Extinction v. Captive Conservation: The Fate of the Three Amigos

The scimitar-horned oryx was declared extinct in the wild in 2002 photo: Exotic Wildlife Association

The scimitar-horned oryx was declared extinct in the wild in 2002
photo: Exotic Wildlife Association

Recently, in a legal ploy designed to undermine the “Three Amigos” provision of the Appropriations Act of 2014, the Friends of Animals (FoA) filed a federal lawsuit to try and stop the conservation of three endangered antelope species.

In a legal and legislative skirmish beginning in 2005, conservationists and animal rights activists have battled over the fate of three endangered antelope. It began when US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) added the scimitar-horned oryx, dama gazelle and addax (a|k|a the Three Amigos) to the Endangered Species list– but allowed an exemption for legal trade and hunting of captive bred specimens here in the United States. FoA and other animal rights activists filed a federal lawsuit hoping to overturn the exemption and block these captive conservation efforts. Subsequently, in 2009 they got their wish, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia struck down the FWS exemption, putting the Three Amigos in jeopardy of extinction once again. Then, in January of this year, the Appropriations Act of 2014 was passed and signed into law by President Obama with a “Three Amigos” exemption that once again cleared the way to conserve the endangered antelope through captive breeding.

Addax photo: Fossil Rim

Addax
photo: Fossil Rim

This is about more than legal and political wrangling. It is about endangered species conservation on a grand scale. It is about hunters and ranchers turning species away from the brink of extinction. Today, thanks to the dedication and sound husbandry of ranchers, there are thousands of scimitar-horned oryx and addax, and a growing population of dama gazelle, thriving on tens of thousands of acres in Texas. This private model of conservation has been a resounding success and has not cost the taxpayer a dime. It is an unprecedented conservation safety net that has been villanized by its critics for what appears to be purely ideological reasons.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other members of the animal rights industry stand for the proposition that hunting is morally wrong in all circumstances. HSUS has characterized hunting on a game ranch as a “canned hunt,” falsely conjuring images of blood thirsty men slaughtering trapped animals from the backs of pick-up trucks. Michael Markarian, HSUS Chief Program and Policy Officer, said, “hunters can bag endangered animals in drive-thru killing operations.” But when 60 Minutes did a segment on hunting on Texas game ranches, they did not find that Markarians’ comments rang true. In the spirit of “fair chase,” the hunter that was followed by the 60 Minutes crew lost an opportunity when the antelope eluded him in heavy cover.

Dama gazelle photo: Exotic Wildlife Association

Dama gazelle
photo: Exotic Wildlife Association

“Fair chase” is the opportunity to avoid being found, and once found, the ability to detect and escape the hunter. ~Charly Seale, Executive Director, Exotic Wildlife Association 

Charly Seale of the Exotic Wildlife Association (EWA), says that only a small percentage of surplus antelope on ranches are made available to hunt. Some are sold to other ranchers. Others are sent back to their countries of origin in an attempt to reintroduce them to their natural habitats.

Those that are hunted are carefully selected. They live in wide open areas, often on thousands of acres, much as they do in their native range. A hunter must track and locate the proper animal just to have an opportunity.  The EWA has a Code of Ethics that upholds the concept of “fair chase.” There is no guarantee of success, and the antelope can and often does, elude a potential hunter.

The point is that because of hunting, these antelope have a tangible economic value that makes it possible to populate large herds right here in the US; a private model of conservation that costs the taxpayer nothing and demonstrates the commitment to preservation of species by hunters and ranchers. These programs have demonstrated their success already by preventing extinction, by making animals extinct in the wild, prolific in captivity.  Make no mistake, hunting is conservation.

"A lifetime struggle against the depravity of recreational hunting.” ~Priscilla Feral, President FoA

“A lifetime struggle against the depravity of recreational hunting.” ~Priscilla Feral, President, Friends of Animals

In the new book The Invisible Ark: In Defense of Captivity, Dave and Tracy Barker write of the inherent value of captive breeding as a conservation safety net. They espouse the principle that 21st century conservation depends upon creating economic incentives for local communities to preserve species. They denounce what they call the “Mantra of the Damned,” now adopted by some animal rights activists, which stands for the ideology, “better extinct than only in captivity.” Priscilla Feral, president of FoA embodied that dark sentiment when Lara Logan of 60 Minutes asked her, “…you would rather they [scimitar-horned oryx] not exist at all?” Feral responded, “not on a ranch in Texas.” To her, extinction of an entire species is preferable to thriving on hunting ranches in Texas.

