The Elephant’s Armageddon: Part II

top-bg-2By guest writer— Ron Thomson

I am going to jump in at the deep end and say that if world society carries on the way it is going at the moment, it is going to cause the extinction of the African elephant before the end of the current century. And the poachers are not the ones who are going to kill the species off. The supposed “do-gooders” in the Western World will achieve that milestone long before the poachers could ever do. Practically every elephant conservation proposal the developed world is trying to force on Africa will only exacerbate the elephant’s dire predicament. So – please – let’s consider the issues involved with an open mind and with some good common sense!

First of all, let me assure you that the elephant is NOT a so-called “endangered species” and it is NOT facing extinction. So don’t listen to the propaganda put out by the animal rights NGOs. They broadcast such emotional diatribe purely for the purpose of making money out of a gullible public. You must understand that the animal rights movement is a confidence industry which we will discuss in a later blog. Just remember, however, if you believe animal rights propaganda you have allowed yourself to be duped.

The so-called “endangered species” concept is a fallacy. Wild animals don’t organise themselves at the species level so the endangered “species” ideal has no application anywhere in the science of wildlife management.

A species can be defined as group of animals that share the same physical and behavioural characteristics (they look alike and they act alike) and which, when they breed, produce fertile offspring with the same physical and behavioural characteristic.

The common African Bush elephant – which is the main species we are concerned about – has 150 different populations in 37 countries across Africa. Each population – totally separate from any and all other populations – lives in its own unique habitat; and the environmental conditions that apply to each such population are unique to that population. Some populations live in montane forests; others in grasslands; others in grassland savannahs; others in various kinds of woodlands; others in thick bush; others in swamps; and yet others in deserts. Some occur in areas of high rainfall. Others live in areas of very low rainfall.

A population can be defined as a group of animals of the same species, the individuals of which interact with each other, in continuum, on a daily basis; and which breed only with other animals in the same group.

Some elephant populations in Africa are “SAFE”. This means they occur in good numbers, consistent with the carrying capacities of their habitats. Safe populations are healthy; their habitats are healthy; and they breed well. Such populations require “conservation” management which means they are able to sustain a high level of sustainable utilisation. They should be culled every year in numbers equivalent to the rate of their respective annual increments. This is necessary to make sure SAFE populations do not become “EXCESSIVE”. (See below).

Some populations are “UNSAFE”. They are low in number and not breeding well. Their numbers are declining and the reasons for these bad situations cannot be ascertained or reversed. These animals face possible local extinction. They require “preservation” management – protection from all harm.

Other populations are “EXCESSIVE”. This means their numbers are above (often grossly above) the carrying capacities of their habitats. Most excessive populations are breeding well – adding to the problem of over-population. Their habitats, however, have been trashed over the years and they continue to be degraded annually. Many such habitats are unrecognisable compared to what they looked like 50 years ago. The biological diversities of such habitats are deteriorating all the time; many have suffered the local extinction of both plant and animal species; and a lot more species are seriously threatened. If the numbers of elephants in such populations are not reduced in number – drastically and quickly – the game reserves that support them will become deserts. In many, desertification is already well advanced. Excessive populations require immediate population reduction management.

What I am trying to convey here is that the environmental pressures being exerted on Africa’s 150 different elephant populations are unique to each population. No two are the same; and they are sometimes chalk-and-cheese different. There is no “one size fits all” management application. So Africa’s 150 elephant populations need 150 different management strategies, each one custom-designed to fit the needs of each specific population.

Now we can discuss the “endangered species” concept. Just where, within this conundrum, can this idea fit into the elephant management equation? It can’t – anywhere. The very title – “endangered” – conveys the idea that each and every elephant population in Africa is UNSAFE; that it is declining; that it is not breeding well; and that it should be managed according to the “preservation management” principle ONLY. And preservation management requires that every single elephant should be protected from all harm. And that is clearly not what is required at all.

When the elephant was declared to be an “endangered species” at CITES 1979 – a decision which was pushed through with brutal force by every animal rights organisation in creation – the world actually imposed MIS-management on every SAFE and EXCESSIVE elephant population in Africa. And demanding the MIS-management of an animal species population, under any circumstances, is NOT in the best interests of the species concerned; nor of the habitats that support them; and also not in the interests of maintaining species diversity in their sanctuaries.

