Conservation

Signing the Death Warrant for Rhinos Everywhere: Why Opening Trade in Rhino Horn is a BAD Idea

I’ve been against trade since day one for many reasons, most of which are elaborated in this post from an organisation I was fortunate enough to work with. In light of the South African government greenlighting the auction (read: sale) of rhino horn by the country’s largest rhino farmer (how WRONG does that phrase sound, btw???), Wildlife ACT issued this post responding to said farmer’s ‘reasons’ for allowing trade to be allowed. Wildlife ACT is on the ground doing honest conservation work. These guys are the real deal, and they are passionate about protecting wildlife. And this is their response to the approved rhino auction. If this doesn’t pointedly demonstrate why trade is a bad idea, I don’t know what is.

Here are some of the points made, as well as some of my own points:

  1. If we open up trade, we create an even larger market. We can’t meet the illegal demand. How, exactly, are we to meet the much larger ‘legal’ demand when there aren’t enough rhinos to meet the demand now??? It doesn’t matter if the horn grows back – there aren’t enough rhino in the world to meet the illegal demand. There sure as hell aren’t enough to meet a legal demand!
  2. Legal sales create loopholes for illegal sales. We haven’t tackled one of the biggest elephants in the room: corruption. We already can’t seem to keep tabs on what’s already coming in and out of the borders or what’s legally and illegally permitted in the involved countries. We need to clean up our corruption and put resources towards weeding out the corruption within law enforcement, judiciary, border control, politics, etc. Period.
  3. Rhinos live in many countries in Africa AS WELL AS in Asia. And they live in countries outside of South Africa (where this rhino farmer lives). Who’s protecting the rhino that live outside of private reserves in South Africa? And whose protecting the rhinos living outside of South Africa? Because this farmer might become rich with the opening up of trade, but the rhino that live in National and Regional parks around the country and in the rest of the world aren’t getting any money from said farmer. And opening up a legal trade means those animals are just as much as target as the ‘safe’ ones in private reserves (or breeding camps), in not MORE of a target. In fact, given the propensity for markets to value the ‘real’ versus the ‘fake,’ wild rhinos will inevitably become targets because they are ‘the real deal,’ and in the race for status, the real deal is what people want, and they will pay MORE for it. Meaning the illegal trade and poaching will not abate in the slightest with the legalizing of trade. For example, look at salmon farming. Look at where the market has gone – people want WILD salmon now and are willing to pay more for it, precisely BECAUSE it is wild and not farmed (and people perceive wild to be better). It is inevitable that people will want WILD rhino. And how will they get wild rhino horn? Illegally. Through poaching. Period.
  4. The people who will profit from farming rhino are the rhino farmers. No one else.
  5. Look at the vicuna situation. Opening up legal trade in for what has been called ‘sustainable utilisation’ hat has proven distastrous for this species, as illegal poaching has not gone down, but UP.
  6. We need to focus on demand reduction, not increase consumption. Because that genie is not going back in the bottle once you open it up. YOu give in to the demand and you are not only selling snake oil (since rhino horn doesn’t cure anything), but you are sentencing a species that has been around for millions of years to extinction by saying it has a price on its head. This is also why I am against trophy hunting of said animal, but that’s a whole other topic.
  7. There’s a reason rhino evolved to have a horn in the first place. It is used for defense and for mating rights. It is a means to ensure the best genes get passed on. This is why you can’t go around the national and provincial parks and dehorn rhino. Not to mention how that will affect tourism. Again, this means these wild rhino will continue to be targeted.
  8. Elephants are being born with smaller (and, in some cases, no) tusks because elephants with the largest tusks are being targeted for poaching (and hunting). Why wouldn’t the same happen to rhinos? If we continue to cut off the horn, what’s to say that future generations will simply to evolve to NOT HAVE A HORN AT ALL? Then what happens? Oh, but by the time that happens, said farmer will probably be dead and gone, so won’t be his problem, will it? But it will be everyone else’s. And, provided they aren’t already extinct, it will DEFINITELY be the rhino’s problem.

The list of cons go on and on, but I think these points and any additional ones pointed out in the article should be enough to convince anyone that truly cares about the protection and conservation of this (and so many other) species that trade is a bad idea.

At the end of the day, the ONLY beneficiaries from trade in rhino horn are this particular farmer, those whose grease the wheels, and those who profit from illegal trade. Rhinos have no chance if we allow any sort of trade to happen. End of story.

The reality is, you open up trade, you create demand. You make the problem WORSE, not better. Period. Please click on the link to read the entire article.

