The EU’s new Green Deal strategy offers ‘guidance’ to African countries but does nothing to stop Europe’s own ivory market, Roseiw Awori writes
1 hour ago
As part of its plans to be the first net zero emissions, zero pollution continent by 2050, the EU published its Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, personally championed by First Executive Vice-President Timmermans, on 20th May.
It proposes among other issues “… a further tightening of the rules on EU ivory trade” while nonetheless maintaining a thriving ivory market itself.
“A further tightening of the rules …” is hardly progress.
Under the Juncker Commission, which left office on 30th November 2019, significant strides were being made to close the loopholes in the EU’s ivory trade.
The Von der Leyen “Green Deal” Commission has, however, demonstrated scant political will to maintain – let alone increase – that momentum.
It is this type of double standard that we can no longer stand for.
“We are tired of these lectures that constantly come from the North, telling us how to manage our spaces while they ignore the implications of their actions. Frankly, the EU has failed to read the mood across the world,” says Dr Winnie Kiiru, Senior Technical Advisor for the Elephant Protection Initiative Foundation (EPI), an organisation comprising of 21 African countries working to secure the protection of African elephants.
As an elephant biologist for the past 20 years, Kiiru has fought for the ban of ivory across the world and is not impressed by the EU’s double standards. “Countries that had thriving markets such as China and the US have gone ahead to ban ivory trade – it seems very odd that the EU won’t follow suit.”
Beginning around 2007, a wave of poaching for ivory devastated populations of savanna and forest elephants across Africa. The total numbers of savanna elephants decreased by 30% between 2007 and 2015, while forest elephants were hit even harder.
In some countries, elephant populations declined by over 50% in under 10 years. If current poaching levels continue, elephants may be extinct in the wild within the decade – and this will be thanks in no small measure to the EU’s ivory market, among the largest in the world.
Poaching of African elephants continues unabated. The fight for countries to shut down the international ivory trade has borne some fruit with key nations such as the USA, UK and China responding to global pressure and closing their domestic ivory markets.
This action has been accompanied by a decrease in poaching within some parts of Africa, primarily in East Africa. However, in other regions, notably West, Central and Southern Africa, the poaching trend has not declined.
If anything, poaching levels are increasing in new hotspots, as major global ivory markets have remained open, notably those of Japan and the European Union.
This makes the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy, as part of the highly ambitious Green Deal suite of policy initiatives all the more extraordinary.
Aiming to provide ‘guidance’ to African countries on steps to take in order to maintain and improve our biodiversity, it is supremely ironic that the EU’s ivory market is effectively a key contributor of the destruction of Africa’s natural heritage.
Laundering ‘legal’ ivory into the illegal market. It is all the more surprising to note this somewhat misguided act of charity has no roots within the EU.
The European Commission continues to maintain that the EU’s ivory market deals only with old ivory stocks and has no influence on current poaching levels.
Yet, recent studies have shown that ivory pieces can be aged and made to seem older than they actually are. Limiting the trade to small ivory pieces is also no solution, as carving operations have now been established in elephant range states.
This ongoing consumption of ivory puts the safety of the African elephants at great risk because, by giving ivory a value it prolongs demand, which maintains the push for supply.
Until the EU shuts down its domestic market, ivory will continue to be laundered into European markets under the guise of being ‘old or small stock’.
“The EU needs to appreciate the role of any African market in increasing the cost of law enforcement in African countries and destroying livelihoods. Furthermore, their strategy will be impossible to realize in Africa until they shut down their ivory markets,” Kiiru maintains.
Critically, ivory has no value within Africa; it is only countries outside that continue to clamour for it and by so doing fuel poaching across the continent.
And so, however good the intentions were in writing the EU Biodiversity Strategy, I am reminded of a song my mother would sing: “Sweep your yard before you come and sweep mine”. This is precisely what the EU needs to do.
The time for decisive action is now. Overall, the importance of healthy elephant populations is to increase and help support our African biodiversity, and they are part of our cultural heritage.
We cannot afford to lose them for the sake of demand by foreigners in Europe and elsewhere for trinkets.
Again it remains clear, the EU needs to re-examine its so-called ‘role’
in promoting global biodiversity; here in Africa, what it does in reality is continue to endanger African elephants.
Rosie Awori is the director of the Pan African Wildlife Conservation Network
4th August 2020
Zimbabwe loaded 32 baby elephants onto a China-bound plane in October 2019. It had sold off the young animals, who it had separated from their wild families a year earlier, to an unnatural and torturous life in zoos. Zimbabwe authorities went ahead with the baby elephants’ export in the face of legal action. It also did so just before the global wildlife watchdog, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), implemented a landmark rule change that would have made the export impossible.
Zimbabwe, however, isn’t guaranteed to get off scot-free with its much criticised move. A recent CITES report accuses the country of not only contravening the “will” of CITES members, but the “good faith” and “spirit” of the Convention overall. It also asserts that, regardless of the landmark rule change that was about to come into force, Zimbabwe contravened prior provisions of CITES.