It is necessary to record here that most of the “elephant range states” at CITES in 1979 voted against having the elephant placed on the endangered species list (Appendix 1) that year, but their opinions were ignored. Surely the opinions of the elephant management experts who live in the range states in Africa – who know more about elephants and their management needs than anybody else – should have held more water than the opinions of the animal rights organisations that are based in Washington DC, London or Paris? But the animal rightists won the day on that occasion – and they have continued to push their luck at every CITES meeting ever since.

It is because of incidents like this that the animal rightist NGOs – and their fellow travellers in the powerful governments of the First World – are going to cause the demise of the African elephant in Africa.

Ron Thomson, CEO – TRUE GREEN ALLIANCE
http://www.mahohboh.org
http://www.ronthomsonshuntingbooks.co.za
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheTrueGreenAlliance/
Cell: 072 587 1111
Phone: 046 648 1243
TGA logo email


Question and answer with Ron Thomson and Andrew Wyatt

AW: Your article implies that African elephants are designated as “endangered species.” They are actually designated “vulnerable” by IUCN. Why is there so much confusion about the designation?
RT: Many in the public domain call elephants an “endangered species”, so that is the preception the public has and the public cannot understand how ANYONE can kill an “endangered species”.  Surely when a species is declared to be “endangered” its needs 100 protection? And governments don’t like opposing public perceptions!

AW: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designates African elephants as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, but not “endangered.” Why is there so much incongruity in the discussion?
RT: Discussion in the public domain with FWS officials, reveals they often speak of species (many species – including the African elephant) as being “endangered” – and they never deny any statement by anyone who proclaims ANY species to be “endangered” when it is not. Officials – including Barack Obama in the USA – regularly referred to elephants as being “endangered.”  I suspect they actually welcome the public’s mis-interpretation because it is easier for the officials to drive home their insistence that “their” extra-protection purpose needs radical acceptance.

AW: Why are some populations of elephants listed CITES Appendix I, implying endangered status?
RT: Every animal rights NGO delegate that attends CITES meetings – when talking about the elephant – infers that the convention is dealing with an “endangered species”.  And within the CITES debates (which are TOTALLY swamped by animal rightist delegates) they purposefully use no other term than “endangered” – which the media picks up and disseminates into the public domain . And that is, perhaps, understandable.  CITES, after all, is an acronym for “Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species“.   And when the elephant was placed on the Appendix 1 list of CITES, the media – all over the world – referred to the elephant as being “an endangered species” (which they picked up from the animal rights propaganda).  Furthermore, NOBODY corrected that interpretation – not the IUCN; not WWF; & not FWS.  That perception cannot now be shaken..  In the public mind – constantly reinforced in all animal rights propaganda – and by the media world-wide – the elephant IS “an endangered species.”

AW: Would you care to continue your clarification regarding the non-uniformity across NGO’s and government entities in referring to elephants as “endangered?”
RT: Sure, I will clarify – but understand that the media’s, the public’s and general governmental perceptions are now so heavily skewed that even my explanation may not be acceptable – even to you!  Many people/ organisations have different (their own) interpretations of what constitutes an “endangered species” – which adds to the confusion.  In the public mind, however, the term “endangered species” denotes or implies “facing extinction“.   And the media’s projection of “endangered species” in wildlife has a lot to with that.  So has the animal rightists’ propaganda – which uses the endangered species concept as its main means of stirring up public emotions (and makes them more fraudulently-acquired money than anything else).  If you take the trouble to examine every piece of animal rights propaganda that you are exposed to, you will quickly see that “EVERY LIVING THING” is classified by them as being “endangered”.

All this renders public acceptance of “REALITY” almost impossible – and the REALITY is that no species is “threatened with extinction” until its VERY LAST POPULATION is declining and the reasons for the decline cannot be arrested.  The northern white rhino is a good candidate for what represents a REAL endangered species – with only four individuals still alive (three females and one male – and the male is beyond breeding).  REALITY is that even official and august bodies like the IUCN, WWF and USF&WS TALKabout “endangered species”.  The USF&WS even enacts a law called the “Endangered Species Act” (ESA) – when, in fact, the concept of “endangered species” has no application at all within the general principles and practices of Wildlife Management (a.k.a. {eroneously} “CONSERVATION”) – except in those very rare examples such as the current sad status of the Northern White Rhino. So the USF&WS is guilty of perpetuating the myth, too.

