In the paper published Guillaume Chapron and Adrian treves in Proceedings B of the Royal Society (Blood does not buy goodwill: allowing culling increases poaching of a large carnivore), the authors looked at whether removing protection for large carnivores would decrease illegal hunting. This idea is supported by many governments. Does it work as expected? Find out by watching this video and by reading the paper available at http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/283/1830/20152939.
Abstract of the paper:
Quantifying environmental crime and the effectiveness of policy interventions is difficult because perpetrators typically conceal evidence. To prevent illegal uses of natural resources, such as poaching endangered species, governments have advocated granting policy flexibility to local authorities by liberalizing culling or hunting of large carnivores. We present the first quantitative evaluation of the hypothesis that liberalizing culling will reduce poaching and improve population status of an endangered carnivore. We show that allowing wolf (Canis lupus) culling was substantially more likely to increase poaching than reduce it. Replicated, quasi-experimental changes in wolf policies in Wisconsin and Michigan, USA, revealed that a repeated policy signal to allow state culling triggered repeated slowdowns in wolf population growth, irrespective of the policy implementation measured as the number of wolves killed. The most likely explanation for these slowdowns was poaching and alternative explanations found no support. When the government kills a protected species, the perceived value of each individual of that species may decline; so liberalizing wolf culling may have sent a negative message about the value of wolves or acceptability of poaching. Our results suggest that granting management flexibility for endangered species to address illegal behaviour may instead promote such behaviour.
The harvest of wild terrestrial and aquatic animals each year injects more than $400 billion dollars into the world economy. That harvest provides 15% of the planet’s human population with a livelihood. It’s also the primary source of animal protein for more than a billion of our species. It’s also led to piracy, slavery, and terrorism.
The over-harvest of wild animals, both from land and sea, has created a market defined by low supply and high demand. And that, according to UC Berkeley environmental scientist Justin S. Brashares and colleagues, has led to the proliferation of organized crime in some of the poorest parts of the world. Over-hunting and over-fishing have, at least in part, created conditions where human trafficking and terrorism can thrive.
The reason this is the case comes down to simple economics. “Wildlife declines often necessitate increased labor to maintain yields,” argues Brashares in this week’s issue of Science Magazine. To acquire increasingly scarce resources without the a simultaneous increase in costs, “harvesters of wildlife resort to acquiring trafficked adults and children…A vicious cycle ensues, as resource depletion drives harvesters to increase their use of forced labor to stay competitive.” Continue reading →
The Gardeners of the Forest: Ian Redmond at TEDx Southampton University
Drawing on four decades of research with gorillas, starting as an assisstant to Dian Fossey, Ian Redmond OBE passionately argues why we must protect these and other species such as elephants because of their important impacts on ecosystem processes that we, even in the industrialised countries of the north, depend on.
Poachers are likely killing far more game animals than wolves are, state wildlife officials in northern Idaho say.
Officials tell the Lewiston Tribune in a story on Friday that last year in northern Idaho they confirmed poaching of 30 elk, four moose, 13 mule deer and 57 whitetail deer.
Officials say a realistic detection rate is 5 percent, meaning poachers are likely killing about 600 elk, 80 moose, 260 mule deer and 1,000 whitetail annually.
“It’s real easy for people to blow a gasket about wolf predation,” said Idaho Fish and Game District Conservation Officer George Fischer. “They are very passionate about it, they are very irate about it and they are livid about it. Yet there is a two-legged wolf out there that is probably killing as many or more than wolves. Wolves are causing an impact, there is no doubt about it; I don’t want to downplay that at all, but two-legged wolves are probably killing more or stealing more game than wolves. That is the shock-and-awe message.”
Barry Cummings, also an Idaho Fish and Game conservation officer, said many people don’t report wildlife crimes because they don’t consider it a crime against them. The fine in Idaho for illegally killing an elk is $750, while the fine for illegally killing a moose is $10,000.
But he said if predators were killing as many game animals as poachers, people would take action.
“Holy buckets, we would be setting budgets aside,” Cummings said. “We would develop a group to figure out what it was and we would develop a plan to deal with it, but we won’t even talk about what impact this has on wildlife.”
Mark Hill, a senior conservation officer for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Lewiston, said it’s not completely clear why people who are aware of poaching don’t turn lawbreakers in.
“I don’t know if it’s because they almost look at themselves in the mirror and say, ‘If I turn in so and so, I’m going to be reflecting on some of the things I do and they will turn me in,'” Hill said.
It was late in the summer, and the two young lions had been on a camel killing spree. Over a period of three months, they had entered the villages of the Samburu people at night and killed ten prized camels.
