Trophy Hunting and Conservation Science

pride lion

photo: Hilton

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”― Oscar Wilde

Washington, D.C.— Few things stoke the fires of emotion like the idea of endangered species dying unnecessarily. The African lion, one of the most iconic species on the planet, has become a symbol of conservation worldwide. But while Disney’s The Lion King personalizes an anthropomorphic view of animals in the American psyche, the debate on how best to conserve lions and other threatened species is not always consistent with pop culture notions. The science vs emotionalism debate is guaranteed to heat up with the recent introduction of the Prohibiting Threatened and Endangered Creature Trophies Act of 2019 (ProTECT) Act (H.R. 4804) to the U.S. House of Representatives by Texas Democrat, Sheila Jackson-Lee. It has been assigned to the House Committee on Natural Resources.

H.R. 4804 not only seeks to prevent the hunting of lions or any species listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), but would undermine captive breeding projects that were exempted from ESA by the Obama Administration; projects that have successfully saved the scimitar-horned oryx, and other endangered hoof stock from extinction— returning them to the African savannah.

“As human-lion contact increases, so does human-lion conflict, resulting in reductions in lion numbers (through poisoning, trapping and shooting) and lack of support for lion conservation among local communities.” ~ IUCN SSC Cat Specialist Group

While the debate in Washington regarding the best way to conserve wildlife continues, animal rights groups stoke the fires of emotionalism surrounding H.R. 4804, cultivating an irrational hatred for hunters on social media pages. Despite the rhetorical hyperbole, real conservation deserves a fair understanding of the facts.

All agree that populations of lions have declined significantly. According to a study authored by Professor Stuart Pimm of Duke University in 2012, about 75 percent of Africa’s savannahs and more than two-thirds of the lion population once estimated to live there have disappeared in the last 50 years. There are likely between 32,000 and 35,000 free ranging lions on the African continent today. According to professor Pimm, “massive land-use change and deforestation, driven by rapid human population growth” is the primary reason for the decline of the lion. This same human-wildlife conflict dynamic holds true as the primary threat to other listed species as well.

Sixty percent of big game hunted in Africa are destined for trophy rooms in the United States. Proponents of the ProTECT Act say allowing hunters to export trophies back to the U.S. sends the wrong conservation message. They say lions and other listed species would be best conserved by blocking access to American hunters, thereby reducing pressure on populations.

Jeff Flocken of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) once wrote, “Why should anyone spend money to protect an animal that a wealthy American can then pay to go kill?” Mr. Flocken characterized his argument as common sense, but acknowledged that, habitat loss and human-lion conflict, not hunting, are the primary causes of the lions’ disappearance from Africa.

In August 2019, Science magazine published an open letter, “Trophy hunting bans imperil biodiversity,” led by five scientists from Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and signed by 128 more. The letter stated that hunting has many positive impacts on conservation, and Amy Dickman, one of the letter’s lead authors, appeared on the BBC, where she stated that imposing a complete trophy hunting ban is likely to cause “more animals to die.”

Kitty Block, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), is critical of of the Science letter. She argues that the scientists who signed the letter should be ignored, implying that there is a conflict of interest because some have received conservation dollars derived from hunting interests to help pay for their research. Ms. Block calls the research money a corrupting influence, resulting in what she refers to as, “a web of lies.”

“For years now, trophy hunters have spun a web of lies to tie their ruthless killing of some of the world’s most at-risk animals to fake conservation benefits.”— Kitty Block, CEO HSUS, October 30, 2019

It is absolutely essential that local communities identify the presence of lions and other wildlife as a direct benefit to them. Reducing human-wildlife conflict is critical to conservation success. According to Dennis Ikanda, of the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute’s Kingupira Research Centre, his country generated $75 million in lion hunting from 2008 to 2011. Opponents of the ProTECT Act assert that trophy hunting is the only thing standing between the lions and extinction. Although those claims may seem counter intuitive, the money generated by hunting is being plowed back into the local economy, into conservation measures, and into protecting lions from poaching. Hunting advocates say the only chance for survival of the lions is management as a valuable and sustainable natural resource.

