Ever since the death of Cecil the lion, the world’s been looking at trophy hunting a bit more closely. While many people have condemned the practice as cruel, ardent big game hunters have stood up to defend it, arguing that it’s a selfless act of conservation and that both animals and local people benefit from the hobby.
But with wildlife populations in Africa continuing to plummet — and with iconic species at risk of disappearing in our lifetime — these defenses don’t hold up. Here’s why.
“The money goes to local communities.”
Big game hunters say they help support local communities and conservation efforts by paying for big game hunts. However, while hunters pay roughly $200 million each year for big game hunts in Africa, only around 3 percent of those funds go to local communities, and the amount dedicated to conservation efforts is nearly negligible. The overwhelming majority of hunting fees ends up lining the pockets of middlemen, large companies and local governments.
“Hunting helps wild populations.”
Big game hunters argue that killing can help a species by removing older animals from the population, or say that they trust governments to set sustainable hunting quotas.
Unfortunately, in practice these arguments don’t hold up. For one, some governments are more interested in how much a dead lion can bring them than in establishing sustainable hunting limits. For example, there are around 20,000 to 35,000 wild lions left in Africa, depending on whom you ask, and big game hunters legally kill around 600 each year. That’s an annual population loss of 2 to 3 percent, which is entirely unsustainable, even if you don’t add in deaths due to poaching and livestock protection.
And while nature likes to pick off the weakest members of a population, big game hunters target the largest, strongest members of a population. For lions, that means the male pride leader; for elephants, the oldest elephant with the biggest tusks. Killing these animals, who play a crucial role in their societies, puts the rest of their families at risk.
For example, killing a male lion with an impressive mane leaves his fellow pride leaders open to challenges from other males. If a new male does come in, they could kill an entire generation of cubs, which means that the permit for one lion hunt leads to the death of several animals.
And the loss of older elephants means leaving male or female youngsters without guidance — which can actually lead to so-called teenage delinquents who are more likely to have negative interactions with humans, and therefore be killed.
The loss of any animal also means the loss of any offspring they could have parented, a knock to conservation that goes far beyond taking just one animal out of the population. And while some proponents of big game hunting advocate for only killing animals who have already contributed their genes to the population, most animals will continue to propagate until they die.
Of course, the biggest rebuttal to the hunting-helps-populations argument is in the numbers. Lions have lost 95 percent of their population since the 1940s. The African elephant population has dropped from several million at the turn of the century to roughly 500,000 today. During the past century hunting has been the primary — if not only — method of conservation, but the perilously low numbers of these animals proves that hunting is ineffective as a conservation method.
And even with these reduced populations, trophy hunters still kill around 105,000 animals in Africa every year, including 600 elephants and 800 leopards, at a time when every individual is crucial to the survival of the species.
“Canned hunting helps repopulate animals.”
Some hunters tout canned hunting — an unsportsmanlike practice in which lions and other animals are bred in captivity then released into pens where they can’t escape so hunters can shoot them — as a sustainable alternative, arguing that canned hunting incentivizes captive breeding, which can be used to repopulate wild populations.
But animals bred at canned hunting facilities are completely unsuitable for release. Taken away from their mothers at just a few days old and raised by humans, the lions are incapable of surviving on their own. Many of them are inbred, which means breeding with wild lions could weaken the species’ gene pool. And releasing a captive-bred lion into wild lions’ territory could lead to fighting, upsetting the delicate balance — and the safety — of existing prides.
“Hunting helps protect locals.”
Local communities often find themselves at odds with African wildlife. Elephants destroy crops; lions and other predators can target people or livestock. These animals are often killed — and tourism hunting is often encouraged — in the name of protecting humans from African wildlife.
But as human lands continue to increase, animals continue to be pushed into smaller and smaller territories. In many cases these negative interactions are the result of animals simply trying to survive. Iconic African wildlife is at risk of disappearing, and the solution is to learn to live with animals, not keep killing them.
“It’s an industry that Africa couldn’t do without.”
While trophy hunting does bring in some capital to African countries, it makes up as little as 1.8 percent of tourism revenues. The majority of tourists come to see Africa’s wildlife, not kill it. And if big game hunting continues to deplete that wildlife, it could take down the other 98 percent of Africa’s tourism income.
An individual animal, particularly if it’s a member of the more iconic species, is worth far more to a country alive over the course of his lifetime than dead. Need proof? Look at Botswana. Beginning in January 2014, the country banned almost all hunting after comparing the conservation cost of big game hunting with the income generated from photo tourism: The photo tourism season is longer, makes better use of animals and employs significantly more locals. In the first year of the ban, the country brought in around $344 million from nonlethal tourism.
