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The death of ‘Serondela’ marks conservation catastrophe (Botswana)

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Dave Baaitse, The Weekend Post | March 9, 2020

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The recent rise in mass slaughter of rhinos and constant brutal killing of rhinos for their horns at Chief’s Island in the Okavango Delta led to the death of one of Botswana’s iconic and cherished white rhino affectionately named Serondela.

Over the years, Serondela has become a symbol of Botswana’s success in rhino conservation and brought joy to those that knew his story. According to impeccable sources, Serondela’s story has lived on and inspired many people.

In later days when the numbers of rhino poaching had stabilised, he was relocated back to the delta until he met his demise recently, marking an end to a great conservation story. In an interview with one of the local newspapers, former Commander of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Major General Gaolatlhe Galebotswe was quoted saying anti-poaching operations are intelligence led. “With a committed intelligence outfit we will be able to find the culprits in a short time,” he said.

Original photo as published by Weekend Post: Named Serondela, the white iconic rhino bull was one of the four surviving white rhinos in Botswana at a time when white rhinos were poached to near extinction.

Galebotswe said the problem stems not from a lack of weapons for the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, but from an intelligence service that serves individual interests. The latest incidents show an escalation of the poaching rate, with approximately two rhinos killed every week.

Impeccable sources submit that the recent increase might be instigated by the fact that poaching syndicates are agile, and will shift to different areas as security and intelligence operations ramp up in the regions that have already seen intense poaching.

It is also reported that gangs will use new tactics continuously to avoid getting caught, always looking for the next location and trying to find ‘softer targets’. Last week Botswana Defence Force (BDF) refuted reports that the recent scenario is an inside job by its members particularly the Special Forces Unit popularly known as Commandos.

Reports suggest that the BDF Special Forces Unit is currently working under ‘protest’ a move that is highly linked to the fact that they were not beneficiaries of the 2019 BDF salary adjustments dubbed ‘Ntlole’.

This move is highly linked to the recent unprecedented rate of rhino poaching in the history of the country. Colonel Tebo Dikole, Director, Protocol and Public Affairs declined to discuss BDF operational matters such as, “the members of the special Forces and Infantry Units currently deployed in the anti-poaching operations at Chief’s Island”. “BDF in the execution of its mission of defending Botswana’s Territorial Integrity, Sovereignty and National Interests is not driven by profit or remuneration. All BDF members, including Special Forces’ performance hinges on one of our core value of ‘Duty’ which succinctly states that, ‘Duty is accomplishing all assigned tasks to the fullest of our ability,’ Col Dikole said.

Save the Rhino Africa indicated that Botswana has historically held a tough stance on poaching, often reported as an ‘unwritten shoot to kill policy’. However, strong words have not always been backed up by effective law enforcement.

In May 2018, the Government of Botswana disarmed its anti-poaching units, a story fuelled by internal politics. And there are wider issues around prosecutions further up the chain. According to the Save the Rhino report, in July 2018, Dumisani Moyo, a high-level wildlife trafficker, was released on bail despite repeated arrests for rhino poaching and being on Interpol’s Red List of most-wanted wildlife criminals.

This was not the first time Moyo had escaped prosecution: since 2008, he has apparently bribed his way out of a number of court cases, according to the report. Botswana is home to 500 rhinos, according to international conservation charity, Save the Rhino.

They are a protected species in Botswana and fall outside the government’s recent decision to end a five-year ban on trophy-hunting licences, which is largely targeted at the burgeoning elephant population.

Sir David Jason joins Mirror campaign to outlaw ‘senseless’ trophy hunting (UK)

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Nada Farhoud, The Mirror | February 24, 2020

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Open All Hours star Sir David Jason has slammed trophy hunting as the “most senseless kind of animal cruelty”.

The Only Fools and Horses star, 80, is backing the Mirror’s campaign to outlaw the sick hobby and ban hunters from bringing vile souvenirs home.

In a final plea before a Government consultation ends today, he said: “We should seize this opportunity to make all our voices heard before it is too late.

Original photo as published by The Mirror: Sir David Jason joins Mirror campaign to outlaw ‘senseless’ trophy hunting.

“British hunters are permitted to kill giraffes and zebras and bring home their heads and skins to decorate their homes.

“They are allowed to kill tame lions and leopards in enclosures the animals cannot escape from – just so they can pose for a photo.

