Blood and Beauty on a Texas Exotic-Game Ranch

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A giraffe named Buttercup moved closer to Buck Watson, a hunting guide, as he looks on from a vehicle at the Ox Ranch in Uvalde, Tex.CreditDaniel Berehulak for The New York Times

UVALDE, Tex. — On a ranch at the southwestern edge of the Texas Hill Country, a hunting guide spotted her cooling off in the shade: an African reticulated giraffe. Such is the curious state of modern Texas ranching, that a giraffe among the oak and the mesquite is an everyday sort of thing.

“That’s Buttercup,” said the guide, Buck Watson, 54.

In a place of rare creatures, Buttercup is among the rarest; she is off limits to hunters at the Ox Ranch. Not so the African bongo antelope, one of the world’s heaviest and most striking spiral-horned antelopes, which roams the same countryside as Buttercup. The price to kill a bongo at the Ox Ranch is $35,000.

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Water buffaloes walked across a dam at the Ox Ranch. CreditDaniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Himalayan tahrs, wild goats with a bushy lion-style mane, are far cheaper. The trophy fee, or kill fee, to shoot one is $7,500. An Arabian oryx is $9,500; a sitatunga antelope, $12,000; and a black wildebeest, $15,000.

“We don’t hunt giraffes,” Mr. Watson said. “Buttercup will live out her days here, letting people take pictures of her. She can walk around and graze off the trees as if she was in Africa.”

The Ox Ranch near Uvalde, Tex., is not quite a zoo, and not quite an animal shooting range, but something in between.

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Mr. Watson points out a Roan on the Ox Ranch. Roan, originally from Africa, never shed their horns, making them attractive trophies for hunters any time of year.CreditDaniel Berehulak for The New York Times

The ranch’s hunting guides and managers walk a thin, controversial line between caring for thousands of rare, threatened and endangered animals and helping to execute them. Some see the ranch as a place for sport and conservation. Some see it as a place for slaughter and hypocrisy.

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The Ox Ranch provides a glimpse into the future of the mythic Texas range — equal parts exotic game-hunting retreat, upscale outdoor adventure, and breeding and killing ground for exotic species.

Ranchers in the nation’s top cattle-raising state have been transforming pasture land into something out of an African safari, largely to lure trophy hunters who pay top-dollar kill fees to hunt exotics. Zebra mares forage here near African impala antelopes, and it is easy to forget that downtown San Antonio is only two hours to the east.

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A worker replaces a light bulb at the Ox Ranch. CreditDaniel Berehulak for The New York Times

The ranch has about 30 bongo, the African antelopes with a trophy fee of $35,000. Last fall, a hunter shot one. “Taking one paid their feed bill for the entire year, for the rest of them,” said Jason Molitor, the chief executive of the Ox Ranch.

To many animal-protection groups, such management of rare and endangered species — breeding some, preventing some from being hunted, while allowing the killing of others — is not only repulsive, but puts hunting ranches in a legal and ethical gray area.

“Depending on what facility it is, there’s concern when animals are raised solely for profit purposes,” said Anna Frostic, a senior attorney with the Humane Society of the United States.

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Mr. Watson inspects an Axis buck shot the day before by an 8-year-old boy. Trophy carcasses are hung in a cooler room before being transported from the ranch.CreditDaniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Hunting advocates disagree and say the breeding and hunting of exotic animals helps ensure species’ survival. Exotic-game ranches see themselves not as an enemy of wildlife conservation but as an ally, arguing that they contribute a percentage of their profits to conservation efforts.

“We love the animals, and that’s why we hunt them,” Mr. Molitor said. “Most hunters in general are more in line with conservation than the public believes that they are.”

Beyond the financial contributions, hunting ranches and their supporters say the blending of commerce and conservation helps save species from extinction.

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Various bovine species, including Watusi cattle and buffalo, eat from a hay drop at the Ox Ranch. CreditDaniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Wildlife experts said there are more blackbuck antelope in Texas than there are in their native India because of the hunting ranches. In addition, Texas ranchers have in the past sent exotic animals, including scimitar-horned oryx, back to their home countries to build up wild populations there.