Of course, changes can take getting used to, but in an age when iconic species are at risk of being lost forever, killing any individual animal for sheer pleasure — especially in the name of conservation — is highly counterproductive.
To find out more, watch Blood Lions on Wednesday, Oct. 7 at 10 p.m. ET on MSNBC.
The views expressed here are The Dodo’s and do not necessarily reflect those of MSNBC.
By Ameena Schelling – Email: email@example.com – Twitter: @amschelling
Man-made structures such as open water tanks and open wells are death traps for wildlife — from tortoises, frogs and snakes to elephants. Conservation volunteers near forest areas should map these and work with the Forest Department to close or barricade them to avoid incidents like this.
It was that time of the year again, when elephants slowly started marking their presence. Like every year, there were incidents of households getting hit here and there, thankfully, nothing major though. What is always interesting to note every year is the consistency they maintain in terms of their movement patterns, and also in the damage sites they choose! Early that morning I decided to take off from my daily routine in front of my Macbook’s hypnotizing screen. I went to one of the restoration plots with my colleague Vijay when I got a frantic call informing us about an elephant that had fallen into a tank. There wasn’t a moment to waste. After months of adrenaline rush created by leopards and gaurs, the elephants were back to continue their annual schedule. I rushed to the field with Anand and Vijay. Kulbhushan and Bhagyashree who were visiting also hopped in with us to the rescue mission.
As expected, she was one of our study individuals, part of one of the herds M. Ananda Kumar and our team have been monitoring for the past decade. Her panic-stricken calf, was trumpeting loudly and running around in the vicinity until the forest department staff got close to her. It was no easy task indeed, even for the elephant to attempt a climb. What was fortunate was that the tank was amidst a forest patch, away from houses, which made the tough part of crowd control fairly easy. For a minute, I paused and processed my memories and remembered that the herd was last sighted in that area two days ago. The thoughts of the elephant being in the tank all that while bothered me.
The immediate move by the forest department staff was to demolish the side of the tank so she could use the rubble to climb out, which was also the only practical thing to do there. We set up a go pro camera belonging to Varun Nayar who was in Vaparai as a part of a documentary. You can see the video of how the elephant climbed out of the pit!
Ganesh Raghunathan and M. Ananda Kumar of the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) have been working on mitigating Human-Elephant conflict in the Valparai plateau in the Anamalai Hills of the Western Ghats.
About the author
Ganesh Raghunathan currently works on understanding and resolving Human-Elephant conflict.
English: Male forest elephant at the Langoué Bai (forest clearing), Ivindo National Park, Gabon. This male came to the clearing to drink mineral-rich water, obtained from pits dug by elephants at specific locations within the clearing. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Three African Bush Elephants in Serengeti. Français : Trois Éléphants de savane d’Afrique (Loxodonta africana). Photo prise dans le Serengeti, en Tanzanie. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Elephants around an acacia (?) tree in Waza Park, Extreme North Province, Cameroon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
YAOUNDE— Some 200 tusks from elephants slain in Cameroon and Gabon have been intercepted at the Yaounde-Nsimalen International Airport. They were bound for Asia – where a high demand for ivory has sparked the illegal slaughter of elephants in Africa. Conservationists say almost 12,000 elephants have been killed in Central African countries since 2004.
Cameroon authorities said the tusks came from the southern part of the country near the border with Gabon where elephant poaching has been rife.
More than 94 elephants slaughtered
Wildlife official Issola Dipanda supervised the operation to seize the tusks at the airport after a tip-off from locals. He told VOA that although the poachers escaped, all efforts are being made to find them.
He said at least 94 elephants of all ages were killed in this particular incident. He said they have secured the tusks and will track down those responsible for these crimes against endangered wildlife.
Gabon, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo are home to more than half of Africa’s forest elephants – the smallest of the African species. Their tusks are highly valued for jewelery and other ivory products in Asian markets because of the quality of their tusks.
Possible extinction, endangered wildlife
Issola Dipanda said if the current wave of poaching continues, the extinction of the forest elephant may become a reality.
He said despite international protections of elephants, unabated poaching could mean that these elephants will disappear from the Earth within a half century.
Criminal networks responsible
Among the organizations working in Cameroon to protect endangered species is the Last Great Ape Organization, LAGA. Its director, Israel-born Ofrir Drori, said elephant populations have fallen by more than 60 percent in the region in the past decade. He said poachers are part of criminal networks that conspire with corrupt African and Asian officials in the black market trade.
