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?

On Safari: Mastodon to Muskox

On Safari: Mastodon to Muskox

muskoxmastadonThe ecology of Planet Earth’s Far North is mysterious and often perplexing, sometimes hilarious but more often terrifying. Our first full day in Fairbanks introduced us to the remarkable biology of this Far North.

I love to start in Fairbanks, and most of my clients spend a full two nights here, and quite a few, three nights. There’s plenty to do, and it’s an important introduction to the Far North ecology of this remarkable part of the world.

It’s also an active scientific point where climate change is more readily observed and terribly respected. We’re going to Kantishna tomorrow, the west side of Denali national park, where one of the three lodges was washed out by record floods and rain only a few weeks ago.

Chief Curator Angela Linn, Pam Lopes, Becky Krantz & Sara Taylor.
Chief Curator Angela Linn, Pam Lopes, Becky Krantz & Sara Taylor.

Here’s where the ice cap and glaciers are disappearing, where the coastline is eroding fast, where oyster farms are dying because the water’s getting too hot.

Here’s where today I got lost inside the University of Alaska campus because of another sink hole detour (they’ve had three this year), as a result of the permafrost melting.

In addition to the flashy but fun tourist attractions like the Riverboat Discovery, today we went a bit deeper and more academic.

Curator of Collections, Angela Linn, gave us a special behind-the-scenes tour of the University of Alaska’s remarkable collections: more than 1½ million items! We were able to feel mastodon fossils and gaze through security alleys filled with ancient Inuit sleds and snowshoes.

The Museum is a centerpiece of the university, a real research station for anyone doing Far North science. The part which is open to the public, the Museum of the North, is one of the finest and most digestible science museums I’ve ever visited.

Afterwards Dr. John Blake, the university’s veterinarian and director of its Large Animal Research Station (and 9 other life animal research stations) walked us through the station’s extensive grounds describing the work being done on reindeer, caribou and muskox.

Dr. John Blake describes the muskox habitat.
Dr. John Blake describes the muskox habitat.
Reindeer are originally Russian caribou that have been domesticated for a long time. But it was interesting learning about their differing biologies: the reindeer are much more biologically precarious, growing antlers sometimes at the rate of 2″ per day! The mystery is why, and how relatively rapid domestication produces such variance with the wild animal.

Dr. Blake then told us the remarkable story of what may be the most interesting of the Far North animals, the muskox.

Now farmed for its exquisite qiviut wool, the muskox was probably extinct in most of the Arctic by the 1900s, probably a mixture of over hunting and disease. Today there are nearly a half million and many are farmed for their extraordinary wool, a dozen times warmer (more insulating) than sheep’s wool and softer than cashmere.

There are few animals that thrive at -40F and get sick at 50F. That’s the muskox, and needless to say may be as threatened as the polar bear by global warming.

Tomorrow we head into Denali. Stay tuned!

Zoo Excess

Zoo Excess

somethingdontdoLast week’s settlement between the Pittsburgh Zoo and a family whose 2-year old boy was killed by the zoo’s wild dogs has restarted the conversation about the roll zoos play, today.

In November, 2011, a Mom lifted her 2-year old onto a railing above an exhibit of wild dogs. The boy lunged forward out of the mother’s grip and fell into the exhibit where he was fatally attacked by the dogs.

The zoo had complied with industry and national safety regulations but did increase the barriers following the incident. That was one of the key points used by the parents in suing the zoo for negligence.

The details of the suit remain confidential, but the debate has widened beyond whether African predator exhibits are safe, to whether they’re humane or even necessary.

Zoos have been transforming themselves over my lifetime from institutions that display wildlife to institutions that study and conserve the wilderness.

If there’s a trend, it’s actually for fewer zoos and fewer displayed animals, although the zoos that exist are becoming larger and their displays are becoming much more elaborate.

Wild dog, relevant to this story, have likely been saved from extinction by U.S. zoos. They were in a dramatic decline several decades ago when conservation organizations led by zoos worked up a dramatic master plan to save them.

Numerous initiatives began, including habitat preservation, but unique to the wild dogs’ situation emerged a remedy that was specially effective.

Pet dogs living at the edges of wild dog habitat were transmitting common diseases that were wiping out the wild dog population in exactly the same way early American colonists wiped out native Americans with smallpox.

Inoculating pet dogs may have saved the wild dogs from extinction but it also contributed to a somewhat unexpected increase in the health of the people living nearby as well. The Lincoln Park Zoo discovered that its dog inoculation program prevented 250 human deaths annually from rabies.

The two decades long initiative to save wild dogs from extinction worked, and it is understandable that these organizations want to celebrate their success.

One of the ways is by displaying wild dogs to the public. In a healthy state, the dogs are prolific breeders and like almost all predators, their numbers are approaching saturation in the captive animal population.

So many zoos are newly trading them around, and many more zoos are beginning to display them.

It’s very difficult for me to appreciate the displaying aspect of a zoo, and I struggle to do so by recognizing that very few people in the world have the opportunities that I do to experience the wild.

But that mantra which has maintained my esteem for zoos over my life time is increasingly challenged by the massive advancements in technology. Whether it’s YouTube or online learning, holographic or 3-D projection, the modern world has increasingly better ways to “display” a wild creature.

The “display” of a real life creature always falls short of the awesome reality. But how short is short is becoming the increasingly important question.

In Zoo Miami, only a pane of glass separates little boys from angry beasts (see blog photo above), and frankly I think that’s an unprofessional leap to reduce the difference between “display” and “real life.”

But if adequate protection of observers from the instincts of predators ends up creating such a barrier, then it might just be better to get the kid an xBox.

Or, more to the point, perhaps the zoo should replace its display with a giant xBox.

Crocs vs. Crazies

Crocs vs. Crazies

creationistsFor literally hundreds of years we thought there was only one kind of crocodile in Africa, the great Nile beast. Anyone care there are really seven kinds?

Univ. of Florida researcher Matthew Shirley recently announced the fourth new species of crocodile to be found in Africa in the last five years.

