must move on.
As worldwide petitioners against a Loliondo Maasai eviction approached two million, an important meeting with government officials ended today without resolution.

Last May I blogged about this sad story in partial error, resulting in my concession that the blog had enough misleading information to be adjusted. The incomplete discussion of the problem remains a serious part of this story.

The controversy remains: the Tanzania government wants to evict 40,000 Maasai from traditional lands to increase a hunting concession for Dubai businessmen and princes.

The error so many of us participated in last May was reporting the controversy as an immediate crisis.

And that escalation of reportage has worsened. Respectable media reported today that the evictions have already begun. They haven’t.

We were led to our mistakes last May by the organizers of a very successful petition campaign on behalf of the Maasai, which has exceeded its wildest expectations by the way.

In May the organizers of the petition broadcast an urgent appeal for signatures based on an exaggerated claim that the government was imminently prepared to forcibly oust the Maasai.

Several of my readers pointed out to me this wasn’t true. The problem was real – and continues – but the immediacy was overstated and the government had set no deadline for forced eviction.

The situation is the same today.

Numerous legal maneuvers have been going on in Tanzania for some time, long before the petition campaign began. These continue today.

This past weekend, a report in London’s Guardian attributed to another report from Survival International elicited comments from the organizer of the petition which were exaggerated and went viral.

The story even emerged as a headliner in America’s normally very careful electronic media, Salon.

This is a complicated and serious story, and the media (including at first, me) just doesn’t seem to know how to handle it correctly.

Survival International, in fact, has a good time line of the real story. Click here.

The government’s policy came to the fore five years ago. There have been ups and downs, and based on today’s useless meeting in Dodoma, I’d say the government is losing the battle of waiting it out, and that’s good.

And it’s so good that many of my readers and others worldwide have signed the petition. But like a previously exaggerated social meeting campaign, Save the Serengeti, the movement starts to become more important than the issue.

Save the Serengeti absolutely contributed to stopping the building of the Serengeti highway (when it was in its first iteration, Stop the Serengeti Highway) but in no way alone despite its self-promoted appearances. Moreover, when building the highway was stopped, the campaign didn’t.

The real development of this Maasai story is simpler. Under increasing pressure to abandon once and for all the government’s policy to evict the Maasai from Loliondo, the government has offered a cash payment in compensation to 40,000 Maasai.

The offer is for approximately two-thirds of a million dollars or about $15 per person evicted, in addition to previous offers of new land that theoretically equals or exceeds the land that would be confiscated.

Today’s meeting in Dodoma was to discuss this new offer, and as expected, Maasai leaders rejected it.

Undoubtedly this new emergence of the controversy benefits the Maasai, and that’s good, too. It’s just not … well, exactly right to think of it as immediate to this prolonged problem.

Meetings occur all the time between government officials and Loliondo Maasai. Ridiculous moves like $15 per Maasai evicted should hardly be considered starting new or more serious confrontations.

Yet even in Arusha some thought so. Last night an arsonist started a terrible fire in Arusha that caused some to wonder if it was in protest of the Dodoma meeting about the Maasai eviction.

I received several requests to write this blog. I’m extremely thankful for my readers’ sensitivities to this problem. I’m glad that we’re all “on the side” of those benefiting from the exaggeration of the problem.

But ultimately it’s the facts that matter. It’s the facts we need to be vigilant about, not the hysteria.

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.

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.

Killing Off Fence

Killing Off Fence

canned huntThere’s a growing worldwide link against sport hunting and culling with the world’s fatigue with war.

A macho lady, Melissa Bachman (not to be confused with her fellow Minnesotan and not closely related Michelle Bachman) recently drew the ire of much of the world when she proudly Tweeted about the lion she killed recently on a “canned” hunt in South Africa.

Bachman is a long-time cable show producer and presenter for the radical outdoors including sports hunting, although some of her antics finally broke even the now despicable threshold of National Geo’s cable production.

Nevertheless, her fame (and now possibly infamy) was born specifically of her military like approach to sport hunting, out to prove that a dame was just as good as a dude with a big gun.