Dear John, Our Response to Your Rhino Horn Auction

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Categories: Africa, Animal, Big 5, Conservation, Education, environmental management, legislation, nature, poaching, Rhino, South Africa, trophy hunting, United States, Wildlife, wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

#WorldElephantDay and Another Jane Goodall Life Lesson: Value Your Family

I will honestly admit I forgot about these life lessons blogs. Well, I didn’t forget about the life lessons. I just forgot to create more blog posts around them. But with #WorldElephantDay upon us, I can’t think of a more pertinent life lesson that hits the heart of what elephants are facing today than this one – the need to value family.

I dedicate this blog to elephants not just because they live in family groups and value each other, but because they are part of our animal family, and we are not valuing them. Unless they are dead. And I think that’s pretty kak, to borrow a word from South Africa’s vast and creative repertoire of words.

Elephants are highly intelligent, sentient beings. They mourn their dead. They celebrate the living. They play, they fight, they hold grudges. They remember. Yes, they remember. Haven’t you ever heard the saying “I have a memory like an elephant?” There’s an excellent reason for that analogy. Don’t believe it? Piss off an elephant. They won’t forget you, and they won’t hesitate to get retribution. You don’t want an animal that can weigh up to 7 tons and can blast through forests and flatten cars without breaking stride targeting you for retribution. I have seen them take down fully grown trees without even uttering as much as a tiny grunt of exertion. It was awe-inspiring. And humbling. And it made me reevaluate how much (or, more appropriately, how little) I could rely on my vehicle to protect me in the event of a committed charge from an angry pachyderm.

Solo elephants are fun to watch, but – to me – it’s elephant social dynamics that are most fascinating to see. Herds are led by a matriarch, the oldest elephant in the group. She and the other elder females pass on knowledge and wisdom to the rest of the members of the group. The matriarch remembers migration routes and imparts that information on to her younger siblings, daughters, and granddaughters and their offspring.

Males stay with the herd until they reach the teenage years, at which time they are permanently ousted from the group and seek their fortunes in finding love elsewhere.

The elders take a vested interest in teaching the young, and all members of the herd take a vested interest in protecting each other from outside threats. They rally around their own and put up an impressive front when threatened. And this isn’t just the females, which dominate the herd dynamic. Bull males will often mentor younger bulls. Kill the elder elephants and you kill the teachers, which is why so many ‘rogue’ male elephants end up getting shot as ‘problem animals.’ They haven’t been taught how to stay in line. They are teenagers with no guidance and nothing to lose, mainly because they don’t know any better. No different than human teenagers in the same situation.

It is no longer surprising to me that the main reason for these ‘problem animals’ is human activity.

Elephants are a keystone species, which means ecosystem stability depends on their existence in it. Yet elephants, like every other animal on this planet, are under threat from that very distant and selfish relative who manages to cause infinite damage to nature without even batting an eyelash or bothering to consider the ramifications of its actions. Yep, good ol’ humankind. Elephants are losing the battle to survive because of humanity’s tendency to take without thinking, to take without giving back, and to take without considering the cost. And that cost is life. Life of elephants.

All for ivory.

Elephants are under massive threat because we like their teeth. Which, if you think about it, has to be one of the most ridiculous things in the world. We kill them for their teeth. We kill these incredible, sentient beings with families, histories, and personalities, for their teeth. And not all their teeth. Just those two big ones that stick out. The tusks. When did humans become so enamored of enamel? And why? Why are we the only species in the world that will happily destroy a species so we can put a trinket around our neck or on our mantle? Or a head on a wall?

Though elephants are the largest land animals on earth, they are in many ways a mirror of ourselves. They work together and figure things out. They are curious. They are caring. And they are disappearing at a rate of close to 50,000 per year. They are running out of time. We are running out of time to save them.

To see them go extinct will be catastrophic not only for the ecosystems they keep in balance, but for future generations of our own, who will never know the magnificent, clever, generous, tender, and formidable nature of these unique life forms. If we allow them to go extinct, we allow the worst of our nature – greed, ignorance, and ego – to win out. If we lose them, we might as well admit we lose a part of ourselves, and a good part at that. And we can never get it back.

Please, let us value our family. Don’t buy ivory products. Don’t ride elephants. Don’t shoot them for sport. Let us come together to ensure elephants survive long into the future.

If you want to learn more about the poaching crisis decimating elephant populations (and see if you might be unknowingly contributing to the damage) consider watching a documentary called The Ivory Game. This isn’t a blame game. It’s an awareness game. And if we’re not willing to educate ourselves about our potential role in a problem, how can we expect to fix the problem, right?

If you’re keen on learning more about elephants in general, check out the following links.

Also, I’m going to be posting some of my elephant stories in the upcoming weeks, so keep an eye out if you want to hear about some personal experiences with these gray giants.

