Inside the disturbing world of illegal wildlife trade

To expose criminals who traffic animals, Rachel Nuwer went undercover—even posing as a prostitute.

A recent report by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature showed that between 1970 and 2014 the vertebrate population declined by an average of 60 percent. While this was mostly due to habitat loss, the illegal trade in wildlife—whether rhino horn, tiger bone, or animals captured for the exotic pet market—poses a growing threat to many species’ survival. But as National Geographic contributor Rachel Love Nuwer writes in her new book Poached: Inside the Dark World of Wildlife Traffickingmany brave individuals and organizations are battling to expose the criminals—and save the animals.

Speaking from her apartment in Brooklyn, New York, Nuwer explained how superstitious beliefs in China and Southeast Asia are a driving force of the trade; how wildlife trafficking needs to be tackled by law enforcement, not conservationists; and how she disguised herself as a prostitute to go undercover at a tiger farm in Laos.

The global wildlife trafficking trade is worth an estimated $7 to $23 billion. Who runs it? Where are the hotspots? Who profits? What are the most affected animals?

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The most obviously affected animals are the big, charismatic megafauna, like rhinos, elephants, tigers, and even bears. In reality, though, we’re talking about millions of individual animals of thousands of species. It spans poaching for jewelry, pets, traditional medicines, trophies, or wild meat, which some cultures consider a luxury item. This is a global trade. However, much of the demand for illegal wildlife products is in Asia, especially in China and Vietnam. That’s predominantly because wealth in those places has been increasing over the past decades, so people who previously could not afford things like ivory jewelry or rhino horn carvings now can do so. There’s more demand than there is supply.

There’s a misconception, especially in the media, that there are these Pablo Escobar-like kingpins controlling everything. While there is some evidence that a few people like that do exist, much of this illegal trade is made up of disorganized, opportunistic criminals. The guy in Zimbabwe killing an elephant and running its tusks to the nearby village won’t know the guy in the town, who then sells those tusks to the corrupt airport official who, in turn, doesn’t know who exactly the tusks are going to in Malaysia or Hong Kong.

That’s one of the reasons that it’s so hard to tackle this thing. It’s not like you can just knock out a couple of big guys at the top and you’ve solved it. Even when you do make arrests of so-called kingpins, they’re oftentimes readily replaced by their colleagues.

Most of us could draw an elephant or a rhino. But fewer could say what a pangolin looks like. Introduce us to this shy animal and explain why it is so highly prized that it now faces possible extinction.

Pangolins are definitely my new favorite animal since writing this book. They are better known here in the U.S. and the U.K. as scaly anteaters, which is funny because they’re not that closely related to anteaters. They’re more closely related to cats and dogs. They look like walking pinecones with feet, or tiny, odd-looking dragons.

There are four species of pangolins in Asia and four in Africa. Unfortunately, because they look so strange, people tend to attribute magical or medicinal properties to them. Traditional societies all over the world have different uses for pangolins, especially their scales. The biggest source of demand is traditional Chinese medicine, a version of which is also practiced in Vietnam. Their scales are boiled, dried, then ground up into a powder and served to women who are having trouble lactating, for example. In Vietnam their meat is also considered a delicacy. You call up a wild meat restaurant in advance and then it will either be prepared for you, or its throat will be slit on the spot.

Tigers worldwide are also facing particularly vexing challenges. Give us a picture of the illegal trade and the ancient superstitions, often driven by male sexual insecurity, that fuel it. Is there enough being done to combat these primitive beliefs?

Definitely not! There are an estimated 4,000 tigers left in the wild today. There’s many more than that in captivity. When I say captivity, I mean in people’s backyards in the U.S. and elsewhere, which is a completely different issue­—and then on so-called tiger farms in China and Southeast Asia. The tigers are bred, then slaughtered for their bones, meat, fur, teeth, and claws. Particularly sought after are the penises and bones, which are soaked in an awful-tasting rice wine and served, usually to men. They’re supposed to imbue men with the prowess and sexual energy of the tiger.

The Chinese have been really good about making a show of shutting down the ivory trade recently, but other than that there’s nothing going on to combat the illegal wildlife trade. President Xi has been cutting back on corruption, which means closing wild meat restaurants. But there’s no re-education campaign to discourage tiger use. In fact, investigations by conservation groups show that government officials are some of the most common purchasers of tiger bone wine in China and other Asian countries. They have no intention of closing this down.