As explained to the common man by Scientific America, it was “discovered in plain sight.”

What the magazine means is that the slender snouted Guinean crocodile was not stealthily uncovered in a long forgotten grotto. It had been known for centuries. It was just wrongly classified as the same beast regularly seen as far as a half continent away.

Using the increasing DNA technology that is developing a lot faster than improvements in the Dreamliner, more and more animals thought to be the same thing are being shown as diverged species.

But who cares? Does it really matter?

Very much. It adds each day to the already overwhelming evidence of evolution and some day the threshold must be reached where naysayers are simply laughed at and fade away.

It is been a continual embarrassment to me traveling often abroad to discuss one of my most favorite topics, evolution, because I’m an American. Of the most recent survey of the world’s most developed countries, the U.S. and Turkey were the least to believe in evolution.

Dig deeper and you’ll find in more comprehensive studies that in Muslim countries there is little support for evolution. In other words, our evangelicals and Iran’s jihadists are bedfellows.

The simple-minded and stubborn, clinging to a dying past, embrace a fantasy that their own personal creation was divine. That way, they don’t have to think about it. And unfortunately for America it’s a very stubborn situation.

Why, I’m being newly asked, is American coming round to support same sex marriage but not evolution?

Because evolution doesn’t vote. It has no lobbying group in Congress. Most simply, it’s not alive.

It’s not possible to see and contrast evolution in the moment. So the less educated person is let off the hook. Evidence is not instantly observational. It’s more subtle and in fact, profound.

So thank you Matthew Shirley for continuing to expand the bulging libraries of evidence for evolution.

Some day it will become big enough for even the smallest of minds to grasp.
creationgraph

No Pennies for Wonder

No Pennies for Wonder

killinggiraffeHave you ever wondered if it’s worth living?

Think about that phrase, carefully, especially the verb: “Wondered.” To me after all the science and experience of organic mechanics, “life” passes out of the threshold of clear understanding into absolute “wonder.”

Don’t peg me wrong. I’m radical pro-choice and don’t believe a fetus of any age has more will than the mother carrying it. I’m a staunch advocate for specific cases of euthanasia and the right of an individual to end their life.

I think using animals in some human medical research is necessary, and I see a need to embrace large animal culling in cases of serious human/wildlife conflict (and this can’t possibly ever include protecting someone’s roses from deer or trash cans from racoons!)

And I support completely the controlled breeding of captive wild animals in order to protect their gene pool.

But that doesn’t mean killing an 18-month old giraffe in front of TV cameras and cutting it up in front of primary school children.

That’s exactly what Danish officials at the Copenhagen zoo did Sunday afternoon.

Zoo officials in Denmark didn’t just get rid of an unwanted animal. They “dissected” it in front of children to demonstrate animal anatomy, and then they fed the pieces to their lions in front of TV cameras.

I don’t doubt both acts have educational value, but I “wonder” where Danish wonder has gone. What they did is dead wrong.

Here’s the important background:

Over my life time zoos have transformed their purpose from showing off unusual animals to researching ways to protect them.

Zoos came into their own in the 17th and 18th centuries when it became possible to transport weird and rarely seen beasts large distances and then keep them alive in habitats not natural to them. Zoos began to replace museums as the places people would visit to increase the “wonder” of their world, especially the distance places they’d never get to see.

In the 19th and 20th centuries in particular zoos grew immensely important to the world’s main cities.

It was one thing to buy a bag of popcorn and watch Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers wiggle into their aluminum foil tights and fly to the moon. That was “wonder”ful but you knew in your heart it wasn’t real.

It was quite another to walk into a zoological park and actually see King Kong glare at you!

Well into the end of the 20th century zoos were considered a public service. They were funded by the cities they served, and almost always free to all. The Great Conservatism that so decimated public service in the last half century reversed that, and most zoos are now mostly private institutions. And even public ones, like Copenhagen, face reduced public financing.

By the end of the 20th century the “wonder” of seeing a gorilla in a cage had seriously diminished. There was Animal Planet and Planet of the Apes.

The urgency was no longer just to display King Kong for grade schoolers who could see the king in the wild on their iPhone. It was to protect the king’s still wild relatives in distant jungles so that the life form didn’t disappear forever.

Species survival is today what zoos are all about.

The Species Survival Program in the U.S., and the European counterpart that played a role in the recent giraffe incident, are the preeminent missions for world zoos.

Among the many other things they do is to regulate the specific animals that zoos can have, breed and trade with each other.

The giraffe that was killed in Copenhagen last weekend was a subspecies of the reticulated giraffe, which is among the rarer forms still living in the wild in Africa. Its habitat is much more threatened than the habitat of the ordinary giraffe and so it is much more endangered.

One of the first things that happens to wild animals with a diminishing habitat is to become inbred. I’ve seen these giraffe in Samburu in Kenya already showing evidence of serious inbreeding in the wild, often in the form of splayed feet, irregular hide patterns, asymmetrical horns and more recently, many more benign tumors especially on the belly.

Inbreeding accelerates extinction in the wild. The pie-in-the-sky theory is that as wild animals go extinct, zoos can protect a healthy gene pool in the captive population, and then release these animals back into their natural habitats once the habitats become protected enough.

But if those captive animals are as inbred as the ones that went extinct in the wild, it would be pointless.

Alas there is a lot of euthanasia in zoos all over the world, including the U.S, and especially of big headliners like lion. In the U.S., however, all sorts of efforts are made prior to actual euthanasia.

It begins by limiting breeding to begin with, since all the animals’ genomes are pretty well known. The science isn’t wholly exact, but usually exact enough that animals that are abundant enough in the captive population need not be placed together so that they breed.

That was the first giant mistake that Copenhagen made although we haven’t yet been told the whole Copenhagen story. There are legitimate arguments “on the other side” that suggest breeding is as necessary to maintain the health of a female and the sire of an offspring, as to just create an offspring.

But once an inbred is born it is a liability to the long-term survivability of its species.

In the U.S. zoos will do everything possible before killing the animal. As in Denmark there are plenty of people willing to pay for it. That comes with a bevy of other problems, though, including whether proper care would be available.