“No wonder people are angry and want trophy hunting banned. I cannot understand why this is still legal.”

Sir David’s call follows the horrific butchering of two rhinos last week in Botswana, which last week held its first auctions for the right to hunt elephants.

Its government says 30 black and white rhinos have been killed in the past year but campaigners say it is more likely to be at least 45. The rhino population there is just 300.

Eduardo Gonclaves, of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, said: “When it’s a black African killing an animal for meat it’s called poaching. When it’s a white foreigner who kills for fun, it’s trophy hunting.

The Mirror’s campaign to halt the importation of animal trophies is backed by a host of stars including Liam Gallagher.

Email huntingtrophyconsultation@defra.gov.uk today saying you support a full ban.

 

N$500m generated from trophy hunting (Namibia)

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Okeri Ngutjinazo, The Namibian | February 21, 2020

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Information minister Stanley Simataa, during a media briefing on resolutions from the second Cabinet meeting yesterday, said Cabinet has endorsed a campaign to promote conservation hunting and its benefits to local communities and the broader environment.

The minister said Cabinet has taken note of the increasing international pressure against trophy hunting and endorsed a campaign to promote conservation hunting and its benefits to local communities and the broader environment.

Trophy hunting or sport hunting refers to the hunting of wild game for human recreation. Generally, only parts of the animal are kept as trophies – usually the head, skin, horns or antlers – and the carcass itself set aside as food.

Original photo as published by The Namibian: An elephant at Etosha National Park. (Photo by Alan J. Hendry via Unsplash)

Simataa said with the conservation measures, the country has introduced in compliance with the Constitution, wildlife is plenty in communal areas.

The minister said the impact of a ban on trophy hunting would negatively affect this sector, which employs 15,000 people and sustains itself from hunting.

“People have now embraced that wildlife is part of our ecosystem and that we should conserve and manage it because we are getting utility out of this. Imagine if this stopped, the loss in revenue, the unemployment that will come and the impairment that will be there in terms of our efforts to address poverty,” he said.

The minister added that banning trophy hunting would mean the country would continue to be a nation extending ‘begging bowls’ to the international community, which would create dependency because that is revenue that Namibia would be denied to use.

“We do not want to be a nation that has begging bowls in its hands; we need money to be a truly independent nation to take care of its citizens,” he said.

Simataa said some of these countries who are leading the trophy hunting ban, are also hunting in their respective jurisdictions as their respective constitutions and laws allow.

“You cannot deny a nation the opportunity [to use] its God-given resources in the way that it has set for itself. It is like denying those that have oil an opportunity to access it,” he added.

Cabinet also supported the environment ministry in its quest to counter international pressure against trophy hunting and directed the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation to circulate information on the ‘strategy on conservation hunting in Namibia’ to Namibian missions abroad to sustain the campaign.

The environment ministry was also directed to engage and form partnerships with other Southern African Development Community countries to counteract international pressure against trophy hunting.

Also speaking on the matter, environment ministry spokesperson Romeo Muyunda said it was unfortunate that pressure to ban trophy hunting was coming from the international community, adding that he believed that this was due to lack of understanding of the contributions trophy hunting made in the country, such as employment creation, especially for people in rural areas.

“Our conservancy programme is mainly based on trophy hunting. The revenue that they generate mainly comes from it and that is the money that they use to run conservancies, as institutions, and this is the money that they use to pay their employees,” he said.

Muyunda noted that if these benefits are removed, these people would not tolerate wildlife and, at the end of the day, the international community itself would have nothing to speak about because the country would no longer have any wildlife.

He added that the danger would be that most of these species would be wiped out through poaching, while the ministry was already seeing such elements of poaching on wildlife, especially on highly valued species.

“So, imagine if somebody has to endure living with an elephant that is causing destruction and also threatening people’s lives without benefiting from that elephant,” he said.

Drought Relief

Cabinet also noted the progress, development and challenges experienced in the implementation of various drought relief interventions submitted by the office of the Prime Minister.

Simataa said due to the improved grazing conditions in the Zambezi, Kavango East and West, Ohangwena, Oshikoto, Oshana and Omusati regions, Cabinet approved the discontinuation of the distribution of free fodder to those regions.