It wasn’t long before they paid the price. One hot, hazy day in early September, when the male lions were napping under a scraggly acacia tree, a group of five young men came upon them. The men fired their AK-47s. Lguret, whose name means “cowardly,” ran off. Loirish, who was the more aggressive of the pair, may have stood his ground. He may even have tried to fight back, but he was no match for the rifles.
Samburu warrior Letoiye mourns the loss of Loirish, a lion he had been tracking.
Then the men butchered Loirish. They used their knives, adorned in colorful plastic as all Samburu warrior knives are, to cut off the lion’s head and feet. Then they took Loirish’s head and burned it in a small fire, an unusual act that was probably meant to destroy the GPS tracking collar we had placed on him to track his movements so we could warn herders. By the time we got to the grisly site, Liorish’s feet were missing. The men had taken them, perhaps to be sold on the growing black market for traditional Chinese medicine.
Letoiye, a member of the Samburu tribe and a part of our field team which had been tracking Loirish up to that day, stared at the blackened head in the pit and asked no one in particular, “Why did they kill my lion?”
Liorish unfortunately shares his fate with a growing number of large carnivores around the world who have clashed with humans and didn’t survive. Of the 31 large carnivores species like him—including lions, tigers, cougars, wolves, and snow leopards—most live not in some pristine wilderness, as we’d like to believe, but in landscapes dominated by humans and their activities. As a result, these animals are caught in a struggle between two sides of humanity—the one that wants large carnivores preserved and the other that would like to see them eliminated.
Letoiye is a Samburu moran, or warrior, a group that has traditionally been neglected in conservation. He never went to school and instead roamed the countryside tending to his family’s livestock while keeping a watchful eye on the land around the village. Despite their lack of formal education, Letoiye and his fellow moran possess skills that are the envy of many biologists and wildlife authorities. Because their job is to ensure their community’s security—which in rural East Africa often involves watching for predators—the moran know an impressive amount about lions and other predators.
A lioness gazes over the plain at Buffalo Springs National Reserve in Kenya.
Warriors like Letioye inspired us to set up Warrior Watch four years ago. They offer an intimate knowledge of the landscape and how lions and other wildlife move throughout it. In return, we teach Letioye and his peers how to identify each lion’s unique whisker spot pattern and how to discuss carnivore issues with fellow Samburu. We also offer weekly lessons on reading and writing in English and Kiswahili.
Before Warrior Watch, it wasn’t uncommon for moran to hunt and kill lions without question from their peers. But now, this program and others in Kenya are proving that attitudes towards lions and other large carnivores can change. A recent study of the program showed that participating warriors and their communities had a higher tolerance of lions and better understanding of their value.
The situation in the United States is not much different from the Samburu in Kenya. In California in 2013, for example, the state’s Department of Fish and Game issued 148 permits to eliminate cougars that had killed livestock and pets. As the suburbs expand out into once-wild areas, cougars are becoming more common in people’s backyards, where they occasionally kill goats and pets. While our livelihoods don’t always depend on our animals in the same way that the Samburus’ rely on their livestock, cougar-human clashes in California illustrate a broader point. The U.S. and Kenya share a bond that is at the heart of human-carnivore conflict: we both kill carnivores when we perceive them as threats to things we value.
Population at Risk
The reality is, of course, that we are a far greater threat to carnivores than they are to us. The cougar, for example, was all but eliminated from the eastern half of the United States during the 20th century. And in Africa, in the last half a century, the number of lions roaming in the wild has declined from 200,000 to fewer than 35,000. That’s mostly due to habitat destruction by humans. Lions used to roam most of the continent. Today, they occupy just 20% of their original territory, scattered across the continent and separated by cities, highways, villages, and farm fields. Some live on reserves, but that protected area isn’t enough to cover lions’ still expansive home ranges.
A moran scouts the savannah
A large number of conservationists favor creating more protected areas like national parks and reserves. After all, the largest intact populations of lions live in Selous and Ruaha National Parks, giant expanses of land under protection in Tanzania. These parks not only protect lions, they also support the entire ecosystem, fostering healthy savannahs that nurture gazelles and other prey species that keep lions sated. They also generate income through tourism, a not unimportant fact in many impoverished regions.
But protected areas haven’t been a panacea for large carnivores. As in the U.S., most African parks do not offer complete protection. Poachers have infiltrated many parks specifically to go after lions, while herders grazing their livestock inside park boundaries inadvertently take resources away from lion prey like gazelles and wildebeest.
