This is a reprint from the African Hunter Magazine.
Its a very good read with a great opinion , and stasts.
The Convoluted Economics of Wildlife
By I J Larivers
While recently promoting the launch of our new African Hunter cloud magazine, one of the tour operators we contacted overseas had the following to say:
“I feel very strongly that you should not be promoting the hunting of any animals that are threatened with extinction… elephants, lions, leopards, cheetah and to see you glorify the hunting of these is sickening in this world where they are so threatened. Why can’t you promote the protection of these and by photography rather than shooting and killing?
I have lived in Zimbabwe when I was younger but am so desperate at the rate rhino and elephant are being slaughtered all over the world and I know it is the fault of the Chinese and other Asian countries’ desire for the horns – but it seems that left to themselves elephant do manage their populations by breeding less.
What I disagree with is showing photos on websites and magazines with rich Americans glorying in the killing of these – small game, OK but not elephants and lions, as what message is it sending around the world? It is similar to ISIS holding the heads of those poor victims of beheadings and we humans have a duty to protect wildlife, not glory in their deaths.”
This person has genuine concerns for the future of wildlife, and we appreciate folks like this who are prepared to sit down and write to us and engage in dialogue – it gives us a chance to get our side of the story across.
When I see terms like “threatened with extinction” associated with sport hunting it can mean only one thing – that the person’s perceptions are being shaped by animal rights activists. And the activists, of course are activists because that’s what puts food on their tables. And oftentimes a lot more than food. Many are registered charities, and therefore leave a traceable footprint on the web, and can be looked at through organisations like Charity Watch.
During the whole debate last year over the auction of an old black rhinoceros in Namibia, it just seemed that somewhere, someone’s priorities had become – shall we say – shifted? Firstly, as a biologist, I asked myself what the value of a black rhinoceros was and in what currency. That answer was simple – its value is inestimable in today’s world if it is a viable member of a gene pool, and no amount of geld can be used as a yardstick. But too old to breed? Well, that would come down to the dollars and cents value of the horns and ancillary hunt revenue, including employment and meat for rural Africans often living a subsistence existence. Rhino horn is currently valued at between $65,000 ands $100,000 per kilogram. Maybe a little higher, for the price is driven by international criminal and terror syndicates – because the sale of rhino horn is strictly banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the global treaty that governs trade in plants and animals – but more on that later. Unlike their Asian counterparts, African rhinos have a pair of horns. In the case of the larger and more numerous white rhino, the horns’ average combined weight is usually close to 6kg. The average weight of both horns on the smaller black rhino is about half that – though over ninety percent of the poaching incidents involve white rhinos.
In the case of the Namibian black rhino auction, the controversial decision was good for conservation and good for black rhinos. Over the past twenty years, the Namibian rhino population has been on the increase. Now home to some 1,700 black rhino, Namibia’s management policies have seen the species thrive and poaching all but eliminated. While annual rhino poaching statistics for South Africa can break into four figures, Namibia lost two in 2013. Namibia encourages rural villagers to live side by side with wildlife to manage and profit from it by opening up their conservation lands to wealthy sport hunters and tourists armed instead with cameras. Priority is given to the hunters, simply because the conservancies don’t need to make any investment to attract them. Photographic safari lodges not only leave a larger carbon footprint than hunting infrastructures, but they are also costly to develop and maintain.
The theory behind the idea of the conservancy is that local tolerance for wildlife would increase and poaching would dwindle, because a sense of ownership was engendered in the villagers and poaching would equate to theft from the people. Conservancies now control almost twenty percent of the country, and wildlife populations have increased dramatically. Elephant and lion, two of the more topical species under scrutiny today, are increasing in numbers in Namibia while they are decreasing in countries such as Kenya which eschew sport hunting.
By agreement with CITES, Namibia can sell hunting rights for as many as five black rhino per annum, but more importantly when you look at how hunting revenue is often spent in Africa – the fleet of SUVs at the disposal of the Director-General of Zimbabwe’s National Parks is an example – in Namibia the entire trophy fee goes into a trust fund that supports rhino conservation efforts. It doesn’t get any better than that in Africa. The monies generated pay for anti-poaching operations and various research projects.