All these official “acceptances” of the endangered species concept leads the public away for REALITY.  And this is NOT just a game of semantics.  I wish it were!  With respect to Africa’s elephants we are actually talking about the practical survival management of the species – the elephant; the survival of whole ecosystems (Africa’s national parks); and the survival of the bulk of Africa’ s current wildlife species diversity (plants AND animals).  The survival of all these things – depends not only on stopping the poaching, but ALSO (perhaps more-so, in the case of southern Africa) upon Africa’s EXCESSIVE elephant populations being drastically REDUCED in number. In southern Africa every single one of the elephant populations – HALF of today’s entire extant elephant numbers – fall into the category of being EXCESSIVE.  And they need to be urgently reduced in number (for the sake of the elephant; for the sake of Africa’s National Parks; and for the sake of the maintenance of Africa’s wildlife species diversity).  THIS is REALITY.

Now how is such a “best practice” management programme going to be possible when everybody in creation believes in the concept of “endangered species”.  If only people would start believing in the fact that wildlife cannot be “managed” at the species level; only at the population level; and that a species’ (ANY species) many populations comprise those that are SAFE, UNSAFE and EXCESSIVE, would the general public begin to understand the wisdom and principles of wildlife management.  And they have to understand that every single one of Africa’s elephant populations need to managed separately according to their individual environmental circumstances.  When the “endangered species” ideal is applied to the elephant in Africa it results in MIS-management – which is the last thing Africa needs.  It is the last thing that the elephant needs – the total protection of ALL populations of elephants on the entire continent irrespective of what their true population status is.

Everyone needs to be led into the very serious understanding that Africa’s national parks were set aside to preserve the integrity of the national parks’ biological diversities.  THAT is the parks’ Number ONE wildlife management objective.  And THAT should be everybody’s priority consideration! As much as I love Africa’s elephants, I love Africa’s biological diversity more.  The parks were NOT set aside for the uncontrolled proliferation of elephants – and the whole world needs to understand this.  In many of Africa’s national parks (especially in southern Africa) too many elephants are destroying the very reason why the national parks were set aside in the first place.   And explaining all THIS is the whole purpose of me sending those blogs to you in the first place.

It is very clear to me that the whole world is demanding of Africa that it maintains elephants in numbers that its national parks simply CANNOT sustainably support.  Excessive elephant populations cannot be maintained indefinitely.  Sooner rather than later, the park ecosystems will collapse.  And when they do crash the massive elephant herds we see in these game reserves today, will crash with them. And in one drought year, the world will lose tens of thousands of elephants – BECAUSE they have been “over-protected”.   And they will lose billions of plant and animal species BECAUSE world society has not allowed Africa’s national parks to be properly managed. The reality is that southern Africa is carrying far too many elephants already – and the effects of what amounts to terrible and prolonged mis-management are already becoming manifest.  South Africa’s Kruger National Park, for example, has lost MORE THAN 95 percent of its vitally important top canopy trees because it has been carrying far too many elephants for far too long; and the damage continues unabated. Even if you are not a biologist; not an ecologist; and not a qualified wildlife manager – but just an ordinary intelligent member of society – the ultimate disaster that looms must be obvious.

So, if the public really wants to save Africa’s elephants, I propose that – instead of creating a huge furore every time an elephant is killed by a hunter – or culled by a game ranger –  that the general public start petitions to raise funds for the purchase of extra land in Africa where elephants can be maintained in symbiotic harmony with Africa’s rural people.  Symbiotic harmony means the elephants will be “used” sustainably for the benefit of Africa’s rural communities – because THAT is the ONLY way to secure a future for elephant in Africa into posterity.


The Elephant’s Armageddon: Part I

elephants sunset

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.

Big Cat Public Safety Act: USFWS v. USDA

tiger-1.jpg

UPDATED June 29, 2017

On March 30, 2017 the Big Cat Public Safety Act (H.R. 1818) was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives. Proponents of H.R. 1818 laud it as a bi-partisan effort to “prohibit private ownership of captive lions, tigers, and other big cats in the US.” — in other words, pets. However, this characterization appears not only disingenuous, but it is duplicative, as most states already prohibit the ownership of big cats as pets. If passed as written, the primary impact of H.R. 1818 would not be on pet owners, but on zoos and sanctuaries that are not ideologically aligned with animal rights advocates espousing historical anti-captive wildlife sentiments.