The report’s authors call on CITES’ Animals Committee to take “appropriate steps” after considering its findings. Such a step would be removing the elephants from the distressing situation they now find themselves in, and giving them the chance to live out the rest of their lives in relative comfort.
Zimbabwe and a number of other nations that African elephants call home have been easily able to sell them on to non-African countries for display in zoos until very recently. But parties to CITES – which are nation states – voted to change the rules at the 2019 conference. The definition of what constitutes an ‘appropriate and acceptable destination’ for export of elephants was limited to “in situ”
conservation programmes. Simply put, the change means that African elephants should stay in Africa.
The rule change came into force on 26 November 2019, 90 days after the vote. This grace period between parties approving resolutions and them coming into force is to allow countries time to adjust their national laws and policies to fit the incoming CITES’ requirements.
But Zimbabwe used the time to export the young elephants it had captured in 2018 to China. At the time, elephant biologist and wildlife director at Humane Society International/Africa, Audrey Delsink, said:
We are left feeling outraged and heartbroken at this news today that the Zimbabwe authorities have shipped these poor baby elephants out of the country. Zimbabwe is showing total disregard for the spirit of the CITES ruling as well as ignoring local and global criticism. Condemning these elephants to a life of captivity in Chinese zoos is a tragedy.
Now two parties to CITES, Burkina Faso and Niger, have submitted a report to the authority’s Animals Committee. The report looks at exports of live elephants from African nations since 2010 in the context of CITES’ various rules, such as countries having to find ‘appropriate and acceptable destinations’ for them.
Zimbabwe has outstrippped all others in sheer numbers of exports. The report found it has exported 144 young elephants, mostly to China, since 2010. Namibia came second, with 24 elephants. The report spotlights Zimbabwe’s 2019 export in great detail. The report states that, at the time of writing in May, the elephants were in Longemont Animal Park close to Hangzhou. It continues:
Undercover video footage shows the elephants separated from each other in barren, indoor cells. Many appear to be very young (2-3 years).
Recent photographic evidence from China indicates that the elephants have undergone inhumane training by mahouts, presumably to prepare them for entertainment use. There are unconfirmed reports that some of the elephants are going to Yongyuan Biotech Company. The reason remains unknown.
Against the rules, by any measure
The report further assesses whether the export complied with CITES provisions. It notes that Zimbabwe can only export an elephant to ‘appropriate and acceptable destinations’ that are “suitably equipped to house and care for it”, due to a resolution that came into force in 2000. Parties have added further provisions over time. As a result, the scientific authorities for both the importing and exporting country also have to be “satisfied” that the export ‘promotes in situ conservation’, i.e. conservation in the place the elephant comes from. Furthermore, the
2019 landmark rule change, as already mentioned, limits what constitutes an ‘appropriate and acceptable destination’ to those that are ‘in situ’.
Burkina Faso and Niger argue, however, that, by any measure, Zimbabwe’s hurried export of the young elephants didn’t abide by CITES’ provisions.
The report says:
there is no publicly available evidence suggesting that the safari park in Shanghai which received the 32 young elephants from Zimbabwe in October 2019 –or any of the likely further destinations –can be considered as “suitably equipped to house and care for” live elephants, and thus meet the recommendations in the non-binding guidance, or that this particular import would promote in situ conservation. …
By any reasonable metric, the conditions of the transfer and housing are demonstrably inhumane.
Highlighting the 2019 rule change and the fact that, as part of that change, parties explicitly recognised elephants are “highly social animals” and removing them from their social groups has “detrimental effects” on their “physical and social well-being”, the report said the
not only contravened the will of the CITES Parties, it undermined the good faith and the spirit of the Convention.
Mighty and toothless
In short, the CITES report by two of its member countries is scathing about Zimbabwe’s actions. It asserts that, no matter how you look at it, or what resolution you test it by, the country’s choice to fly out the young elephants was flawed.
The parties recommend that the Animals Committee considers the report’s findings on the Zimbabwe 2019 export, in relation to the ‘appropriate and acceptable destinations’ condition, and takes “appropriate steps”.
The report doesn’t clarify what those steps should be.
CITES essentially plays god as an authority. It’s immensely powerful, deciding the fate of countless earthly beings, by controlling the trade in them – alive and dead. But it’s fairly ineffective when it comes to cracking down on wildlife trade offenders. The illegal trade in wildlife, for example, is booming (as is the legal trade). And what action CITES is empowered to take against Zimbabwe, and indeed China, for their apparent transgressions is unclear. South African journalist Adam Cruise told The Canary:
The appropriate steps would be haul Zimbabwe over the coals but just how CITES does that is the question. They are pretty toothless in that regard as they cannot really ‘do’ anything after the fact but simply an acknowledgement that Zimbabwe and by extension CITES were wrong and this sort of export will never happen again may be enough. Sadly, the elephants cant go back in the wild, that’s for sure.
Amid a global pandemic likely to have been caused by the wildlife trade, and a biodiversity crisis, the global wildlife watchdog increasingly appears unfit for purpose. A functional authority would reverse this trade and force the return of these young elephants to Africa, for rehabilitation and care in a wildlife sanctuary. If CITES is unable, or unwilling, to do that then really, what is the point of it?
