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…

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.

CAN TROPHY HUNTING ACTUALLY HELP CONSERVATION?

CAN TROPHY HUNTING ACTUALLY HELP CONSERVATION? January 15, 2014

Re-blogged from Conservation Magazine: http://conservationmagazine.org/2014/01/can-trophy-hunting-reconciled-conservation/comment-page-1/#comment-22621

Can trophy hunting ever be a useful tool in the conservationist’s toolbox? On the surface, the answer would appear obvious. It seems as if the killing of an animal – especially an endangered one – for sport is directly contradictory to the goal of ensuring the survival of a species. The question has been asked again following the auction last Saturday night of the right to hunt an endangered black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) in Namibia. And the answer, as usual, is more complicated.

The permit was sold for $350,000, well above the previous high bid for a permit in that country, $223,000. While the Dallas Safari Club had the dubious distinction of being the first organization to hold such an auction outside of Namibia itself, it’s fairly unremarkable and actually quite common for an African nation to sell permits for trophy hunting, even for endangered species. Indeed, both Namibia and South Africa are legallypermitted by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to sell five permits for the hunting of adult male black rhinos each year.

And it’s not just rhinos. For example, a 2000 report from TRAFFIC, an organization that works with the WWF, IUCN, and CITES to track the international trade of wildlife, describes how Namibia alone was the site of almost 16,000 trophy hunts that year. Those 16,000 animals represent a wide variety of species – birds, reptiles, mammals, and even primates – both endangered and not. They include four of the so-called “big five” popular African game: lion, Cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros. (Only the elephant was missing.) The hunters brought eleven million US dollars with them to spend in the Namibian economy. And that doesn’t include revenue from non-trophy recreational hunting activities, which are limited to four species classified as of “least concern” by the IUCN: Greater Kudu, Gemsbok, Springbok and Warthog.

The issues here are complex and highly politicized. There are several questions that science can’t help address, primary of which is whether or not the money raised from the sale of hunting permits is used for conservation, something often promised by hunting tour operators. But empirical research can help to elucidate several other questions, such as whether hunting can ever help drive conservation efforts.

In 2006, researcher Peter A. Lindsey of Kenya’s Mpala Research Centreand colleagues interviewed 150 people who either had already hunted in Africa, or who planned to do so within the following three years. Their findings were published in the journal Animal Conservation. A majority of hunters – eighty-six percent! – told the researchers they preferred hunting in an area where they knew that a portion of the proceeds went back into local communities. Nearly half of the hunters they interviewed also indicated that they’d be willing to pay an equivalent price for a poorer trophy if it was a problem animal that would have had to be killed anyway.

Lindsey’s team also discovered that hunters were more sensitive to conservation concerns than was perhaps expected. For example, they were less willing to hunt in areas where wild dogs or cheetahs are illegally shot, in countries that intentionally surpass their quotas, or with operators who practice “put-and-take hunting,” which is where trophy animals are released onto a fenced-in property just before a hunt. Together this suggests that hunters were willing to place economic pressure on countries and tour companies to operate in as ethical a manner as possible. Approximately nine out of every ten hunters said they’d be willing to hunt in places that were poor for wildlife viewing or which lacked attractive scenery. That is, they said that they were willing to hunt in areas that would not have otherwise been able to reap an economic benefit from ecotourism.

It’s encouraging that trophy hunters seem willing to take conservation-related issues into consideration when choosing a tour operator, but it is possible that they were simply providing the researchers with the answers that would cast them in the best light. That’s a typical concern for assessments that rely on self-report. Better evidence would come from proof that hunting can be consistent with actual, measurable conservation-related benefits for a species.

Is there such evidence? According to a 2005 paper by Nigel Leader-Williams and colleagues in the Journal of International Wildlife Law and Policy the answer is yes. Leader-Williams describes how the legalization of white rhinoceros hunting in South Africa motivated private landowners to reintroduce the species onto their lands. As a result, the country saw an increase in white rhinos from fewer than one hundred individuals to more than 11,000, even while a limited number were killed as trophies.