The specific incident over the weekend has an important nuance to it, though, and it has provoked so much negativity in South Africa that Bachman actually took down her Twitter account, where the trophy was first posted, as well as several of her associated websites.

The specific criticism is that Bachman shot the lion on what is known as a “canned hunt.”

Canned hunting is done all over the world, especially in the United States and South Africa. The hunt is on private land that is beyond the regulation that the larger government may impose on hunting in wild and federal areas.

The South African Parliament is wrestling with a recent court decision enjoining a government regulation that allows canned hunting after a two-month period of “wilding.”

According to that regulation, wild animals like lions may be bought as captive or even tamed onto private land, set free for two months, and then the owner may sell that animal’s hunt to whomever he wishes.

With no regulation: and that’s a big part of the problem. It’s presumed that many of these canned hunts are hardly fair: that the animals aren’t very wild, and in some places, even tranquilized for the inexperienced hunter.

This is hardly a South African disease.

One Texas canned hunting ranch, the Circle ERanch offers the following African animal hunts:
Kudu – $15,000
Nile Lechwe – $8,000
Nyala – too expensive to quote on-line
Sable – too expensive to quote on line
Red Lechwe – $4,000
Waterbuck – $4,000
Wildebeest – $4.750
Zebra – $5,500

You don’t have to study ecology in an univeresity to know that the natural habitats of those animals mentioned above spans nearly an entire continent, and that not even Texas is big enough to provide any kind of natural environment for all of these animals at once. They have to be fed and cared for like cows.

Likely then, their ability and/or desire to avoid being hunted is greatly diminished.

Canned hunting isn’t so different from contrived wars. And we’re all getting sick and tired of them both.

Anti-hunting sentiment is similar to anti-war sentiment. It crosses ideological boundaries. Just as many of Africa’s most prominent big game hunters are now coming out against canned hunting, so do many of America’s most liberal politicians oppose Obama’s militarism.

When Obama announced his “red line” in Syria last September, conservatives like Rand Paul joined liberals like Alan Grayson in denouncing the strategy.

In fact in town meetings right across the country last September, the sentiment against any type of Syrian intervention was overwhelming. The shared position was simply that we don’t want anymore war.

And the coalition “against killing” is growing well beyond American politics. Whether killing be for sport hunting or preemptive national security: offense is no longer defense.

Ban East African Hunting

Ban East African Hunting

LionHuntSports hunting has long been characterized as a conservation tool. That is absolutely not the case in East Africa, where all trophy hunting should be outlawed.

Kenya banned all hunting in 1977, then later allowed some bird hunting. But the other nations of East Africa promote sports hunting.

This article shows why sports hunting throughout all of East Africa should be banned. I think it likely with time the ban should extend throughout all of sub-Saharan Africa.

Botswana recently banned hunting, and Zambia recently banned the hunting of cats. I think it inevitable even the big hunter destination of South Africa will finally also ban trophy hunting.

But right now the evidence is so compelling to end hunting in East Africa, that’s where this article focuses.

The power of the sports hunting industry and the gun manufacturing industry cannot be overstated as we approach this debate. Sports hunting, even big game hunting in Africa, is far less contentious than gun control in the United States, for example. But the industries and lobby of wealth organized to promote gun ownership has virtually fused itself with the issue of sports hunting.

Americans constitute the largest single group trophy hunting in Africa. So American institutions, money and lobbying are integral to this African debate. “Americans are by far the most keen to spend around $60,000 on trophy hunts in Africa,” writes Felicity Carus recently in London’s Guardian.

The balance of American money and power supporting hunting is woefully unfair, and it isn’t just the NRA. Sportsmen’s Alliance and the National Shooting Sports Foundation are both funded by multiple large foundations whose donors are kept secret. Journalists shy away from reporting negatively about these monoliths and politicians give them a wide bay.

My intention, here, is not to take on sports hunting per se, nor gun ownership. The issue of big game hunting in Africa specifically has reached a uniquely critical threshold. In Africa – right now – big game hunting is a threat to conservation and rural development.