Often big wild animals as pets end up being treated so poorly that I believe euthanasia is preferred.

Why not just separate the animal from the others and keep it at the zoo?

There’s the point, folks. Because there’s not enough money. Because there aren’t enough cages and space and employees, because zoos are no longer in the public domain but in private hands. Capitalism governs the mission no matter how compelling the science is. There are no pennies left for “wonder.”

It’s hard to imagine that the cold-hearted antic of this past weekend was the culmination of all these otherwise extraordinary attempts to find alternatives. The zoo officials seemed absolutely blindsided by their mission to protect the gene pool.

If all we need is science and wonder is expendable, what’s the point?

Saving Kihansi

Saving Kihansi

Millions have been spent to save a tiny Tanzanian toad. An incredible story with an incredible bill. Is it worth it?

Needless to say it was not Tanzania that saved the toad. Tanzania had no qualms about replacing a tiny toad with a dam that now produces a sizable portion of its needed electricity.

It was supporters of the Bronx and Toledo zoos and the Wildlife Conservation Society and to me it’s one of the most exciting success stories (so far) in worldwide conservation.

But I wince at the cost, not fully revealed but capable of sour estimation.

The Kihansi Spray Toad Nectophrynoides asperginis was only discovered in Udzungwa in Tanzania in 1996. Udzungwa is one of the most magical places in East Africa, a Tanzania treasure in part because it’s so huge and inaccessible.

I’ve climbed the granite edges of one of its many, many waterfalls and there are incredible similarities to jungles around the world in terms of the density and variety of species, towering canopies and peat laden forest floors.

But quite unlike most of the world’s jungles, this is not a flat place. It’s forever mountainous and cavernous with some stupendous drops. Ergo, waterfalls.

This tiny little creature lived in the spray of one waterfall.

Really?! I think it’s premature to suggest that’s it, although most of the scientific literature says so: that’s it. Five acres. Kihansi’s world is twice the size of the little cliff on which sits my current home. But so much of Udzungwa has yet to be carefully surveyed, might there not be other Kihansi toads somewhere else?

But the scientific community mobilized in the presumption this was it. Five acres. And five acres of misty waterfall sides that would disappear when a dam was built in 1999. And all of this came to pass.

Dam for Tanzanian development. One of maybe hundreds of water falls stopped. Spray ended. WCS scientists monitored the demise of the species after the dam began functioning in 2000, and in five months the population crash was so severe, they collected nearly every last one they could find : 499.

The toads were rushed to the Bronx Zoo, bred quickly and dispersed to five zoos around the United States. Only one other zoo, the Toledo Zoo, was able to create a sustainable population.

Despite multiple scientific surveys of the area subsequently, no toad was seen in 2005, and in 2009 the IUCN officially declared the toad extinct in the wild.

Enormous science was garnered from this little thing. It’s an unusual toad, with its babies born alive, not as tadpoles. One remarkable discovery occurred when scientists desperate to save every last one performed a C-section on a dime-sized mother and learned that babies were at one stage tadpoles, only living within the body of the mother.

So the Bronx and Toledo zoos prevailed through fungus diseases, lighting problems and discoveries that America’s “pure water” would kill the creature. Soon lots of toads were being produced in two zoos.

Meanwhile back at the World Bank which produced the dam which squashed the toad which motivated this worldwide conservation effort, successful conservation lobbyist mined funds to build a gravity-run misting machine in Kihansi Gorge to recreate the original habitat conditions.

Really?!

And in mid-August this year toads were flown back to Tanzania, where they were monitored and nurtured for four months before being freed back in Kihansi Gorge in the spray of the artificial waterfall spray mahine, about ten days ago.

“I’m guessing it’s in the millions,” one of the lead scientists, Dr. Jennifer B. Pramuk, curator of herpetology at the Bronx Zoo, estimated for the New York Times the cost of just the misting machine project.

Here’s my real worry:

Machines break a lot in Africa, even simple machines, and repair isn’t simple, even simple repair. Reconstructed habitats are never what they’re intended. Imagine the global warming changes that have effected the region in the 7-10 year absence of the toads from the area.

If Kihansi truly only lives in this little 5-acre plot, man’s arrival even to “help them” could be all that’s needed to wipe them out. Forget about the dam, or global warming. Just man’s arrival and moving them unnaturally from place to place could be all that’s needed to make them extinct.

We’ll see with time. Remain vigilant, as I will be, because what happens to Kihansi will be fundamental to decisions to save other species in years to come.

Blood All Over the Place

Blood All Over the Place

A good scientific paper on lion population declines embarrasses NatGeo and provides evidence that recreational hunting of lion may soon be illegal.

The excellent scientific survey by Duke scientists published Tuesday in the journal of Biodiversity and Conservation shows serious contractions of African wilderness with lion decline as the principal indicator. But NatGeo’s exaggeration of the problem in order to raise money is appalling.

The research was funded by the National Geographic Big Cat Initiative, but what disturbs me is that National Geographic itself has grossly distorted the findings (or ignored them, not sure which).

The study concludes that there are about 32,000 lions remaining in Africa, today. NatGeo’s “Lion Decline Map” shows only 20,000 (less than two-thirds the science) with a projected “???” intended to mean “0″ by 2020. The glitzy web presentation ends with requests for donations.

This pandering to fictional catastrophe fits the current NatGeo model embedded in the current lineup on its cable television channel, which alters between the interesting, scandalous and soap-opry. NatGeo is making bundles, scientists still depend upon it, but it’s gone Ruperty.

Meanwhile, the Duke study is important.

While there is nothing particularly surprising in the study, it confirms that lion populations are in serious decline (32,000 today compared to 100,000 in the 1960s) on the continent as a whole, and where relatively stable for the “long-term” are in diminished areas.