“Ranchers can sell these hunts and enjoy the income, while doing good for the species,” said John M. Tomecek, a wildlife specialist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

Animal-rights activists are outraged by these ranches. They call what goes on there “canned hunting” or “captive hunting.’’

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To ensure a healthy herd, the Ox Ranch introduces fresh blood lines using animals bred on other ranches. April Molitor watches with her father, Jason Molitor, the chief executive of the Ox Ranch, as newly arrived blackbuck antelope are released from a trailer. CreditDaniel Berehulak for The New York Times

“Hunting has absolutely nothing to do with conservation,” said Ashley Byrne, the associate director of campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “What they’re doing is trying to put a better spin on a business that they know the average person finds despicable.”

A 2007 report from Texas A&M University called the exotic wildlife industry in America a billion-dollar industry.

At the Ox Ranch, it shows. The ranch has luxury log cabins, a runway for private planes and a 6,000-square-foot lodge with stone fireplaces and vaulted ceilings. More animals roam its 18,000 acres than roam the Houston Zoo, on a tract of land bigger than the island of Manhattan. The ranch is named for its owner, Brent C. Oxley, 34, the founder of HostGator.com, a web hosting provider that was sold in 2012 for more than $200 million.

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Three kangaroos that live in front of the Ox Ranch lodge are mainly for attraction purposes and are not hunted. They greet arriving guests and are often fed corn by the newcomers and by guides. CreditDaniel Berehulak for The New York Times

“The owner hopes in a few years that we can break even,” Mr. Molitor said.

Because the industry is largely unregulated, there is no official census of exotic animals in Texas. But ranchers and wildlife experts said that Texas has more exotics than any other state. A survey by the state Parks and Wildlife Department in 1994 put the exotic population at more than 195,000 animals from 87 species, but the industry has grown explosively since then; one estimate by John T. Baccus, a retired Texas State University biologist, puts the current total at roughly 1.3 million.

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A hunting blind stands among trees near a game feeder at the Ox Ranch. CreditDaniel Berehulak for The New York Times

The Ox Ranch needs no local, state or federal permit for most of their exotic animals.

State hunting regulations do not apply to exotics, which can be hunted year-round. The Fish and Wildlife Service allows ranches to hunt and kill certain animals that are federally designated as threatened or endangered species, if the ranches take certain steps, including donating 10 percent of their hunting proceeds to conservation programs. The ranches are issued permits to conduct activities that would otherwise be prohibited under the Endangered Species Act if those activities enhance the survival of the species in the wild. Those federal permits make it legal to hunt Eld’s deer and other threatened or endangered species at the Ox Ranch.

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Mr. Watson petted Buttercup the giraffe. Hunters are not allowed to shoot the ranch’s giraffes. CreditDaniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Mr. Molitor said more government oversight was unnecessary and would drive ranchers out of the business. “I ask people, who do you think is going to manage it better, private organizations or the government?” Mr. Molitor said.

Lawyers for conservation and animal-protection groups say that allowing endangered animals to be hunted undermines the Endangered Species Act, and that the ranches’ financial contributions fail to benefit wildlife conservation.

“We ended up with this sort of pay-to-play idea,” said Tanya Sanerib, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It is absolutely absurd that you can go to a canned-hunt facility and kill an endangered or threatened species.”

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Wildebeest run free on the Ox Ranch’s rangeland. CreditDaniel Berehulak for The New York Times

The creatures are not the only things at the ranch that are exotic. The tanks are, too.

The ranch offers its guests the opportunity to drive and shoot World War II-era tanks. People fire at bullet-ridden cars from atop an American M4 Sherman tank at a shooting range built to resemble a Nazi-occupied French town.

“We knew the gun people would come out,” said Todd DeGidio, the chief executive of DriveTanks.com, which runs the tank operation. “What surprised us was the demographic of people who’ve never shot guns before.”

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A World War II-era M4 Sherman tank. The ranch also has a shooting range built to resemble a Nazi-occupied French town. CreditDaniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Late one evening, two hunters, Joan Schaan and her 15-year-old son, Daniel, rushed to get ready for a nighttime hunt, adjusting the SWAT-style night-vision goggles on their heads.