Which is why some conservation biologists are suggesting that the only way to truly protect lions is to fully enclose reserves in fences. Yes, this would trap lions inside the parks, but it would also create a physical barrier between them and us. Such a move certainly has the potential to reduce poaching and limit human-animal conflict, but it could also reduce the viability of individual lion populations inside. Large carnivores like lions require expansive ranges to meet their daily needs. Plus, they can suffer from a phenomenon known as bottlenecking when overcrowded, which can lead to higher incidence of genetic disease and inbreeding. Fencing in lions to creating carnivore islands is one tool that might be effective in some cases, but given the potential for problems, it is not a “one size fits all” solution.
A better solution is to raise the tolerance of the land—and the people—living around protected areas. Lions, cougars, and other large carnivores will be able to live with people if they have safe refuge and as long as we keep ourselves and our property at a safe distance. Yet carnivores don’t belong in every human landscape, so we also need to carefully manage the areas where they can be supported.
That’s why we’re working hard in northern Kenya to create these landscape mosaics where local people can tolerate carnivores. We use a combination of high-tech research activities combined with low-cost community-sourced education programs like Warrior Watch. This year, we are fitting GPS-enabled tracking collars on ten young adult male lions. By mapping lion movements through the landscape, we can identify key corridors and refuges that might be prioritized for lions. The tracks also let us know which communities are in the lions’ territories so we can reach out to them with programs like Warrior Watch.
One of the lions collared and tracked as a part of the Warrior Watch program
At the same time, we’re also using the GPS collars to tell herders where the predator hot zones are. That way they can keep their livestock clear, avoiding unnecessary confrontations and losses. We can also track lions like Loirish that are known for killing livestock. When we locate one, our warriors go in to tell the villagers to be especially vigilant.
We can apply these lessons here in the U.S., too. As cougar and other carnivore populations make a comeback, a mixed approach is key. Protected areas are certainly important, since they provide carnivores and their prey with crucial strongholds. But we also need people to develop a tolerance to carnivores if we are to sustain that coexistence.
It’s starting to happen in places like the Santa Cruz mountains where conservation groups, state agencies, academic institutions, and landowners are working together to improve tolerance of cougars. Homeowners are learning how to properly fence their goats to keep them safe from cougar attacks, which can reduce the need to kill cougars in retaliation. And local governments are installing culverts under roadways to let cougars cross highways without risking dangerous collisions with vehicles. There are other innovative measures, too, like the protection of a forest behind a cement plant that cougars took a liking to. Portions of the plant grounds are open for recreational hiking while the important cougar habitat is being left intact. There’s something for everyone.
Additionally, we need programs that educate hikers and pet owners as well as ones to work with groups, like the Samburu warriors, that haven’t been a part of traditional outreach programs.
Finally, the most important thing to remember is that everyone’s point of view needs to be included in the process. It’s useful to keep in mind that the Samburu don’t need to be told how to live with lions—they’ve been doing that for tens of thousands of years—or that Americans don’t like being pandered to. Together, we can figure out how humans, livestock, pets, and wild carnivores can live together in increasingly crowded landscapes.
Back in Kenya, Letoiye remains troubled by the killing of Loirish. In some respects, his new way of thinking clashes with the old ways that many of his people still follow. He no longer sees lions as a threat, but as a unique part of his identity. He feels a responsibility to protect them, and he works everyday to convey a message of coexistence. But not everyone wants to listen. Loirish’s death is perhaps the most vivid reminder of that.
Fortunately, Letoiye’s not alone. Another warrior on our team, Jeneria, once said something that gives me hope: “Lions are in my blood now.” Losing lions is something Letoiye, Jeneria, and their fellow warriors are no longer willing to accept.
The tiger, a two-and-a-half-year-old male, had been fitted with a nearly $5,000 collar with both satellite and ground-tracking capabilities in February 2013. The collar was configured to provide GPS data every hour for the first three months and every four hours for the next five months (the collar lasts about eight months).
In July, the battery expired and the satellite feedback in the collar stopped working. Around the same time, Ramesh received the notice that someone in Pune (map)—more than 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) away from his office in Dehradun (map)—had tried to access his email.
The attempt was promptly prevented by the server. Even if the GPS data had been obtained, it is encrypted and can be decoded only with specialized data-converter software and specific radio-collar product information, said Ramesh.
“They couldn’t even see the data—it would look like unusual numbers or symbols,” he said.
It’s unknown who was trying to access the data, or if it was simply an innocent mistake. The forest department of the state that contains the reserve, Madhya Pradesh, has started an inquiry in collaboration with the police.