The main driver for conservation here is a passion for these antelope. For the ethical hunter and conservationist, it would be a travesty of justice for these animals to disappear when there is the power and the means to save them. To forsake these magnificent creatures, and deprive our children of the opportunity to see them, just because some don’t philosophically approve of the only means of conservation that has proven to work, is unfathomable.

“For more than a century, [hunters] have been the backbone of conservation in this country…” ~Sally Jewell, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior – March 4, 2014

In a private economically driven model of conservation, hunters and Texas game ranchers have brought these magnificent antelope back from the edge of extinction. The Three Amigos have been given economic value that has paved the way for conservation. The EWA is working to return a dozen scimitar-horned oryx to their native range of Senegal in 2015. Another ranch and wildlife park, Fossil Rim, spends $250,000 a year returning scimitar-horned oryx and other endangered species to their native range. Thousands of tourists, school groups, scouts and church groups visit Fossil Rim every year. None of this will be possible if FoA succeeds in overturning the Three Amigos provision of the Appropriations Act of 2014.

ICCF Commends $23.7M Initiative to Combat Poaching & Conflict in Africa

ICCF Commends The Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Nature Conservation Trust and SANParks for Announcing R255 million (USD $23.7 million) Initiative to Combat Poaching & Conflict in AfricaBlack_Rhino_on_Ngorongoro_Crater

March 18, 2014

The Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Nature Conservation Trust and
SANParks Announce Historic R255 Million Commitment to Combat Poaching, Conflict in Africa

Three-year effort will intensify protection of Kruger National Park’s rhino population, and identify successful strategies to address poaching which finances conflict in Africa

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – The Howard G. Buffett Foundation (HGBF), a private foundation in the United States; the Nature Conservation Trust (NCT), a South African public benefit organization (PBO); and South African National Parks (SANParks) today announced an historic RAND 255 million (USD $23.7 million), three-year initiative to combat rhino poaching in Kruger National Park and test anti-poaching tactics that can be applied in other regions of Africa, where poaching can be a source of funding for armed groups. The announcement was made at the Rosebank office of Standard Bank, which also announced its own support for the initiative by providing favorable banking fees and interest on the funds which they will hold.

The effort in Kruger will create an Intensive Protection Zone (IPZ) using sophisticated detection and tracking equipment and infrastructure on the ground and in the air; elite canine units and highly-trained ranger teams; and improved intelligence gathering and observation and surveillance systems. Kruger is currently home to over 40% of the world’s remaining 22,000 rhinos, the largest single population of rhinos in the world. Since January 2010, 1,383 rhinos have been poached from Kruger National Park, part of a larger assault that resulted in 2,368 rhinos poached in South Africa over the past few years. In some areas of Africa, entire populations of rhino have been eliminated.

Kruger’s poaching problem is fueled mainly by illicit criminal networks in Mozambique, South Africa, and East Asia, but evidence suggests that armed groups elsewhere in Africa derive significant funding from poaching activities. Kruger’s IPZ will also serve as a testing ground to inform targeted efforts to combat poaching in these other African regions.

“SANParks, thanks to the leadership of David Mabunda, and Kruger National Park, under the direction of General Johan Jooste, provide a unique opportunity to test new technology and new ideas within the best operating national parks system on the continent,” said NCT Chairman and HGBF CEO Howard G. Buffett. “This effort joins our foundation’s historic support for conservation with our current focus on conflict mitigation in Africa, particularly in the Great Lakes region.”

“The scale, complexity, and strategic value of this initiative is truly unprecedented for SANParks, and we believe will be transformative in our ongoing efforts to address poaching and the decimation of the rhino population in Kruger National Park,” said SANParks CEO David Mabunda. “More importantly, the lessons we hope to learn and share across SANParks and the continent will, we believe, develop new and more effective ways to combat illicit wildlife trade, particularly where it is financing armed groups.”