Ms. Schaan is the executive director of a private foundation in Houston. Daniel is a sophomore at St. John’s School, a prestigious private school. They were there not for the exotics, but basically for the pests: feral hogs, which cause hundreds of millions of dollars in damage annually in Texas.

“We are here because we both like to hunt, and we like hunting hogs,” Ms. Schaan said. “And we love the meat and the sausage from the hogs we harvest.”

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Joan Schaan takes a photo of her son Daniel Schaan, 15, as he prepares for a night boar hunt. CreditDaniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Pursuing the hogs, Ms. Schaan and her son go off-roading through the brush in near-total darkness, with a hunting guide behind the wheel. Aided by their night-vision goggles, they passed by the giraffes before rattling up and down the hilly terrain.

Daniel fired at hogs from the passenger seat with a SIG Sauer 516 rifle, his spent shell casings flying into the back seat. Their guide, Larry Hromadka, told Daniel when he could and could not take a shot.

No one is allowed to hunt at the ranch without a guide. The guides make sure no one shoots an exotic animal accidentally with a stray bullet, and that no one takes aim at an off-limits creature.

One of the hogs Daniel shot twitched and appeared to still be alive, until Mr. Hromadka approached with his light and his gun.

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Larry Hromadka, a hunting guide, fires his pistol to end the suffering of a feral hog shot and wounded during a night boar hunt. CreditDaniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Hundreds of animals shot at the ranch have ended up in the cluttered workrooms and showrooms at Graves Taxidermy in Uvalde.

Part of the allure of exotic game-hunting is the so-called trophy at the end — the mounted and lifelike head of the animal that the hunter put down. The Ox Ranch is Graves Taxidermy’s biggest customer.

“My main business, of course, is white-tailed deer, but the exotics have kind of taken over,” said Browder Graves, the owner.

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Many trophy carcasses from the Ox Ranch are taken to Graves Taxidermy in Uvalde for mounting. Meg Rowland, a newly hired assistant, works on a customer order in the workshop.CreditDaniel Berehulak for The New York Times

He said the animal mounts he makes for people were not so much a trophy on a wall as a symbol of the hunter’s memories of the entire experience. He has a mount of a Himalayan tahr he shot in New Zealand that he said he cannot look at without thinking of the time he spent with his son hunting up in the mountains.

“It’s God’s creature,” he said. “I’m trying to make it look as good as it can.”

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White stags and white elk graze on the ranch at sunset. CreditDaniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Small herds passed by the Jeep being driven by Mr. Watson, the hunting guide. There were white elk and eland, impala and Arabian oryx.

Then the tour came to an unexpected stop. An Asiatic water buffalo blocked the road, unimpressed by the Jeep. The animal was caked with dried mud, an aging male that lived away from the herd.

“The Africans call them dugaboys,” Mr. Watson said. “They’re old lone bulls. They’re so big that they don’t care.”

The buffalo took his time moving. For a moment, at least, he had all the power.

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Giraffes Are in Trouble—the U.S. Endangered Species Act Can Help

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/giraffes-are-in-trouble-mdash-the-u-s-endangered-species-act-can-help/

The African mammal’s population numbers in the wild have dipped below 100,000

Credit: John Hilliard Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The following essay is reprinted with permission from The Conversation, an online publication covering the latest research.The Conversation

On April 19 of this year, five major wildlife protection groups petitioned the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to list the giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) as an endangered species. As the petition asserted, “the giraffe has suffered a major reduction in population size across its range primarily due to habitat loss, commercial overutilization, and severe poaching, and such decline continues unabated.”

If the Fish and Wildlife Service agrees to list the giraffe, a set of legal tools will become available to protect this iconic species. But how would listing in the U.S. help this African mammal, whose population numbers in the wild have dipped below 100,000?

EXTINCTION IS FOREVER

While extinction can be a natural process, the current rate of extinction is anything but. Scientists estimate that at least 99 out of 100 species extinctions in the world today are the result of human action. Although people rarely intend to drive species into oblivion, as with the giraffe, they do so through the destruction of habitat, poaching and legal hunting. As the petition notes, “[g]iraffes once occupied much of the savanna and savanna woodlands of Africa…. [It] has undergone a 36 to 40 percent population decline over the past 30 years.”