Defenders of Wildlife: Basic Facts About Elephants

Smithsonian: 14 Fun Facts About Elephants

Africa Geographic: 10 Fascinating Facts About Elephants

TED-Ed Blog: 12 Amazing Facts About Elephants

Scientific American: Elephants Are Even Smarter Than We Realized

San Diego Zoo Zoonooz: Dangerous Road – Demand and Greed Drive the Market

 

 

Categories: adventure, Africa, Big 5, Conservation, Education, Elephant, environmental management, Jane Goodall, Life Lessons, nature, poaching, science, South Africa, trophy hunting, Wildlife, wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why there’s no better time than now to care about rhino poaching (or any poaching)

The IUCN – International Union for Conservation of Nature is meeting in Hawaii as I type this. The conference is bursting with people who can and do make the laws about how we treat our brethren species of animals. Poaching and the issues of illegal wildlife trade are at the top of their list of topics to tackle. And I don’t envy a single one of them, as there are no perfect answers, and everything they come up with as solutions will be scrutinised and fought over by some faction who isn’t pleased with their decisions. But there ARE answers to be had. It will be interesting to see what comes out of the convention, as well as what comes out of CITES’ CoP 17, taking place in South Africa in mid-September.

I am sure people are tired of hearing about the poaching problem. And hey, I’m tired of hearing about it too. I’m tired of getting paid peanuts to fight to protect wildlife and wild places for a world that collectively doesn’t seem to care enough to do anything to help the situation. I’m tired of being asked to educate people who seem to not want to listen. I’m tired of seeing butchered rhinos and elephants, selfies taken with abused animals or that put animals at risk (or worse, cause their actual death), and 12-year-olds beaming as they pose next to some big game they’ve ‘bagged’ for sport. I’m tired of it all because, to be honest, it often feels like a losing battle. If I had even a penny for every person I’ve met who says that humans are more important than any of the other animals in the animal kingdom and that the sole purpose of every other species is for human benefit – our consumption and enjoyment – I’d quite possibly oust a billionaire or two from Forbes’ coveted Wealthiest People list.

However, despite the frustration, I continue to not just sit back. I do something. Or at least I am trying to do something. Are you?

Often I’ve found that the same people who complain about poaching and the illegal wildlife trade also haven’t done anything to help solve the problem. I know this isn’t always the case with every person, but more often than not I’ve found it is. Like it or not, that’s been my experience so far. So many people complain about the situation and ask how they, a single person, can possibly make a measurable impact. And each time they ask me, I give them reams of information about how every bit counts, how they CAN help, and enough positive reinforcement to hype up a small army. Sometimes I feel like the Tony Robbins for wildlife protection. Except he gets paid a lot more. And people listen to him. They don’t seem to listen to me.

Most times I get angry, because many of the same people who ask for suggestions and who insist that they are going to get involved, don’t. Or worse, they go ahead and do the things I’ve said CAUSE the problems (such as taking selfies with captive lion or tiger cubs at pretend conservation sanctuaries, riding elephants, or eating shark fin soup). Then they wonder why I stop talking to them.

It’s a shame, not because I stop talking to them (I doubt they really care since they clearly don’t care enough about me to listen to my expertise, advice, and suggestions). It’s a shame because the ill effects of poaching and the illegal wildlife trade aren’t contained in a handful of people in a handful of countries. Nope, they affect EVERY ONE OF US, everywhere.

It has been proven many times over that the funding from poaching is funnelled into any number of criminal organisations and actions, from illegal drug trafficking, human and wildlife trafficking, and terrorism groups (Boko Haram, anyone?). And still, billions of people are sitting back and doing nothing about it.

Here’s what I want to know. People were more than willing to dump a bucket of ice over their head, pledge money to a cause that only affects a very small proportion of the population (and no, I am not diminishing this cause or the disease, but I am playing devil’s advocate for a moment, for perspective and for argument’s sake), and pass it on to a bunch of other people, who happily did the same. And on and on and on. The ice bucket challenge raised millions of dollars to help what is actually a minuscule proportion of the population.

Rhino poaching, on the other hand, affects BILLIONS of people. It affects – whether directly or indirectly – every human on this planet. So why the different response? Why the lack of participation? Is it because the face of it isn’t a human’s? Do we just not care so much when it’s another species in the animal kingdom? Or is it the belief that it’s not in my back yard, so it isn’t my problem? Well, if nothing else, this post should have opened any reader’s eyes to the fact that it IS in your backyard. It’s in everyone’s backyard.

Forget the millions of people in Africa who will suffer because the tourism industry will suffer a massive blow from the extinction of the rhino. Not to mention the imminent demise of other iconic species like and the lion and the elephant – we’re getting awfully close, people – the population of elephants decreased 30% in the last 7 years alone. Then there are the smaller, lesser-known species – pangolins come to mind – that suffer as a result of the inefficiencies, loopholes and lack of sufficient attention directed at this problem. The cracks are wide and deep, and we aren’t doing enough to seal them up and prevent further cracks from appearing.