Although the idea of trophy hunting does not enjoy wide popularity, its value as a pragmatic conservation tool has proven to have great merit. The questions are: 1) will a hunting ban relieve pressure on threatened animal populations? or 2) will public policy ignore scientific evidence, and remove economic incentives necessary to protect valuable wildlife resources?

Animal rights advocates completely dismiss the conservation benefits of hunting. They value protecting individual animals over actions that favor preservation of species. However, a study of trophy hunting by the University of Zimbabwe supports claims of conservation success tied to responsible hunting practices. Peter Lindsey, the lead author of the study, wrote, “trophy hunting is sustainable and low risk if well managed.” Lindsey continued, “Trophy hunting was banned in Kenya in 1977, in Tanzania during 1973–1978, and in Zambia from 2000 through 2003. Each of these bans resulted in an accelerated loss of wildlife due to the removal of incentives for conservation. Avoiding future bans is thus vital for conservation.” When local communities are not incentivized to protect lions they are subsequently killed.

To date there appears to be no clear evidence that would support the premise that banning Americans from trophy hunting would inure conservation benefit to wildlife in Africa. To the contrary, banning hunting could undermine real conservation efforts by diminishing the value of lions and other listed species to local African communities. Remove economic incentives and conservation dollars, and you remove the only thing holding back the tide of human population growth and habitat destruction that is overwhelming the once prolific lion.

“…conservation policy that is not based on science threatens habitat and biodiversity.”— Amy Dickman, University of Oxford

Trophy hunting is by no means a perfect solution, but the IUCN Cat Specialists Group says, “Properly managed trophy hunting was viewed as an important solution to long-term lion conservation.” There will always be some abuse from unscrupulous individuals. But the monetary incentive to mange sustainable populations for hunting is the only protection lions currently have. Removing economic incentive for Africans to conserve lions has been demonstrated to be disastrous. Until a better conservation model proves it’s mettle, responsibly managed hunts are the best chance for lions and other species to survive the human population explosion in Africa.


Andrew Wyatt is a government affairs and policy consultant dedicated exclusively to the wildlife sector. Vitello Consulting for the Win!

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Andrew Wyatt and former National Security Advisor John Bolton in the “Green Room” at FOX & Friends

“In an arena known to be dominated by powerful special interest groups, Vitello Consulting has created a niche providing tailored advocacy strategies that are leveling the playing field for wildlife clients on Capitol Hill— And in 2014 we began offering state level advocacy that has negated most of the legislative and regulatory initiatives impacting our clients in state capitols across the country. Please follow The Last Word on Wildlife for insight and analysis particular to the 21st century wildlife sector. If you would like to discuss the advantages of creating a comprehensive business/government affairs strategy, or a more targeted issue campaign, please call or email me.” — Andrew Wyatt


©Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word on Wildlife, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word on Wildlife with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Material posted from guest writers is the sole intellectual property of the author. Please seek permission directly from the author prior to reproducing in whole or in part.

Animal Ambassadors: 21st Century Conservation — Doc Antle’s Tiger Tales

I attribute the perfect safety record here at TIGERS/RSF to the fact that we have evolved our zoological model to focus on socialization, training and rigorous enrichment opportunities. — Doc Antle, October 2017

Read more via Animal Ambassadors: 21st Century Conservation — Doc Antle’s Tiger Tales

The Elephant’s Armageddon: Part I

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By guest writer— Ron Thomson

This an eleventh-hour appeal for common sense to prevail in the ongoing and controversial international debate surrounding what management strategy is deemed best for the African elephant. Just as the Christian bible or the Islamic Qur’an cannot be written on the back of a postage stamp, however, so the details of elephant conservation cannot be expounded in a single short article. This, therefore, is the first of a series of blogs that will reveal the facts surrounding this – for Africa – vitally important topic. I promise you only one thing – I will tell you the truth. I intend to tell you “what is” without fear or favour.

What credentials do I have to qualify me to write such an important series? That is an important question so let’s get its answer out of the way at the outset.