In a 2011 letter to Science magazine, Leader-Williams also pointed out that the implementation of controlled, legalized hunting was also beneficial for Zimbabwe’s elephants. “Implementing trophy hunting has doubled the area of the country under wildlife management relative to the 13% in state protected areas,” thanks to the inclusion of private lands, he says. “As a result, the area of suitable land available to elephants and other wildlife has increased, reversing the problem of habitat loss and helping to maintain a sustained population increase in Zimbabwe’s already large elephant population.” It is important to note, however, that the removal of mature elephant males can have other,detrimental consequences on the psychological development of younger males. And rhinos and elephants are very different animals, with different needs and behaviors.

Still, the elephants of Zimbabwe and the white rhinos of South Africa seem to suggest that it is possible for conservation and trophy hunting to coexist, at least in principle. It is indeed a tricky, but not impossible, balance to strike.

It is noteworthy that the Leader-Williams’ 2005 paper recommended that legal trophy hunting for black rhinos be focused mainly on older, non-breeding males, or on younger males who have already contributed sufficient genetic material to their breeding groups. They further suggested that revenues from the sale of permits be reinvested into conservation efforts, and that revenues could be maximized by selling permits through international auctions. Namibia’s own hunting policy, it turns out, is remarkably consistent with scientific recommendations.

Even so, some have expressed concern regarding what the larger message of sanctioned trophy hunts might be. Could the possible negative consequences from a PR perspective outweigh the possible benefits from hunting? Can the message that an auction for the hunting of an endangered species like the black rhino brings possibly be reconciled with the competing message that the species requires saving? This question is probably not one that science can adequately address.

However, it might just be worth having a quick look at some numbers. 745 rhinos were killed due to illegal poaching in 2012 in Africa, which amounts to approximately two rhinos each day, mostly for their horns. In South Africa alone, 461 rhinos were killed in just the first half of 2013. Rhino horns are valued for their medicinal uses and for their supposed cancer-curing powers. Of course, rhino horns have no pharmacological value at all, making their harvest even more tragic. The five non-breeding rhinos that Namibia allows to be hunted each year seem paltry in comparison, especially since they are older males who can no longer contribute to population growth.

I don’t understand the desire to kill a magnificent animal for sport, even if the individual is an older non-breeding male. The sale of the right to kill an animal for a trophy surely reflects the value that animal lives hold in at least some corners of our society: that killing an animal for fun isn’t wrong, as long as you can afford it. It is right to worry about the sort of message that sends.

But if an endangered species as charismatic as the black rhinoceros is under such extreme threat from poaching, then perhaps the message that the species needs saving has a larger problem to address than the relatively limited loss of animals to wealthy hunters. The real tragedy here is that the one rhino that will be killed as a result of Saturday’s auction has received a disproportionate amount of media attention compared to the hundreds of rhinos lost to poaching each year, which remain largely invisible. And while there remains at least a possibility that sanctioned trophy hunts can benefit the black rhino as they have for the white rhino, there is only one possible consequence of continued poaching. It’s one that conservationists and hunters alike will lament. – Jason G. Goldman | 15 January 2014

Sources: Leader-Williams N., Milledge S., Adcock K., Brooks M., Conway A., Knight M., Mainka S., Martin E.B. & Teferi T. (2005). Trophy Hunting of Black Rhino: Proposals to Ensure Its Future Sustainability,Journal of International Wildlife Law & Policy, 8 (1) 1-11. DOI:

Lindsey P.A., Alexander R., Frank L.G., Mathieson A. & Romanach S.S. (2006). Potential of trophy hunting to create incentives for wildlife conservation in Africa where alternative wildlife-based land uses may not be viable, Animal Conservation, 9 (3) 283-291. DOI: 

Leader-Williams N. Elephant Hunting and Conservation, Science, 293(5538) 2203b-2204. DOI: 

Photo: Male black rhino and calf, Karl Stromayer/USFWS. Public domain.

Will Hunting Save Lions From Extinction?

african_lion_king-wideAfrican lions are one of the most charismatic species on the planet. Images of the King of the Jungle are etched deeply into our collective conscience. The debate on how best to conserve lions has been stirred anew with a recent Twitter post by TV hostess Melissa Bachman who killed a “trophy” lion while on safari in Africa. The image of a rifle-toting Bachman posing over the carcass of a dead lion offended activists and animal lovers alike. However, Twitter hype aside, the hunting/conservation of African lions is a controversial topic that begs a thorough understanding of the facts.