Even so, the situation prompted Ramesh and others to consider the potential that online data about endangered species could fall into the wrong hands.
Wildlife Sales Go Virtual
The Internet has given a new shape to the booming illegal wildlife trade.
Such online sales are part of a bigger wildlife-trafficking industry, which the conservation nonprofit WWF estimates to be worth $7.8 to $10 billion per year.
Traffickers have reason to shift their efforts to the Internet: They can be anonymous and camouflage their intentions with code words, such as “ox bone,” which has been used to describe illegal elephant ivory items sold through eBay.
What’s more, online transactions can happen quickly and customers can come from virtually any corner of the world. These factors, as well as the difficulty of establishing jurisdiction when a trafficker is caught, pose stark challenges for police and enforcement agencies.
Whether or not the Indian incident was a thwarted attempt at poaching, wildlife-governance specialist Andrew Zakharenka of the Washington, D.C.-based Global Tiger Initiative points out that “with increasing income and connectivity to the Internet, especially in developing countries, there is a threat of increased demand for wildlife products.”
Zakharenka also said that wildlife criminals are increasingly using technology. He sees cell phones, SIM cards, and emails involved in cases of arrested criminals time and time again.
According to Shivani Bhalla, National Geographic explorer and lion conservationist, “Poaching is completely different than the way it used to be in the eighties.”
She’s heard documented stories of “tech-savvy wildlife crime groups who know to enter wildlife areas and kill so many animals.”
Even so, technological advances can also be used to increase conservation successes.
Just four years ago, virtually every tiger in Madhya Pradesh had been lost to poaching. Even forest officials—from guards to officers—were involved in the suppression of poaching evidence and tiger death cases, according to an internal report filed by the reserve’s field director.
But thanks to a tiger reintroduction and monitoring program—touted as one of the most successful in the world—the reserve now has 22 tigers. There are fewer than 2,000 Bengal tigers left in the wild. (See “Tigers Making a Comeback in Parts of Asia.”)
“Technology has been a great support in Panna, and in fact, the tiger population recovery has advanced because of security-based monitoring involving such technology,” said Ramesh.
Conservationist Bhalla, who heads the organization Ewaso Lions, believes the collars provide vital information on behavior and movement, especially in human-dominated landscapes. For instance, on September 5, an eight-year-old male lion was shot, beheaded, and partially burned as retribution by villagers in northern Kenya.
Because the animal was wearing a collar that provided real-time radio-frequency signals and GPS locations, Bhalla and colleagues knew something was wrong right away.
“The last [geographical] point we received was at 8 a.m.,” said Bhalla. “The collar was able to tell us that he had been killed, where he had been killed, and we were able to track it straight to the community”—a remote village in Samburu.
Ramesh added that the advantages of technology outweigh the drawbacks.
“I tend to think we’re better placed than the poacher in terms of the technology, while not underestimating the desperation involved in poaching big cats,” he said. (See tiger pictures.)
Stepping Up Security
Since the possible hacking attempt, the collared tiger in Satpura Tiger Reserve has been seen more than three times and photographed twice. Ramesh said that a dedicated team stays within 1,600 feet (500 meters) of the tiger at all times to deter poachers.
The incident has also pushed Ramesh and colleagues to ramp up Panna’s security.
In January, the conservationists will deploy drones for surveillance and set up wireless sensors to detect human intrusions into the forest.
“We shall surely counter technology-based threats from poachers, if they ever resort to them,” Ramesh said.
The Iberian wolf is a species that can be hunted north of the River Duero, but is completely protected to the south.
In recent years in Spain the traditional tale of Little Red Riding Hood has been turned around to portray the wolf not as big and bad, but the victim. However, the classic version with the voracious beast still lingers in the collective imagination and a solid formula for peaceful coexistence with the species remains elusive.
Responsibility for the management of the Iberian wolf in Spain falls to the regions and policy varies greatly, while tensions between farmers and the authorities over compensation for the loss of livestock are running high in the most problematic areas of Asturias, Cantabria and Castilla y León. The complaints of farmers and hunters lead to the conclusion that wolf populations are on the rise; Castilla y León has backed this viewpoint in an official report, but biologists and conservationists do not agree. The debate always revolves around the same question: what can be done to allow humans and wolves to live side-by-side, while at the same time protecting the animals and preventing them from causing damage?
The European Union’s Habitats Directive established a frontier in Spain to protect the Iberian wolf: the River Duero. South of the waterway the wolf is considered of “community interest” and is therefore protected. If an animal must be killed, the regional authorities are responsible for doing so. But north of the Duero the wolf’s status is less clear. In Castilla y León, Cantabria and Galicia hunting wolves is permitted, but in Asturias it is not.