I am a 78 year old white African who has spent his entire life in the service of Africa’s wildlife. I began my career, age 20, in 1959 when I attested into the Rhodesian (now Zimbabwean) Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management. I served in that department for 24 years, rising through the ranks to become the Provincial Game Warden-in-charge of Hwange National Park – the country’s premier tourism destination and big game sanctuary. I qualified as an ecologist; became a member of the Institute of Biology (London); and was registered as a Chartered Biologist for the European Union for 20 years.

Throughout my career I was deeply involved with the hands-on management of all Africa’s big game animals and I worked closely with some of the continent’s greatest and most accomplished full-time wildlife scientists. I pioneered and perfected the capture of black rhinos in the Zambezi Valley (1964 – 1970) – hunting on foot; approaching every rhino that I darted, alone, with only a capture gun in my hands; and I successfully translocated 140 of these pugnacious beasts, releasing them into the relative safety of the country’s national parks. For those of you who know about such things, you may be interested to know that my average darting range, in the heavy Zambezi valley thickets, was between 6 and 13 yards.

Throughout my service, I hunted elephants extensively – crop-raiders; man-killers; veterinary fence breakers; agricultural installation nuisances; to stop the advance of the tsetse fly into the country’s commercial farming areas; and to variously help feed the Batonka people after they had been forcibly evacuated from their ancestral homes on the banks of the Zambezi river following the creation of Lake Kariba. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed my dangerous big game hunting adventures but I never hunted for trophies. I hunted elephant because it was my job, as a government game ranger, to do so.

I was the officer-in-charge – and chief hunter – of the elephant population reduction programme in the Gonarezhou National Park (1971 & 1972) when, for urgent management reasons, we reduced the numbers of elephants in that park from 5000 to 2500; during which operation I perfected new, humane and more efficient elephant culling techniques.

I left Zimbabwe in 1983 under duress, when Mr Mugabe replaced all the colonial civil servants with veterans of his recent War-of-Liberation. I was prepared to stay and help the new Zimbabwe develop; but I was not wanted!

I emigrated to South Africa in 1983 where I served as Chief Nature Conservation Officer for Ciskei (one year); and then Director of the National Parks and Wildlife Management Board of Bophuthatswana (three years). And I operated as a professional hunter for three years. Soon, thereafter, I began writing books (x 14 now) about Africa’s wildlife management issues – and articles in outdoor magazines about such controversial issues as the need to cull, or not to cull, elephants. For the last 28 years I have earned a living as an investigative wildlife journalist.

I explain all these things to emphasize my point that I have vast hands-on experience in the management of Africa’s elephants – and other big game animals; that I have biological/ecological training and experience; and that I am amply qualified to write this blog and the ones that follow. And I have been actively engaged in all these matters for the last 58 years.

I love Africa’s wildlife, particularly its elephants and black rhinos, and I am distraught in the knowledge that the fate of all these wonderful animals now rests, de facto, in the hands of uninformed and incompetent NGOs, and interfering governments in the First World – who see only what they want to see of the complex wildlife management and humanitarian issues involved. And they, more often than not, miss the point by a mile; the NGOs fabricate untruths in their propaganda; and thereby, they make hundreds of millions of US dollars out of their gullible publics.  These people – from Prince William in Buckingham Palace to the supporters of the planet’s most pernicious animal rightist NGOs – are now making demands on Africa (through organisations like the US Fish & Wildlife Service, CITES and the European Parliament ) to apply solutions to Africa’s elephant poaching problems that are only going to make matters worse.

The elephants of Africa need common sense to prevail. They will not survive without it. My next several blogs will reveal to you a great many realities about Africa and its elephants – information that you have never heard nor believed possible. Nobody can make a rational decision about anything unless and until they are in possession of all the facts about it. Considering the needs of Africa’s elephants and their management is no exception. I intend to provide you, therefore, with all the pertinent facts in the next several blogs. So look forward to the next blog that will be coming soon.

Burmese Python: Dragon of the Everglades

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South Florida Burmese Python

The 2016 Python Challenge™ is moving at a record pace in south Florida. Sponsored by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the controversial python hunt, ostensibly to remove invasive snakes from the Everglades, produced a disappointing tally of only 68 snakes after 30 days of hunting in 2013. With cooler temperatures in south Florida, 100 pythons have already been taken in 2016. Hunters have capitalized on greater snake visibility as pythons bask openly in the sun to retain warmth. But is the hunt, slated to finish on Valentines Day, really for conservation or just a publicity stunt?