In addition, Cabinet also noted that the distribution of fodder to Otjozondjupa, Kunene, Erongo, Khomas, Omaheke, Hardap and //Kharas regions would continue due to low rainfall.

The minister said some parts of the country have reported rising water levels and a decision was taken to support and assist the communities by deploying canoes and life-saving jackets. Meanwhile, water bowser services in some regions have been discontinued and cabinet supported the continued implementation of programmes to build resilience, which include water provision and the fodder production capacity for farmers and green schemes.

Cabinet noted that all other approved interventions on drought would be continued until the end of the declared state of emergency period of March 2020.

Cabinet further supported the Office of the Prime Minister in the extension of the introduction of appropriate information management systems, which would be used in the identification and registration of beneficiaries, as well as in the redemption of benefits, with the support of the World Food Programme. Cabinet also supported the strengthening of the disaster risk management and response systems with the introduction of appropriate tools and equipment, as part of resilience building.

 

Nearly 50 rhinos killed in Botswana in 10 months as poaching surges

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France 24 | February 24, 2020

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At least 46 rhinos have been slaughtered in Botswana in 10 months, a government official said on Monday as the southern African wildlife haven reported a surge in poaching of the endangered species.

The killings — slightly under 10 percent of Botswana’s total rhino population — have occurred in the northern Moremi Game Reserve since April last year.

“Poaching has risen at an alarming rate in this area,” Moemi Batshabang, a deputy director with the government’s wildlife department told AFP.

“I can attest that 46 rhinos have been killed by highly organised poachers between April last year to date,” he said.

Original photo as published by France 24.

Botswana is home to 500 rhinos, according to international conservation charity, Save the Rhino.

They are a protected species in Botswana and fall outside the government’s recent decision to end a five-year ban on trophy-hunting licences, which is largely targeted at the burgeoning elephant population.

Most of the rhinos roam the grassy plains of the northern Okavango Delta, where Moremi Game Reserve is situated.

“The increase in poaching of both the black and white rhino is of concern and unusual,” said Batshabang.

The unprecedented rate of poaching last year prompted the government to warn that the rhino population could be wiped out in the southern African country by 2021.

Thousands of rhinos that once roamed Africa and Asia have been culled by poaching and habitat loss. Very few are found outside national parks and reserves.

Poaching is fuelled by a seemingly insatiable demand for rhino horn in Asia, where it is coveted as a traditional medicine or an aphrodisiac, and can fetch up to $60,000 per kilogramme.

Rhino horn is composed mainly of keratin, the same substance as in human nails.

Botswana’s neighbour South Africa, home to 80 percent of the world’s remaining rhinos and the epicentre of rhino poaching, lost 594 rhinos to poachers last year. The good news is that this marks a 23 percent drop from the previous year.

More than 7,100 animals have been slaughtered over the past decade

There are fewer than 25,000 rhinos left in the wild in Africa due to a surge in poaching, and only 5,000 of them are black rhinos.

 

Interior Dept. drops trophy hunting council amid court fight

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The Associated Press | February 10, 2020

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WASHINGTON: Facing significant legal challenges, the Trump administration has disbanded its advisory board created to help boost trophy hunting and relax federal rules for importing the heads and hides of African elephants, lions and rhinos.

In a filing to a federal court in New York, an official with the Department of Interior said the two-year charter for the International Wildlife Conservation Council had expired and that there were no plans to renew it. The board held its final meeting in October.

The council was created by then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a former Republican congressman from Montana forced to resign amid a corruption scandal. A 2018 investigation by The Associated Press showed that the board was stuffed with big-game hunters, including appointees with direct ties to President Donald Trump and his family.

A coalition of environmental groups later sued, alleging that the board’s one-sided makeup violated the law governing the creation of federal advisory boards. The government’s decision to terminate the board, first revealed in a court filing on Friday, was hailed as a victory by those seeking to blunt its influence.

“I have little doubt our litigation spurred the administration’s decision to abandon the IWCC and walk away from its biased and un-transparent practices,” said Zak Smith, international wildlife conservation director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We’re glad the Trump administration is closing shop on this ridiculously misguided council and we await a full accounting of its tainted work product.”

An avid hunter who adorned his Washington office with animals preserved through taxidermy, including a snarling grizzly bear, Zinke created the council to represent a “strong partnership” between federal wildlife officials and those who hunt or profit from hunting. In its 2017 charter, the council included among its duties “recommending removal of barriers to the importation into the United States of legally hunted wildlife” and “ongoing review of import suspension/bans and providing recommendations that seek to resume the legal trade of those items, where appropriate.”