“We believe the network is even better so investigations are going on right now in trying to uncover more, in trying to find more members from this network. It is a far larger thing than just one individual. This kind of traffic is cross border traffic which means that the trade is well developed,” Drori stated.
In 2012, The World Wildlife Fund said more than 200 elephants were slaughtered un a single national park in Cameroon. In March 2013, 86 elephants – including 33 pregnant females – were killed in Chad.
Illegal harvest for commercial trade has recently surged to become a major threat to some of the world’s most endangered and charismatic species. Unfortunately, the cryptic nature of illegal killing makes estimation of rates and impacts difficult. Applying a model based on field census of carcasses, to our knowledge we provide the first detailed assessment of African elephant illegal killing rates at population, regional, and continental scales. Illegal harvest for commercial trade in ivory has recently surged, coinciding with increases in illegal ivory seizures and black market ivory prices. As a result, the species declined over the past 4 y, during which tens of thousands of elephants have been killed annually across the continent. Solutions to this crisis require global action.
Illegal wildlife trade has reached alarming levels globally, extirpating populations of commercially valuable species. As a driver of biodiversity loss, quantifying illegal harvest is essential for conservation and sociopolitical affairs but notoriously difficult. Here we combine field-based carcass monitoring with fine-scale demographic data from an intensively studied wild African elephant population in Samburu, Kenya, to partition mortality into natural and illegal causes. We then expand our analytical framework to model illegal killing rates and population trends of elephants at regional and continental scales using carcass data collected by a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species program. At the intensively monitored site, illegal killing increased markedly after 2008 and was correlated strongly with the local black market ivory price and increased seizures of ivory destined for China. More broadly, results from application to continental data indicated illegal killing levels were unsustainable for the species between 2010 and 2012, peaking to ∼8% in 2011 which extrapolates to ∼40,000 elephants illegally killed and a probable species reduction of ∼3% that year. Preliminary data from 2013 indicate overharvesting continued. In contrast to the rest of Africa, our analysis corroborates that Central African forest elephants experienced decline throughout the last decade. These results provide the most comprehensive assessment of illegal ivory harvest to date and confirm that current ivory consumption is not sustainable. Further, our approach provides a powerful basis to determine cryptic mortality and gain understanding of the demography of at-risk species.
Author contributions: G.W., J.B., I.D.-H., P.O., and K.P.B. designed research; G.W., J.M.N., J.B., and I.D.-H. performed research; G.W., J.B., P.O., and K.P.B. contributed new reagents/analytic tools; G.W., J.M.N., J.B., and K.P.B. analyzed data; and G.W. wrote the paper.
Darcy Ogada has studied the animals of Africa for a long time, but this might be the worst of times yet. She is fighting to document and put a stop to a new form of hunting and poaching: poisoning. The poisons make for easy money in selling animal parts to eastern Asian markets, but they have tragic consequences for any other animals that disturb the corpses of elephants and rhinos.
Last Sunday, two elephants silently succumbed to poisoning outside Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park in Zambia. In mid-July, four jumbos were poisoned in Zambezi National Park, Zimbabwe when their salt lick was laced with cyanide. This was reminiscent of the decimation of 103 elephants through cyanide poisoning in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe in October 2013.
Poachers used to favour AK-47s; now they favour poison.
Why? Because poison is cheap, highly effective, easy and legal to obtain, easily transported, and most importantly, no one will hear the impact of an elephant or rhino succumbing to poisoning. It will suffer in silence, its carcass only to be found days or weeks later, long after the perpetrators have hauled away their prize. Alongside the carcass will be the hundreds of scavenging vultures, hyenas, eagles and jackals that will never make the headlines.
I keep a database of wildlife poisoning incidents across Africa. I used to record only vulture poisonings, now I record everything. There’s not an elephant poisoning I’ve recorded where I haven’t also recorded at least one, but usually hundreds, of vultures killed. The use of poison is indiscriminate—it kills everything.
Ask anyone involved in the fight against poaching in Africa and you will hear a common refrain—the increasing use of poisons to kill elephants and rhinos. Hundreds have been killed in this way across East and southern Africa in the last year alone. The most commonly used poisons include cyanide, carbofuran, and aldicarb. The highly toxic compounds are sprinkled on pachyderm delicacies such as watermelons and pumpkins, poured into waterholes, and used to lace salt licks and arrowheads.
Elephant and rhino poaching is at record levels due to the insatiable demand for ivory and rhino horn from the Far East. It is set to get a whole lot worse now that poachers have turned to poisons. The time is now for African governments to enforce strict regulation of these potent chemicals. If not, my son will have to travel to the back streets of Hanoi and Shanghai to find the remains of his African heritage.
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