The 27 “strongholds” where lion populations are expected to prevail for the long-term are all in sub-Saharan Africa in the countries we know well:

1. Tanzania
2. Botswana
3. Mozambique
4. South Africa & Zambia
5. Kenya

A sliver of stronghold area slips into Zimbabwe, but the enormous absence of lion in Zim today is a testament to the tragedy of conservation that has occurred there over the last generation under the murderous rule of Robert Mugabe.

The study used satellite imagery but through careful digital analysis and increased technological resolution was able to debunk earlier reports that certain areas were much healthier than they really are. These most critical areas are all in the northern part of the continent.

One of the study’s leading scientists is Stuart Pimm who has produced tomes of studies in his lifetime and who is probably the world’s most valuable African environmental statistician. Through the body of his past studies this one is credibly able to point to diminishing habitat and human competition for protected habitat as the principal cause.

But the study dares to confront another sensitive issue: big game hunting.

Without actually saying so, there is every implication throughout the study that recreational lion hunting should be prohibited.

I don’t know if there is coincidence to be found, or scientists and government officials tiptoeing on the tightrope, but last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it was reviewing the African lion’s status on the endangered species list.

This is the first step to listing lion as endangered. And if that happens, big game hunting of lion would effectively be over.

That seems only reasonable when African governments are now arresting local people for hunting lion, not to put a furry head above their fireplace, but to save their herds of goats.

Good work, Duke! Go to it, Fish & Wildlife! And put your pants back on, NatGeo.

Is Macaque Murder a Felony?

Is Macaque Murder a Felony?

Sandy didn’t just blow the covers off buildings: It’s whipped up an ongoing debate over using animals for medical research.

Two radical animal rights groups, PETA in the U.S, and BUAV in the U.K., are in Sandy’s wake charging that the loss of medical research animals in the storm was cruel and preventable.

PETA has filed suit against New York University (NYU) for the drowning of 10,000 white rats during the storm, that were being used mostly for melanoma research. And BUAV has resurrected a campaign against Mauritius macaque breeding farms that ship mostly to American and UK medical research organizations, as Sandy delayed many shipments.

Only from the perspective of an intensely committed animal rights activist can such attention be garnished in the wake of this super storm. Most of the world’s attention is as it should be focused on people. But this is also the foundation of the argument about medical research.

Most of us countenance the use of animals in medical research. But those who don’t are extremely vocal, a sort of battalion of armed Albert Schweitzers as much a non sequitur as that may seem. And Sandy has given them another public moment.

NYU’s activities will draw less attention than the breeding farms in Africa’s Mauritius, where the long-tailed macaques are bred in pretty horrendous conditions not unlike some early chicken farms in the U.S., and then exported often before being weaned to laboratories around the world for biomedical research.

Cornell scientists proved more than five years ago that the macaque – particularly the rhesus macaque – carries genes and chromosomes remarkably similar to us. Not as similar as chimps, of course, but chimps for medical research in the U.S. is essentially over.

Intense campaigns against chimp research for years achieved significant success last December when the NIH ceased funding any research that used chimps. The decision was fully implemented by this September and technically now, there is no government sponsored medical research that uses chimps in the U.S.

This has left many scientists angry. Drug and nutritional research, many research programs – especially with cancer, Parkinson’s disease and kidney diseases – have essentially come to a halt. The counter arguments are deeply scientific as well and hard to understand, but basically claim that chemical research (test tube analysis) can be just as insightful as watching what happens to an actual living chimp.

It’s also very hard to know being a layman if the decision to remove chimps from medical research is more scientific or more political. In America’s culture, today, the twain rarely meet.

Be that as it may, the next most likely human creature available for research is the macaque, and the easiest place to get them is from the breeding farms in Mauritius.

Purists argue that a living thing is a living thing, whether that be a human baby, chimpanzee, long-tailed macaque or white rat. And that whatever prescripts exist against murder of one should apply to all.

I disagree. There is a big difference between a white rat and a baby boy. If we can do something – as horrible as it might portend – to white rats that will prolong or make better the lives of baby boys, we should.

Regulating that statement is beyond us laymen. It’s for scientists … and politicians. No one would argue that if a good alternative existed it would be given priority. But defining the alternative is technical science… and artful politics.

But there is much less of a difference between a baby boy and a baby macaque.

Or is there? And how do we know? What exactly do we presume? Do we pretend to believe we can understand what a macaque thinks about us?

That’s why it’s so easy to just lump all living creatures together, because that’s easy to know. It’s alive or it isn’t. No EKG, no IQ … just a heartbeat.

The answer is not the easy way out. That much I believe for certain. I’m neither trained or talented enough to parse the barriers dividing humans from macaques, but I trust men out there who are.

NPR White Elephant

NPR White Elephant

NPR’s reporting yesterday on elephant poaching in East Africa disappointed those of us who know East Africa and cherish its wildlife.

In addition to simple inaccuracies, my main criticism was that the two stories filed by John Burnett were grossly narrow, cherry picking scandalous components while ignoring an essential bigger picture for cheap and trivial stuff that gets quicker attention.

The increase in elephant poaching in East Africa, most severely but not exclusively in Tanzania, has been on the rise for 4-5 years. It’s not new and it’s not suddenly greater than a few months or years before.

Burnett’s lead story suggested it was something relatively new and newly urgent, and so he neatly avoided the essential and more complex history of what has actually been happening.

This is my sixteenth blog about elephant poaching since March. Simply type “elephant” in the search box to the right for those stories. Journalists from Reuters, the New York Times and AFP have filed just as many over that same period.

This is because as Burnett said poaching is increasing almost as rapidly as in the catastrophic years of the 1970s-80s when 95% of Kenya’s elephants were wiped out and nearly 60% of Tanzania’s. It has not reached that level — nowhere near that level — and many other factors are considerably different.

Let’s start with the numbers, because Burnett has some quite wrong. I tread very cautiously and with some hesitation, because the last thing I want to do is reduce concern for a very serious East African problem.

As I’ve written again and again, the “elephant problem” is central to East Africa’s wilderness and economy. Poaching is absolutely one of the most serious problems facing East African society. But we do our cause harm with untruths.

“Perhaps 70,000 to 80,000 elephants roam” Tanzania Burnett claims.