The council met five times over the last two years, issuing a report in December that provided a description of the presentations the board had received. However, the council’s members ultimately did not vote on making any formal recommendations to the Interior Department.

Eric Alvarez, the acting assistant director for International Affairs at the Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a written statement to the court that the council’s final report to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt would not be regarded as anything more than “correspondence,” since it was not adopted in a public meeting. Alvarez went on to say that the council’s initial charter expired on Dec. 21.

“Because there is not a valid charter, the terms of all members of the IWCC have also terminated,” Alvarez told the judge. “I am not aware of any plans to bring back this discretionary committee or any new committee with a comparable mission or scope in the future.”

In a separate filing on Friday, the Justice Department asked the federal judge overseeing the lawsuit to dismiss the case, citing the wildlife council’s dissolution.

The Interior Department’s press office did not immediately respond Monday to a phone message and email seeking comment.

The AP’s 2018 review of the backgrounds and social media posts of the 16 council members Zinke selected showed they were likely to agree with his position that the best way to protect critically threatened or endangered species is to encourage wealthy Americans to shoot some of them, funding conservation and anti-poaching efforts by paying hefty license fees to cash-strapped African countries.

Zinke’s hand-picked appointees included celebrity hunting guides, representatives from rifle and bow manufacturers and wealthy sportspeople who boasted of bagging the coveted “Big Five” — elephant, rhino, lion, leopard and Cape buffalo. Most were members of Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association, groups that had sued the Fish and Wildlife Service to expand the list of countries from which trophy kills can be legally imported.

Zinke resigned in December 2018 amid several investigations that he had misused his office for personal gain. He quickly joined Turnberry Solutions, a D.C. lobbying firm whose clients include oil and gas companies and Native American tribes.

Phone messages seeking comment from Zinke about the wildlife council’s dissolution did not receive a response.

Despite tweets from Trump describing big-game hunting as a “horror show,” his administration has expanded the list of African nations from which the body parts of sport-hunted elephants and lions can be imported.

Donald Trump Jr. spoke last weekend at the annual convention of Safari Club International in Reno, Nevada. As part of the festivities, the pro-trophy hunting group auctioned off a weeklong Alaskan “dream hunt” aboard a luxury yacht with the president’s eldest son.

The Fish and Wildlife Service issued a controversial permit in September to a Michigan trophy hunter to import the skin, skull and horns from a rare black rhinoceros he shot in Africa. The hunter paid $400,000 to an anti-poaching program to receive permission to hunt the male rhino bull inside a Namibian national park. A critically endangered species, there are only about 5,500 remaining in the wild.

“The end of Trump’s thrill-kill council is a huge victory for elephants, lions and other imperiled animals targeted by trophy hunters,” said Tanya Sanerib, international legal director for the Center for Biological Diversity, which was a party to the lawsuit. “It’s still critical to address this biased committee’s past legal violations and prevent self-serving advice from trophy hunters from poisoning federal wildlife policies.”

Senior cop arrested over rhino poaching (Namibia)

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Albertina Nakale, New Era Live | February 6, 2020

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A senior police officer at Oshakati’s protected resources unit was the mastermind behind the poaching incidences which occurred in Etosha National Park last month.

In an interview with New Era yesterday, Minister of Environment and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta confirmed that two rhinos have been poached to date this year, where a senior police officer who is heading the protected resources unit was involved.

Shifeta said the police officer together with other members of the Oshakati Town Council were arrested when caught red handed while removing the horns of two poached rhinos in the Etosha National Park last month.

Both suspects appeared in the Oshakati Magistrate’s Court and were denied bail.

Original photo as published by New Era Live: A rhino carcass. (Photo contributed: NAMPA)

“There is a syndicate. The middleman is a police officer who was commanding the protected resource unit. Imagine, someone who is supposed to protect the wildlife is involved in poaching. They appeared and were denied bail. It’s a serious matter, especially when it involves a senior police officer,” Shifeta said.

Shifeta said there were incidences of poaching last year which involved soldiers.

The minister revealed in 2019, 45 rhinos were poached, compared to 74 in 2018, 55 in 2017, 61 in 2016 and 97 in 2015.