I fervently believe there are philosophical and ethical arguments against many types of sports hunting. But that is actually secondary to the more compelling reasons today in Africa that big game hunting should be ended.

The main reason big game hunting should be immediately ended throughout almost all of Africa is corruption and bad policy. The same reasons that conservatives use to deplore even humanitarian aid to emerging nations is grossly evident in Africa’s management of sports hunting, today.

We’re reaching a critical point in Africa’s wildness. It’s a tipping point. The growth of African societies is exceptional, and basically good. Bigger human populations are developing at breakneck speed. It’s hard for an American to imagine how fast, for example, Kenya is developing.

Many of my clients are repeat visitors to Africa. It’s amazing to watch their jaws drop when they return after even as few as five years. Highways, factories, residential developments .. it’s an unending serious of hopeful and modern progress.

And at what cost? At the cost of the wild, of course. That’s not a surprise and it’s not new. But it is changing.

Only a decade or two ago, safari tourism was critical to the economic health of Kenya, vying with the production of coffee and tea for the top spot on Kenya’s GDP. Today, tourism overall in Kenya represents only 5.7% of GDP (2011) and arguably half that is non-animal, beach tourism.

And while it’s likely Kenya’s tourism is falling behind other sectors of its economy because of recent terrorist acts, neighboring and quite peaceful Tanzania’s trends are even more exaggerate.

Tourism as a part of the Tanzanian economy is expected to drop to 7.9 per cent by 2020 from 8 per cent recorded in 2010. Like Kenya, by the way, it is likely that the single biggest growth within tourism in Tanzania is the beach, not animals.

This emphatically doesn’t mean that safari tourism isn’t growing. What it means actually is that so many other sectors of the economy, like oil production, are growing much more rapidly.

Oil is more important than lions. It wasn’t in Teddy Roosevelt’s day.

So the threat to the wild is severe in Africa. While the U.S. continues to debate whether the keystone pipeline should be laid over our wild lands, there’s not a moment’s hesitation about a new dam project cutting a chunk out of Africa’s largest wildlife park or slicing away protected marine environments for deep-sea drilling.

It is not surprising, then, that in most of the protected wildlife reserves in Africa, animal populations are falling, often because those reserves are either being reduced in size or because the pressures on their periphery are growing so great.

Sports hunting in Teddy Roosevelt’s day hardly disturbed the ecosystem. The technology of guns was far more limited than today. Animals in rural areas at home and in Africa were truly pests, because there were so many. Most sportsmen (including TR) killed very much for the meat that was essential food for them.

But as societies developed, as Africa is developing today, hunting too quickly began to deplete animal numbers (bison, pigeons, wolves, etc.). Wild environments were protected, and most hunting banned within them. And where it isn’t completed banned, it’s heavily regulated.

The reason is terribly simple: there’s little contest between a hunter and a wild animal, and over time, wild animals lose the number’s game.

Africa has proved itself incapable of banning or regulating. Well managed (regulated) hunting is often considered a buffer against poaching, and so it was in Africa thirty years ago. The outskirts of protected areas were declared hunting preserves, and the symbiotic relationship with the protected area was a healthy one.

Along or within some protected areas in Africa hunting was used as the culling tool, as wildlife managers tried to establish a carrying capacity balance within an areas biodiversity. Hunters paid royally to kill “excess elephants” that lived at least part of their time in Kruger National Park in South Africa, for instance.

All of this worked, once. It doesn’t, now.

“Presently… the conservation role of hunting is limited by a series of problems,” according to two African and one French conservationists writing the definitive scientific paper against hunting published in Elsevier six years ago.

After meticulously detailing all the potential good that sports hunting in Africa could do, the authors take a fraction of the article to document how it sports hunting in Africa fails because of government mismanagement and corruption.

The list of corruptible acts linked to sports hunting in Africa would take a month of blogs to document. Whether it’s Loliondo in Tanzania, where land has been arbitrarily taken from both the Serengeti and Maasai farmers for Arab hunting, or ranches in South Africa recently unmasked as poaching rhinos, the list seems endless.