Raising the specter of giant pythons in the Everglades has become a media pastime in Florida. Clearly the appetite for this farfetched story is not easily sated. Lauded as some kind of invasive dragon devouring endangered wildlife and family pets alike, the Burmese python has become the stuff of folklore and myth: a modern day Jaws. A myth promulgated by environmental groups, invasion biologists and the press. Pythons being slain by champions eager to battle dark denizens for the ecological life of the Everglades has become a symbolic narrative that politicians have adopted and regurgitated for their own political purposes.

There is no denying that there are tens of thousands of Burmese pythons in the Everglades, but that’s far fewer than the 100’s of thousands touted by the likes of U.S. Senator Bill Nelson or Dan Ashe of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. While pythons are certainly eating rabbits, rats, feral cats and an occasional small gator, what many people don’t realize, is that pythons don’t eat every day like a warm blooded predator. They may only eat a handful of times per year; hardly the “resource hogs” depicted by some biologists.

“Cold temperatures killed thousands of pythons in the Winter of 2009-2010. Numbers appear to be rebounding, but pythons are not being found as readily as they were. The population peaked in Summer of 2009 with highs estimated to be 30,000- 40,000 pythons.” — Shawn Heflick, Biologist and star of NatGeo WILD’s: The Python Hunters

Another part and parcel of the myth is the notion that pythons have no natural predators in the glades. Nothing to temper an unabated population growth, a notion that is patently false. Any biologist worth his salt can tell you, there are dozens of potential predators for pythons in south Florida. Baby pythons are extremely vulnerable to hawks and eagles, wading birds, predatory fish, raccoons, feral hogs, feral cats, not to mention the apex predator of the Everglades, the American alligator, which preys even on adult pythons.

The exaggeration of every detail surrounding the presence of pythons in the glades further clouds the facts. For a variety of reasons the press and the pundits seem invested in demonizing the python. The press loves the idea of a giant snake in the glades “eating everything in its path.” Clearly the public has a morbid fascination with snakes that kindles a primal fear. Environmentalists and agency personnel see opportunity to increase funding for invasive, and or endangered species research not stimulated by less sensational problems. Ambitious biologists seem to bank on decades of pythons study and research in their future. Politicians vilify the snake as a threat that can only be overcome with the appropriation of billions in Everglades restoration dollars. It is a rich issue with a handout for nearly everyone.

“… many are content to chase the ‘Burmese Dragon’ around south Florida like Don Quixote chasing windmills.” — Andrew Wyatt

But the reality is this: Burmese pythons are a relatively low rung on the ladder of serious problems facing the Everglades. They have become a red herring, a distraction, and a scapegoat from more fundamental problems that are either too contentious or too difficult to deal with. Instead of addressing issues surrounding big sugar, pollution, water flow or other more pervasive invasive species threats, many are content to chase the ‘Burmese Dragon’ around south Florida like Don Quixote chasing windmills.

Hunting invasive pythons, although not without merit, is not being pursued in earnest. The National Park Service (NPS) will not allow pythons to be hunted at the epicenter of the population in the Everglades National Park (ENP). Ironically, the NPS appears to be protecting those pythons in order to preserve a study group for ongoing research. For the hunts to be effective, they should be conducted in the ENP in an open and ongoing basis. For now, hunts are restricted to state lands around the periphery of the park, and are limited to 30 days every few years.

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Vendors selling snakeskin wallets and belts at the 2016 Python Challenge™

The actual 2016 Python Challenge™ takes on an air more commensurate with a rattlesnake round-up or a reality TV show, than an environmental clean-up. It attracts colorful characters from all over the country to ‘hunt’ the dreaded pythons. Vendors have booths and sell t-shirts, snakeskin wallets and belt buckles. There’s funnel cake and BBQ. FWC is omni-present “educating” the public about the dangers of large pythons, how to identify them, wrangle them, and how to report them. But one has to wonder if the purpose is conservation or carnival.