As for elephants, he noted 12 were poached in 2019, 27 in 2018, 50 in 2017, 101 in 2016 and 49 in 2015. No records of elephants poached this year.

Shifeta revealed for all these illegal hunting activities and illegal possession of game products, 87 cases were opened in 2019 with 201 people arrested, compared to 115 cases in 2018 with 138 people arrested.

Another 76 cases were recorded in 2017 with 123 people arrested, 135 cases in 2016 with 82 people arrested, and 91 cases in 2015 with 96 people arrested.

A total number of 26 firearms were seized while 27 vehicles were impounded.

He further said about 201 people arrested in 2019, 182 people are Namibians, nine are Zambians, seven are Angolans, two are French and one Mozambican.

“The year 2019 was characterized by a high number of cases, arrests and rhino, and pangolin poaching or trafficking. The number of arrests is significantly higher than in the previous years, which also had a lower percentage of arrests related to rhino, elephant and pangolin,” he said.

He added arrests and seizures related to rhinos have remained relatively stable, while a high number of pre-emptive arrests continued to stop poachers before they killed animals.

Equally, he maintained arrests and seizures related to both elephant and pangolin have increased, with pangolin cases showing the most alarming rise.

He congratulated the staff members of the environment ministry, the Namibian Police Force, the Namibian Defence Force, customs, prosecutor general’s office, Ministry of Justice, the communities, the civil society, farmers, private sector, international donors and everyone involved in the fight against wildlife crime.

Shifeta specifically addressed Namibian soldiers, police officers, wardens and all personnel in parks and other conservation areas with duties to protect the country’s icon species.

“Your duties are very demanding but yet tempting sometimes. Focus on your duties, be patriotic enough to say no to temptations and greediness. The nation looks upon you as the saviours of these iconic species. Retire from such duties with pride and with good history instead of being incarcerated for having succumbed to temptations and hereby erase your good history,” he encouraged.

 

Poaching declines, arrests increase (Namibia)

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Ellanie Smit, The Namibian Sun | February 6, 2020

See link for chart.

Over the past five years, there has been an overall decline in rhino and elephant poaching, with a major increase in arrests. This was shared yesterday by environment minister Pohamba Shifeta during his 2020 opening speech.

Last year, a total of 45 rhinos were poached in comparison to 74 in 2018 and 55 in 2017. In 2016, 61 rhinos were poached, and 97 in 2015. According to Shifeta, two rhinos have been poached to date this year.

As for elephants, 12 were poached last year, 27 in 2018 and 50 in 2017. In 2016, a total of 101 elephants were poached and 49 in 2015. “No elephant has been recorded poached this year,” Shifeta said.

He added that for these illegal hunting activities and the illegal possession of game products, 87 cases were opened last year, with 201 people being arrested. Of the 201 suspects arrested, the majority are Namibian (182), while the rest of the group are from Zambia (nine), Angola (seven), France (two) and Mozambique (one).

Meanwhile, a total of 115 cases were opened in 2018 with 138 suspects arrested. In 2017, 76 cases were opened with 123 arrested. Comparatively, in 2016, 135 cases were opened and 82 people were arrested, while 2015 saw 91 cases opened with 96 people arrested. Shifeta added that 26 firearms were seized and 27 vehicles were impounded last year.

“The number of arrests is significantly higher than in previous years, which also had a lower percentage of arrests related to rhino, elephant and pangolin.

“Arrests and seizures related to rhino have remained relatively stable, while a high number of pre-emptive arrests continued to stop poachers before they killed animals,” said Shifeta.

According to him, arrests and seizures relating to both elephant and pangolin poaching have increased, with pangolin cases showing the most alarming rise. A range of capacity-building for wildlife management staff was undertaken last year, he said.

This included training on financial investigations, lifestyle audits, intelligence and international exchanges, as well as capacity- and trust-building among law enforcement agencies, support for those on the ground doing daily patrols, surveillance and detection, and providing incentives to communities.

“Many of the recent successes in fighting wildlife crime in Namibia are the result of improved patrols and rapid, proactive responses to incidents. This is enabled through flexible funding from government and specific organisations,” Shifeta said.

He added that ongoing funding of this nature is vital to ensure continued success.