There are so many pressures on Africa’s wild, today, that it is nonsense to continue to allow a contentious one, sports hunting. The trophy hunting industry is tiny, in monetary terms, compared to overall tourism.

Its effect as explained in the Elsevier article is negative. So why continue it? Just so people can get a rush killing an animal? What other reason remains?

We are fighting the dam in The Selous, uranium and gold mining in the Serengeti, off-shore drilling in Lamu and highways through Nairobi National Park. There is absolutely little reason we shouldn’t also be fighting sports hunting, which provides even less benefit to Africa or its wilderness than mining natural resources or moving morning rush hours.

The time for Africa trophy hunting is over.

(Tomorrow, I discuss a very specific sports hunting issue that is now Africa’s hottest wildlife topic: should hunting lions be ended by listing them as an endangered species.

Stay tuned.)

Culling & Killing

Culling & Killing

elephant-attacks-carHunting and culling are acceptable in certain cases to protect the lives and livelihoods of people. In Africa this is a complex and difficult topic.

In my series on hunting this week I argue that hunting is no longer a good conservation tool and that in most cases should be outlawed. But there are reasons beyond conservation that make hunting and culling reasonable in limited cases.

The obvious first one is to protect people and you may think it silly to even note this. But I do so to point out how easily the concept is abused.

In June a visitor near a trail head at the Denali Park headquarters shot and killed a moose that he claimed was charging his family. Although the Park Service decided it was a justified killing, it’s hard to imagine so.

Similarly and also because of Congress’ recent act to allow tourists to carry firearms into national parks, bears are now being killed.

Having been in Denali often, and often enjoyed the crowded visitors center, as well as a number of its well patrolled tracks, the authorities have a pretty good record at advising people how to remain out of harm’s way.

Until the Congressional law allowing firearms, it was not by shooting the animal that a tourist protected herself. Simply moving away from it has proved time and again the most effective defense. In fact there is every concern now that animals fired upon will grow increasingly aggressive.

So the specific cases in the foregoing represent abuse of an otherwise reasonable cause for killing an animal.

In Africa these human/animal conflicts are exponentially greater than here at home, and there are many more bigger and destructive animals.

It isn’t tourists being threatened in Africa, it’s farmers and school children. And as human population centers increase and necessarily compete with areas previously wild, these conflicts grow faster than even neutral policy makers are able to deal with.

There are no statistics in East Africa as kept by American parks or the State of Alaska. But everyone knows there are dozens of human/animal conflicts weekly just in the northern game area of Tanzania.

“The animals just cause problems. During the rainy season the lions and hyenas attack us all the time,” one Maasai farmer told London’s Guardian newspaper.

Because tourism, derived from these big animals now accounts for nearly 15% of Tanzania’s GDP, the acts of farmers to protect themselves, their livelihoods and families is technically illegal.

But in the same Guardian article, a Tanzanian field worker for one of the world’s most radical animal conservation organization, African People & Wildlife (APW), conceded “ “It’s not easy, there are lots of problems, but we must try to understand the villagers instead of just punishing them.”

So both Kenya and Tanzania have passed laws that compensate farmers and landholders who can document destruction by a wild animal. But documentation is difficult and corruption caps an absolute inability to effect this as workable policy.

APW is not yet up to my reasoning that given the lack of workable policy, villagers should be able to kill an animal that threatens them, but I think the mounting number of incidents in East Africa will ultimately make this policy.

Culling is a more delicate issue, and for years I felt it unnecessary, but now I don’t. It had been a standard practice throughout all of southern Africa until the mid 1990s when animal rights’ activists prevailed.

Culling was stopped throughout much of southern Africa when the most used and famous park, Kruger, banned culling in 1995. But then it was reinstated in 2008.

Arguments for culling are often flawed. Similar to those used to promote deer culling here at home, bad arguments are often proffered that extreme population densities of one species crowd out another.

Evidence of this doesn’t exist. I don’t subscribe to the notion of “invasive species” because there is no documented case of invasive species categorically pushing another species to extinction – not kudzu, not garlic mustard, not Asian carp or Japanese beetles … or any of the other similar species’ claims in Africa.