While some concerns regarding invasive pythons are legitimate, the dramatic characterization placing pythons at the center of all of the Everglades ecological troubles is way overblown. Efforts to reduce the population via the Python Challenge are ineffective and disingenuous. Python population will never be significantly reduced unless the hunt is conducted at the epicenter of the invasion in the heart of the ENP. Allowing an open season within the park is the only way to actually reduce numbers through hunting. This ‘Dragon’ hunt  can hardly be seen as anything but a side show, while the decline of the Everglades goes on with or without the Burmese python circus.


Andrew Wyatt is a government affairs and policy consultant working exclusively in the wildlife sector. He formerly served as the CEO of the United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK) where he twice testified before congress as an expert on python issues. Andrew has been interviewed on National Public Radio, by Bloomberg and by The New York Times.

Scimitar-horned oryx study aims to bolster reintroduction

“A radio collar behavioral study is underway at Fossil Rim as a precursor to an unprecedented reintroduction of the ‘extinct’ Scimitar Horned Oryx to Republic of Chad in Central Africa. This is how captive breeding projects really can act as a conservation safety net.” ~Andrew Wyatt

Words On Wildlife

With a species currently extinct in the wild ramping up for reintroduction to its native Chad next summer, there’s a lot on the line for the human parties involved.

Several groups of scimitar-horned oryx (SHO) will be released over time and monitored by GPS radio collars. But first, Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) and Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) among others need to know how the animals react to these collars regarding behavior, grazing activity and time under collar habituation.

Hence the study extending from November 2015 to February 2016 at Fossil Rim involving nine SHO females and one male. Supported by Fossil Rim team members and offsite collaborators, Stephanie Cunningham, Fossil Rim hoofstock behavior research and husbandry intern, is the project investigator.

Justin and Stephanie Justin Smith, Fossil Rim senior animal care specialist – hoofstock, holds a scimitar-horned oryx stationary as a GPS…

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Rhino1000 gathering steam to save a species

“A South African software company has floated an idea to Pat Condy of Fossil Rim, Charly Seale of the Exotic Wildlife Association, and ranchers from Texas and South Africa, that may save endangered white rhinos. Dubbed Rhino1000, the idea is in the early stages, and will be quite costly, but could bring 1000 rhinos to the USA in an unprecedented effort at conservation through captive breeding.” ~ Andrew Wyatt

Words On Wildlife

With the white rhinos of South Africa faced with the rapidly escalating threat of poaching at a rate of about four per day, likeminded locals and people across the Atlantic have decided to take action.

The Rhino1000 initiative is in its infant stages after being floated as an idea by the South African software company GroupElephant.com to the USA Exotic Wildlife Association (EWA) – many members of which own exotic wildlife ranches in Texas. Essentially, the name references the desire to help alleviate the rhino poaching epidemic by eventually building a population of 1,000 white rhinos from South Africa on the safer private Texas lands. Eventually, the plan calls for rhinos to be returned from Texas to South Africa.

South Texas quite closely resembles rhino habitat in South Africa in terms of landscape and climate, thus it became a focal point for Rhino1000.

Adam pose Adam Eyres, Fossil Rim hoofstock curator, details…

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Doc Antle’s New Blog: Tiger Tales

“Doc Antle is an amazing animal trainer. I visited his facility in the Summer of 2014. I have never seen anything like it. Absolutely fantastic!” ~Andrew Wyatt

Doc Antle's Tiger Tales

My name is Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, and I’ am best known for training big cats and great apes. It’s no secret that I have worked with the icons of Hollywood and giants of the music world. I’ve also worked with the most respected purveyors of educational programming in television and film. However, after a carreer spanning more than 30 years, my focus has now turned toward preserving the animals I love in their natural habitat.

Today I would like to invite you to follow my new blog, Tiger Tales. With this blog I hope to explore issues that are of the utmost importance to me. With the benefit of my perspective, hopefully a sense of urgency will be conveyed to you.

If we let the tiger go, we are losing a piece of ourselves forever. — Doc Antle, Rolling Stone

There is a lot of misinformation out there, and I want to set the…

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