 

Viewpoint: Protect African wildlife with a state trophy ban (New York State, US)

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Priscilla Feral, Opinion / The Times Union | January 28, 2020

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President Donald Trump’s idea of “Make America Great Again” is making it easier for wealthy American trophy hunters like his sons, who are unfazed by six-digit price tags, to slaughter vulnerable, threatened and endangered wildlife. It is more than time for New York state — the biggest port of entry for wildlife trophies — to take steps towards ending this cruel industry.

Donald Trump Jr.’s latest hunting escapade in Mongolia — where he shot a rare endangered Argali sheep, and only received a permit to do so after the kill, on a trip last August that also included some schmoozing with the Mongolian president — is evidence of the unfair system that leaves vulnerable animal species prey to wealthy Americans, including New Yorkers who hunt African wildlife.

From 2005 to 2014, 159,144 animals were imported into New York as trophies — including 1,541 lions; 1,130 elephants and 83 pairs of tusks; 1,169 leopards, and 110 white rhinos and three pairs of horns.

Last year the state Senate passed the Big 5 African Trophies Act, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Luis Sepulveda, D-Bronx, and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan. It would ban the importation, possession, sale or transportation of the trophies of African giraffes, leopards, lions, elephants, and black and white rhinos and their body parts throughout New York — all threatened and endangered species.

The thousands of dollars in fees hunters pay to safari companies does little to help protect these animals. Studies show that less than 3 percent of revenue from trophy hunting returns to the communities. Meanwhile, the population of elephants has declined by 90 percent in the past century, with losses attributed to the commodification of elephants for their ivory and skin. This is in addition to the challenges they face from habitat destruction and climate change. There are fewer than 23,000 lions left in Africa, according to a recent study by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford, The number of Argali sheep has plummeted more than 60 percent, with just 18,000 remaining in Mongolia.

And while permits by countries that allow the hunting, and permits issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency to hunt threatened and endangered species and import the dead body parts of the animals killed overseas, are supposed to regulate the industry to ensure a species’ survival, the truth is obtaining the permits are often a matter of political influence and the only difference between “illegal” poachers and trophy hunters with permits is wealth and political connections.

New York City Councilman Keith Powers has introduced a resolution supporting the state trophy ban legislation. The council should approve it, and the state Assembly should act in its upcoming session to end the imports here. New York should lead the nation in standing up for vulnerable species who belong in the wild, not on walls.

Priscilla Feral is the president of Friends of Animals, an international, nonprofit animal advocacy organization.

 

South Africa: Wild animals at risk of ‘genetic pollution’

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Tony Carnie, The Guardian | January 29, 2020

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The South African government is under fire for permitting gene manipulation ventures that could have a damaging effect on the continent’s wildlife.

Lions, rhinos and cheetahs are among the wild species at risk of irreversible “genetic pollution” from breeding experiments, scientists have warned.

South African game farmers have increasingly been breeding novel trophy animals, including some freakishly-coloured varieties such as the black impala, golden wildebeest or pure-white springboks.

Some hunters pay more to bag unusual trophies, but now the South African government is under fire for permitting further gene manipulation ventures that scientists say could have a damaging effect on the continent’s wildlife.

Original photo as published by The Guardian: The South African government is under fire for permitting gene manipulation ventures that could have a damaging effect on the continent’s wildlife. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Writing in the latest issue of the South African Journal of Science, a group of 10 senior wildlife scientists and researchers have criticised the government for quietly amending the country’s Animal Improvement Act last year to allow for the domestication and “genetic improvement” of at least 24 indigenous wildlife species – including rare and endangered animals such as rhino, cheetah, lion, buffalo and several antelope species.

The researchers warn that: “A logical endpoint of this legislation is that we will have two populations of each species: one wild and one domesticated … domesticated varieties of wildlife will represent a novel, genetic pollution threat to South Africa’s indigenous wildlife that will be virtually impossible to prevent or reverse.”

Lead author Prof Michael Somers, a senior researcher at the Mammal Research Institute at the University of Pretoria, says the government should scrap the controversial law amendment which lumps together rare and endangered species such as rhinos with rabbits and domesticated dog breeds.

Somers and his colleagues say the act typically provides for domesticated species to be bred and “genetically improved” to obtain “superior domesticated animals with enhanced production and performance”.