On January 15, 2011, The 5-year Tanzania Elephant Management Plan spear-headed by such prominent and widely respected researchers as Charles Foley put Tanzania’s elephant population at around 110,000.

How many elephant have actually been poached since then, augmented by a record number of births due to good rains, is hard to estimate accurately, but the overall population is certainly higher than Burnett speculates.

Burnett says that the 70-80,000 number is “perhaps a quarter” of the continent’s population (280-320,000). This is widely inaccurate. Most recent estimates are very much higher. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature puts the continent’s total number at 472-690,000.

Burnett quotes a former conservationist in Tanzania as saying that 30 elephants daily are being poached. Using a conservative estimate that each elephant killed carries at least 100 pounds in total ivory from two tusks, that would mean there was more than 500 tons of ivory poached out of Tanzania each year, and that’s ludicrous.

Shippers of the most creative sort could not conceal even a fraction of that.

These are not minor inaccuracies. The “carrying capacity” of any environment for managed big game depends on precise numbers, not widely speculated ones. Burnett’s high-balling his numbers might enhance the urgency of his report, but it distracts us from possible solutions.

I wonder if as in our politics and grocery shopping, Americans just can’t be mobilized without exaggeration. It’s a sad commentary that NPR has fallen into this trap.

Burnett’s second story was better. He interviewed a poacher.

The story demonstrates that quite unlike the 1970-80s corporate poaching with Sikorsky helicopters using everything from AK47s to bazookas and then chartered ocean liners, some of the poaching today is an individual criminal phenomenon. And like so much crime everywhere in the world, its principal motivation is poverty.

That makes it much less effective and much harder to remedy.

Burnett rightly puts the onus for poaching on Asian market demand that we all agree has been sparked by economic growth in China. The evidence for this is overwhelming. But I’m very disappointed he didn’t describe the exciting new efforts by Chinese and Chinese surrogates to change this behavior.

It means that even the villain knows he’s a villain, and that’s a real start.

Finally, Burnett totally ignored one of the essential if perhaps not the central cause of poaching, today: There are too many elephants.

There are too many elephants not just in Tanzania, but throughout Africa and even in Asia.

This fact is hard to digest. It doesn’t mean there are more elephants than there once were. But for the existing diminished habitat, and in terms of human/elephant conflict, there are simply too many.

And that’s the real problem. It means poachers often get a pass because local officials actually appreciate what they’re doing, because farms are saved and school buildings don’t have to be rebuilt so often.

You won’t hear this from an elephant researcher standing over a carcass recently poached. And you won’t get a Tanzanian official to say as much to a westerner writing an article about poaching. It takes a more cautious and deliberate reporter than Burnett.

The story of elephants, their majesty, their near decimation in the 1970-80s, and now their perplexingly big problem in rapidly developing African societies is one of the most important stories in East Africa, today. It represents almost all of East Africa’s problems and probably contains some of their solutions. It’s as much historical as contemporary.

But jigging up the story with exaggeration while neglecting central facts won’t help. It needs as much attention from Rachel Maddow as the Tea Party.

Really Wild Intervention

Really Wild Intervention

The wild gets less wild, and we begin to manage the great African savannahs like a zoo. Is it our bleeding hearts or our brainy conclusions? Should we intervene in the wild to save big game from natural calamity?

In May and again last week, researchers in Zambia and Kenya intervened to save elephant that were mired in mud. Had they not intervened both elephants would have died. Now, both elephants are completely well.

This intervention is a seachange in the way researchers have interacted with the wild for centuries.

Rachel McRobb heading a team of The South Luangwa Conservation Society pulled an elephant from the mud in May and attracted enormous attention worldwide. The story made front pages in the London tabloids.

Writing in her own blog, McRobb conceded that “Most conservationists believe that man should not meddle with the natural order and that we should allow nature to run her course however cruel.” And without any further explanation as to why she no longer adopts the rule, she admitted, “We simply could not stand by and watch them struggle and slowly die.”

Last week in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park the exact same story:

Researchers with Cynthia Moss’ Amboseli Trust for the Elephants rescued an eight-month old calve from a deep muddy well hole after using Landrovers to chase the mother away. Landrovers and ropes were then used to rescue the juvenille and it was ultimately reuinted with its mother. Click here for the video of the event.

“We shouldn’t intervene where animals are dying of natural causes. In fact, human interference can have implications for other wildlife or ecosystem processes that rely on animal carcasses. It’s important to let wildlife be wild,” Australia’s Victoria State government natural resources ministry in Australia states in its SOP guidebook.

Most wildlife authorities continue to adopt this age-old viewpoint. The elephant rescues described above may beg the questions that global climate change or human/wildlife interactions or even outcomes caused by tourism contributed to the mud and hole but it would be a stretch to do so.

But McRabb’s honest admission and the rescue last week in Amboseli suggests researchers are changing their minds about this maxim, not just rationalizing it.

Oscar Horta at the University of Santiago de Compostela published one of several “seachange” position papers two years ago, arguing in meticulously logical detail that wildlife intervention may now be the right moral course for researchers to take.

But whether these decisions are coming from the gut as with McRabb or the frontal cortex as with Horta, there is no question the trend is gaining wide acceptance.

The days of Albert Schweitzer might be at hand.

Yet the much respected Nature magazine, which has been undertaking a lengthy discussion of this issue for several years, suggests otherwise. In its final position paper this year “Ethics of Wildlife Management and Conservation: What Should We Try to Protect?” biologists as well as ethicists from universities in Texas and Cophenhagen labored to reduce the complex conversation into five major issues.

I’ll let you follow the link for the minutae but I think they’re self limited conclusion still remains obvious: “We do maintain that explicit consideration of the values at stake should underpin careful debate about … whether constant human involvement in … wild areas is desirable.”

I don’t think they do think it’s desirable and I know they’re terribly worried about what a stink this will make.

For many years I was no board with what I think is Nature’s foundational conclusion. But I, too, am changing.