More than a century ago, scientists began to notice the disappearance of once prominent species around the world. TheAmerican passenger pigeon, the Carolina parakeet and the Great Auk—once well-established in North America—disappeared. Other species like the American bison and many kinds of whales had once played central roles in important ecosystems but had been reduced to small remnant populations.

The existence of species is important to people for many reasons. Sometimes species provide clues for the development of medicines. Often they play a fundamental role in maintaining the functioning of ecosystems on which people depend. As Aldo Leopold—perhaps America’s most famous naturalist—noted,

“If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”

What would you say to a child who saw a giraffe in a book and asked where giraffes lived? Would you be comfortable saying they’re all gone?

ROOTS OF REGULATION

In 1964, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) began tracking the conservation status of species on its “Red List.” Although the IUCN provides information only about the status of species, this is the first step in helping to limit extinction because it allows conservation efforts to be directed where they’re most needed.

A few years later in the United States, the federal government began keeping an official list of species in danger of extinction—what we call endangered species—and species likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future—threatened species.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA), passed in 1973, goes further than just identifying imperiled species. Under its terms, listed species are protected from actions “authorized, funded or carried out” by the federal government that may jeopardize their continued existence or adversely affect their essential habitat. Species members are also protected from direct harm by any person. Commerce in species protected by the ESA is generally a crime.

The purpose of the ESA is the “conservation” of protected species. In practice, that means bringing the species back to the point where it no longer requires the protection of the ESA. The law’s goal is not to preserve tiny populations on the brink of extinction but to recover species populations that are resilient enough to survive the bad luck which is so often part of living on the planet.

Listing is the public, administrative process whereby a species can become entitled to protection under the Endangered Species Act. It centers around one question: Is this creature or plant in danger of extinction? At the listing stage, the federal government can consider only scientific evidence in making its decision. Anyone can initiate the listing process via petition.

Evidence suggests the ESA works. A recent report in the Endangered Species Bulletin noted that of the 78 species first listed under the federal precursor to the Endangered Species Act in 1967, only four have been officially declared extinct after half a century. Many others, such as the California condor, the grizzly bear and the whooping crane, have seen remarkable recovery progress. Some, including the bald eagle, have even been removed from the list.

There are now 1,382 species of animals listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened or endangered; 711 live largely within the borders of the United States. For these species, the federal Endangered Species Act can help preserve habitat, require “consultation” on projects that need federal approval and make most hunting illegal.

AMERICAN LISTING FOR AN AFRICAN ANIMAL

The giraffe, of course, is not native to the United States. How would ESA listing help it? The habitat destruction and overharvesting that threaten the giraffe aren’t happening within U.S. borders.

The answer lies in the role the United States plays in buying and selling giraffe parts. According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service database, over the past decade Americans imported more than 21,000 giraffe bone carvings, more than 3,000 skin pieces and 3,744 hunting trophies. If many people want giraffe parts, the demand can be too high for survival of the species. Heightened demand for giraffe products can encourage people to hunt illegally—for example, taking more giraffes than limits allow or hunting in places where it is not permitted.

An international treaty, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (1973), known by its acronym, CITES, also addresses this problem. Countries that are party to the treaty meet periodically to list species that are threatened due to international trade. The treaty has two appendices for listing species: Appendix I results in an almost complete ban on commercial international trade; Appendix II requires all international trade in that species be monitored and subject to permits. The giraffe is not currently listed on either of the CITES appendices, but this does not prevent individual countries—such as the United States—from deciding to limit imports.

Around the world, markets for species parts are sometimes driven by traditional uses—things like carving ivory or using certain animal parts in traditional medicines. New uses fuel demand too; think of newly wealthy businessmen in Vietnam consuming rhino horn mixed with water or alcohol to show how rich they are. Sometimes, the two can converge: An increase in consumption of shark fin soup has been tied to a traditional celebration dish being served by more people as China’s middle class grew.