These animals “can also be used for genetic manipulation, embryo harvesting, in-vitro fertilisation and embryo transfers,” say the scientists.

They argue that the law will not improve the genetics of the affected wildlife species but rather will pose ecological and economic risks as it will be expensive and almost impossible to maintain a clear distinction between wild and domesticated species.

Somers and his colleagues say the government did not appear to have consulted either scientists, government wildlife agencies or the general public about the controversial move.

Last year, in response to concerns that the legal amendment would remove the listed species from the ambit of conservation legislation, the government’s environment department issued a statement to emphasise that that game breeders would still have to comply with the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act and regulations concerning threatened or protected species.

But Somers and his co-authors remain concerned, saying that in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, where there is close cooperation between game breeders and the provincial conservation organisation, the authorities still had difficulty keeping track of what happens on game farms and in enforcing legislation.

The “golden wildebeest” is a novel species derived through the ranching and selective breeding of the common or blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus), much darker animals whose coats are typically a deep slate or bluish grey colour. Moves to allow more intensive genetic manipulation of several wildlife species in South Africa have raised the concern of scientists around irreversible genetic pollution of the original wild species. Photograph: Prof Graham Kerley/Nelson Mandela University

“This new law will add to this difficulty, and will likely be less controlled in some other provinces,” they said, adding that the genetic consequences of intensive or semi-intensive breeding of wildlife species were “negative and considerable”.

“Intensive breeding through artificial (non random) selection of individuals for commercially valuable traits (eg horn size/shape, coat colour) represents humans taking over this natural process. Such artificial selection by humans is even more powerful than natural selection in creating distinct phenotypes within very short time frames.”

Michael Bruford, a professor of biodiversity at the University of Cardiff and co-chair of the Conservation Genetics Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, added his support to the concerns raised. “The Convention on Biological Diversity’s 2020 targets clearly state that signatory countries should minimise genetic erosion (loss of genetic diversity) in domestic, socio-economically and culturally valuable species,” he said.

“However you regard these species – and they cannot reasonably be classified as domestic animals – South Africa’s proposal will very likely lead to genetic erosion, in contravention of the CBD target,” he added. “This proposal also comes at a time of rapid environmental deterioration, when we need to be increasing the resilience of our species by ensuring they retain as much genetic diversity as possible”.

 

UK must ban trophy hunting imports

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Ross Harvey, The Ecologist | January 27, 2020

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Trophy hunting is a deeply controversial topic and the consequences of ending the practice appear largely unknown.

On 25 January 2020, the UK government closed its public consultation on whether to ban trophy imports into the country.

Those opposed to an outright ban argue that until and unless better alternatives are implemented, vast wild spaces currently allocated to hunting will be lost to agriculture.

As the UK government recognises: ‘Some conservationists believe that trophy hunting can be an effective conservation tool, supporting local livelihoods and attracting revenues for other conservation activities.”

Consequently, it has called for evidence to inform the process. The evidence suggests that ethical, economic and ecological problems with trophy hunting warrant a trophy import ban.

Original photo as published by Ecologist.

Ethics

According to Batavia and her co-authors, trophy hunting “involves a hunter paying a fee to kill an animal and subsequently retain some or all of the animal’s body as a ‘trophy’.”

They argue that “the consequentialist argument misses the core concern we seek to raise, namely, that collecting bodies or body parts as ‘trophies’ is an ethically inappropriate way to interact with individual animals, regardless of the beneficial outcomes that do or do not follow.”

Many well-meaning conservationists get themselves into a muddle through a fear of unknown consequences (say, job losses) but nonetheless try to justify an inherently unethical act on consequentialist grounds. Unfortunately, the conversation often snowballs into name calling and irreversible positioning.

Opponents of trophy hunting are labelled as ‘animal rightists’, meant as some kind of insult.

Those defending it as a ‘necessary evil’ hold up science as an antidote to ‘emotion’ and suggest that the inherent moral repugnance should be overlooked for the sake of wilderness landscape preservation.

Morally

Justifying the practice on consequentialist grounds – that the ends justify the means – is inadequate. A satirical letter in Science – responding to a letter arguing that trophy hunting supports biodiversity preservation – shows that consequentialist reasoning, logically extended, would justify fortress conservation and green militarisation, which few people would support.

Appeals to potential consequences are inadequate foundations on which to build an ethical argument. The guiding imperative – ‘what would society be like if everyone pursued action x?’ – is useful only if you have a very precise empirical idea of the answer.