Castilla y León accounts for 60 percent of the total number of wolves in Spain, according to several specialists. The region’s latest conservation and management program, which is pending approval, states that the wolf population south of the Duero is rising. There are no official figures but the report cites a census carried out in 2012 and 2013, which will soon be made public. Its preliminary conclusions say that the wolf’s area of distribution south of the Duero increased by 34 percent between 2007 and 2012, a finding based on the first count of wolves ever undertaken in Spain, between 1999 and 2003, which is still used as a reference point to estimate the population.
Farmers and hunters have concluded that wolf populations are on the rise
“Things haven’t changed much over the past 10 years,” says the report’s co-author, ecologist Antonio Uzal, who works in wild animal conservation at the University of Nottingham Trent in the UK. Among the problems facing the wolf highlighted during that earlier census are pressure from authorized and illegal hunting, and the lack of viable corridors between populations, a necessity for inter-group breeding diversity. Castilla y León serves as the current meeting point between populations and is therefore considered the key by conservationists.
Regional data from 2001 recorded 149 packs, comprising around 1,500 individuals. Uzal’s study, carried out with Andrés Ordiz, places the number of family groups in Spain at between 250 and 320 (250 confirmed with indications of a further 70).
Castilla y León’s conservation program, published over the Christmas period, states that regional government employees will take responsibility for controlling wolf populations in the protected area south of the Duero with a quota system established on the northern side. According to its figures, a quota of 18 percent of the existing population will be enforced. In the previous program, set up in 2008, the quota was the same but in some southern areas in Segovia and Ávila it was raised to 28 percent. This program was challenged in the courts by Ecologists in Action because it allowed for the hunting of wolves in areas protected under EU legislation. Responsibility for the matter now rests with the national government in Madrid.
Biologists and conservationists consulted warn that the number of wolves reported in each region could be wildly overstated. Carrying out a solid census would require considerable time and effort as wolves are transient animals. “Their territory can reach 100 square kilometers; in a nighttime outing they can run as much as 50km,” says Eduardo Palomo, secretary of the Lobo Marley wolf conservation organization. Biologists point to the need to conduct a full national census in order to formulate policies to prevent an irreversible situation.
Regional data from 2001 recorded 149 packs; around 1,500 individuals
“Genetic studies on the population of wolves in Spain and Portugal suggest that these animals have been much closer to extinction in relatively recent times than was previously thought,” says Jorge Echegaray, an environmental consultant who coordinated the first non-invasive tracking of wolf populations in Spain. Today, the wolf occupies just 25 percent of its historical range. There have been no studies on its potential future distribution but because of a wolf’s requirements – extensive habitat and sufficient wild prey – it is possible Spain’s population could extend its range considerably. “You only have to look at the attempts at colonization in the Basque Country and La Rioja, and the footnote of the [recent] appearance of wolves in Madrid,” adds Echegaray.
“The government needs to determine the size of the population but it only speaks in terms of groups, to which an elevated number of members have been assigned,” says biologist Alberto Fernández Gil, a member of the Association for the Conservation and Study of the Iberian Wolf (ASCEL). Fernández is the author of a doctoral thesis that concludes that attacks on domestic livestock actually increase when pack members are culled. His study, using data from Asturias, shows that there is a direct relation between the number of wolf deaths and damage to livestock in the year following a cull.
“In this area science is worth nothing,” says Palomo of Lobo Marley. “If you kill the alpha male, the most coveted by hunters, then you take away the pack’s leader and those that are left do not know, for example, how to track and kill a boar. Then they will turn to sheep.”
“There is no evidence that the population control carried out as it is in Spain currently serves to reduce damage to livestock,” says Fernández. “They are shooting wolves without thinking.”
In Spain, the wolf occupies just 25 percent of its historical range
Echegaray, who has worked as a scientist at Spain’s CSIC National Research Council, says that any population control must be backed with “sensible analyses on impact and justification.”
“This is something that European legislation demands, as the wolf is listed as a species of community interest in all of the 28 member states. Spain hasn’t even defined the wolf’s status.”
Theo Oberhuber, a coordinator at Ecologists in Action, recalls with a touch of resentment how in 2012 Environment Minister Miguel Arias Cañete attempted to convince the European Commission to list the Iberian wolf as a hunting species south of the River Duero. “We have always said that the wolf should be a protected species,” he says.