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WHY ELEPHANTS MAY GO EXTINCT IN YOUR LIFETIMENearly a hundred elephants are slaughtered each day in the wild, most for their ivory tusks. This killing of elephants by humans could wipe out the animals in the wild within a generation.

You visited a tiger farm in the Golden Triangle Economic Zone, in Laos, disguised as a prostitute. Tell us about that story and whether farms could be a solution to tiger trafficking.

[Laughs] I was quite nervous about visiting this place. It’s supposed to be a hotbed of crime, drugs, prostitution and yes, illegal wildlife trade. I had spoken with a woman named Debbie Banks, an excellent wildlife investigator working at the Environmental Investigation Agency in London, and she told me the only people who go there who are not Chinese, Vietnamese, or Thai are Russian or Ukrainian prostitutes, or else backpackers. I thought, okay, the former sounds a little bit more fun and I own some scanty clothes anyway, so I’ll go with that. I brought a friend and my husband from New York because I was nervous about going by myself. We wore ridiculous clothes and nobody seemed to notice or care about us, which was great. We could browse through these shops and look at huge quantities of ivory, rhino horn, and tiger products openly for sale, and we dropped by the Kings Romans casino where ivory and rhino horn were also openly displayed. We visited the tiger farm on the premises, where I was told clients can essentially go to shop for what animal they want to have for dinner at one of the on-site restaurants. This was an especially difficult experience for me; there were tigers pacing in small cages yowling mournfully, and a number of bears that were clearly suffering from cage-induced mania.

There’s definitely a constituency of people, especially in China and South Asian countries, who argue for what is called “sustainable use of wildlife products,” whether that’s selling ivory or raising tigers and rhinos for their body parts. But tiger farms have been closely linked with laundering of tigers illegally caught in the wild, then passed off as products. So tiger farms pose a critical threat to wild tigers. That’s not even to touch on the humane animal advocacy side of things. These animals live miserable lives.

It is estimated that 144,000 elephants were killed between 2007 and 2014 for their ivory, a drop in the overall population of 30 percent in just seven years. You attended an ivory burn in Kenya. Set the scene for us and explain the thinking behind this idea. Does it lower trafficking?

The first huge ivory burn took place in 1989. It was organized in Kenya by the paleontologist Richard Leaky. His idea was to create a spectacle that the world could not ignore. And it worked. A few months later it led to nations voting to give elephants the highest degree of international protection, which effectively banned commercial trade of ivory, which was an amazing accomplishment!

Whether the burns lower trafficking is not proven. But it’s not the primary goal of ivory burns; it’s an awareness-raising method to spread the word about the illegal wildlife trade. Another important purpose is to simply get the ivory out of circulation because a lot of the storehouses, particularly in developing countries, are notorious for leaking ivory and rhino horn out. You have 50 tons of ivory that you seize from some criminal and then a few weeks or months later that 50 tons has been reduced to 25, because of corruption. The big message is that ivory should never be traded. It has no purpose at all except for elephant tusks on elephants.

One of the many inspiring activists you met is a British woman named Jill Robinson. Tell us about her and the appalling trade in bear bile.

Jill is amazing. She was living in Hong Kong doing work on cats and dogs, when someone mentioned to her a bear farm for this bear bile trade, and her interest was piqued. She took a tour to a bear farm in mainland China and left the tour group at one point because she heard noises in the basement. She crept down these stairs to a dark room where she found cages and cages of bears in horrific condition, with open wounds. Jill had this moment of connection and wound up dedicating her life to ending bear farming for bile. Her organization, Animals Asia, has saved hundreds of bears from these farms and brought them to rehabilitation sites.

The thing about bear bile is that it’s one of the few traditional Chinese medicines that is efficacious. However, the active component, ursodeoxycholic acid, can be synthesized in a lab so you do not need bears to be put in these awful situations or kept in captivity. The problem is, users in China and Vietnam want this to be a wild, free animal, so they think they are absorbing the essence of this pure, strong thing.

At a conference in London earlier this month, it was suggested that the best way to curb wildlife trafficking, like the drugs trade, was to follow the money not, as is usual, the animal. What’s your view on this? Is enough being done to intercept these illicit funds?