Usurping the Animal Welfare Act
In a joint press release animal rights groups claimed H.R. 1818 would strengthen the Captive Wildlife Safety Act (CWSA). The CWSA is the 2003 Lacey Act amendment mandating interstate transport of big cats be limited to facilities licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and their registered agents. This amendment was consistent with the primary directive of the Lacey Act— to combat “trafficking” in “illegal” wildlife. The Lacey Act was never intended to regulate animal welfare. That is the dominion of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). However, H.R. 1818 seeks to expand the authority of the Lacey Act empowering U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to regulate “animal welfare” and “legal” wildlife; points of law already established under the AWA, and administered by USDA through the licensing and inspection of qualified facilities.

Dan Ashe, former Director of FWS under the Obama Administration and current CEO of the AZA, has long maintained working relationships with animal rights proponents of the Big Cat Public Safety Act, particularly Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), as well as the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

ashedan_032317gn_lead

Dan Ashe, CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums— © Greg Nash

Three previous iterations of H.R. 1818 have been shopped around Capitol Hill since at least 2012. While touting public safety concerns, all have failed to get even a hearing because they are transparent attempts to establish the inequitable ideology of animal rights into the law. Previous versions of the Big Cat Public Safety Act offered an exemption to zoological facilities accredited only by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), a trade association favored by bill proponents for instituting animal rights policies into their accreditation. These same proponents, led by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), have been engaged in an ongoing smear campaign against any zoo or aquarium not accredited by the AZA.

H.R. 1818 would continue to favor AZA, although no longer exempting them by name. The exemption is accomplished through a bit of “slight of hand,” calling for a USDA exemption, but then qualifying the exemption with a laundry list of AZA/HSUS negotiated policies inserted into the bill language. These qualifications effectively usurp authority from the AWA, placing it under the authority of the Lacey Act.

By writing animal rights policy into the Lacey Act, H.R. 1818 seeks to rewrite a broad swath of USDA animal welfare regulations by doing an end run around the AWA. These animal rights groups hope to supersede USDA regulations they were unsuccessful in changing through the administrative process by pushing legislation at the House Natural Resources Committee with lawmakers unfamiliar with animal welfare issues. If H.R. 1818 were to pass as written, FWS, without any experience regulating captive wildlife, would administer and enforce the new regulations.

H.R. 1818- Big Cat Public Safety Act:
Section 3 Prohibitions, (e) Captive Wildlife Offense, (2) Limitation on Application,  paragraph (1)(A), subparagraphs i, ii, iii, iv, v, vi, vii and viii, presumes to rewrite and supersede an area of established law pertaining to the “animal welfare” of “legal” wildlife already regulated by USDA under authority of the Animal Welfare Act, while maintaining a de facto exemption for AZA zoos.

Public Safety or Animal Rights?
Proponents of H.R. 1818 cite an incident in Zanesville, Ohio in 2011 as an example of why this bill is needed. However, while tragic, Ohio recently past legislation addressing the issues. Most states already strictly regulate the possession of big cats. South Carolina just passed a ban on big cats as pets in this legislative session.

Ironically, most of the accidents with big cats, lethal and otherwise, have occurred at AZA zoos that would be exempted from this legislation; most notably, San Francisco Zoo in 2007 when a tiger killed a patron and injured two others— and more recently, Palm Beach Zoo in 2016 when a tiger killed a zookeeper. There are only a small handful of states that don’t strictly regulate big cats. Ohio now has some of the strictest regulations in the country. Outside of AZA accredited facilities, a death from a big cat hasn’t been recorded since 2003.

At the end of the day, animal welfare is not under the purview of the Lacey Act. The Lacey Act was designed to address wildlife trafficking. Further, FWS is not equipped to administer animal welfare regulations. Undoubtedly, funding for this unprecedented and duplicative overreach will be difficult to appropriate under the current administration. Proponents of the Big Cat Public Safety Act have misled bill sponsors and committee members. There is no crisis looming. The Big Cat Public Safety Act is not about public safety. It is about picking favorites and eliminating zoos and aquariums that will not voluntarily adopt the policies of the animal rights movement.