The Leadership for Conservation in Africa (LCA), led by its South African-based CEO Chris Marais, will provide advisory and advocacy support for the collaboration.

NCT and HGBF have a long history of support for conservation in Africa. NCT, with 100% of its funding provided by HGBF, created the Jubatus Cheetah Reserve in 2001 and the Ukulima Research Farm in 2007, both located in Limpopo Province, South Africa. Through its direct investments and support for NCT, HGBF has, prior to this announcement, committed over RAND 485 million (USD $45 million) in South Africa for a range of conservation and agriculture development activities including strengthening environmental governance; carnivore research in the Shashe/Limpopo Trans-Frontier Conservation region; preservation of natural resources; cheetah research and regional planning for cheetah conservation; development of agricultural strategies and production of improved seed for smallholder farmers. HGBF has committed an additional RAND 1.9 billion (USD $175 million) in support of its Africa Great Lakes Peace Initiative, which also includes funding for anti-poaching efforts designed to interrupt the capital flow to armed groups.

The Howard G. Buffett Foundation works to improve the quality of life for the world’s most impoverished and marginalized populations. It focuses on three core areas: food security, water security, and conflict mitigation. Based in Decatur, Illinois, the Foundation is led by CEO Howard G. Buffett. Mr. Buffett has been a permanent resident of South Africa since 2007. To learn more about the Foundation visitwww.thehowardgbuffettfoundation.org.

The Nature Conservation Trust was established in 2000 by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation as a non-profit organization and later was converted to a public benefit organization. The Trust has two primary charitable purposes: to conserve nature, restore degraded land, and to help ensure the long term survival of cheetahs and other carnivores in situ; and to support research and improved practices in agriculture for smallholder farmers to reduce food insecurity on the African continent.

South African National Parks manages a system of parks which represents the indigenous fauna, flora, landscapes and associated cultural heritage of the country. The national parks are: Groenkloof, Kruger, Table Mountain, Marakele, Golden Gate, Camdeboo, Mountain Zebra, Addo Elephant, Garden Route National Park (Tsitsikamma, Knysna, & Wilderness), Bontebok, Agulhas, West Coast, Karoo, Namaqua, |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld, Augrabies, Kgalagadi, Mapungubwe, Tankwa Karoo and Mokala. To learn more visit www.sanparks.org.

Read the Press Release

Find out more about the International Conservation Caucus Foundation.

Terrorists, Tusks and the Ivory Crush

photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service

photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service

Today ivory sells on the black market for about $1500US per pound. Al-Shabab, a Somali splinter cell of al Qaida, raises $600,000 per month from poaching activities. Local African warlords and international crime syndicates fund their own violent and illegal activities through ivory poaching. Any reduction in the supply of legal ivory to growing middle class markets in China will skyrocket prices for illegal supplies, with profit margins for terrorist groups, warlords and criminals escalating correspondingly.

Recently the Obama administration announced that US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) would promulgate a rule that would ban ivory sales in the United States. Government agencies around the world have postured with high profile ivory crushes and burns from China to the United States and Kenya. Even Prince William wants to crush the Royal ivory collection in the UK. This week the Administrations’ Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking will meet to discuss their strategy to enact  a rule ending legal trade in the US. But will destroying stockpiles of ivory and criminalizing legal trade really stop ivory poaching in Africa? There is no evidence to support that belief.

“The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.” ~Thomas Sowell

While seemingly noble, these measures are largely symbolic and are likely to drive the price of ivory up by creating scarcity. Markets are driven by supply and demand. When the supply is reduced and the demand continues or increases, prices move up. Even the perception of scarcity puts upward pressure on markets. This is all Economics 101, and it applies equally to legal and illegal markets.

The face of ivory poaching in Africa

The face of ivory poaching in Africa

Propaganda in support of the ivory crush theory suggests that eliminating the world’s stock piles of ivory and criminalizing legal trade works to discourage black-market trade; that somehow legal trade provides cover for illegal trade. The opposite effect is far more likely. Without a significant decrease in the demand for ivory, scarcity, even perceived scarcity, will likely drive the price for illicit ivory to all time highs. Black-market trade will become more lucrative than ever. Criminals will be emboldened by the world’s inability to protect elephants in Africa, nor implement a workable strategy to reduce demand in ivory markets.