One recent episode serves to highlight the passions and hatred that the wolf still generates: nine were found dead inside the Picos de Europa National Park last December. “This wasn’t hunting; it was a massacre,” says Guillermo Palomero, president of the Brown Bear Foundation. The wolves belonged to a pack based around San Glorio that had wandered into the confines of the park. “They were not considered conflictive,” notes Palomero.
We have always said that the wolf should be a protected species”
In Cantabria there is no specific plan for the conservation of wolves, and one specimen is permitted to be shot per hunt. Conservationist groups have called on the regional government to clarify the situation because the Cantabrian group plays a “priceless” role in controlling wild ungulates, particularly deer, while helping to preserve the biodiversity of the Picos de Europa National Park.
“More objectivity needs to be applied to wolf management and less pressure exerted,” says Roque Ortega of Ecologists in Action in Soria. Castilla y León, for example, is attempting to adapt its 2008 conservation plan to the swinging judicial pendulum resulting from its approval. The group Ecologists in Action has complained that it opens the way for hunting south of the Duero, while the COAG farmers’ union appealed against the compensation system in place for losses of livestock.
Ecologists in Action notes that the 2008 document leans toward a tendency to increase hunting quotas. “More than a conservation plan, it is a plan to hunt wolves,” says Luis Oviedo, the organization’s lawyer. Despite the annual quota being increased from 100 to 138, it has never been reached. In 2012, for example, only 74 wolves were hunted. The reasons for the shortfall depend on who you ask. For conservationists, it is simple: because there are not as many wolves as thought. Hunters complain that the government has made things more difficult.
“We feel like we’re out on parole,” says Santiago Iturmendi, president of the Hunting Federation of Castilla y León. “Before you can go hunting you have to inform the Civil Guard and forestry agents… We don’t even want to hear talk of wolves being declared a hunting species in Segovia because it will make things very complicated for us.” Iturmendi believes that wolves should be hunted to prevent loss of livestock and to maintain the biodiversity of the ecosystem. He points out that wolf quotas are “very low” – up to three times less than for other large animals.
More than a conservation plan, it is a plan to hunt wolves”
Farmers in the province view changes to the management plan as recognition of the colonization of territories that have been wolf-free for a century, and are determined to fight their corner over compensation for attacks on their flocks and herds. “Not only are there losses through deaths but also injuries,” says COAG spokesman Aurelio Pérez, adding that stress-related illnesses, loss of young and low milk production are also triggered by wolf attacks. “Coexistence is impossible. Areas where wolves can live and where they can’t have to be clearly delineated, as does the overall control of the species.”
Between 2005 and 2012 the regional government of Castilla y León paid out 1.7 million euros in compensation, but ecologists point out that attacks caused by wild dogs are often attributed to wolves instead.
Farmers’ tales of a super-population of wolves prove paradoxical for those that study the species. Andrés Ordiz, who has more than 20 years’ experience in the field, participated in the 2001 census in Castilla y León and points out that the large predators, by their very nature, have to be few in number because there cannot be more predators than prey. “No management plan takes into account the role wolves play within the ecosystem by controlling the number of species like deer and boar. Killing wolves also carries consequences.”
Farmers are also facing doubts over the true extent of wolf attacks – in Asturias an investigation into possible fraud against the compensation system is ongoing – and scrutiny of the subsidies they receive from the EU Common Agricultural Policy, which are granted on the premise of adherence to sustainable and respectful biodiversity practices.
Quotas for hunting population controls have never been reached in Spain
In the middle of the debate is wolf tourism, which generates around half a million euros in the La Culebra mountain range in Zamora province, the epicenter of the sector in Spain. Javier Talegón, a biologist who founded the ecotourism firm Llobu (wolf in Asturian), believes that the interest in viewing live wolves proves they can be profitable, and that formulas exist for peaceful coexistence between the creatures and humans. Whether we are genuinely ready to rewrite the fairytales is something only time will tell.
Near Surum, Saudi Arabia, 24°50’55” N, 37°27’38” E
We walked out of the desert and hit a road. Next to the road was a tree, and in the tree hung a wolf. It had been strung up by its heels. What little fur remained parted this way and that as the wolf rotated slowly in the hot wind.
“Wolves are threatened in Saudi Arabia,” says Ahmed al Boug, the General Director of the National Wildlife Research Center, the scientific arm of the Saudi Wildlife Authority. “I myself, over more than 20 years of field work, have seen about 50 wolves hanging in trees. Shepherds shoot them and put them there. Nobody really knows how many are left.”