Listing on the ESA would require the federal government to limit imports of giraffe parts into the United States and would therefore help curtail global demand. The ESA cannot ensure habitat protection or require other countries to take affirmative conservation action to protect the giraffe. But listing in the U.S. would limit one important threat in which Americans do play a role.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

David Attenborough hits out at big game hunters after 12-year-old admits to trophy hunting

Wildebeest

It was the picture which disgusted the world, the grinning face of a 12-year-old girl cuddling the giraffe she had just shot and killed for fun.

While most her age would be only too pleased to see these creatures running wild, sweet-faced Aryanna Gourdin guns them down for her trophy-hunting album.

Our exclusive story sickened animal lovers around the globe, none more so than Sir David Attenborough, who has devoted decades to conservation.

The TV legend today calls trophy hunting “incomprehensible”.

He says: “It’s what people did in the 19th century. One would’ve thought people would’ve gotten over that.”

More: http://www.mirror.co.uk/tv/tv-news/david-attenborough-hits-out-big-8802878

Father of 12-year-old big game trophy hunter Aryanna Gourdin is a convicted poacher

The father of a 12-year-old big game trophy hunter making headlines around the world is a convicted poacher.

Aryanna Gourdin and her father Eli sparked outrage after photos of her rejoicing over the carcass of a giraffe she shot dead were published.

He has been accused of “brainwashing” her and using her in a social media campaign to promote their bloodthirsty exploits in the name of conservation.

They appeared on ITV’s Good Morning Britain last week wearing “stand up to anti-hunter bullying” after the Mirror highlighted the issue in a front page story.

Eli has been convicted of “wanton destruction of protected wildlife” which he was found guilty of in 2010.

Giraffe girl
Aryanna Gourdin with a giraffe she has hunted

In Utah where they live the crime relates to illegally killing big game such as deer, elk, moose and bison.

He also has 15 other convictions related to protected wildlife for which he was jailed in 2000. These include eight counts of transporting and selling protected wildlife.

Dr Pieter Kat of the Charity Lion Aid, said: “Despite breaking conservation laws this man has the audacity to loudly proclaim that hunting is conservation.

Giraffe girl
Aryanna Gourdin poses next to one of her kills

More: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/father-12-year-old-big-8827114

Footage of Rebecca Francis killing a giraffe in Africa

From Change.org

Apr 20, 2015 — This video shows Rebecca Francis hunting the giraffe from the picture. Although she made a rebuttal to Ricky Gervais last week, the video shows just had deceptive she was being.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RmkslPmo1vU&feature=youtu.be

Footage of Rebecca Francis killing a giraffe in Africa
Here is footage of the hunt in which Rebecca Francis kills a giraffe with a bow and arrow in Africa which has caused outrage. Francis like all trophy hunters has claimed she killed the animal to feed local…

“You know that feeling of joy someone gets when they put an arrow through a giraffe’s eye…..No, me neither”*

*Recent Tweet by Ricky Gervis

More: http://www.oregonlive.com/today/index.ssf/2015/04/ricky_gervais_vs_rebecca_franc.html

Rebecca Francis has been famous in hunting circles since 2010, when the photogenic Utah native won the obscure reality show “Extreme Huntress.”

But now she’s famous in the wider world as well, thanks to comedian Ricky Gervais.

Last week, Gervais, a dedicated animal-rights activist with more than 7 million Twitter followers, came upon a photo of Francis posing next to a giraffe she had just killed, a big smile spread across her face. The result: a tweet heard ’round the world.

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“What must’ve happened to you in your life to make you want to kill a beautiful animal & then lie next to it smiling?”

Ricky Gervais         @rickygervais

People outraged by Francis’ apparently cavalier attitude toward killing wildlife expressed their disgust on social media and beyond.

Stunned by the criticism, Francis struck back, accusing Gervais of sexism. “Ricky Gervais has used his power and influence to specifically target women in the hunting industry and has sparked thousands of people to call for my death, the death of my family and many other women who hunt,” she said in a statement. She added: “I repeat I will never apologize for being a woman who hunts as I know that my passion for hunting and conservation is making a direct difference on the ground for wildlife.”