I see “invasive species” as the heroes of natural selection, and as best evidenced by the long-term results of the kudzu invasion, nothing bad really happens in the long-term. In fact, it’s usually a good outcome.

The initial invasion of kudzu produced visible declines in other plants, but after long-term studies many of those competing plants have returned, and researchers obsessed with the notion of “invasive species” had to result to chemical harms to the atmosphere, something much harder to refute but similarly much more oblique.

Many argue kudzu is now saving forests. After years of trying to insist kudzu was going to take over the world, southerners have come to grips with its advantages conceding the any destruction was insignificant.

See a documentary film produced at the University of Alabama.

An extreme theory of invasive species leads to the South African concept known as “Carrying Capacity” which claims to determine the most perfect balance among all species in an ecosystem, and then prunes and imports species to maintain this balance.

“Carrying Capacity” was the original reason used by Kruger park scientists to cull before giving in to to animal rights activists in 1995.

But it was something quite different that tipped the scales and allowed them to reverse their decision 13 years later. The compelling argument became “human-elephant conflict” according to parks’ studies.

To be fair, Kruger and South Africans still embrace “Carrying Capacity” which is, of course, allied to notions of controlling invasive species. Both arguments might be useful when managing a defined area natural wilderness. But neither is compelling when applied to larger areas or the wild as a whole at which point it becomes as destructive as the impetus for considering it.

Human/animal conflicts, though, are compelling enough. That’s when hunting and culling are justified.

Thursday, I’ll examine why sports hunting is no longer a viable conservation tool in Africa or here at home.

HUNTING

HUNTING

HuntOrNot“This is the first in a series of articles aimed at showing how wealthy American hunters are a force for evil in the third world.”

Those are not my words. They were published recently by two of the most respected South African conservationists alive today, Bev Pervan and Chris Mercer.

Big game hunting as a useful conservation tool in Africa, in my opinion, has run its course. In my 40-year career I have mostly defended hunting though never hunted myself, but I’ve changed my mind. Its use as a conservation tool is no longer viable.

To many people, probably to the majority of people, hunting worldwide from everything as tiny as pygmy ducks to Africa’s elephants is considered a sport, and a rightful one at that. I suppose the genesis if not historically at least of the idea is that vermin threatened home and livestock, ranchers shot vermin to protect themselves and skill cured by professionalism became sport.

I just finished again reading my first edition copy of TR’s “African Game Trails.” I read it for the between-the-lines insight to the man and the times, because the tome is literally otherwise nothing but a journal of what big game animal he killed where and how.

But so much has changed since Teddy’s time, and in fact, so much has changed just during my own life time, that I think we need to rethink hunting altogether.

First, the manhood and physical fitness of the accomplished sportsman in day’s past has been replaced by rich, fat-bellied voyeurs. No one goes to Africa – indeed, no one goes out to the Wisconsin woods – to hunt to prove their manhood or physical stateliness.

Manhood is reached today by mastering the IRS website, not by tuning your Chevy’s carburetor.

Physical fitness is available at every corner gym, the increased running trails and sports centers and by such simple things as watching your diet.

The skill of a good sportsman comes not from being able to down a ten-pointer at 200 yards but from navigating Class V rapids or scaling Mt. Kilimanjaro. The technology has advanced so ridiculously since TR’s times, that “shooting” is little more than telling Siri to kill it.

I fully expect a barrage of hunters to protest otherwise. And to be sure, the tracking aspect of hunting remains a wilderness skill that takes concentration to learn and time to master. But the ultimate killing of the animal today is little more than abject waste.

It’s why, guys, we do catch-and-release. Try that with a lion.

And where Ducks Unlimited was once a champion for conservation, it and other organizations like it are no more.

The non-hunting so-called “conservation programs” by organizations like Ducks Unlimited today are too little, too late, meager attempts at white-washing.

It didn’t use to be like that, here or in Africa.