But in 2014, Namibia made a crucial error – they conducted one of their rhino auctions in the United States, not in Namibia, and that opened the doors of myriad loony bins. So, I decided to take a closer look at the International Fund for Animal Welfare which was the most vociferous opponent of the rhino auction. At the time, they raised some $25 million dollars each year, of which 62% was allocated to service delivery in the forty some-odd countries in which they operate. But it was the remaining 38% that intrigued me. The only stats I was really interested in were salaries. And while it’s true that some high-profile charities – like Heritage Foundation and the NRA – pay their top people seven figure salaries, some nearing three million dollar mark, they are also higher fliers when it comes to asset generation. The Executive Vice President and CEO of IFAW were listed at just under $300,000. That jumped out at me, because some years ago I did contract work in Iraq, in a war zone, and I was earning about two thirds of that for getting shot at, rocketed and mortared. These folks operate in a cocktail party zone.
OK, they didn’t want this rhino hunted because it was cute when it was a baby or somesuch cocktail party rationale but why deprive the Namibian government of $350,000 that had been earmarked for rhino conservation? If they cared a damn about this rhino – if they cared more about the rhinoceros than the publicity and money generated by the grandstanding – why didn’t they bid for the rhino? Why didn’t they put up the money that they were prepared to cost Namibia’s rhino conservation programme? One can only assume that they had a ‘better’ use for it.
The core problem with animal rights activists – apart from the fact that much of their motivation is making money – is that they are seen by most people, such as the correspondent at the beginning of this rant, as experts. Rarely are they. The international media was willing to believe last year that three hundred elephant had been poisoned in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park because Johnny Rodrigues of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force said so. National Parks and other conservationists on the ground put forward a more realistic figure of half that or less. I’m not having a go at Johnny Rodrigues or the ZCTF, for they have done good things, but he is not a trained wildlife biologist, and that is what I would consider an expert. So, the average person will believe what they read in the media and the media will believe, it seems, anyone who issues a press release.
If we want to hear from a real expert, Ron Thomson – former Provincial Warden of Hwange – he tells us what is really wrong with elephant populations in much of Africa:
“In southern Africa, most elephant populations – due to the cessation of culling programs in recent years – have now expanded well beyond the carrying capacities of their habitats. In Botswana, for example – a country that carried considerably less than 10 000 elephants in 1960 – officially recorded 207,000 in 2013. The wildlife habitats in Botswana’s protected areas - up to a distance of 25 kilometers from the dry season water supplies – have now been completely destroyed by too many elephants over too many years. And the once-rich soils that carried those habitats have – because they have become progressively more exposed to the erosive forces of sun, wind and rain over the last 50 years – disappeared from the environment. That means there is no chance at all, now, that the former diverse habitats that once carried Botswana’s rich wildlife biodiversity, can ever recover.”
To the uninitiated, the thrill of stalking an elephant – with camera or rifle – is the experience of a lifetime. To the activists, that same elephant earns them an annual salary. To Ron, the mismanagement of elephant populations by faux-experts may ultimately sound the death knell for elephants and many other plant and animal species.
“Most of these game reserves are – at this point in time – carrying more than ten times their habitat’s current elephant carry capacities. The overall top canopy tree population in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, for example, is now down by more that 95% when compared to 1960. And why was this allowed to happen? Because governments – in Africa and in the First World – have sheepishly succumbed to international (animal rights-inspired) pressure to stop elephant culling. The consequences of this incredibly stupid interference in a vitally important and common sense wildlife management practice, will be the total loss of habitats, followed by the total loss of the essential soils that once supported them! The ultimate tragedy will be the destruction of southern Africa’s once immensely rich biological diversity – because the game reserves in all these countries are degenerating rapidly.
And all this is happening because gullible governments – all over the world – are listing to the false propaganda of the animal rights communities in the First World. Intelligent people are being taken in by their rhetoric not realising that, by doing so, they are contributing to the successful operation of the biggest confidence industry the world has ever known. All these NGOs want is money – to keep their organisations running, to indulge in the rich-man’s life-style, and to keep the senior executives in fat-cat employment
In December of 2013, a couple at Incline Village near Lake Tahoe in the US reported a problem bear to Nevada wildlife officials that was later captured and killed as a threat to public safety. The couple’s call to the Nevada Department of Wildlife sparked a campaign by members of the Bear League to “threaten, harass and intimidate” the couple. They were subjected to a series of threatening emails, text messages and Facebook messages, “including death threats.” Death threats? See loony bins above. We are often not dealing with sane people here, or ones who have any regard for anyone else’s right to their own opinions.