Instead of crushing valuable stockpiles of ivory in a grand symbolic gesture, sell the ivory in legal markets and use the money for elephant conservation. This is not about writing symbolic checks that are the fodder of photo ops and behind the scenes corruption– but about putting beans and bullets directly on the ground to be used by the rangers who need them. We should use money from legal ivory sales  for the recruitment and training of additional personnel, outfit them with the equipment they need, and deploy them to fight sophisticated poaching rings. Crushing ivory out of existence only increases it’s value on the black market.

Ivory poaching is funding international terrorism. Making it more difficult and more dangerous to kill elephants, while educating  the Chinese to the realities of ivory trade, will mitigate the flow of money from ivory to terrorist activities.

Al-Shabab makes $600,000 per month on poaching and employs child soldiers.

Al-Shabab makes $600,000 per month on poaching and employs child soldiers

Money from legal ivory sales could fund educational programs targeting the Chinese middle class.

Making legal trade illegal and turning good citizens into criminals will make it easier for FWS to make cases against Americans here at home, but it fails to address the hard work of catching poachers and real criminals that are determined to kill every living elephant.

We should utilize the groups that have the most at stake in elephant conservation. Hunting groups, gun and equipment manufacturers, and NGO’s. They all need to step up to the plate and play a larger role in preservation of the species they value. Protecting elephants as a resource that will be available for future generations should be a common goal of all of these interest groups. The focus needs to be on leveraging relationships on the ground in Africa, and empowering small specialized projects that get equipment, supplies, manpower and training where they are needed most. We should be using the legal sale of confiscated ivory to fund putting boots on the ground to undercut poaching.

Additionally, a larger effort needs to go into educating middle class ivory consumers in China. Again, NGO’s funded in part by legal sales of ivory could create a model for education– essentially an “issue campaign” to change the hearts and minds that currently have such an appetite for ivory and a steadfast superstition that tusks grow like human fingernails.

If we insist on going down the primrose path of symbolic conservation gestures that actually aggravate the situation,  while wasting what could be irreplaceable conservation dollars from ivory stockpiles, we fail. We will never address the  fundamentals of supply and demand. Our current course will make it so lucrative and easy for criminals and terrorists to continue their activities that elephant populations could be pushed to the brink.

Funding for elephant conservation is limited. Criminalizing legal trade of ivory at home is foolish, ineffective and distracts from actual conservation. We are running out of time for the usual tortured process of political posturing and the stroking of egos. We need to get resources on the ground and limit markets in short order. Elephants died for the ivory being crushed. Should their deaths be for naught? Use the money from legal sales of ivory to protect the future of elephants for generations to come. Stop the ivory crush.

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WyattP2The ivory crush 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

A Caretaker and a Killer: How Hunters Can Save the Wilderness

Reblogged from The Atlantic.

“Hunting is Conservation… No one takes the philosophy of responsible stewardship and species preservation more seriously than the American hunter.” ~Andrew Wyatt

Stereotypes of gun-toting brutes and tree-hugging hippies miss the basic facts about who is protecting nature—and why.
TOVAR CERULLI | MAR 14 2014, 10:12 AM ET

kkirugi/Flickr

kkirugi/Flickr

Excerpted from The Atlantic:

The ideological turf matters far less than the ground beneath our feet—the real places that, once lost, may never be restored.

Hunting and environmental organizations don’t always see eye to eye, of course. Intense controversy has arisen over wolves, for instance. Some environmental groups have argued for continued federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, often citing the ecological value of top-level predators. Some hunting-conservation groups have argued for state management and public hunting, often protesting wolves’ predation on cherished game species such as deer and elk. Other organizations have remained neutral. In some cases, the politicized debate has driven wedges between longtime allies, causing rifts that will not be easily healed.

When clashes occur, it is all too easy to fall back on reductive notions about liberal, elite environmentalists and conservative, redneck hunters—the “greens” versus “the hook-and-bullet crowd.” With partisans on both sides invoking stereotypes and the media portraying hunters and environmentalists as opponents, it is tempting to imagine stark lines between the two.