But it is, now, and my next several blogs will examine these issues about hunting more carefully. And by refusing to confront these issues, we endanger not just “sport hunting” but the wild in whole:

“Lions have become alternative livestock,” Mercer writes. “Trophy hunters and useless … conservationists have allowed the ‘wild’ to be taken out of our wildlife.”

Stay tuned.

Dumb Roper Nabbed

Dumb Roper Nabbed

Many Americans don’t care if something’s going extinct: it’s just “the way it is.” So it’s no surprise that big game poaching is as much an American problem as it is an African one.

“Put bluntly,” writes Australian ecologist Euan Ritchie, current species extinction is an ecological “avalanche” with current rates 1000 to 10,000 times higher than would be normal in a balanced environment.

Most people realize that the extinction of one species has the potential to threaten a whole ecosystem. We might not fully understand, for example, why that little flower in the Amazon jungle keep the canopy from falling down, but most people in the world accept that it might.

But rhino? What purpose, exactly, does this beast have? We know an awful lot about rhino, and nothing suggests it’s integral to the status quo of any particular environment. In fact, it rarely exists in the wild, anymore.

The answers are allusive and often personal. There are probably fewer Americans as a percentage who believe extinction of something like the rhino is a priority than compared to other societies, but likely and fortunately still probably a majority.

Americans were the ones to formalize the concept of an endangered species with historic legislation in 1973. And shortly after the Endangered Species Act was enacted, the sale of rhino horn was banned.

Almost forty years later, Jarrod Wade Steffen, a poor kid from McHenry Illinois, just wanted to get his mom some money after his rodeo career collapsed, so he started trafficking rhino horn.

There’s more to it, of course, including Mom sneaking out of California with a suitcase of small bills totaling more than $100,000. And there’s a lot we still don’t know, since Wade’s plea agreement with the Justice Department suggests he’s still involved with helping ongoing investigations.

At 21 years old, Wade was struggling to make a living competing in rodeos. He’d won his events in Texas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Oklahoma, Minnesota and Missouri and while he certainly wasn’t a star to watch his trajectory was OK.

Then he got injured in the eye by a camel he was trying to train. He started driving a truck, which earned a better living anyway than rodeos, and moved to Hico, Texas.

There in Texas, that wild and rowdy and never wholly moral place, Wade reconnected with old rodeo acquaintances who had rhino horn for sale. Most of them had it legally, usually from old big game trophies shot before the 1976 ban from the Endangered Species Act.

It wasn’t hard to find someone to sell to. Thirty-three times between June of 2010 and just before he was arrested in February of 2012 Wade sent rhino horn to Vinh “Jimmy” Choung Kha in Orange County California and earned hundreds of thousand dollars.

In that 18-month period, the American cowboy, Wade Steffen, trafficked in more rhino than were poached in Kenya.

Kha in turn sold the horn to Zhao Feng, a Chinese national living mysteriously in Orange County, part of the new rich Chinese buying expensive California real estate and not really doing much else. Kha laundered the money he got from Feng through his import/export business and his girlfriend’s nail salon.

The ring was blown apart when Wade, his mother and his girlfriend, were stopped at the Orange County airport with three suitcases carrying around $300,000 in cash.

Wade, his mother, his girlfriend, Kha, Feng and a bunch of others, including an antique dealer in New York, were all subsequently arrested. Federal authorities called it the biggest bust in the history of illegal rhino horn trading.

“These individuals were interested in one thing and one thing only – making money,” said Fish & Wildlife Director Dan Ashe.

Whether that’s wholly true or not, one thing is certainly wholly true:

Wade, his relatives and friends, and all the other people around who knew what he was doing don’t care if something goes extinct.

Extinction, and in particular rhino extinction, is not just an African problem.

Great White Fool

Great White Fool

My sarcastic PhotoShop impression of David Simpson.
The Central African Republic is one of the most lawless and corrupt countries on the continent and known mostly today as the presumed home of LRA fugitive, Joseph Kony. Turns out he has some interesting company.

The reason Kony is probably in the CAR, routed from Uganda and being hunted down by a posse of 100 green berets recently sent by Obama, is that the CAR is ungovernable and unmanageable, in part because so much of it is remote, thick jungle. The other part of the reason is because its leaders are thugs.