That’s a great point! Definitely not enough is being done because virtually nothing is being done in terms of investigating the financial crime side of things. The problem with the illegal wildlife trade is that it’s so often seen as something in the purview of conservationists, biologists or ecologists. But that’s like giving botanists the job of tackling the cocaine and heroin trade. We need to get criminal experts involved, including money-laundering experts, because a lot of times the punishments that go with breaking wildlife laws are really weak. It’s a $100 fine for trafficking a rhino horn that might be worth $30,000! Money laundering laws would be much stronger. So I think crime is where we should be focusing. We need criminal experts, not wildlife experts, and we need to treat this like any other type of crime, not something special just because it involves wildlife.

There are bright spots in this story. Tell us about the Zakouma National Park in Chad, and what you think the future holds for trafficked animals.

The Zakouma National Park in Chad had an elephant population of around 4,000, one of the biggest herds in Central Africa, but in less than a decade that population fell to around 450. It was being absolutely hammered by Janjaweed poachers riding down from Sudan for this killing spree and taking the ivory back to sell. Everybody had resigned themselves to saying goodbye to those elephants. However, a spectacular non-profit organization called African Parks negotiated with the President of Chad to take over the park. Thanks to their efforts, poaching is virtually at zero, and the elephant population is once again growing. They’re even having new babies, which is huge!

There are other people who are giving it their all to save their countries’ wildlife. Thai Van Nguyen, the founder of Save Vietnam’s Wildlife, is a great example. He’s Vietnamese, his organization is entirely run by Vietnamese and he is the only person in Vietnam equipped to rehabilitate pangolins rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. Thai brings them back to his facility, rehabilitates them, and when they’re strong enough he and his colleagues take the pangolins to secret locations and release them.

People like Thai are buying time for the rest of us as we get our acts together and decide this is something we want to stop. And that animals are worth saving.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Nearly 90 elephants slaughtered near wildlife sanctuary in Africa, tusks taken by poachers

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/09/04/elephants-killed-wildlife-sanctuary-africa-poachers/1188864002/

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An aerial survey discovered bodies of 87 slaughtered elephants near a wildlife sanctuary in Botswana, Africa.

Many of the dead elephants were ripped of their tusks, and left with mutilated skulls — a sign of poaching.

Wildlife conservation organization Elephants Without Borders found the “alarming”rate of dead elephants while flying an aerial census supported by the Botswana government.

“People did warn us of an impending poaching problem and we thought we were prepared for it,” Mike Chase, director and founder, said in a statement.

The country recently disarmed its anti-poaching unit under president Mokgweetsi Masisi.

Chase told the BBC this is the largest incident of elephant poaching he’s ever seen or read about in Africa. The carcasses were found near the the Okavango Delta wildlife sanctuary, a popular tourist destination.

Poachers killed many of the elephants within the last few weeks, according to a poaching incident report obtained by NPR. Three white rhinoceroses were also killed in the same area over the past three months, according to the report.

Botswana is home to the world’s largest elephant populations and has been praised for its protection of elephants in the past.

More: Elephants rarely get cancer thanks to ‘zombie gene,’ study finds

The 2016 Great Elephant Census, which reported more than 130,000 elephants in Botswana, also revealed African savanna elephant populations were declining by 30 percent in 15 of the 18 Africa countries surveyed. A map from that report showed Botswana’s elephant population was in stable condition as neighboring Angola, Zimbabwe, and a small area of Zambia saw decreasing populations.

But, that trend could be changing, as Chase told the BBC “poachers are now turning their guns to Botswana.”

More: How the power of music brought peace to this elephant

Rescued jumbo dies of injuries caused by snare trap


KOTA KINABALU: A juvenile male Bornean pygmy elephant has died a week after he was found with an injury on his front left leg caused by a snare trap at Ulu Segama Forest Reserve, Lahad Datu.

Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) public relations officer Siti Nur’Ain Ampuan Acheh said the five-year-old pachyderm died on the way to the Borneo Elephant Sanctuary in Kinabatangan at about 8.40am on Sunday (Sept 2).

Siti Nur’Ain said the elephant was rescued on Aug 26 after it was found with an injury on its leg caused by the trapping device.