But such divisions are too simplistic. As it turns out, many predator-conservation advocates are hunters. My tracking instructor Sue Morse, for instance, became a hunter in her 40s as a direct result of studying four-footed hunters. Interested in procuring more of her own food, she was drawn to emulate the animals she appreciated so deeply. Michael Soulé, the father of conservation biology, is also a hunter, as were famed conservationists Aldo Leopold, Olaus Murie, and Sigurd Olson.

 Read more at The Atlantic…

 

Is the Wolf a Real American Hero?

Reblogged from The New York Times.

“Can you say trophic cascade? A recent video story narrated by British writer George Monbiot on how wolves transformed the Yellowstone National Park landscape has gone viral of late.  The question of how accurate the touching story actually is has been posed in this New York Times editorial. It demonstrates an unfortunate dynamic of some folks being too quick to believe good story telling, rather than questioning motivations and leveling a critical eye to uncover the truth. Arthur Middleton gives a different account; not the final word, but reason for caution when jumping to emotionally driven conservation conclusions.” ~ Andrew Wyatt

By ARTHUR MIDDLETON | March 9, 2014

Marion Fayolle

Marion Fayolle

Excerpted from The New York Times:

“This story — that wolves fixed a broken Yellowstone by killing and frightening elk — is one of ecology’s most famous. It’s the classic example of what’s called a “trophic cascade,” and has appeared in textbooks, on National Geographic centerfolds and in this newspaper. Americans may know this story better than any other from ecology, and its grip on our imagination is one of the field’s proudest contributions to wildlife conservation. But there is a problem with the story: It’s not true.

We now know that elk are tougher, and Yellowstone more complex, than we gave them credit for. By retelling the same old story about Yellowstone wolves, we distract attention from bigger problems, mislead ourselves about the true challenges of managing ecosystems, and add to the mythology surrounding wolves at the expense of scientific understanding…”

Read more at The New York Times…

 

Legal Trade Can Save Endangered Wildlife

“The truth is, if they [species] have no economic value, these animals are far more difficult to conserve. This fact is reinforced every day on the ground in Africa when a villager sees more value in protecting his livestock by poisoning a lion than he does in letting the lion live.” – Can Private Conservation Contribute to Species Survival? ~ Andrew Wyatt

Reblogged from the Wall Street Journal.

By ARANCHA GONZÁLEZ
March 2, 2014 6:01 p.m. ET

By 1979 vicuñas were almost extinct in the Andes. Now there are more than 400,000.

The United Nations will mark the first official World Wildlife Day on March 3. This is welcome news, because unless a solution to the global poaching problem is found, iconic species such as the tiger, rhinoceros and elephant face extinction within 20 years.At the recent London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade, 46 countries and 11 international organizations signed a declaration that sets out a three-pronged approach to protect wildlife. The declaration calls for increasing enforcement of laws against poaching, reducing demand for wildlife products, and the “sustainable utilization” of wildlife.

Vicunas Associated Press

Vicunas Associated Press

While enforcement and demand reduction are necessary and clear, less is known about what sustainable use actually means—and how it can solve the overharvesting and poaching of wild animals and plants.

Combating illegal trade has been the focus of much recent attention. But the real question is how to set up a well-managed legal trade that is sustainably managed and benefits the poor rural communities where many threatened species are found.

Read more at the Wall Street Journal…

Alaska wants the humpback whale off the Endangered Species list

Reblogged from the Washington Post.

“After teetering on the brink of extinction in the 1970’s, has the humpback whale recovered to the point they should be removed from the Endangered Species list?” ~ Andrew Wyatt

BY REID WILSON | March 1 at 6:00 am

File: Icy Bay, Alaska. Credit: Jon TigarFile:  Alaska. Credit: Jon Tigar

The state of Alaska wants the federal government to remove endangered species protections for humpback whales that migrate seasonally between Alaska and Hawaii, a step that would remove a hurdle for companies that want to explore the Arctic Coast for oil.

On Wednesday, Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game filed a petition with the National Marine Fisheries Service seeking to designate the specific subspecies of humpback that travels between the two states, and to take it off the endangered species list  because its population has rebounded from dangerously low levels just a few decades ago.

Read more at The Washington Post…

WHAT WILL HAPPEN AFTER THE RHINOS ARE GONE?

Reblogged from Conservation Magazine.