Compromise
With the help of Dan Ashe and the AZA, HSUS and IFAW are attempting to build political support for a hearing on H.R. 1818 before the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee. After years of failure petitioning USDA to institutionalize their ideology under the guise of public safety, these animal rights groups hope to have success by changing their tact and selling their brand of “public safety” to lawmakers at Natural Resources unfamiliar with animal welfare issues.

If proponents truly wanted only to stop pet ownership of big cats, the solution would be quite simple— amend the H.R. 1818 with a straight forward USDA exemption— without all of the qualifications that make it a de facto AZA exemption. The fact is, the USDA already regulates all legitimate zoos and aquariums regardless of trade association affiliation. Requiring USDA licensing would end the practice of keeping big cats as pets and legitimate non-AZA zoos would not be penalized or coerced into a choice between trade associations. Additionally, this compromise avoids using the Lacey Act to usurp the integrity of the Animal Welfare Act. Without an equitable amendment, zoos and aquariums across the country will likely oppose the Big Cat Public Safety Act.

Landmark Victory for USARK in Python Ban Lawsuit

american-flag-gavel-scales-of-justice

“Scales” of Justice prove true for Herpetoculture

Washington DC— April 7, 2017. The United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit in the case of the United States Association of Reptile Keepers v. Ryan Zinke, Secretary of The Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Humane Society of the United States and Center for Biological Diversity, ruled in favor of USARK on the question of Lacey Act authority to prohibit interstate transport of species listed as “injurious” under the Lacey Act. The court held that, “the government lacks authority under the shipment clause to prohibit shipments of injurious species between the ‘continental’ States.”

264575_210697215640070_6306357_n5-300x225What does all of this mean?
The way has now been cleared to legally resume trade of the Burmese python, North African python, South African python, reticulated python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda,  Beni anaconda, green anaconda and yellow anaconda within the “continental United States.” However, it appears that injurious species cannot be transported into the District of Columbia. The shipment clause specifically references the “continental United States,” “Hawaii,” the “Commonwealth of Puerto Rico,” and “any possession of the United States”, and the “District of Columbia” as distinct designations. In the court’s opinion the “District of Columbia” is an expressly separate designation from the “continental United States,” and specifically identified as prohibited in the shipment clause. In conclusion, it appears that there will be no legal transport into Washington, DC without the appropriate permits.

Congress defined the phrase “continental United States” in a statute enacted by the same Congress in the year before the 1960 addition of the shipment clause. See Pub. L. No. 86-70, § 48, 73 Stat. 141, 154 (1959); see also 1 U.S.C. § 1 note. Under that definition, “[w]henever the phrase ‘continental United States’ is used in any law of the United States enacted after the date of the enactment of this Act, it shall mean the 49 States on the North American Continent and the District of Columbia, unless otherwise expressly provided.”

Keep in mind that all nine constrictor snakes continue to be listed as injurious under the Lacey Act. Export and interstate transport are allowed. However import without a special permit is a felony and strictly prohibited. Violations can carry heavy fines and prison time.

Categorical Exclusion: CatX
Additionally, in 2015, in an unprecedented move, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service empowered itself to shortcut the rule making process under the Lacey Act in order to more easily declare injurious wildlife listings, making way for mass listing of species. Known as CatX, this rule has negatively impacted herpetoculture, and the pet trade by removing scientific justification from the listing process. This led to the listing of 201 salamander species in 2016, prohibiting the import and interstate trade of captive bred specimens. However, the ruling by the court on the authority of the Lacey Act to prohibit interstate transport now opens the way to resume trade of listed captive bred salamander species in the continental U.S., removing CatX’s teeth as a blunt force instrument to prohibit captive breeding programs on American soil. Listed species may be exported. However import without permit is a felony.