Even then, reliable prediction of a good outcome may nonetheless be insufficient for establishing whether an act is morally acceptable in itself. And in the trophy hunting case, it is empirically unclear.

Success

If everyone hunted elephants for their tusks, there would be none left, a ‘moral bad’. However, subject to the monetary constraint – only a few can afford it – the outcomes may be different.

Under proper governance (an elusive construct), only ‘surplus’ males are selected as trophies and the money supports local communities in ways that are currently irreplaceable, creating a ‘moral good’. But there are too many assumptions in the latter that do not materialise in reality.

Ecologically, for instance, there is no such thing as a ‘surplus’ male elephant. As Lucy Taylor and her collaborators write: “We show that male elephants increased their energetic allocation into reproduction with age as the probability of reproductive success increases.

Matriarchal

“Given that older male elephants tend to be both the target of legal trophy hunting and illegal poaching, man‐made interference could drive fundamental changes in elephant reproductive tactics.” Furthermore, because trophy hunting selects the biggest and the best animals, it undermines the genetic health of those populations.

Removal of the biggest tuskers is simultaneously the removal of the most reproductively successful bulls. Moreover, female herd leaders don’t like younger bulls, who go into premature musth in the absence of older bulls and behave inappropriately.

Older bulls maintain the female social structure by enforcing the norms of matriarchal society.

Trophy

Stressing this core institution through selective removal of the last big tuskers strongly suggests that hunters are more dedicated to extracting trophies than to supporting conservation. They simply cannot have it both ways.

African lions are not as complex as elephants but taking out pride males (because why would you select a very old male as a ‘trophy’?) is an ecological disaster, as the incoming male often kills the dead male’s cubs to establish his dominance. Fewer than 32,000 of these apex predators are left in the wild.

A recent paper shows, however, that a three-year moratorium on trophy hunting in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia resulted in a 17.1 and 14 percentage point increase in survival in subadult and adult male populations respectively. “The data show that the moratorium was effective at growing the Luangwa lion population and increasing the number of adult males.” Not surprising.

Economically, alternative activities to trophy hunting are likely to trump the potential value of hunting without the damaging ecological effects. The evidence also increasingly suggests that trophy hunting does not pay its way.

Jobs

Regarding jobs, ecotourism is more labour-absorptive and provides better quality jobs for longer seasons than hunting. While it’s clear that not every hectare currently under hunting can simply be transformed overnight into high-end tourism, there are alternatives that are workable in many areas.

Completely marginal or unfeasible areas that are critical to ensuring ecological functionality through maintaining migration corridors, for instance, should be appropriately subsidised by other means.

Academic work from South Africa estimates that 21 million hectares are accounted for by about 9,000 hunting ranches, which in turn support roughly 17,000 jobs. Other work shows that non-consumptive tourism accounts for 90,000 jobs.

Science

Assuming that the ecotourism jobs are derived predominantly from protected areas and some private nature reserves, the labour absorption rate could be as high as 0.009 per hectare. Therefore, if hunting land were converted to non-consumptive tourism, as many as 193,000 jobs could presumably be created (11-fold more than hunting), especially if some of those fragmented hunting zones were joined up through appropriate ecological corridors.

Appealing to (unknown) consequences is, clearly, too risky an altar on which to sacrifice inherent morality, especially if the practice creates a ‘moral bad’.

Whether your epistemological starting point is that we are obligated to steward the planet well or that we should never kill sentient and intelligent (let alone self-aware beings), it is very difficult to see how trophy hunting can be ethically justified.

Defending the practice through an appeal to science is dangerous, as it disingenuously pits science against morality.

Abandoned

The resultant scientism (not science) misunderstands that an integrative approach to conservation is ethically and scientifically preferable to an aggregative one.

Science and ethics are ultimately not in conflict. The ethical, economic and ecological arguments against trophy hunting – especially of keystone herbivores and apex predators – are weighty. The consequentialist counter-arguments make too many assumptions to warrant a practice with extreme tail risks. It is, therefore, high time that trophy imports into the UK are banned. Ultimately, the practice of trophy hunting itself should also be abandoned.

Ross Harvey is a freelance economist who works with The Conservation Action Trust and the EMS Foundation in South Africa.