“Are rhinos a keystone species on the African savannah? A new study from the Journal of Ecology forecasts dire consequences for ecosystems if the rhino disappears from the African landscape.” ~ Andrew Wyatt

February 19, 2014 / Conservation This Week

We don’t usually think of herbivores as keystone species. That’s a moniker we usually apply to apex predators, who can keep entire ecosystems in check and aren’t themselves subject to predation. But given their size, mature “megaherbivores” like white rhinos aren’t usually subject to predation either. If they can survive to adulthood, the main pressure on the size of their population, like for apex predators, is simply the availability of food. That allows them to exert disproportionate control over their environments, just as lions or wolves. According to new research published in the Journal of Ecology, Africa’s white rhinos (Ceratotherium simum) could be thought of as apex consumers.

The removal of apex predators from an ecosystem can be catastrophic. The oft-used examples are the Yellowstone wolves. When they were culled, the deer population exploded, which in turn meant that plant populations declined. The bears, who rely on many of the same berries on which the deer fed, also suffered from lack of food. When the wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone, the entire community shifted back into balance.

Researchers are increasingly realizing that the removal of megaherbivores from their ecosystems can have similarly devastating impacts. In a 2009 paper in the journal Science, paleoecologist Jacquelyn Gill argued that the extinction of North American Pleistocene megaherbivores—mammoths, mastodons, horses, sloths, camels—drove similar large-scale ecosystem changes. The diversity and populations of plant communities were altered, which led to subsequent extinctions of other species.

Most research on the effects of plant eaters on the African savannah has focused on the other massive herbivore, elephants. So researchers Joris P. G. M. Cromsigt and Mariska te Beest turned to white rhinos. Rhinos aren’t just elephants with different ivory ornamentation, they also put pressure on different plant communities. Elephants are primarily browsers, eating from trees, while rhinos are grazers. Think of them like adorable lawn mowers with pointy spikes at the ends of their noses.

Wild rhinos may be driven to extinction within the next couple decades if current poaching rates continue. What will that mean for the African savannah?

Rhinos were driven out of South Africa’s Kruger National Park by 1896 due to hunting, and were reintroduced beginning in the 1960s. The reintroduction was a massive success: by 2010, there were some 10,000 to 11,000 individuals within the park. But they aren’t equally distributed. This presented Cromsigt and te Beest with a natural experiment. They compared parts of the park in which rhinos have grazed for several decades to other areas which have been only recently recolonized. To measure the ways in which rhinos exert pressure on the environment, they measured the quantity of short grass lawns within high- and low-density rhino areas and the surface area covered by those lawns.

Both measurements revealed more short grasses in high-density rhino areas compared with spaces that have only recently seen rhino activity. In the African grassland, short grass cover is a useful metric for botanical heterogeneity. The more short grass lawns, the more diverse the landscape.

At first this might seem counterintuitive; if rhinos are intensely grazing the land, shouldn’t plant communities suffer? The key is to think of them less as lawnmowers and more as…selective lawnmowers. “In many grassland and savannah systems,” Gill explained to me, “grazers increase biodiversity, by selectively eating certain kinds of plants over others.” In her own research she’s found that North American bison eat grasses and ignore forbs. (Sunflowers and milkweed are both types of prairie forbs.) By trimming the grasses, the bison allow the forbs, which normally can’t compete for light and water, a fighting chance to survive. “There is a lot of research that suggests that [grazers are] really important for maintaining diversity, as well as the coexistence of trees and grasses, by creating a shifting patch mosaic on the landscape,” she says.

Take away the rhinos from the landscape and, according to this research, the landscape will suffer. Cromsigt and te Beest say that their study highlights some of the indirect, yet important, effects of the rhinopoaching crisis. “Not only is rhino poaching threatening the species conservation status,” they write, “but also the potentially key role of this apex consumer for savanna ecosystem dynamics and functioning.” – Jason G. Goldman | 19 February 2014

Source: Cromsigt J.P.G.M., te Beest M. & Bellingham P. (2014). Restoration of a megaherbivore: landscape-level impacts of white rhinoceros in Kruger National Park, South Africa, Journal of Ecology. DOI: 

Photo: White rhino via Flickr/Mike Showbiz.