In 2011 US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) was petitioned by animal rights activists  to add African lions to the Endangered Species list, sharpening the divide of an already philosophically polarized conservation community. Contradicting the underlying premise of the petition, at a recent lion workshop hosted by FWS, three experts on African lions agreed that the lion, in their opinion, is not currently in danger of extinction. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the central body in conservation for the African lion, currently lists lions as “vulnerable” on their Red List of Threatened Species.

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 32,00 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.

lions-550Sixty percent of all lions harvested in Africa are destined for trophy rooms in the United States. Proponents of an Endangered Species listing claim the issue is a “no brainer.” Allowing hunters to harvest lions and export trophies back to the US sends the wrong conservation message. They say lions would be best conserved by blocking access to American hunters, thereby reducing pressure on lion populations. Jeff Flocken of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the group spearheading the petition to list lions on the Endangered Species Act (ESA), wrote, “Why should anyone spend money to protect an animal that a wealthy American can then pay to go kill?” Mr Flocken characterizes his argument as common sense, but acknowledges that, habitat loss and human-lion conflict, not hunting, are the primary causes of the lions’ disappearance from Africa.

“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

It is absolutely essential that local communities identify the presence of lions as a direct benefit to them. Reducing human-lion 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 an Endangered Species listing 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.

Melissa Simpson of Safari Club International Foundation wrote in an opinion piece for the National Geographic Society, “If the (FWS) were to take regulatory action and put the African lion on the Endangered Species list, it would be in spite of the overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary. Such an overreaching decision would deprive the countries that grapple with lion management the resources they need the most. And the most essential resource is money.”  Hunting advocates believe that more closely monitored hunting and the millions of dollars injected into management, conservation and the local economy is the best way to conserve lions.

photo: Hilton

photo: Hilton

Additionally, proponents of listing insist that adult male lions being harvested are in fact dominant pride males in their breeding prime. They assert that harvesting pride males destroys pride stability by instigating less dominant males to cull the former pride male’s cubs in order to establish themselves, thereby disrupting the natural pride dynamic and throwing breeding cycles into chaos. If this were true, and management practices didn’t focus on males who have passed their prime, then damage to pride stability would be a serious problem.

Hunting advocates have argued that it is irresponsible and unsustainable to harvest pride males in their prime. Responsible game management practices dictate only aging males that have passed their prime and are often alienated from the pride should be harvested. These are males that were possibly once dominant, but have become too old (6+ years) to maintain status within the pride structure.

Although the idea of trophy hunting does not enjoy wide popularity, its value as a pragmatic conservation tool has proven to have merit. The questions are, will an Endangered Species listing relieve pressure on lion populations? Or will blocking American hunters from harvesting lions remove economic incentives necessary to protect a valuable resource?

Best-African-Safaris-Beyond-6

photo: Elana Castle

Animal rights advocates dismiss the conservation benefits of hunting. 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 listing lions as endangered in the USA would inure conservation benefit to lions in Africa; to the contrary, listing could undermine real conservation efforts by diminishing the value of lions to local African communities.

Admittedly, oversight of hunting practices in Africa is not likely to be commensurate to standards in the west anytime soon. 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 lion populations for hunting is the only protection lions currently have. Removing economic incentive for Africans to conserve lions has been demonstrated to be counterproductive. Working to improve oversight and lion management should be a priority. Until a better conservation model proves it’s mettle, responsibly managed hunts are the best chance for lions to survive in Africa.

photo: Philip Briggs

photo: Philip Briggs

“Well, we all worked together. Worthy deeds were accomplished.” ~ The Ghost and the Darkness

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

WyattP2The position of FWS on listing African lions as Endangered Species under ESA is transitioning. The initial 90 day finding following the petition was concluded in November 2012 with a finding of “Substantial.” The subsequent 12 month finding prior to potentially posting a proposed rule in the federal register is due later this week. Expect FWS to fail to meet that deadline.

Because of the charismatic nature of the African lion this promises to be a politically charged process. Please follow The Last Word for important news and insight on this critical issue. If you would like to discuss the potential implications for you, and/or the advantages of a comprehensive government affairs strategy, please call or email me. ~ Andrew Wyatt