The bottom line is that CatX and the Python Ban now prohibit import only, and the Court’s Ruling has effectively clipped the wings of the radical animal rights industry seeking to use the Lacey Act to interfere with captive breeding programs in this country.

http://www.troutmansanders.com/george-y-sugiyama-joins-troutman-sanders-washington-dc-office-03-21-2012/

George Sugiyama, former Chief Minority Counsel, Senate EPW ~ Troutman Sanders

History of the USARK Lawsuit
In 2011, as then-CEO of the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK), I led the fight against the listing of nine constrictor snakes as injurious under the Lacey Act. During the course of many visits to Capitol Hill, I met with George Sugiyama, Chief Minority Counsel for the Senate Environmental and Public Works (EPW) Committee. Mr. Sugiyama suggested to me, that in his legal opinion, FWS under the Lacey Act, did not have the authority to restrict interstate transport of species listed as injurious. I loved the simplicity of his argument and directed USARK’s counsel to further research and vet the idea. Subsequently, we hatched a plan, and created a blueprint for a lawsuit challenging the FWS’ authority to regulate interstate transport. The architects of the lawsuit were George Sugiyama, Joan Galvin and myself.

I spent most all of 2012 lobbying the USARK Board of Directors to move forward with the lawsuit. USARK finally filed that lawsuit against then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell (USARK v. Jewell et al.) in the Federal District Court of Washington, DC in December of 2013— 11 months after I resigned from the organization. In the end it doesn’t matter why they waited. The point is, USARK did file the lawsuit, my strategy proved to be the correct one as illustrated by the court, and herpetoculture gets a huge victory that will resonate for years to come!

The Injurious Wildlife listing under the Lacey Act can no longer be used as the weapon it once was against domestic herpetoculture in the United States.

Congratulations USARK and the Reptile Nation for a job well done!
Working on behalf of USARK Joan Galvin, Shawn Gehan, David Frulla, Paul C. Rosenthal, Richard Stanley, and an anonymous legal contributor all played crucial roles in bring this lawsuit to fruition. In addition there have been countless volunteers and fundraisers that contributed and funded this unprecedented success that has been 9 years in the making. It has been my honor and privilege to play my part. My sincerest thank you to USARK and the entire Reptile Nation in this monumental victory for herpetoculture!


Happy Birthday USARK! — Many people don’t know, even the current officers of USARK, but USARK was founded as a trade association dedicated to the interests of herpetoculture on April 5, 2008 in Chicago, specifically to fight the Python Ban. The founding principal was Andrew Wyatt, formerly the founder and president of the North Carolina Association of Reptile Keepers (NCARK). The co-founders of USARK included Mack Robinette, Lou Sangermano, Ralph Davis, Doug Price, Sherry Tregembo, Jeff Ronnie, Warren Booth, Shawn Heflick, Brian Sharp, and Dan and Colette Sutherland. This group would become the USARK Board of Directors electing Wyatt as president and CEO in April 2008. April 5, 2017 was USARK’s Birthday. Happy Birthday to a young and successful trade association.


Andrew Wyatt is a government affairs and policy consultant that works exclusively in the wildlife sector.

Ula and me“Wildlife issues are highly charged and contentious. I specialize in articulating clear policy ideas and getting them in front of key decision makers. 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 potential advantages of creating a comprehensive business/government affairs strategy, or a more targeted issue campaign, please call or email me.” ~ Andrew Wyatt


© 2017 Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word on Wildlife. 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.

Winds of Change: Opportunity for Gain?

Golden Eagle

Eagle take is strictly regulated under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1962

Opportunity Knocks
Donald J. Trump, whether you like him or not, is the new President of the United States. That could mean big changes for wildlife policy. During his address to the joint session of congress last week, Trump made it clear that the priorities of his Administration will be far different from those of his predecessor. While life under the Obama Administration proved difficult for many wildlife stakeholders, opportunities to influence future policy at the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), are within reach of those that seize the initiative.

After almost a decade under siege by powerful special interest groups and unfriendly government agencies, it will be interesting to see if stakeholders that were under the knife with Obama go on the offensive under Trump.

Change is in the Air
It’s no secret that agency culture at USDA and FWS became decidedly anti-business and anti-resource use under the Obama Administration. With Hilary Clinton the heir apparent as next in line for the Presidency, animal rights and environmentalist organizations were giddy with prospects for a further expansion of power and influence in a Clinton Administration. However, the unexpected victory of Donald Trump brought those aspirations to a screeching halt. In this new political climate, like their opposition before them, wildlife stakeholders stand to make significant gains of their own.