It’s not because I’ve grown more sensitive to animals, and I worry very much about the anthropormorphization of wildlife that occurs with this assumed growing sensitivity. Rather, I think it’s an admission that the wild is just not the wild, anymore.

There is already too much intervention in almost every nook and cranny of this planet to argue that there is anything unimpacted by development or human activity. It takes no scientist to know this. More people, more industry, more cabon dioxide, less of everything that was once in the beginning natural.

And given that state, however nostalgic we may be for the Garden of Eden, saving life and perhaps evening increasing life’s happiness becomes almost a first principal.

The Science of Ivory

The Science of Ivory

Science rarely trumps politics, but for elephants and other big game it may, soon. And surprisingly, that’s not necessarily good.

Rapid advancements in forensic genetics now empower even Third World countries to determine the origin of virtually any big game animal from a whisker of its hair. The Kenya Wildlife Service recently announced the opening of its modern genetics and forensics laboratory which will be able to do just that.

KWS was answering the clarion call to “bring those poachers to justice!” By swabbing a poached animal site, evidence is acquired that can be matched from suspect’s clothing and tools, at airport check posts and cargo containers.

And the science stretches beyond enforcing poaching laws. Tracking species survival will now be much easier, and recognizing sudden weaknesses as well as strengths in species will allow for better wildlife management.

That’s fascinating, right? Yes, but is it all good news?

Well, ultimately, of course. But the rapidly improving science is a powerful new tool against strengthening the worldwide CITES treaty. (Did I say against?)

The southern Africans for years have been arguing that CITES – which is a worldwide treaty that bans international trade of certain animals (dead or alive) – is too punitive against those countries (like themselves) that have internal mechanisms to prevent illegal poaching. The treaty was born in the mid 1980s as a device to halt the apocalyptic decline of elephants, and it worked beautifully.

Since then it has become a massive powerhouse for global species preservation. Everything from polar bears to certain butterflies and whales have been preserved by the world coming together and agreeing not to allow those animals to be traded in any way.

But for years in southern Africa, elephant ivory was a cash cow (or bull, depending). Extremely well run and patrolled parks in southern Africa collected heaps of tusks from elephant that died normally or were intentionally culled. This cache of animal goods, in fact, was for many years the principal source of revenue for the Zimbabwe National Parks.

CITES stopped that. Adjacent to many southern African parks can now be found warehouses of stored elephant tusks and rhino horn. They store it, because some day, they want to sell it. Right now, CITES prevents them from doing so.

CITES came on line powerfully by the end of the 1980s, and shortly thereafter, South Africans began focusing on the promise of forensic science to determine exactly where the ivory came from. South Africans developed some very creative non-genetic, isotopic or chemical methods to determine the origin of confiscated, illegal ivory.

As genetic forensics improved, CITES also did, because both proved so successful. By 2004 South Africans were desperately trying to get the world to use forensic genetics to limit CITES’ reach:

“Being able to track the origin of illicit African elephant ivory could [allow] several southern African countries … to relax the ivory ban because they have stores of ivory and lots of elephants.“

From the getgo few have questioned the southern African claim that they manage poaching well enough. It was known from the early 1980s that the danger to elephants and other big game came mostly from the northern half of the continent.

Why, then, should they be penalized from selling their legitimately harvested ivory and horn?

Because science can’t trump politics. The “free market” however it may be regulated in China is free enough on the global arena.

In 1997, 2000 and again three years ago, CITES caved under the pressure of southern African countries and “carefully” organized the sale of stockpiled ivory in a few highly regulated auctions. Each time the results were stunning:

Poaching increased measurably and substantially.

In other words, once new ivory started trading in Asia legally, black market ivory followed suit.

Although southern African countries aggressively argued that the black market was not related to the auctions, it was a hollow fight. Now, as science progresses, their argument is changing and acquiring greater force:

Genetic science can pinpoint where the ivory comes from. In southern Africans view, there is “legal” ivory and “illegal” ivory, and whether it is at cargo warehouses or jewelers stores, genetic testing devices can separate the legal from illegal trade.

The argument is very similar to the recent argument that appropriate testing can distinguish between legally mined diamonds and blood diamonds. In fact determining the origin of ivory is much easier now with genetic forensics than determining the origin of diamonds.

There’s a very provincial nearly insidious thrust to the southern African argument. I believe in their heart of hearts they know that a market widened by allowing genetic testing to scrutinize increased sales of ivory will ultimately decimate elephant in the north of the continent.

And I believe in their heart of hearts they figure, well that’s OK, we’ll protect them down here. And indeed, they could. So the extinction of the wild elephant might be unlikely… in the south. And to hell with the north. ‘If they can’t get their act together as we have, too bad.’

To be sure it’s a serious sacrifice asking the south to forego legitimate conservation revenue just because the north isn’t as developed as they are. And with the advancements announced of the sort KWS did this month, the south will be ever the more eager to promote its cause.

But it’s the difference between seeing yourself in your narrow little part of the world, and recognizing your role as a global actor.

There’s just no reason that elephant anywhere should be sacrificed to intricate ivory sculptures placed in a glass case. That tradeoff – a living work of art for a dead one – isn’t moral in my view.

There’s little sacrifice to taking the moral road.

Last of the Matriarchs

Last of the Matriarchs

This month marks the 40th anniversary of a celebrated field researcher, Cynthia Moss. Ms. Moss began her field research in 1972 where she remains today, among the elephants of Amboseli in Kenya.

Moss was the 4th untrained volunteer woman who turned up in the field in the 1960s and early 1970s and became famous worldwide for big game conservation. Her species was elephant. The three who preceded her by a few years were Jane Goodall (chimps), Dian Fossey (mountain gorillas) and Birute Galdikas (orangutans).

What the four have in common is chutzpah. Only Galdikas had any higher science education. Moss had a higher education degree in philosophy, but the other two had no science education above secondary school.

The first three all obtained their first posts in Africa from the famous paleontologist Lewis Leakey who Vanity Fair argues chose them less for their potential as field researchers as for their amorous attachments to Leakey. Read the outstanding book by Virginia Morrell, Ancestral Passions.