By SUSANNE RUSTSTAFF WRITER AUG. 3, 20205 AM
In mid-December, Aaron Raby shot and killed an elephant. Hours later, he had a piece of it for dinner, with a side of sliced tomato and avocado.
A self-described “blue-collar” Los Angeles crane operator, Raby paid more than $30,000 for the once-in-a-lifetime experience — traveling more than 10,000 miles to South Africa to shoot and kill the tusked pachyderm. He then paid roughly $10,000 to have its head preserved as a souvenir of his adventure.
Yet Raby may never receive his trophy — which is still in South Africa being prepared by a taxidermist — if California enacts new legislation, Senate Bill 1175.
The legislation, which has passed the state Senate and is expected to pass the Assembly on Tuesday, would prohibit the importation and possession of animal parts from a list of endangered and threatened African species, including elephants, lions and rhinos.
“It’s time to wake up and realize that we’re in the middle of a mass extinction event,” said Sen. Henry Stern (D-Canoga Park), who wrote and shepherded the bill through the Senate.
Similar legislation passed both the Assembly and Senate two years ago but was ultimately vetoed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, who called the trophy ban “unenforceable.” Stern said circumstances have since changed, and is confident the current governor, Gavin Newsom, will sign this year’s bill.
For Raby, the consequences of his latest kill are just starting to unfold. After the hunt, he posted images of his trophy on Facebook, YouTube and AfricaHunting.com, a website for hunters.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animal rights activist organization, independently obtained video of the elephant shooting, which it released Monday and plans to use in a late-session campaign to ensure passage of Stern’s legislation.
Raby said he has faced threats and online harassment before, such as when he posted an image of himself with a lion he had killed. But the PETA campaign is sure to bring him a new notoriety, and deepen the debate about trophy hunting.
“I don’t understand why this is anybody’s business but my own,” Raby said. “What I did is legal. I didn’t break a law. They’re going to place a ban because a bunch of … crybabies that don’t like hunting.”
California has become a focus of the trophy fight partly because the federal government has vacillated on banning such imports. This year, the Trump administration approved the import of a lion trophy from Tanzania, the first since lions began receiving protections in January 2016 as a threatened species.
Fearing the administration may approve more trophy imports, wildlife advocates are hoping California will provide a line of defense.
For years, trophy hunting has also quietly divided conservation biologists. Last fall, that split became publicly acerbic within the pages of the prestigious research journal Science.
Some experts argue the practice provides funding for local communities, raises money for wildlife management and gives people who live near dangerous or destructive animals — such as lions and elephants — an incentive to conserve them instead of kill them.
Nov. 16, 2017
Others say there is no evidence that trophy hunting provides these benefits, and, even if it did, they question whether killing and dismembering such creatures justifies those ends.
The scope of the imports is vast. In 2017 alone, more than 650,000 wildlife trophies were imported to the United States, including species considered internationally rare or threatened, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service.
Last winter, after years of diligently saving, Raby embarked on a two-week hunting expedition in South Africa, led by a pair of experienced safari guides.
A video of the hunt, which PETA shared with The Times, shows a startled elephant facing the hunter and his phalanx of guides and trackers. As the young male pachyderm looks on — his ears widening — the guides set up a tripod upon which Raby places his rifle.
Raby shoots, and the bullet hits the elephant in its head. The elephant crumbles to his knees. Over the next 2½ minutes, Raby shoots the elephant four more times — three more hitting the animal’s head. The footage shows the elephant breathing heavily, groaning, bleeding and struggling to get up.
Raby’s guides continue to encourage him to get a cleaner shot. They never offer or attempt to intercede to quickly end the animal’s suffering.
The video cuts off before the elephant dies, although later footage — which Raby posted on YouTube and his Facebook page — shows crews skinning and deboning the elephant.
Raby has killed hundreds of animals across North America, as well as in Europe, Africa and Russia. Photos of his forays can be viewed on his public Instagram page, including one that shows a dead wolverine and another in which he is hugging a dead leopard.
The elephant was the culmination of Raby’s African “Big Five” quest. He’d already killed a lion, rhinoceros, Cape buffalo and leopard.
Raby said he hunts not for the kill, but for the experience and adventure of the hunt — living outdoors, cooking around a campfire, tracking an animal and immersing himself in the wild.
He also notes that lions regularly kill agricultural and pastoral animals — and occasionally people — while elephants can destroy homes and crops.
“We pay a lot of money to hunt these animals,” Raby said. “If we didn’t hunt, that land would be converted into cattle ranches and there’d be poaching. They don’t want lions killing their cattle or elephants destroying their crops.”
Mike Axelrad, a trophy hunter from Texas, said hunting provides financial incentives that prevent poaching. He said animals are often poisoned if considered a nuisance — a painful and often prolonged death.
Craig Packer, a biology professor and director of the University of Minnesota’s lion research center, said there are examples of successful trophy-hunting conservation preserves in countries such as Namibia and Zimbabwe — in which the proceeds from international hunting expeditions have provided funding to conserve wildlife habitat and employ people from local communities.