In the wake of Gervais’ giraffe tweet, a few people on Twitter did call for violence toward Francis. Some of Francis’ supporters have also suggested violence is the answer. One hunting enthusiast tweeted: “@rickygervais a real hunter would shoot idiots like you for the greater good of society.” Gervais retweeted it.

On her website, Francis boasts of having “taken” bears, moose, sheep, zebra and many other animals with both bows and rifles, and of mentoring other women who are interested in hunting. “For me, there is nothing more empowering than sharing that special moment of success with another female who is chasing her dreams,” she writes.

Gervais responded to Francis’ sexism claim by tweeting as if he were Francis: “I kill lions, giraffes & bears with guns and bows and arrows then pose grinning. Why don’t people like me? Must be because they’re sexist.” He then highlighted male hunters too, employing his usual un-PC humor.

Such as Tweeting, “Maybe he was hungry,” under this photo:

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Francis has gone quiet in recent days, but Gervais, whose Twitter feed often features his house cat Ollie, gives no indication that he’s done.

Men and Women Who Hunt Animals Are “Equally Vile”

http://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-news/news/ricky-gervais-men-and-women-who-hunt-animals-are-equally-vile-2015184#ixzz3XmWp7ZFo

Ricky Gervais Says Men and Women Who Hunt Animals Are “Equally Vile” AfterPoacher-Hunters-6 Rebecca Francis Claims He’s Targeting Women

Celebrity News Apr. 18, 2015 AT 1:20PM

He’s just getting started. Ricky Gervais continued to slam hunters following his buzzed-about spat with Eye of the Hunter co-host Rebecca Francis. His new comments are in

“We need to stamp out this terrible sexism in the noble sport of trophy hunting,” he tweeted on Friday, April 17. “The men & women that do it are EQUALLY vile &  worthless.”                                  [except for the woman in the photo above–she hunts poachers.]

The British comedian-actor, 53, was appalled earlier this week when he saw a photo of Francis lying down – and smiling – next to a dead giraffe she just killed. “What must’ve happened to you in your life to make you want to kill a beautiful animal & then lie next to it smiling?” he wrote via Twitter on April 13.

PHOTOS: Celebs and their pets

Francis began to receive death threats following Gervais’ post, which has garnered over 30,000 retweets. On April 14, Francis released a statement saying she preserved the animal by providing locals with its meat. On Friday, she gave a second statement to Hunting Life.

“Ricky Gervais has used his power and influence to specifically target women in the hunting industry and has sparked thousands of people to call for my death, the death of my family and many other women who hunt,” she said, via The Telegraph. “This has evolved into an issue about the morality of threatening human lives over disagreeing with someone else’s beliefs. It shocks me that people who claim to be so loving and caring for animals can turn around and threaten to murder and rape my children.”

PHOTOS: Celebs fight back on Twitter

Gervais, however, doesn’t seem to be backing down. He’s continued to show his love for animals all week. “Enjoy the lovely weather and don’t leave your dog in the car. Have a great day,” he tweeted on April 17. On Friday, he gushed about his adorable “furry bagpipe” cats and snapped a selfie with his “new duck friends” near a lake.

Read more: http://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-news/news/ricky-gervais-men-and-women-who-hunt-animals-are-equally-vile-2015184#ixzz3XmRYOAMn
Follow us: @usweekly on Twitter | usweekly on Facebook

Also See: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/17/vet-kristen-lindsey-kills-cat-with-arrow_n_7090630.html

Death at a Zoo

 http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/elist/eListRead/death_at_a_zoo

‘Zoothanasia’ is a common practice in Europe and also occurs in the US. Some wildlife advocates say it’s unnecessary

The killing of a young giraffe at the Copenhagen Zoo in February 2014 shook the world, causing protests from animal advocates and the public alike. “Marius,” an 18 month-old giraffe that had been born at the Copenhagen Zoo, was healthy and likely would have lived a long life. The animal was put down (and then fed to lions at the zoo), because officials at the zoo concluded it was unsuitable for breeding. A month later, the same zoo euthanized four lions, again on the grounds of genetic purity and breeding.