She added that a team comprising a veterinarian and wildlife rangers was dispatched to the location to rescue the injured animal.

image: https://www.thestar.com.my/~/media/online/2018/09/02/13/43/pygmydead2.ashx?la=en

One of the last pictures taken of the weakened elephant before it succumbed to its injuries.

“They managed to capture the elephant and initiated treatment. He suffered a severe and deep wound which had already reached the bone.

“The elephant was also in poor physical condition and weak,” she said.

Siti Nur’Ain said the animal did not respond well to the treatment and died while being transported to the sanctuary for further treatment.

“Post-mortem was conducted to determine the cause of death.

“Findings revealed that the elephant died due to septicaemia which originated from the severe snare trap injury,” she explained.

SWD is investigating the manager of the adjoining plantation.

The latest death brings to 26 the number of elephants killed this year.

Read more at https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2018/09/02/rescued-jumbo-dies-of-injuries-caused-by-snare-trap/#SpKg03ghkPIccXti.99

Hunter charged with federal crimes for allegedly leading illegal elephant hunts

A South African man is facing federal charges for his role in allegedly helping a Colorado hunter illegally kill endangered elephants in Zimbabwe and offering similar services to an undercover federal agent, according to an indictment unsealed Monday in Denver.

Professional hunter Hanno van Rensburg, 44, of South Africa is facing charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and violations of the Lacey Act and Endangered Species Act, which prohibit the hunting and trade of threatened animals, including the African elephant, according to the indictment filed by the U.S. Attorney in Colorado. A warrant has been issued for van Rensburg’s arrest.

Federal prosecutors allege that in 2015, van Rensburg was paid $39,195 to help a Colorado hunter shoot an elephant outside of Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou National Park. Van Rensburg and the Colorado hunter — who is not named in the indictment — tracked the wounded animal inside the park, the indictment states.

Van Rensburg and the Colorado hunter, according to the indictment, “agreed to pay and paid a bribe to the game scouts of between $5,000 and $8,000 so that they could shoot elephants other than the one that was first shot and wounded and kill an elephant inside Gonarezhou National Park, in violation of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wild Life Act.”

The indictment alleges that to export the elephant’s ivory, Van Rensburg conspired to tell Zimbabwean authorities that his client, the hunter from Colorado, was actually from South Africa.

“To conceal this contrivance, van Rensburg quizzed Colorado hunter on the layout of his house so that Colorado hunter could convincingly answer such questions and successfully represent himself as a South African resident,” according to the indictment.

Federal authorities also allege van Rensburg attempted to sell a similar illegal elephant hunting trip to an undercover agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. According to the indictment, in 2017 van Rensburg told the agent to bring around $9,000 dollars on the trip for “extras,” as in bribes.

Hunters are required to buy “tags” if they want to hunt an elephant in Zimbabwe, and van Rensburg allegedly reassured the agent that a limited number of tags was not a problem.

“But you know about Zimbabwe, how it works,” van Rensburg allegedly told the agent, according to the indictment. “If they need another tag, they get another tag. You know, that’s the negative part of it. The system is so corrupt. If they need to get it, they will get it. If the client pays the money they will find another tag. I am straightforward with you. Corruption is the rule in Africa.”

Van Rensburg did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but one of his former clients is coming to his defense.

Charlie Loan, a hunter who is unrelated to the current case, said the indictment comes as a surprise. Loan said he was part of a small group that hired Van Rensburg and his guides for a 10-day South African hunting safari in 2012.

“One of the things that we were all really impressed by was the fact that they put a lot of emphasis on conservation,” Loan told ABC News. “Conservation was key in his mind, and that went through his entire staff.”

Tell the Trump Administration: Stop Promoting International Trophy Hunting!

https://act.nrdc.org/letter/trophy-hunting

In a new low, the Trump administration has created an advisory council dedicated exclusively to promoting the killing of imperiled wildlife species for sport.

Filled with trophy hunters and gun industry lobbyists, the International Wildlife Conservation Council now wields considerable influence over America’s international hunting policies, putting the future of vulnerable species like elephants, lions, and giraffes at grave risk.

Tell Interior President Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to stop promoting international trophy hunting and immediately dismantle the IWCC.