Lions and Rhinos and Gazelles… Oh My!

Can Private Conservation Contribute to Species Survival?

photo: Wikipedia- Nick Brandt

photo: Wikipedia- Nick Brandt

With conservation groups attending an illegal wildlife trafficking symposium in London this week, and the US announcing  its National Strategy on Wildlife Trafficking here at home, animal rights activists are using the opportunity to blur the lines between legal and illegal wildlife trade. Nevertheless, whether it is creating economic value for species preservation within local African communities, incenting captive breeding as a conservation safety net, or raising money for anti-poaching efforts, private commercial activity is an economic engine driving significant contributions toward the conservation of some of Africa’s most charismatic megafauna. Poachers for rhino horns, ivory and asian medicine markets are the true enemies, not legal hunting activities and captive breeding programs.

ranger brent stirton nat geo

Ranger patroling for poachers.
photo: Brent Stirton, National Geographic

Africa is proving to be a more and more difficult arena in which to affect real conservation.  No longer is the enemy simply corruption for personal enrichment. Recently, the Washington Post reported on the links between the astronomical amounts of money generated in the black market for rhino horn and elephant ivory, to funding for  al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. With Vietnamese demand for rhino horn fetching $50,000- 100,000 per kilo, the level of violence perpetrated on black rhinos and the rangers responsible for protecting this “Critically Endangered” species, is almost unfathomable.

A similarly depraved dynamic drives the relentless slaughter of African elephants for their ivory. These huge ill-begotten profits are coveted by terrorists and sophisticated crime syndicates to fund operations. Numbers of elephants and rhinos poached have spiked exponentially over the last decade. Needless to say, the authorities in African nations are outgunned, ill-equipped and underfunded. In an effort to help fund efforts to protect rhinos the Dallas Safari Club raised $350,000 to fight poaching in Namibia with a conservation fundraising auction last month. Poaching, not controlled hunting, threatens the future of elephants and rhinos in Africa.

On another front, according to Duke University Professor Stuart Pimm, there are approximately 35,000 free ranging lions left on the African continent today. Although at a recent African lion workshop hosted by US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), three experts agreed that the lion is not currently in danger of extinction, US based animal rights organizations petitioned FWS to list lions as “Endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), citing hunting as a significant factor in lion decline. However, most conservation experts agree, habitat loss and human-lion conflict, not hunting, are the primary causes of the lions’ decline in Africa. To the contrary, hunting advocates have been the biggest barrier between the African lion and decimation by creating economic incentives for local communities to protect lions as a valuable and sustainable resource.

Addax Antelope

Addax Antelope

Meanwhile, back in the United States, Texas game ranchers are raising endangered African hoof stock in large numbers. A few years ago the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) filed a lawsuit beginning a prolonged legal battle to block permitting by FWS of ranchers who have brought three endangered antelope species (the Scimitar-Horned Oryx, Dama Gazelle and Addax) back from the brink of extiction. The argument that these antelope are better off extinct than thriving on Texas game ranches was undercutting the economic value of the endangered gazelles and threatened to destroy all the good work these dedicated conservationists had done. Fortunately, legislation known as the “Three Amigos” bill, reinstated an exemption for captive bred specimens protected under the ESA, again allowing for  the propagation and trade of these three species, was passed on January 21, 2014– clearing the way for commercial interests to protect these magnificent animals from extinction.

The thrust of anti-hunting rhetoric has been to equate hunting to poaching and characterizing any economic activity involving animals as inherently immoral or unethical. These groups demonize hunting and hunters, and try to mold public opinion to be empathic to anti-hunting ideology by emphasizing the death of individual animals in dramatic fashion — hoping to trigger protective feelings from an animal loving public that relates to their own pets. They refuse to acknowledge the economic contributions made by commercial interests in wildlife and seek to characterize the economic value of animals to be exploitative and immoral.