Unless there are significant economic implications, most wildlife issues will not be a priority for the new Administration. The President made it clear that his focus will be on replacing Obama-care, tax reform, energy production and infrastructure. Most of the administrative regulatory changes previously under review, will likely never see the light of day. But while that may be a relief to many, it is a double edged sword for those who are faced with trying to garner attention to a much needed roll-back of bad regulations already put in place by the outgoing Administration.

Damages Done
Particularly hard hit by rule changes were herpetoculture and antique ivory interests. The arbitrary nature of these rules from FWS have yielded damages to stakeholders that could measure upwards of $100 million in lost jobs, assets and income. The challenge then becomes, when the new Administration is focused on weighty issues like repealing Obama-care and tax reform, how to bring attention to issues like Lacey Act over-reach or the trade of certain rare antiquities?

Wildlife Rules Enacted Under Obama Administration

  • FWS — Injurious Wildlife Listing of 9 Constricting Snakes — Python Ban
  • FWS — Categorical Exemption from NEPA Requirements on Lacey Act listings — CatX
  • FWS — Injurious Wildlife Listing of 201 Salamander Species– Salamnder Ban
  • USDA/Aphis — Handling and Husbandry of Neonatal Nondomestic Cats
  • FWS — Rule for the African Elephant, Endangered Species Act — Ivory Ban

There are also questions of internal decisions at regional FWS offices regarding limits on the issuance of wildlife take permits for species that have already been approved for specific use. The decision making process appears to be colored by a culture that is decidedly anti-hunting. Mid-level agency administrators are making decisions that are contrary to approved FWS policy. But where there is minimal economic impact, it can be difficult to bring these injustices to the attention of policy makers.

Fear of Loss is a Greater Motivator than Opportunity for Gain
Some believe, contrary to the results they have been able to produce, that grass roots activism has a significant influence on policy direction. There is no doubt that grass roots can have its place, especially in the legislative arena. Ten years ago, when I was the CEO of a trade association, we mounted a massive grass roots campaign defeating HR 669 in the House Natural Resources Committee. Our 50,000 hand written letters had to be carted into committee, and gave members more than enough cover to kill HR 669. However, “fear of loss” motivated that unprecedented response at committee. We are now talking about “opportunity for gain.” If you have been unable to accomplish your agency goals, it is unlikely that writing more letters and making more calls will provide the political leverage needed to effect that change. It can help, but it won’t win the day.

You Need a Plan
Don’t get me wrong, grass roots activism can be very effective, but it works best when it is part and parcel of a comprehensive strategy, not the alpha and omega of your advocacy efforts. You must have a comprehensive plan that sets benchmarks and creates an integrated blueprint for business, communications, fundraising and government affairs. If you can’t clearly see how to reach your goals, the chances of realizing them are slim to none. One thing is for sure, if you continue to do what you have always done, you will continue to get what you have always gotten.

It would be a monumental waste for stakeholders not to take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity for gains in the wildlife sector. Whether it’s making new law, roll-back of bad regulations, or holding agencies accountable, it won’t happen by itself. In order to realize positive change, you must be able to open doors and get your issues in front of those who can make a real difference. You need a plan. It’s not too late, but you have to be in the game to have a chance to win.


Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the benefits of professional advocacy?
  • Does grass roots advocacy really work?
  • How do I create a strategic business/government affairs plan? 
  • Is a communications strategy important?
  • What is the difference between a bill and a proposed rule?
  • How do we get a rule “rolled back?”
  • Can we get permitting expedited?
  • How can creating a caucus help?
  • What is an issue campaign?
  • How do we get more than “lip service” from my member of congress?
  • How do we get accountable answers from federal agencies?
  • Why don’t agency employees care what we want?
  • How can we raise funds to pay for advocacy/legal assistance?

Andrew Wyatt is a government affairs and policy consultant that works exclusively in the wildlife sector.

WyattP1“Wildlife issues are highly charged and contentious. I specialize in articulating clear policy ideas and getting them in front of key decision makers. 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 potential 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, 2017. 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.

Burmese Python: Dragon of the Everglades

burmese-pythons-everglades-invasive-species_31112

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.

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 12.36.08 PM

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.

Black Rhino Hunt: Conservation Controversy

One Black Rhino May Help Save All Of The Rest

One Black Rhino May Help Save All Of The Rest

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.

WyattP2“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.