Moss on the other hand seems to have been the only of the four recruited for potential field ability. Her mentor is the dean of elephant research in East Africa, Ian Douglas Hamilton.

Moss began studying elephants in what at the time and ever since has been one of the best elephant habitats in Africa, Amboseli national park in Kenya.

The four ladies popularized big game especially in America and harnessed enormous support for African conservation by bringing to life in very anthropomorphic ways their favorite animal. They would not have succeeded, today.

Not only were they untrained in biology or field research, none are very nice. They all operated as little dictators in their neck of Africa, and except for Moss, their science – especially their early science – was nothing short of grade-schoolish.

But it took several generations of researchers following them before that was understood. Today none of the four except Moss is cited for their research, but they are all rightfully honored for opening America’s eyes to the plight of big game conservation in Africa.

And without opening America’s eyes, there would not have been enough check books to open to fund the body of research and protection which has truly saved their favorite animals.

South Africans in particular are very sensitive about this, because good big game research had been going in southern Africa for nearly a century before these four wholly untrained “entertainers” hit the seen and captured America’s treasury.

But South Africa even before the excesses of extreme apartheid had never been able to attract the interest of American animal rights activists. Probably they didn’t want to.

In addition to being an inward society for centuries, South Africans had mistrusted Americans for a long while. There was never the chemistry between the two societies that would have enticed an American public to become Africa animal sensitive.

So East Africa was the perfect place for them. (Galdikas ultimately ended up in Malaysia.) Just coming out of the colonial era, no good extended animal research had been conducted of East Africa’s big game or primates.

Notably the great scientist, George Shaller of the Bronx Zoo, studied mountain gorillas that still today is considered to have been better research than Fossey’s. And he preceded her by several years. But Shaller never stayed anywhere very long.

That was what all four women did best: Stay.

Except for Fossey who was murdered in revenge for her likely racist attitude to Rwandans, the other three spent long lives with their chosen animal. In so doing they published popular books, were increasingly interviewed on television and invited as popular speakers throughout America. Like today’s better known animal people such as Jack Hanna, they were much more entertainers than scientists.

Moss was the only of the four who significantly contributed to science, and it’s probably the reason she’s the least known. The other three made their initial marks in personality scandals or with brash claims about their animals that have long since proved incorrect. Moss, a few years younger and later to the scene, conducted meticulous research with methods that are still used today by young researchers.

I had my own personal battles with the three in Africa, because they were all in the beginning defiant of tourism. Each was so protective of their distant escape to Africa, they shunned rich people’s donations rather than agree to welcome them into the field.

I as the guide was considered the facilitator of this disrespect and violation of their little self-proclaimed kingdoms. Guides were easier to blame and a lot less rich than the clients

That changed radically over time as it became apparent tourism was part and parcel to funding African conservation research. Today there is no important NGO that does not coordinate laymen tours to their areas of funded research.

Nevertheless, the personal animus developed between myself and all three African research ladies is still hard to ignore. At the time their sabotaging of some safari dear to my heart and essential to my bank account was tantamount to war in the field. I concede now, though, that without their personal and truly remarkable chutzpah East African conservation would likely be in a considerably worse state right now.

Moreover, I’m no more trained in tourism or guiding than they were in animal research. So despite our feuds, we can truly all be wrapped up into the same amateur motivation that drove us all: an intense love of Africa.

And this particular anniversary of Ms. Moss’ 40 years in the field is the easiest of them all to celebrate, since of all four women, her dedication has been the most sincere and has produced the most true science.

Happy Anniversary, Cynthia! As the last of the great matriarchs, none will assume your place, unlike the thousands of matriarchs you have nurtured and saved in the African wild.

Better Science on a Better Horizon

Better Science on a Better Horizon

Two new monkeys discovered in Africa since 2003 suggest the continent is becoming more peaceful and interaction with scientists from the west has become healthier.

First seen in the jungles of The Congo in 2007, the lesula monkey (Cercopithecus lomamiensis) has now been studied enough to announce its discovery as a previously unknown species.

In 2003 in high forests of southern Tanzania, the kipunji (Rungwecebus kipunji) was discovered, and the latest discovery before that was the sun-tailed monkey in Gabon in 1984.

Both of the most recent discoveries were in areas in Africa inaccessible until only recently. Ironically, they were not inaccessible five decades ago – quite to the contrary. But with the advent of The Congo wars and decreased western aid after the collapse of the Cold War, much of accessible Africa became inaccessible or too unstable for field science.

I think it significant that before these two most recent discoveries, the sun-tailed in Gabon was in 1984 just before the collapse of the Cold War.

The most recent discoveries provide science with much more than just another listing. The odd behavior of the kipunji and the very unusual forest floor niche occupied by the lesula add surprise to previous understandings of African monkey ecology. DNA analysis, particularly with the kipunji, has aided immensely with the determination of biological divergence with other primates including man.

The lesula was first seen in 2007, subsequently documented, and this month the discovery published by John Hart. John, who along with his wife Terese, are veteran African field scientists. They are best known for their work with okapi and more recently, bonobo. Most of their adult lives have been spent in The Congo, but their published work recently has accelerated.

Where they are, now, in The Congo is not exactly a tourist destination. But the agreement of not just the Kinshasa government but local authorities and militia commanders has allowed the Harts much greater security and access. They have recently been awarded global funds to create a new jungle national park.

This would have been unheard of ten years ago. The Congo is far from pacified, particularly areas just to the south of where the Harts are now working.

But compared to only a decade ago, you might be forgiven for tagging the Harts’ field a honeymoon destination. This because of intensified United Nations (Security Council) involvement in The Congo, proactive diplomacy by world powers, and particularly with regards to The Congo, the exceptional work of the Obama administration embodied in the Dodd-Frank act.

The concerted efforts of global authorities and the proactive involvement of the United States during the last 3-4 years in The Congo and Somalia in particular has brought back hope that these chaotic and violent places may yet regain their legacy as truly an African paradise.

Have we turned a corner in African peace and global sanity?