Your message will be sent to:

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke
President Donald Trump

Subject line:

Dismantle the International Wildlife Conservation Council

(Consider adding your own thoughts — personalized messages are especially effective)

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DONALD TRUMP JR. SHOULD BE DEPORTED FOR HUNTING ELEPHANT, PETA BILLBOARD DEMANDS

President Donald Trump’s eldest son Donald Trump Jr. deserves to be deported for hunting and killing an elephant and other wildlife, animal rights activists demand.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) announced Friday it plans to put up a billboard in towns bordering Mexico features an infamous image of Trump Jr. holding a knife and the tail of an elephant he apparently shot abroad.

“Deport callous cheating opportunists now! All nations have their undesirables. Kindness welcome,” the billboard slated for El Paso and Laredo, Texas, states

Killing the myth of hunting as conservation

http://www.all-creatures.org/articles/ar-myth-hunting-conservation.html

by Fran Silverman, FOA Friends of Animals
March 2018

The Trump administration is making it easier for Americans to go to Africa, shoot elephants and lions and bring their body parts home as trophies to mount on walls – all in the name of conservation….

Hunter supporters use unscientific bear sightings to inflate numbers and livestock conflicts to scare the public to justify bear hunting.

elephant and calf
Image from Memories of Elephants

If it sounds ridiculous, it likely is. So say this out loud and tell me how it sounds.

Shooting endangered and threatened species will help save them.

Here’s another one.

Hunters are helping keep you safe by killing black bears.

In honor of National Wildlife Week, let’s parse these statements.

Supporters of black bear hunts assert that the bears are a nuisance at best and a safety hazard at their worst. They point to unscientific bear sightings to inflate numbers and livestock conflicts to scare the public. Killing them will solve this, they say. And the hunters then get to take home the bears to mount or use as rugs. Nice reward for saving all of us.

On a national level, the Trump administration is making it easier for Americans to go to Africa, shoot elephants and lions and bring their body parts home as trophies to mount on walls – all in the name of conservation.

The thing is, the science doesn’t back any of this up. This month a new study published in Science Advances found issues with the science cited in the “North American Model of Wildlife Conservation,” which guides hunting policies. The study found that what counts for science is rarely defined. In fact, a majority of the science in management plans surveyed — 60 percent — contained fewer than half of criteria for the fundamental hallmarks of science, which include measurable objectives, evidence, transparency and independent review. The report reviewed 62 U.S. state and Canadian provincial and territorial agencies across 667 species management systems.

“These results raise doubt about the purported scientific basis of hunt management across the U.S. and Canada,’’ it concluded.

The claims of hunting as conservation of endangered and threatened species also don’t stand up to scientific scrutiny. There aren’t any documented, peer-reviewed studies that show that lawful hunting does not overall disadvantage the species being hunted. Emerging studies, in fact, indicate that legal hunting can increase demand, promote black-market trade of sport-hunted animals and reduce the stigma associated with killing wildlife.

The African elephant population has plummeted by 30 percent in seven years, with just 350,000 left in the world where once there were millions. The population of lions has declined by 42 percent, with just about 20,000 left. Additionally, a new study by Duke University found that poaching and habitat loss have reduced forest elephant populations in Central Africa by 63 percent since 2001.

Yet, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it was lifting a ban on trophies from several African nations and will allow them on a case-by-case basis. This action, coupled with the Department of Interior’s creation of an International Wildlife Conservation Council comprised of hunting industry representatives whose stated goal is to advise the agency on the benefits of international hunting, removing barriers to the importation of trophy-hunted animals, and reverse suspensions and bans on trade of wildlife, sends the message that the only way to save these majestic creatures is to make sure it’s easier to shoot them to death.

On a local level, here in my home state of Connecticut where FoA is headquartered, I listened intently as supporters of a bill to kill 5 percent of the black bear population in the lovely Litchfield County region insisted it was necessary to prevent bear-human conflict. Bears are killing livestock! Bears are getting into garbage cans! Knocking over bird feeders! Scaring hikers on trails! Lions and tigers and bears. Oh my!

I’m not making light of a bear encounter. They are formidable. But the science and the math for a shoot-first approach doesn’t add up. First, bears are shy and attacks are more associated with human behavior than the population of bears, studies show. To ward them off if you are a hiker, wear bear bells, carry bear spray. Worried about your backyard farm animals? Install an electric fence. Certainly, don’t feed bears, keep your doors shut and remove bird feeders in the spring.