Unfortunately, he said, in most places, these reserves don’t translate into the desired outcomes because the money spent by hunters — a lion hunt can range from $20,000 to $70,000 — doesn’t come close to the kind of money needed to conserve biodiversity and manage habitat. Or employ enough people to have a meaningful effect on a community.
In addition, corruption in many countries and regions often makes it impossible to know where the money is going, to whom, and how the hunts are regulated.
“Many of these hunting preserves are fly-by-night operations. Business owners swoop in, sell big takes, and leave. They aren’t in it for the long term,” he said.
Others dispute Packer’s examples of hunting’s benefits.
“The emperor has no clothes,” said Adrian Treves, a conservation biologist at the University of Wisconsin and director of the Carnivore Coexistence Laboratory.
Treves says there are no concrete data supporting the idea that hunting promotes biodiversity, habitat conservation or local employment and engagement. Proponents tend to repeatedly cite the few studies that bolster the argument for hunting, creating a body of research that boils down to “self-citation,” he said.
An even bigger issue, said Chelsea Batavia, a conservation biologist at Oregon State University, is ethics.
“We know these animal are intelligent, they have emotional capacity and they have complicated social lives,” she said. Even if proponents could demonstrate that trophy hunting benefits conservation, she added, “do the ends justify the means?”
The debate, she said, needs to be seen in the context of colonialism, in which European traditions were and still are imposed upon Africans. What is needed, she said, are alternative conservation measures that aren’t issued from the top or from outside, but supported and embraced by local communities.
PETA is requesting that officials from South Africa investigate Raby’s hunt and, in particular, the prolonged death of the elephant.Newsletter
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In a letter to officials at the Balule preserve, Jared Goodman, PETA’s vice president and deputy general counsel, said the kill violated the preserve’s requirement that animals are provided with “ethical and humane” treatment and that its guides comply “with the highest moral and ethical standards in recognition of a reverence for life and good sportsmanship.”
As for Raby, he said he’d leave California if Stern’s legislation becomes law.
“We’re not all bloodthirsty, psycho machines that people make us out to be,” he said. “I promise you, I can read an animal better than someone who is against hunting. They say they like animals, but they don’t know anything about them.”
- 1 July 2020
Mystery surrounds the “completely unprecedented” deaths of hundreds of elephants in Botswana over the last two months.
Dr Niall McCann said colleagues in the southern African country had spotted more than 350 elephant carcasses in the Okavango Delta since the start of May.
No one knows why the animals are dying, with lab results on samples still weeks away, according to the government.
Botswana is home to a third of Africa’s declining elephant population.
Warning: Some people may find the following images upsetting
Dr McCann, of the UK-based charity National Park Rescue, told the BBC local conservationists first alerted the government in early May, after they undertook a flight over the delta.
“They spotted 169 in a three-hour flight,” he said. “To be able to see and count that many in a three-hour flight was extraordinary.
“A month later, further investigations identified many more carcasses, bringing the total to over 350.”
“This is totally unprecedented in terms of numbers of elephants dying in a single event unrelated to drought,” he added.
Back in May, Botswana’s government ruled out poaching as a reason – noting the tusks had not been removed, according to Phys.org.
There are other things which point to something other than poaching.
- The war on elephants
- Why elephants are seeking refuge in Botswana
- The country that brought its elephants back from the brink
“It is only elephants that are dying and nothing else,” Dr McCann said. “If it was cyanide used by poachers, you would expect to see other deaths.”
Dr McCann has also tentatively ruled out natural anthrax poisoning, which killed at least 100 elephants in Bostwana last year.
But they have been unable to rule out either poisoning or disease. The way the animals appear to be dying – many dropping on their faces – and sightings of other elephants walking in circles points to something potentially attacking their neurological systems, Dr McCann said.
Either way, without knowing the source, it is impossible to rule out the possibility of a disease crossing into the human population – especially if the cause is in either the water sources or the soil. Dr McCann points to the Covid-19 pandemic, which is believed to have started in animals.
“Yes, it is a conservation disaster – but it also has the potential to be a public health crisis,” he said.
Dr Cyril Taolo, acting director for Botswana’s department of wildlife and national parks, told the Guardian they had so far confirmed at least 280 elephants had died, and were in the process of confirming the rest.
However, they did not know what was causing the animals’ deaths.
“We have sent [samples] off for testing and we are expecting the results over the next couple of weeks or so,” he said.
- 31 Altmetric
The most comprehensive data on poaching of African elephants comes from the Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) program, which reports numbers of illegally killed carcasses encountered by rangers. Recent studies utilizing MIKE data have reported that poaching of African elephants peaked in 2011 and has been decreasing through 2018. Closer examination of these studies, however, raises questions about the conclusion that poaching is decreasing throughout the continent. To provide more accurate information on trends in elephant poaching, we analyzed MIKE data using state-space models. State-space models account for missing data and the error inherent when sampling carcasses. Using the state-space model, for 2011–2018, we found no significant temporal trends in rates of illegal killing for Southern, Central and Western Africa. Only in Eastern Africa have poaching rates decreased substantially since 2011. For Africa as a whole, poaching did decline for 2011–2018, but the decline was entirely due to Eastern African sites. Our results suggest that poaching for ivory has not diminished across most of Africa since 2011. Continued vigilance and anti-poaching efforts will be necessary to combat poaching and to conserve African elephants.