OK, so much for the beneficial input of legal, transparently regulated sport hunting into species conservation – now let’s take a look at the other economics of wildlife.
One figure that’s making the rounds at the moment is that in Africa, every fifteen minutes an elephant is killed. I don’t challenge this, but what I find disturbing is the number of people who cannot differentiate between hunting and poaching. These elephant are not being hunted, they’re being poached. The legendary US Fish & Wildlife Special Agent Dave Hall once said “Hell, if I gave up hunting I’d probably become one of those antis too, and try and close it all down. But you wouldn’t stop poaching”.
The illegal wildlife trade is worth an estimated twenty billion dollars a year. Newsworthy of late has been the kidnapping of 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria by the terror organisation Boko Haram. But what about the estimated 23,000 elephant killed for their ivory last year? Poaching is no longer merely a matter of concern for conservationists – it is now a national security issue, and not necessarily for the countries in which the illegal trafficking emanates. Boko Haram – like al-Shabbab, Janjaweed, and al-Qaeda in other parts of Africa – is largely funded by the proceeds from illegal ivory. And then there’s ISIS, the new kid on the block. In order to survive, it has to shove others away from the various troughs – or just plain increase the cash flow.
Impoverished African villagers are most often coerced into pulling the trigger, but international crime syndicates and terrorist groups are the puppet-masters. Squiggly lines on Google Earth maps represent the movement of GPS-collared elephants in many African countries; the animals’ perambulations are too slow to trace in realtime – unless an elephant’s trace suddenly surges forward and then stops dead. Literally dead, for in this case it has most likely been slaughtered by a poaching gang.
Various groups of activists would have us believe that sport hunting of African elephants is unsustainable. Sadly, as in the case of South African National Parks and the Kenya Wildlife Service to name but two of Africa’s more high-profile game departments, the activists have subtly put themselves in charge of policy by taking charge of the real purse strings, which come from donor funding. Sport hunting of elephants is not unsustainable – what is unsustainable is the four elephant per hour in Africa which fall to poachers’ rifles daily. Sport hunting channels much-needed revenue into the conservation coffers of developing countries, and provides an on-the-ground, frontline defence against poaching cartels. But considering poaching’s rapidly-increasing ties to international terrorism, let’s hope that CW sinks in a little faster with Western governments who are themselves more and more prone to fall prey to the anthropomorphic siren song of activists with hidden agendae.
The US Department of the Interior, which includes among its mandates the enforcement of the Endangered Species Act is moving ahead with a ban on the commercial trade in ivory, as “part of an overall effort to combat poaching”. No one is going to argue that elephant and rhinoceros poaching and the subsequent trafficking in ivory and horn aren’t a major threat to the survival of the species concerned and a source of illicit finance for corrupt governments and international terrorist organisations. But a number of questions emerge, including the legitimacy of the United States’ role as the world’s policeman and just how effective such draconian measures will actually be at reducing trafficking in ivory and rhino horn. In other words, what works and what doesn’t?
Richard Epstein, in Defining Ideas, the journal of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, discusses the shortcomings of such a ban and the inevitable attendant intrusion on basic human freedoms in a very well-thought out essay entitled “The Wrong Way to Combat Poaching”, and if you haven’t read it, then g
African governments – especially those without strong sport hunting traditions – have long struggled to control poaching. Perhaps because it’s not really a cultural priority, perhaps because finances are strained, or perhaps because some within the governments are themselves the principal traffickers. But these countries are no longer sleepy backwaters facing just local challenges. There’s this whole global village thing now, and when you start putting coins in al-Shabaab’s begging bowl or ISIS’s, willingly or not, a lot of Big Brothers are going to start paying you the kind of attention that you don’t want.
Perhaps the motivation for the outcry following the recent SEAL team raids is because African governments are starting to wake up to the fact that if they don’t control their poaching problem transparently, or are perhaps themselves involved in the cartels, and money is going to the wrong folks, they may wake up one fine morning only to find that SEAL Team Six has paid them a visit during the night