“In a civilized and cultivated country, wild animals only continue to exist at all when conserved by the sportsman. The excellent people who protest against all hunting, and consider sportsmen as enemies of wildlife, are wholly ignorant of the fact that in reality the genuine sportsman is by all odds the most important factor in keeping wild creatures from total extermination.” ~ Teddy Roosevelt

The truth is, if they have no economic value, these animals are far more difficult to conserve. This fact is reinforced every day on the ground in Africa when a villager sees more value in protecting his livestock by poisoning a lion than he does in letting the lion live. Economic incentives are a vital component of 21st century wildlife conservation. Just as the illegal value of wildlife trafficking is driving many animals towards extinction, continuing to develop a legal economic value and trade for these same animals may be their only salvation. Private commercial conservation efforts are an intrinsic part any sincere effort at species preservation.

National Strategy on Wildlife Trafficking

Reblogged from the International Conservation Caucus Foundation (ICCF).

“ICC Co-Chair Ed Royce has been providing leadership on illegal wildlife trafficking and poaching issues for some time. Here is the ICCF Conservation Update with some very informative links.” ~ Andrew Wyatt

ICC Co-Chair Ed Royce Provides Leadership on Poaching Crisis

shot2-1February 12, 2014

National Strategy on Wildlife Trafficking Fact Sheet Released by the White House

Today the United States announced a National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking.  The Strategy will strengthen U.S. leadership on addressing the serious and urgent conservation and global security threat posed by illegal trade in wildlife.

In addition to the strategy, we are also announcing a ban on commercial trade of elephant ivory, which will enhance our efforts to protect iconic species like elephants and rhinos by prohibiting the import, export, or resale within the United States of elephant ivory except in a very limited number of circumstances.

Taken together, these actions will help ensure that the United States is not contributing to poaching of elephants and illegal trade in elephant ivory.

THE STRATEGY

The National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking establishes guiding principles for U.S. efforts to stem illegal trade in wildlife.  It sets three strategic priorities: strengthening domestic and global enforcement; reducing demand for illegally traded wildlife at home and abroad; and strengthening partnerships with international partners, local communities, NGOs, private industry, and others to combat illegal wildlife poaching and trade.

THE IVORY BAN

Today we are also we are also announcing a ban on the commercial trade of elephant ivory, which will enhance our ability to protect elephants by prohibiting commercial imports, exports and domestic sale of ivory, with a very limited number of exceptions.  This ban is the best way to help ensure that U.S. markets do not contribute to the further decline of African elephants in the wild.

To begin implementing these new controls, federal Departments and Agencies will immediately undertake administrative actions to:

  • Prohibit Commercial Import of African Elephant Ivory: All commercial imports of African elephant ivory, including antiques, will be prohibited.
  • Prohibit Commercial Export of Elephant Ivory:  All commercial exports will be prohibited, except for bona fide antiques, certain noncommercial items, and in exceptional circumstances permitted under the Endangered Species Act.
  • Significantly Restrict Domestic Resale of Elephant Ivory:  We will finalize a proposed rule that will reaffirm and clarify that sales across state lines are prohibited, except for bona fide antiques, and will prohibit sales within a state unless the seller can demonstrate an item was lawfully imported prior to 1990 for African elephants and 1975 for Asian elephants, or under an exemption document.
  • Clarify the Definition of “Antique”:  To qualify as an antique, an item must be more than 100 years old and meet other requirements under the Endangered Species Act.  The onus will now fall on the importer, exporter, or seller to demonstrate that an item meets these criteria.
  • Restore Endangered Species Act Protection for African Elephants:  We will revoke a previous Fish and Wildlife Service special rule that had relaxed Endangered Species Act restrictions on African elephant ivory trade.
  • Support Limited Sport-hunting of African Elephants:  We will limit the number of African elephant sport-hunted trophies that an individual can import to two per hunter per year.

The United States will continue to lead global efforts to protect the world’s iconic animals and preserve our planet’s natural beauty for future generations.  Combating wildlife trafficking will require the shared understanding, commitment, and efforts of the world’s governments, intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, corporations, civil society, and individuals.

At this week’s London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade, we hope other countries will join us in taking ambitious action to combat wildlife trafficking.  In the coming months, we will take further steps to implement the National Strategy, and will work with the Congress to strengthen existing laws and adopt new ones to enhance our ability to address this global challenge.

Read the National Strategy on Wildlife Trafficking

ICC Co-Chair Ed Royce demonstrated leadership on the issue of poaching and wildlife trafficking by urging the Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking for a bold strategy in December 2013.