Beginning around 2007, a wave of poaching for ivory affected populations of savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana) and forest elephants (L. cyclotis) across Africa1. The total population of savannah elephants decreased by 30% between 2007 and 20152, and an estimated 100,000 elephants of both species were poached between 2010 and 20123. In some countries, elephant populations declined by over 50% in under 10 years2. With elephant populations and ranges already greatly reduced from pre-colonial levels, such losses put many populations at risk of extirpation4,5.
Recent reports, however, indicate that elephant poaching may be abating6,7. Since 2016, some African parks have reported reductions or even a halt in elephant poaching8,9. Likewise, global ivory prices appear to have peaked and may have begun to fall, perhaps as a result of bans on ivory sales10. Accurately determining whether or not poaching is diminishing is critical for evaluating the success of ivory trade bans and other anti-poaching measures. Controversially, several African countries have proposed selling stockpiles of ivory11. Such sales may not be justifiable if elephant poaching is continuing at the high levels of the early 2010s.
Elephant population surveys tend to be infrequent, so our main source of information on poaching rates is the Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) program, administered by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Accordingly, rangers at sites across African gather data on the cause of death for elephant carcasses encountered during patrols12. The proportion of carcasses killed illegally, as opposed to deaths due to natural causes, legal hunting, or killing of problem animals by wildlife authorities, is known as “PIKE” and is considered an index of poaching rates3. PIKE data are typically aggregated to estimate regional or continental poaching rates. For all of Africa, estimates using the MIKE program’s methodology show a 31% reduction in PIKE between 2011 and 2018 (see Results). The program recently reported that PIKE has exhibited a “steady downward trend” since 20116.
CITES estimates PIKE values for Africa as a whole via general linear models, treating region and year as fixed effects so that
Antique dealers fail in high court bid to overturn world-leading blanket ban on
Tue 5 Nov 2019 17.45 GMT First published on Tue 5 Nov 2019 15.17 GMT
Antique dealers have failed in an attempt to overturn a total ban on ivory
trading being introduced by the government after the high court ruled the
legislation did not breach European law.
Conservation groups, who argued that any dilution of the ban would
revitalise illegal elephant poaching, welcomed the decision, which they said
would preserve the UK’s position as a world leader in the fight against the
Last month, a small number of antique dealers challenged the ban in the high
court, arguing that sales of “cultural heritage” objects had no impact on
the market for illegally plundered tusks.
The 2018 Ivory Act, which attracted cross-party support, has yet to come
into force. It criminalises trade in all ivory artefacts with a few artistic
exemptions. The prohibition was championed by the former environment
secretary Michael Gove, who pledged to introduce “one of the world’s
toughest bans on ivory sales to protect elephants for future generations”.
The high court claim was brought in the name of a newly formed company,
Friends of Antique Cultural Treasures (Fact), but funds were channelled via
the British Antique Dealers’ Association (Bada). The dealers also said the
ban undermined the European convention on human rights by interfering with
individuals’ property rights.
Responding to the judgment, Mary Rice, the chief executive of the
Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), said: “This is a victory for
common sense and one which maintains the UK’s position as a global leader
when it comes to fighting the illegal ivory trade.”
The EIA is part of a coalition of 11 conservation organisations that
supported the Ivory Act, arguing that any legal trade in ivory provides
cover for the illegal trade because it is difficult to distinguish between
antique and newly carved ivory. The UK is one of the world’s leading
exporters of antique ivory, particularly to China and Hong Kong.
The environment secretary, Theresa Villiers, said: “I welcome today’s ruling
by the high court which upholds the UK’s commitment to ban the ivory trade.
“We will move forward and make sure the ban comes into operation as soon as
possible to protect wildlife and the environment.”
The European commission is considering further restrictions on ivory trade
across the EU, based in part on the UK’s Ivory Act. Other countries, such as
Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, have introduced, or are considering,
John Stephenson, the chief executive of the campaign group Stop Ivory, said:
“Challenges to the new legislation fly in the face of British public
opinion, which increasingly puts the conservation of nature before profit.
We hope that’s the end of the matter and that the government can get on with
implementing the act, without further distractions.”
Conservationists estimate that 55 African elephants are poached every day,
which they say is an unsustainable rate of loss. David Cowdrey, the head of
policy and campaigns at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said: “We
are delighted to hear that the high court has rejected the antiques lobby’s
bid to overturn the Ivory Act. It is a fantastic day for elephants, and for
everyone that has fought so hard to make the UK’s ivory ban one of the
toughest in the world.”