Ask me November 7.

PETA vs MING

PETA vs MING

Yao Ming, the former Houston Rockets skyscraper, is trying to do what no Chinaman has done before : sensitize his countrymen to African conservation.

Ming retired as the awkward but successful 7’6″ basketballer last year and has been judiciously investing in a way definitely not characteristic of most sports stars. His current job is filmmaker, but it’s hardly more than a vehicle to deliver an unsavory message to his fellow Chinese: stop consuming animal products.

Ming is well known for his home town generosities and stardom throughout China. Injuries forced an end to his career last year, but injuries that many sports figures would have surgically corrected for a short-term sprint that ends them in a wheelchair when they’re 45.

Ming, instead, walked away from a salary that ESPN claimed would have been $17,686,100 for another 2012 season. Since then his endeavors have included buying a Napa vineyard and starting a wine export business to China, buying and coaching a Chinese basketball team and now, starting a film career.

Ming is currently in Kenya where together with American producer, Jay Cohen, he is producing a wildlife film mostly for Chinese consumption with the rather cliched title, “End of the Wild.”

Bundle this together with his decision to be an ambassador for WildAid and his appointment to a Chinese communist party committee in his hometown, Shanghai, and I think we have a man who is tall enough to bring two worlds together.

Wildlife conservation is not a Chinese passion. In fact, most of Asia has never viewed nature with the same reverence or awe as we cowboys. These older and more established cultures have sort of put nature in a picture frame rather than accepted it as something untamed.

For probably a millennium the unique characteristics of many animal horns and antlers have provided accomplished Asian sculpturers with a media that can be found nowhere else on earth. Ivory is the only natural substance that allows such intricate sculpting.

And similarly for a millennium and probably longer, traditional Asian medicines have relied heavily on rare animal parts: bear feet, rhino horn, rare bird livers.

I think that one of the reasons contemporary wildlife conservation has had such a hard road into Asia is that the most vocal of western conservationists are evangelical ideologues. Not that their foundation that preserving any form of life is not a viable first principle, but it completely ignores or at least leapfrogs the compelling science for animal conservation.

And that ideological position at the level of first principle does nothing but start a fight with opponents who cherish other first principles, like the preeminence of man.

You might call it PETA vs Ming.

More patient science shows us that even the simplest of life forms is so incredibly complicated not even Watson can replicate it. And this means we don’t know everything about it. And this means if we wipe it out, we’ll never know. And this means all sorts of knowledge, and knowledge specifically beneficial to humankind is lost for good.

Once that horror is truly understood there is a reverence for “what is living” that might come full circle to PETA’s mania. But it is the evidential science that will win over the majority of the world to wildlife conservation, not the simpler battle cry.

That’s why Ming’s old hat title of “End of the Wild” may mean something to a Chinese society that is only recently emerging from their cocoon.

Outlaw Cats?

Outlaw Cats?

India’s Supreme Court has banned tiger safaris in an attempt to stem their extinction. The decision has enormous implications for wildlife tourism worldwide.

Almost all wildlife tourism featuring wild tigers is in India. (A much smaller industry remains in Nepal, and even smaller in Russia.) Although there is a variety of larger mammals in India’s game reserves, tigers are by far the main attraction for foreign tourists. The decision could doom Indian wildlife tourism to its own extinction.

The Supreme Court’s simple decision on July 24 which “banned all tourism activities in the core areas of tiger reserves” followed an April 3 court directive to individual Indian states for wildlife management plans to protect tigers in face of a rapid decline.

The Court was reacting to the fact most of the States had not submitted any such plans. But the likelihood that the decision could be reversed if the States get their acts together is very small.

Few plans were submitted because nobody knows what to do. There is a decline in big cats worldwide that has miffed researchers. Nobody knows how to stem the decline. Nevertheless, the court will revisit its decision on August 22. Most of us do not expect it to reverse this decision.

In Africa as in India more big cats are being documented as having been poached, or more correctly, killed by owners of stock being molested by the big cats. Clever use of modern poisons lacing meat placed out as bait is the principal tool.

But the rapid decline (in East Africa, the lion population is down to around 9,000 from 30,000 twenty years ago) cannot be attributed to poaching alone.

My own feeling is that the increased urbanization of the developing world combined with confusing but rapid global warming changes is clobbering the top of the wilderness food chain. Ranchers poisoning lions to save their cattle is a symptom of this.

In India the issue is even more confused since a tiger skin is worth so much more on the black market than a lion skin. A male tiger can be more than twice the size of a female lion, its fur is much thicker and arguably more colorful. Though the motivation for a tiger killer might be to save his cows, once killed he has acquired a very valuable item easily black marketed for an extraordinary price.

The actual numbers of larger wild mammals in India as in Africa is actually increasing as wildlife management improves and the remaining habitat for them is better protected. But even though the food source is theoretically then increased for the larger cats, their overall habitat may be more stressed as more animals are squeezed into smaller areas.

This can lead to increased territorial fighting and a more rapid transmission of disease. Recently, for example, it was discovered in East Africa by researcher Craig Parker that some of the lion deaths there were attributed to a disease that was sweeping through the buffalo populations. Lions hunted buffalo and acquired the disease themselves.

India’s corrupt and complicated political system leaves open the possibility the court decision will not be fully implemented or at least not very quickly. Tourists also need to be very alert, now, as officials and business owners in some of India’s 600 so-called wild tiger reserves scramble to maintain business.

Ranthambore is one of the most important reserves, with 52 known wild tigers. There were indications recently that officials were going to move older tigers out of its central reserve into a buffer area that they would enclose, large enough that tourists wouldn’t realize when driving into it that it wasn’t the unfenced and open park.

India’s position has worldwide ramifications. The percentage decline and rate of decline of lions in East Africa is not quite as severe as tigers in India, but it’s severe. And what about polar bears in North America? Or walruses? Or even bears in certain parts of Alaska?

In India at least the highest court has decided that tourism contributes to tiger decline, or at least impedes tiger conservation.

To protect wild animals, should tourists be banned from seeing them?