Al Boug says that protected zones are the best hope for Arabia’s last wolves. The kingdom already has 15 nature wildlife preserves. Together they cover more than 30,000 square miles: 4 percent of the nation’s surface. Al Boug says that more reserves, for all sorts of animals, not just wolves, are in preparation and will double that area. “There are good things happening,” Al Boug says. “But enforcement needs more work.”
Presumably, local herders suspend wolves in trees to warn off the dead wolf’s kin.
This practice ascribes supernatural intelligence to wolves. It’s probably merited. Bedouin folklore is a filigree of wolf tales, odes to the human-ness of this animal that may soon be gone, much as the way the Arabian leopard is almost gone. (The number of leopards remaining in Saudi Arabia is perhaps 40.)
We walked on.
We made camp next to a concrete well under a tall, womanly, smooth-branched sahur tree. The moon shone like a wolf’s eye caught in the spotlight of the sun. I could hardly stay conscious for our canned dinner.
When the first humans roamed across the unknown world they experienced days imaginable to us now. Among the things we can never know—that is, we can describe it but never feel it—was the fact that we were walking food. Saber-toothed tigers, massive cave bears, archaic lions, and scores of other powerful animals ate us. This state of awareness, of being prey, comes down to us through the millenniums, faintly echoing like a distant scream in a canyon, as metaphysics. As dreams. As a muscle reflex. As religion. An empty alertness. We are the haunted superpredator.
I was watching our two cargo camels, Fares and Seema, graze under the moonlight when I heard them. The camels looked up in unison. I looked up. It came from the Hejaz mountains, a cardiogram of sharp peaks, blued in moon shadow. Two wolves called to each other once, and not again.
We hear more and more lately about the hallowed North American Model of Wildlife Conservation (NAM), mainly being touted by hunting groups. They proudly point to this model to try and demonstrate that hunters are indeed “conservationists” (and in their minds, the only true conservationists).
They insist that it was the NAM that “saved” wildlife from the many abuses of past hunters (like themselves?) and has led to the recovery of many wildlife species that we enjoy today. What they fail to point out however, is that as they interpret and unfortunately implement via wildlife agencies, the principles of the NAM, it is far from a conservation document. It is not a conservation model but instead it is a hunting document designed by hunters, for hunters to justify hunting.
Why do I say that? We only have to look at the 7 “sisters” the hallowed tenets of the NAM, to understand what a self-serving NON-conservation model it is.
Briefly put the tenets are:
1) Wildlife is held in the Public Trust
2) There should be a prohibition of commerce in dead wildlife
3) The use of wildlife should be allocated by law
4) Wildlife can only be killed for legitimate purposes
5) Wildlife is considered to be an international resource
6) Science is the proper tool to discharge wildlife policy
7) Democracy of hunting: hunting opportunities should be available to all
Shooting Bison from a train late 1800’s
As one can see, just by the nature of over half of the tenants, it indeed is a hunting model, that is to say the only legitimate use of wildlife is to hunt and kill them. These tenets then are set up to try to regulate the killing of them. What this means is that if a species is not a game species, it falls outside of the protection of the NAM principles.
The cases in point are predators, large and small, and other “vermin” species ranging from ground squirrels to crows. If we would apply the same principles of the NAM to these species, we can easily see that our “management” of them indeed violates many of the NAM’s very tenets.
Each tenet has its weakness but the two most glaring ones I will touch on here are tenets 2 and 4. Under the second tenet, we can get a fine or go to jail for selling meat (venison) from deer or elk that we kill. This was in response to the market hunting of our ancestors. However, there seems to be no problem ripping the skins off of the carcasses of all the fur-bearing species, most of which are predators, for the prime purpose of selling it.
From fox to mink to bobcats, the fur “industry” worldwide is a multi-billion dollar business where about 15% comes from the commercial trapping of millions of wild animals. So, does not fur trapping violate this tenant of no commercial trafficking in dead wildlife? Maybe their skin does not count? If not, then why can we not just shoot a deer for its skin and throw the carcass away? How do hunters (trappers are hunters, they just use traps instead of guns) reconcile this with the NAM? They don’t even try! It seems that past market hunting for meat was a despicable practice but market hunting for fur is an honored tradition!
Commercial hunting is commercial hunting be it for meat or for fur. I should point out that I am not taking a stand here as to whether we should trap animals for their fur or not, that is another topic. What I am arguing here is that killing animals for the commercial sale of their fur is as wrong under the NAM as killing of deer for the commercial sale of their meat. If a person wants a fur coat they should have to do the same as the person who wants venison has to do, hunt it themselves. If the NAM was indeed a conservation model that disavows commercial hunting, it should do the same for commercial sale of all parts of the animal. It however, does not and so the NAM is NOT a conservation model.