Botswana government to sell rights to shoot 158 elephants
Country has courted controversy by lifting hunting ban in May
is reintroducing elephant hunts and is likely to sell licenses to kill the animals at a discount to its neighbors. That could further inflame the controversy that’s threatening a $2 billion tourism industry after a five-year ban on hunting was lifted.
The government will auction licenses to hunting operators for the right to shoot an elephant but is yet to decide on the minimum price it will set, said Kitso Mokaila, the country’s environment minister. Botswana will allow the killing of 158 elephants in trophy hunts this year.
An additional administrative fee of 20,000 pula ($1,834) for each of 72 elephant hunting licenses designated for foreigners has already been agreed on, according to government documents seen by Bloomberg. In neighboring Zimbabwe, the right to shoot an elephant costs at least $21,000.
Conservationists worldwide have opposed the plan, warning that tourists may go elsewhere.
“It’s a very reasonable price,” said Dries van Coller, president of the Professional Hunters Association in South Africa. “They would rather proceed with caution, and see how it goes.”
President Mokgweetsi Masisi put elephants at the center of the Botswana’s politics ahead of October elections, breaking ranks with his predecessor Ian Khama, who imposed the hunting ban and garnered international praise for Botswana’s wildlife policies.
Still, by lifting the hunting ban earlier this year, Botswana has brought itself in line with its neighbors. The number of hunting licenses are below the 400 cap it set itself, and compares with 500 licenses in Zimbabwe and 90 in Namibia. In South Africa, foreign hunters generated 1.95 billion rand ($133 million) in 2017.
Less than 50 elephants are shot in South Africa annually and Zambia has allocated 37 licenses for this year.
The all-in cost of an elephant hunt typically involves several hundred dollars a day for the professional hunters who accompany the tourists, as well as accommodation and taxidermy fees. Hunts can last 10 to 18 days on average. Most trophy hunters in southern Africa come from the U.S.
“We want to start off cautiously and steadily to see if all that we want under the guidelines can be done properly,” Mokaila said. The sales will start soon, he added.
Tourism, mainly in the form of photographic safaris around the country’s Okavango and Chobe reasons, accounts for a fifth of Botswana’s economy.
The end of the elephant-to-zoo trade marked by today’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species decision in Geneva is a victory for Friends of Animals efforts to make sure that no other pachyderms would suffer the cruelty of being ripped from the wild for a life in captivity and that the 18 elephants destined for U.S. zoos in 2016 would be the last to ever have to endure this.
The story of the Swaziland elephants that were sent to three U.S. zoos despite Friends of Animals efforts to keep them in the wild was spotlighted in a July New York Times Magazine cover story “Zoos Called it a ‘Rescue.’ But are the Elephants Really Safe?” by Charles Siebert.
The three zoos, Dallas Zoo, Sedgwick County Zoo in Kansas and the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska, had obtained permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to import the elephants in 2016 from a national park in Swaziland overseen by Big Game Parks.
FoA filed a lawsuit claiming that the FWS had a mandatory duty under the National Environmental Policy Act to fully evaluate and disclose whether the elephants, as a result of captivity, would suffer social, psychological, behavioral and physical impacts for the rest of their lives. But ahead of the scheduled March 17, 2016 hearing and without informing the court, a plane was secretly sent from Kansas City on March 5 to transport the elephants to the U.S.
“No other elephants should be drugged and crated, hauled off to a foreign place to spend the next 50 years feeling like captives,” said FoA Wildlife Law Program Director Michael Harris. “The Swaziland elephants will suffer in captivity, there is no doubt of that, but to them we must credit the decision today to end this practice.”
While the U.S. delegation to CITES opposed the agreement, FoA President Priscilla Feral said it is a vital step at a time when elephant populations in Africa are plummeting.
“In the last three years, we kept the story of the Swaziland elephants alive and delivered a PR nightmare for the zoos involved,’’ she said. “It’s gratifying to learn that despite the disappointing performance of the U.S. delegation, CITES passed a trade rule banning the exportation of African elephants to all zoos. Being able to deliver on our goal that they would be the last elephants to be robbed of their freedom and families is rewarding, especially in these difficult political times.”
Happy is a 48 year old wild-born Asian elephant who was captured in Thailand and brought to the United States in the 1970s. She has been held captive in the Bronx Zoo since 1977 and has lived alone in a barren one acre enclosure for the past 13 years. During the winter month, she is intensively confined to a small cement cell.
“Elephants are social animals who need the companionship of other elephants,” said Kevin Schneider, the Executive Director of the Nonhuman Rights Project, “It’s no wonder that we see her swaying and engaging in other unnatural behaviors that indicate distress and suffering.”
Both of the elephant sanctuaries in the United States, the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee and the Performing Animal Welfare Society in California, have agreed to take Happy at no cost to the Bronx Zoo, but the WCS has refused to let her go. “The Wildlife Conservation Society acknowledged in 2006 that keeping Happy alone would be inhumane, so we don’t understand why they won’t release her from captivity,” said Schneider. “They either don’t want to acknowledge that Happy’s solitary confinement for the past 13 years has been cruel , or they don’t want to cave into pressure from animal rights advocates.”
