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
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.
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.
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.
“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
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.
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“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
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.
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“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
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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How hunting a critically endangered black rhino will greatly benefit conservation of the species.
Last January the Dallas Safari Club (DSC), auctioned off a permit issued by the government of Namibia to hunt a black rhino. Namibia is legally permitted by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to sell five permits for the hunting of adult male black rhinos each year. The Namibian government has identified a small number of individual black rhinos that may be hunted that are old, incapable of breeding and pose a threat to other younger animals.
A prominent hunter and conservationist, Corey Knowlton, submitted the winning bid of $350,000 at the auction and subsequently applied to FWS for a permit to import the trophy into the US. DSC plans to donate the entire proceeds of the auction to benefit conservation of the black rhino species (Diceros bicornis).
The debate over the value of a black rhino hunt that would raise $350,000 for rhino conservation efforts in Namibia has heated to the boiling point once again. The question of whether the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) will issue a permit to import a black rhino trophy into the US is at the forefront of this debate. Anti-hunting animal rights groups that vehemently oppose the hunt are using the power of their grass roots followers to pressure FWS to deny issue of the permit.
Reports from the Namibian government suggest that an older non-breeding male rhino that is disruptive to the herd, will be selected. It is important to note that this rhino will likely be culled regardless of whether FWS issues the import permit or not. If the permit is denied DSC plans to refund Mr. Knowlton’s winning $350,000 bid. If that happens, the rhino’s life will not be saved, and the conservation efforts in Namibia will not receive the $350,000.
According to FWS spokesman Gavin Shire, FWS is ‘applying “extra scrutiny” to Knowlton’s request because of the rise in poaching.’ By all accounts, although there was a rise in the numbers of poached white rhinos in South Africa, the overall population of black rhinos has been on the rise for a number of years.
“Thanks to successful conservation and anti-poaching efforts, the total number of black rhinos has grown…” ~ World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
Anti-hunting groups have long argued that hunting and poaching are indistinguishable. However, it is clear that this is a position driven by ideology. The reality is that hunting is legal and supports conservation. Poaching is a criminal activity that undermines conservation. What is unclear from the FWS statement, is how an unrelated rise in poaching arbitrarily dictates “extra scrutiny” toward the issuance of an import permit for a legal rhino hunt.
“Hunting isn’t conservation” ~ Jeffrey Flocken, North American regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)
Additionally, animal rights groups argue that money spent on hunting in Africa never reaches local communities or conservation, but according to a report from TRAFFIC, the organization that works with the WWF, IUCN, and CITES to track the international trade of wildlife, US hunters spend $11 million annually in Namibia on controlled, legal hunts. Further, if allowed by the US government, the $350,000 proceeds from this one single hunt would go exclusively to black rhino conservation in Namibia.
Those that are opposed to hunting are predisposed to object to any hunting based conservation model. Ideology aside, there is no doubt that millions of dollars are injected into the Namibian economy every year as the direct result of hunting. For FWS to deny issuing an import permit based on misinformation and pressure from special interests, would not only be a disservice to processing a legitimate permit application, but it would block $350,000 earmarked for black rhino conservation efforts.
“Sport hunting of Namibia’s black rhino population will strongly contribute to the enhancement of the survival of the species…” ~ World Wildlife Fund
Yesterday on the IFAW Facebook page, the animal rights organization was exhorting their followers to “Save One Black Rhino” by pressuring FWS to deny import permits. The fact remains that the rhino in question will likely be culled regardless of the decision of FWS. Wouldn’t it be better to allow Mr. Knowlton to hunt the rhino and import the trophy so that the auction money can go to rhino conservation? Preventing Mr. Knowlton’s hunt will accomplish only one thing: it will prevent black rhino conservation in Namibia from receiving a $350,000 donation. All real conservation happens at the species level. The survival of critically endangered black rhinos should not be held hostage to special interest politics.
Andrew Wyatt is a government affairs consultant that works exclusively in the wildlife sector.
“Endangered species conservation and other wildlife issues are highly charged and contentious. I specialize in working with clients to employ campaign style tactics to change hearts and minds on vital issues in the wildlife sector. Please follow The Last Word for insight and analysis particular to the 21st century wildlife sector. If you would like to discuss the potential advantages of running a targeted issue campaign, and/or a comprehensive government affairs strategy, please call or email me.” ~ Andrew Wyatt
© Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word, 2014. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.