The second and largest gapping fallacy of the NAM is tenet 4 (legitimate purposes for killing wildlife). As the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation points out on their interpretation of the NAM, this means there should be strict guidelines for legally killing wild animals including “Laws restricting against the casual killing of wildlife merely for antlers, horns, or feathers”.
Again, this tenet sounds good. True, there are many rules and regulations against the frivolous killing of wildlife. One of the most universal is the “if you shoot, it you eat it” regulation that most state game agencies have. A person can get fined heavily if he or she just kills a deer or even a squirrel and “wastes” the meat. Worse yet, such an act earns distain from fellow hunters. This is one of the hallowed doctrines held high by the hunting community. Most hunters abhor the idea of wantonly discarding the unused carcass of game animals.
When it comes to the undesirable species (predators and vermin), all this moralistic crap flies out the window. From killing ground squirrels to coyotes, this tenet is violated daily in America. Each year millions of pounds of animal flesh is left in the field, dump/ed in the ditch, or worse yet, hung on fences as warnings to other varmints. If this is not casual killing of wildlife, I don’t know what is. And this wanton killing is condoned by the very same agencies that will throw you in jail for “wasting” a deer. Where is the consistency in this tenet? The answer is that there is none.
It again is aimed at those favoured species. Favoured based upon some specific criteria, a criteria defined by the 10% of the American population that hunts and consistently violates tenet #2.
How can this tenet be adhered to so strictly for one set of wildlife but totally ignored for another and still be a viable part of this great wildlife conservation plan? The answer is simple, it can’t! This tenet is a hunting tenet not a conservation one. It is designed to boost our acceptance of reasonable use of certain species but ignore or worse encourage excessive waste of all the rest.
Why is Puma killing justified when no one is in danger?
One could argue that the wanton wasting of many of these animals is for self-defence or property protection, e.g. protecting domestic animals or plants and thus it is ok. It is true that any person has the right to protect themselves and their livelihood, when it is being directly threatened. But are the killing of millions of these varmint species related to direct threats to humans or their property? Since when have ground squirrels, crows, and other smaller varmints been a serious threat to humans? Yet we kill millions yearly.
As it goes, even the larger ones, up to wolves and cougars don’t pose a significant threat to us. On rare occasions people can be threatened by some of these species, and those animals should be killed. But does the slim possibility that a species will threaten you justify killing individuals on a large scale across whole landscapes?
If it does then, how about those deer? They kill us at the rate of 200-300 people a year via car-deer collisions. Based on those figures, it would seem justified to just go out and kill a bunch of deer to protect ourselves and our children, let them lay in the ditch as a warning to other road happy deer. But do we do this? Of course not, any attempt to even reduce deer herds through the only-eat-them rule is confronted by angry gangs of hunters, screaming about the ethics of such wanton slaughtering.
Where are those angry voices when other less threatening wildlife are killed and left to rot? These voices are there but on the other side, kill more, not less!
According to the RMEF interpretation of this tenet, the ban on wanton waste of animal flesh does not pertain to furbearers. “… individuals may legally kill certain animals… for food and fur…”. Of course this is the self-serving interpretation of the hunting/trapping community. Even here the tenet is steeped in hypocrisy. If we can kill an animal just for its fur, why can’t we kill an animal just for its antlers, horns, or feathers? Why is ok to kill and skin a cougar and discard its 120 lb carcass to rot in the field but not do the same with a similar weight deer just for its hide or antlers?
Why can we kill, skin, and let rot weasels, beavers, fox, bobcats, fishers, martins, etc. but not shoot a pheasant, an exotic species, just for its feathers? What is the difference? The meat all smells the same when it is rotting away. Where are the high brow ethics here?
Trappers kill and discard millions of pounds of animal flesh yearly. Are they distained by the rest of the hunting community who righteously eat what they kill? No! Many of them also are these moralistic hunters of these other game species, being able to switch from outrage at wanton waste to perpetrators of the same acts they abhor with other game species. Again, this points out the hypocrisy of the application of this tenet. Thus, this tenet again has nothing to do with wildlife conservation but with somehow trying to morally justify the wanton hunting and killing of specific species.
I have discussed here how just two of the 7 sisters are sufficiently violated to nullify them as any reasonable tenet of a North American model for conservation. Unfortunately, the other five tenets are just as hypocritical and designed to not extend the conservation of wildlife in America to all Americans but to concentrate that “right” into the hands of the self-serving special interests of a relatively small percentage of Americans. I will address those weaknesses in the NAM in future posts.