In 2018, the Nonhuman Rights Project filed a petition for a common law writ of habeas corpus in New York Supreme Court demanding recognition of Happy’s legal personhood and her fundamental right to bodily liberty. Happy is first elephant in the world to have a habeas corpus hearing to determine the lawfulness of her imprisonment.
As litigation proceeds, public support for the Happy’s freedom has grown. In June, two elected officials made public statements encouraging the WCS to free Happy. Corey Johnson, the Speaker of the New York City Council, wrote, “Happy and all elephants need more space and resources than the zoo can provide, plain and simple. I urge the Bronx Zoo, which first planned to close the elephant exhibit back in 2006, to finally transfer Happy to one of two recommended sanctuaries so that she can enjoy the company of other elephants and the benefits afforded to a facility specifically designed to meet her needs.” In a tweet, U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has voiced her opposition to solitary confinement for prison inmates, said that “The team and I are looking into what we can do” to free Happy.
In 2015, the animal advocacy group In Defense of Animals ranked the Bronx Zoo the fifth worst zoo in the United States for elephants. “The Bronx Zoo does not have the space, the resources, or the weather conditions that elephants need to live a reasonably healthy life. Shame on the Bronx Zoo for sentencing “Happy” to what is likely the most unhappy of sentences for an elephant: a life of self aware solitary confinement.”
A Change.org petition demanding an end to Happy’s solitary confinement has garnered over one million signatures.
The trophy hunting industry is on the wrong side of history, serves the macabre leisure pursuits of a handful of the wealthy elite and yet, bizarrely, we environment writers are the ones vilified for trying to call it to account.
As every journalist knows, a disaster without a face is just a number. You tell the bigger story through the individual. Exactly a year ago, that face was a beautiful pride male lion named Skye. Last month it was the huge male desert-dwelling elephant named Voortrekker. Four years ago it was the lion, Cecil.
Trophy hunters don’t like the animals they shoot having names. It enables the public to identify with them as individuals. And as individuals, they easily become a synecdoche – a lens – through which to assess trophy hunting as a sport.
That makes hunters and their apologists uncomfortable. Rather keep it scientific, clinical. We’re just cropping ageing game in a well-regulated sport. It’s sustainable and helps local communities. It keeps cows and goats out of the wilderness.
News that questions this version of reality is hotly contested. Each story written by environmental writers like Elise Tempelhoff, Ross Harvey, Ian Michler, Simon Bloch, John Grobler, Louzel Lombard Steyn or myself never fails to elicit angry rebuttals in support of hunting. Here are a few among the many:
Kent journalism professor Keith Somerville claims those opposing hunting are card-stacking facts or falsehoods and cherry-picking (though he misses the irony that he does just that). What we write, in other words, is not news, but propaganda.
Swedish hunter Jens Ulrik Høgh complains that those who support trophy hunting are being “actively demonised, outnumbered, interrupted and treated like the scum of the earth”. Really?
In response to an article about the killing of Voortrekker, US-based Safari Club International (SCI) posted that the writer “John Grobler et al. seem to focus on bringing disrepute upon communal conservancies and sustainable hunting in Namibia. Their relentless rhetoric has fuelled the fervour of many desktop anti-hunting social media activists.”
It fails to mention, of course, that the SCI hunting achievement programme and awards fuel a global guiding and outfitting industry and drives binge hunting for many of the rarest animals on earth.
The pro-hunting Conservation Frontlines website sees the conflict being between “various hunting organisations and a coterie of short-attention-span journalists and tourism operators who style themselves as conservationists”.
Hunter Ron Thomson is always quick to rush into print to kill the messenger and defend the right to gun down elephants. His speciality seems to be mass culling. He claims Botswana has doubled its elephant population (in fact the population has been stable for 19 years). He recommends shooting half of them (around 50,000) and ruminates on the limitation posed by insufficient abattoirs.
The noise in defence of trophy hunting is understandable – it’s getting a very bad name and there’s growing public pushback.
Conservation Frontlines writers Malan Lindeque and Rosalia Lileka have the solution: just rebrand it. Remove all reference to “sport” or “fun”, reposition it as “conservation organisation hunts” and ensure that hunting “demonstrably contributes to conservation”. But of course, do not for a moment question whether it’s okay to kill wild animals.
As a journalist – a real one and not, as depicted, a greenie propagandist – the barrage of criticism has an effect. It’s exhausting having to rebut the same old hoary arguments.
Are we environmental writers and NGOs really completely blind to the virtues of trophy hunting? Well no, I don’t think so. The UN Report on Biodiversity out two months ago was a wake-up call. It warned that about a million species are on the brink of extinction, including many of the species being hunted for pleasure. A Born Free report just out: Trophy Hunting – Busting the Myths and Exposing the Cruelty, has alarming figures on the volume of trophies.
It found that between 2008 and 2017, close to 300,000 trophy items derived from more than 300 threatened animal species were exported from more than 100 countries. Here are some:
“These figures only reflect those trophies derived from species that are protected by international agreement, the export of which is subject to an international permitting system,” the report says.