Giraffes at Copenhagen ZooPhoto by Michael ButtonGiraffes at the Copenhagen Zoo. Zoo animals are typically killed for two reasons: to control the population and manage “surplus animals,” or to maintain genetic strength and diversity within a captive breeding program.

Zoo administrators ended up receiving death threats, and the killings sparked a media feeding frenzy. The serial deaths ushered in a newfound awareness of a not-so-new practice and raised some overlooked questions: Is “zoothanasia,” as the practice has been called, really necessary? And how common is it?

Zoo animals are typically killed for two reasons: to control the population and manage “surplus animals,” or to maintain genetic strength and diversity within a captive breeding program. While many animal rights activists and some conservation biologists are against the use of euthanasia among zoo animals, organizations such as the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria and the Pan African Association of Zoos and Aquaria defend the practice. “As an organization, we believe that culling has a valid scientific basis and must remain one of the tools open to our members, provided that it is carried out humanely,” says David Williams-Mitchell, a spokesperson for EAZA.

Marc Bekoff, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at University of Colorado-Boulder and the person credited with coining the term “zoothanasia,” disagrees. He says that killing captive animals is the opposite of conservation. “There simply is no reason to kill any animals, members of endangered species or not, in zoos unless she/he is mortally ill or injured,” says Bekoff, who is author of the book Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence.

Sometimes, zoo animals are killed because there’s just too many of them in their cages and enclosures. These “surplus animals” are the result of animals that have been allowed to breed without a zoo considering how it might care for them in the future. These surplus animals then suffer due to lack of resources, money and care. According to a study from the Captive Animals’ Protection Society, at least 7,500 animals (and as many as 200,000 animals) are considered surplus at any one time. For some zoos, killing an animal is easier (and cheaper) than continuing to care for it, or even transferring it to some kind of a sanctuary. “They’ll tell you they do it for lack of money and space, for example,” Bekoff says.

Some animals are deemed ‘surplus’ because they are poor candidates for breeding. While zoos are mostly in the business of entertaining their visitors and educating them about wildlife, many are home to captive breeding programs and are under pressure to conserve the best of species to ensure they do not go extinct. Williams-Mitchell argues that, from EAZA’s perspective, there is an obligation to consider the future of a species over the future of just one animal. Williams-Mitchell said EAZA believes that “culling as a tool should be available to any zoo that is serious about maintaining a healthy population of a species,” though he was careful to caution that killing “is only one of the options.”

It’s important to note that US zoos practice euthanasia far more sparingly than zoos in the EU.

Accredited zoos in the US aren’t supposed to use euthanasia for routine population control, and typically only kill animals for medical purposes or to relieve suffering — for example, to aid ailing animals and those with deformities and terminal illnesses. In rare cases, animals are killed when the zoo cannot maintain its quality of life at an acceptable standard.

>US zoos primarily utilize contraception instead of euthanasia to manage animal populations. But veterinary birth control comes with its own risks. According to Williams-Mitchell, “Evidence from the United States shows that widespread use of contraception can and has led to catastrophic population collapse in some species, requiring severe remedial measures including the import of animals from elsewhere.”

Peter Dickinson, creator of an zoo professionals’ blog called ZooNews Digest, says the issue is complicated. Zoothanasia is a tool that can be used alongside other successful (and available) methods to help control breeding and population. And sometimes, he argues, it’s the lesser of two evils. “Within the Good Zoo/Bad Zoo way of looking at things….what is better, putting an animal to sleep or packing it off to slum facility?” he says. “Bad zoos take one of two actions. They rear the animal (hand rear) until it is just past the “cutsey” stage and then cull it. Or pack it off to some other slum facility.”

At the very least, the uproar over last year’s euthanasia is raising public awareness about this practice and sparking calls for change at European zoos. In Bekoff’s opinion, zoothanasia is accepted because in the past it was preformed routinely without the public’s knowledge. Also, few people would argue with killing in the name of “conservation.” Now, he says, that’s changing. “It’s often done behind closed doors, but more and more people today can no longer be fooled.”

Jacalyn Beales
Jacalyn Beales is a writer and animal welfare advocate in Toronto, Canada. She is also the founder of PACH (People Against Canned Hunting). You can follow PACH here.