The truth is black bear attacks are super rare. In the past 20 years, there’s been 12 fatal black bear attacks in the U.S, yet thousands of black bears have been slaughtered in legal hunts. More than 4,000 bears were killed in New Jersey alone since bear hunts were legalized there under Governor’s Christie’s reign before the new governor halted them. In New York, more than 1,000 black bears were killed in hunts last year.

Yet, along with that news in New York about the success of its 2017 bear hunt, there was this item buried in a press release from the N.Y. Department of Environmental Conservation: 19 humans were injured by hunters last year and one was fatality shot, a woman who was just walking her dogs in the woods by her house. In fact, between 2011-2017, there’s been 14 humans killed by hunters and 131 injured in New York. In Connecticut, hunters have killed one human and injured 13 between 2011-2016. The number of bear fatalities in both these states? Zero.

The more I dug into fatal black bear attacks verses fatal hunting incidents, the more alarmed I became. In just six states I reviewed where bear hunting is allowed or being considered, there have been 500 humans injured by hunters and 63 killed. The stories are sad. People who were fishing when they got shot by an errant hunter’s bullet. Hunters shooting each other and themselves. And there was Rosemary Billquist, a 43-year-old hospice volunteer who was the woman from upstate New York shot dead last fall by her neighbor.

When FoA testified against a black bear hunt in Connecticut, pointing out the hundreds of injuries and startling number of humans killed by hunters, dispelling the myth that bear sightings at all indicate bear populations and showing there is a weak correlation between the number of bears in a region and bear-human conflict, the majority of lawmakers on the state’s environment committee saw the light and voted down the hunt.

But black bear hunts are still legal in a majority of states. It’s estimated that 40,000-50,000 black bears have been killed in hunts. But the fact is the number of fatal black bear attacks are rare.

Human hunting related deaths and injuries – not so rare.

The number of U.S. residents who hunt is dwindling every year. Yet, the damage they are doing to wildlife and other humans is astounding.

Elephants are becoming rare. So are lions. Shooting them to hang on walls doesn’t conserve them.

The math is the math and the science is the science.


Friends of Animals’ Communications Director Fran Silverman oversees FoA’s public affairs and publications. Her previous experience includes editor of a national nonprofit consumer advocacy site, staff writer and editor positions and contributing writer for The New York Times.


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Conservation groups sue to overturn trophy hunting decision

(CNN)Several animal conservation groups are challenging in court the Trump administration’s recent decision to consider big game trophy import applications on a case-by-case basis.

The groups — which include the Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society International and Humane Society of the United States — said Tuesday that they are asking a federal court in Washington, DC, to rule that the US Fish and Wildlife Service did not follow the proper process to make its March 1 decision, which withdrew a series of Endangered Species Act findings that apply to some African elephants, lions and bontebok, a type of antelope.
The groups also say the decision violates the Endangered Species Act.
Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle told CNN that the department is reviewing the amendment complaint.
Tuesday’s filing amends a lawsuit the conservation groups filed in November, when the FWS, under Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke, announced it would accept applications on elephant trophy imports from Zimbabwe and Zambia.
In November, President Donald Trump then ordered that decision be blocked and called trophy hunting a “horror show.”
In December, a federal appeals court ruled in a separate trophy hunting case brought by proponents of the practice, including Safari Club International, ordering FWS and the Department of Interior to reconsider past decisions on trophy imports.
And a few days after the March 1 decision, Zinke told Congress no applications have been approved under the case-by-case guidelines.

Conservation groups oppose pro-hunting slant of new Trump admin panel

US to allow some imports of elephant trophies 01:48

(CNN)Members of a new Trump administration pro-hunting council met Friday for the first time, drawing objections from other conservation groups that say hunting is not the answer to saving big game species.