“When you consider the many trophies derived from the hunters’ own countries, for which official records may not exist or are much more difficult to obtain, these figures represent the tip of a very large iceberg.”
A report by the non-partisan US Congressional Research Service backs up the high carcass volumes. Between 2013 and 2017 the US granted import permits for 32,100 black bears, 10,122 sandhill cranes, 2,645 African lions, 2,552 chacma baboons, and 2,148 mountain zebras.
The Born Free report documents the cruelty of trophy hunting, its failure to support conservation, the cheating of local communities out of hunting revenues, and the complete disregard for animal welfare. And this in a world where the populations of the animals that trophy hunters target are, for the most part, plummeting.
Hunters, the report says, claim the fees they pay to government agencies, hunting outfitters, taxidermists and shipping companies benefit wildlife conservation, local communities and the economies of the countries where trophy hunting takes place.
“They also often claim that by targeting problem or redundant animals their activities represent a legitimate form of wildlife management. But their claims do not withstand scrutiny.”
Their major motivation, says the report, appears to be admiration and affirmation from fellow hunters, which they increasingly seek through social media and other online platforms. “The trophy hunting industry encourages this behaviour by offering awards for the number and types of animals bagged by hunters, and the variety of methods and weapons used to kill them.
“Despite their claims, trophy hunters do not generally target problem, redundant or old and infirm animals. They prefer to set their sights on animals with impressive traits – the darkest manes, the biggest tusks, the longest horns.
“This often results in the killing of key individuals, removing vital genetic resources and causing disruption to family groups, populations and, by extension, the wider ecosystems of which they form a part.”
Then there’s the money.
Back in 2013, South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs estimated trophy hunting generated around R1-billion. In that year non-consumptive tourism contributed R323-billion.
A report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2009 estimated the annual hunting turnover for 11 countries in Africa that permit big game hunting was 0.06% of their combined annual GDP, generating an average of just $1.1 per hectare.
An analysis of data published by the pro-hunting International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation found much the same. It noted that hunting companies contribute on average 3% of their revenues to communities living in hunting areas. The vast majority of their turnover goes to government agencies, outfitters and individuals located in national capitals or overseas.
In Zambia, the government’s Wildlife Department is committed by law to returning a 50% share of trophy licence fees and 20% of hunting area concession fees to Community Resources Boards (CRBs) and chiefs in areas where trophy hunting takes place.
However, Born Free’s investigation found that little, if any, of this money ever reaches them. As a result, local people have a negative attitude towards trophy hunting, accusing the government and Department of National Parks and Wildlife of corrupt practices and of exploiting wildlife for the benefit of others, including officials, outfitters and professional hunting guides.
Of particular concern to Born Free in its report was the generally neglected welfare of the animals hunted, an issue often derided by the hunting fraternity. While in most countries there are strict rules about the killing of farm animals, no such protections apply to wild animals.
“While some hunting organisations acknowledge that trophy hunters have a responsibility to avoid inflicting undue suffering, many offer awards for methods of killing a trophy animal which might include the use of bows and arrows, handguns, or ‘traditional’ weapons such as muzzleloaders or spears. These methods clearly do not prioritise the welfare of the target animal and are likely to increase the possibility of suffering.”
Because heads are displayed, it says, there’s the increasing probability that a body shot will be favoured, reducing the likelihood that a clean kill will be achieved and increasing the possibility that the animal will suffer.
“In order to give wild animals a secure future,” concludes the Born Free report, “we must learn to treat them with far greater respect and find alternative ways of realising value from wild animals and nature through non-lethal, ecologically and economically sustainable practices that will benefit wild animals and people alike.”
Now let’s step back for a moment and consider. There are very few NGOs and environmental journalists documenting the activities of a wealthy and often callous hunting industry and supportive governments which turn their face away from corruption and animal cruelty.
The trophy hunting industry is on the wrong side of history, serves the macabre leisure pursuits of a handful of the wealthy elite and yet, bizarrely, we are the ones vilified for trying to call it to account.
That industry doesn’t approve and we get vilified for the temerity to challenge it.
We could all be social reporters or cover crime, do the social beat or become sports writers. But, I’ll be honest, it’s the duplicity, lies and cruelty threaded through the hunting industry that keeps me hammering away at environmental issues.
The smokescreen of deception thrown around the hunting of Skye in Greater Kruger was a red flag screaming “Investigate Me”, which the parliamentary Environmental Committee did. Along the way, Kruger Park was roasted for failure to obey a parliamentary instruction. But in the end, nothing came of it. After all, the hunter had a government-issued licence.
So we’re left to contemplate the needless death of keystone animals like Skye, Cecil and Voortrekker – not dusty old males hunters claim they hunt, but beautiful creatures in the prime of their lives destined to bolster someone’s ego and bragging rights.
It’s a sad reflection of our species. Permit me to conclude with a (slightly altered) verse from Blowin’ in the Wind by Bob Dylan:
How many ears must one man have
Before he can hear creatures cry?
Yes and how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many creatures have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
The answer is blowing in the wind. DM