What a wonderful place to raise a family and run a business, right?

Wrong. Unless… you’re a hunting company.

Hunting companies are extremely small, highly lucrative businesses. Compared, for example, to the overhead of a photography safari company, today, a hunting company of similar size may require a tenth of the capital investment, have about the same operating costs, and yet provide a return ten times or more of a photography safari company with the same amount of assets and staff.

The product sale price, which is ten times or more that of a photography safari company, is justified because of the company’s … “guts.”

Macho. Bravado. Boldness. Courage. Daring.

This is mostly because the service and “plant” (actual tents, food, equipment, and even staff) is of much lower quality than in a photography safari company. In the old days this was reversed, but today a hunting camp is just above OK and maybe even not OK.

Flush toilets, for example, are unusual. Solar lighting or lighting of any kind other than kerosene lanterns is unlikely. Simple spring beds replace four-poster rosewood sculptures. Frankly, I prefer this kind of camp, but I’m old and nostalgic and something of a penny-pincher.

But the food is only so-so because the cooks aren’t well trained. The staff is pulled from a line of relatives in need of work, both African help-staff (always black) and so-called poorly named professional hunters (which are almost always white).

And while the principals may know how to shoot, the younger hunters generally portray hardened biceps and much less, have little upstairs, and generally can’t get any other kind of work. Their resumes are short descriptions of Macho. Bravado. Boldness. Courage. Daring.

And sometimes, simple stupidity.

Such is the story of the erstwhile Swedish hunting company, Central African Wildlife Adventures. (Oh, did I fail to mention that their websites are on par with an eighth grader’s weekend project?)

This brilliant enterprise decided to set up business just about the time that Kony was fleeing north from Uganda, incapable of resting his fugitive soul anywhere in Africa with a teaspoon of stability, so we deduce he’s set up camp in the CAR.

We don’t know specifically what shenanigans the company produced to get its plot of land in the CAR, but we do know that the bribes were apparently not good enough. Because last month the principal and general manager were arrested for the slaughter and murder of somewhere between 13 and 18 people in a situation that reeks of Joseph Kony’s calling card.

According to the 24-year old general manager, David Simpson, who has languished in a CAR prison just long enough to get another cub scout badge of courage and whose brother reported him as being “upbeat” about the situation, he was flying the company’s small plane when he noticed the massacre site below him and so did what every good cub scout is taught to do: report it to the trusted authorities.

Listen, David Simpson, there are no trusted authorities in the CAR. What were you expecting? That they would send you a letter of commendation?

Full disclosure: I am no hunter. But in my long career I have known and worked with good hunters, a very rare breed, rarer than the bongo which companies like CAWA offer to assist making extinct.

But in the main, and especially today, hunting companies are not only bad businesses but directed by if not bad people pretty dumb ones. Bribing is second nature and those who play the game in places like the CAR generally get called out.

The media is filled with sympathetic reports, and I’m a bit surprised by the amount of sarcasm I feel. It would otherwise go without saying that Simpson and the company owner are not guilty of this, and that only the basest and most corrupt justice on earth would dare pursue this case against them.

But read between the lines of the current volume of sympathetic media and you’ll learn that the British Foreign Office is not quite as involved as it was when British tourists were kidnapped by Somalis, or is currently now involved in the great Chinese scandal of the century. And not for want of class, I don’t think.

I prefer to believe that the British Foreign Office, like me, realizes that someone so stupid as to invite their arrest in the CAR is quite likely to do something equally stupid once sprung.

That doesn’t mean Simpson et al should be abandoned. But we’ve got to overlay some reasonable perspective on this story. Not every African country is so barbarous and primitive as the Central African Republic.

And I think I could count on one hand the number of colleagues in African tourism that would have done something so stupid as report a Kony massacre site in the CAR to CAR officials. David Simpson and CAWA owner, Erik Mararv, are apparently two. I won’t name the other three. There’s always hope.

Play with the pyre and you generally get burned.