Hunters and supporters of trophy hunting hold nearly every seat on the International Wildlife Conservation Council, which Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke created to advise him on “the conservation, wildlife law enforcement, and economic benefits that result from US citizens traveling to foreign nations to engage in hunting.”
Several members spoke in favor on Friday of trophy hunting in certain regions of Africa and Central Asia, saying it provides important funding for conversation efforts.
“Hunting is the crux of all of this. Without hunting, there is no other industry there,” said member Cameron Hanes, a member of the council who’s a bow hunter. “The messaging is what’s poor. To me, hunters haven’t done a very good job of it.”
Conservationists who oppose trophy hunting say the panel is one-sided.
“Noticeably missing from this council are qualified representatives of the broader conservation community with scientific credentials and direct experience with the management of successful conservation programs,” said Masha Kalinina of Humane Society International.
She spoke during a portion of the meeting reserved for public comment; her group is not represented on the council.
Peter LaFontaine, of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said he had nominated a member for the council who was not accepted. The group is a “really strange way to focus on conservation,” he said.
The council includes the president of Safari Club International, a pro-hunting group that gives awards for trophy animal kills; an official from the National Rifle Association; several self-described hunters; and two hunting-oriented television personalities.
Members selected as their chairman Bill Brewster, a former Democratic congressman from Oklahoma. A 2014 profile of Brewster in the NRA publication American Hunter notes he has hunted in all 50 states.
“There is a conspicuous conflict of interest concern hanging over this council,” Kalinina said. The businesses of many members, she said, would benefit from relaxed regulations on hunting, such as imports of trophies like African elephants and lions.
The issue of trophy hunting was cast in the spotlight in November, when the Fish and Wildlife Service under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke decided to overturn an Obama-era ban on importing elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia to the US.
After the issue made headlines, President Donald Trump announced he was putting the decision “on hold” to review the “conservation facts.” He later called trophy hunting a “horror show.”
Earlier this month, the Department of Interior reacted to a court order by saying it will consider big game trophy imports from several African countries on a “case-by-case” basis.
The department has not yet issued any trophy permits under that policy, Zinke told Congress at a hearing this week.

Everything to Know About Trump’s New Trophy Hunting Council

(C) Elizabeth Heyd

In early November—the same week the Trump administration announced its disastrous decision to allow elephant and lion trophy imports from Zimbabwe and Zambia—the administration decided to create an advisory committee, the International Wildlife Conservation Council (IWCC), to advise Trump on how to enhance trophy hunters’ ability to hunt internationally.

Yup, that means the administration now has a council dedicated exclusively to promoting the killing of more imperiled species, like elephants and lions, for sport. The council’s mandate includes counseling Trump on the economic, conservation, and anti-poaching benefits of trophy hunting, of which there are very few. Sadly, Trump doesn’t want advice on the many drawbacks of trophy hunting.

The committee’s duties are similarly biased. They include “educating” the public about trophy hunting; ensuring federal programs support hunting; making it easier for U.S. citizens to import trophies; ending trophy import bans and suspensions (despite the fact our country heavily favors them, as shown recently), and using the pretext of “regulatory duplications”  to eviscerate protections for foreign species under both the Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (even though the U.S. law and the global treaty do different things).

Many conservation groups—including NRDC, World Wildlife Fund, Humane Society, Center for Biological Diversity, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare—urged the administration to abandon this dangerous proposal. Many also urged the council to, at the very least, include members from the conservation community. Instead, the Department of Interior went ahead with this flawed idea.

Even more shocking, all but one of the 16 discretionary members the administration chose, hunt foreign species that are subject to import permits, represent an organization that promotes hunting of such species, guide hunts for such species, or is a “celebrity hunter” who  glorifies hunting of such species. Yes, I’m talking about people that head the NRA and Safari Club International. This insanely biased membership ensures that all committee decisions will benefit hunters  at the expense of iconic species already on the brink.

Oh, did I mention that we, the public, will pay for these members to travel to Washington, D.C. twice a year for meetings?

The IWCC was created under a statute called the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which was promulgated to ensure that advice by the various advisory committees is “objective and accessible to the public.” The law states that advisory committees must also be “essential,” “in the public interest,” “fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented” and “not be inappropriately influenced by . . . any special interest.” Clearly, the administration forgot to read the law when they formed this committee as it violates each and every requirement!

The first meeting of this council is scheduled for March 16 from 9:30 am-4:30 pm. While advance RSVP is required—the council is clearly trying to shield its actions from the public eye—we will keep everyone posted on what occurs.

Unfortunately, there’s one thing we all know without attending: this council spells disaster for elephants, lions and other imperiled foreign species that we all treasure.