Who wants to see the Big 4? Or, and what is becoming highly likely, the Big 2? If poaching continues, it won’t just be biodiversity and habit that will be affected adversely. Poaching affects animals AND people, and on a massive scale. Economies will suffer on the African continent, which will obviously not just cause suffering for the people who work in the tourism industry; entire countries overall will bear the brunt. And let’s not forget the fact that people are also dying in myriad ways as a result of this trade, whether directly – as rangers fighting against poachers or as poachers being killed in action – or indirectly – as victims of terrorist attacks, corrupt regimes, and genocide.

It has been well proven that drug trafficking, human and wildlife trafficking, and terrorist groups receive funding by poaching and the illegal wildlife trade syndicates behind it. MILLIONS UPON MILLIONS OF DOLLARS from the death of wildlife go into the hands of violent militant groups and drug cartels around the world!

So are you paying attention now? Are you perhaps now considering that it’s time to do something about this?

I work in conservation in South Africa. I see this stuff first hand. And it has two contradictory effects on me. One effect is to hate the human race, feeling nothing but disgust for anyone who can do what these people do to another living creature.

The other is to treasure that same human race because I see the people on the ground working their tails off to save these and so many other creatures. They aren’t just saving a bunch of big grey tonnes of mammal with a few pointy parts on their face. They are saving economies, people’s livelihoods, biodiversity…the list goes on and on. People are risking their lives EVERY SINGLE DAY, putting themselves in the literal line of fire to not just keep these animals alive, but to combat the trade across the board. And they are doing so with limited support and even more limited resources. And you can help them! Yes, YOU!

Everyone everywhere in the world can help to fight the poaching problem. There are plenty of honest and trustworthy organisations that are channelling the money they receive into rhino (and ultimately wildlife) conservation, community outreach and betterment programmes, as well as for education campaigns for the cultures who are selling and buying the horn. WildAID is a perfect example.

The MyPlanet Rhino Fund is another example. They are affiliated with the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), which is a highly reputable organisation in the conservation industry (and in indeed any industry). You can donate directly or, if you are South African, you can get yourself a MyPlanet card, designate the MyPlanet Rhino Fund as your beneficiary, and voila! It costs nothing to sign up for the card and you pay nothing to have it. But a percentage of every Rand you spend gets put into a fund that is allocated to worthy rhino poaching initiatives. I speak from experience with these guys. I’ve been in meetings with them when they decide where the funding is going. And it DOES go to the causes, not the pockets.

But it isn’t just about donating money. It’s about donating your time and using your actual voice. Volunteer for an organisation like the World Wildlife Fund, or the Nature Conservancy. Hold your own fundraisers at schools, offices, whatever. Walk the walk. Petition your government to get involved. And, for the love of all that is good in this world, don’t buy products made with rhino horn (or from ivory, or pangolin scales, or bear bile, or lion skins, etc.). The more voices putting pressure on the countries where this is happening, the more those countries have no choice but to take this problem seriously and do something (or many things) significant about it.

Here is one such challenge that can be changed, provided there is enough dissent to force that change. In South Africa, anti-poaching units are not allowed to engage the poachers unless fired upon. Which means that even if these units find poachers, they can’t do much. They can try to arrest the poachers, but obviously, a poacher is not going to rock up, put out their hands and let someone put them in cuffs. They are armed, they are dangerous, and they are there for one purpose – to get the horn – and they will (and do) kill anyone or anything that gets in their way. We need to call upon the South African government to change the rules of engagement. There also need to be stronger and more seriously enforced laws surrounding wildlife crime. Right now those laws are a joke and the likelihood of them being upheld even more of a laugh. The government needs to take environmental crime seriously. They need to step up to the plate and take care of their country’s natural resources, its biodiversity, its economy and its people. But this isn’t just happening in South Africa. All governments everywhere should be taking notice and taking action.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that because you don’t live on the front lines in Africa and Asia that your country isn’t complicit in what’s going on – the US and Europe are among the many places contributing significantly to the decimation of wildlife, through outlets like trophy hunting, illegal trafficking, land clearing, or even traveling to places overseas and visiting petting zoos that cater towards exotics. Petting a lion cub or taking a walk with one is never conservation (check out Blood Lions if you don’t want to believe me). Cuddling a loris on the streets of Southeast Asia does not help wildlife (and certainly not the loris, who’s had his teeth ripped out just for the occasion). These are all examples of scams and greedy practices that bring in money that goes solely into the pockets of the people benefiting from keeping and breeding captive animals, animals that are often stolen from the wild and that will never be released (nor could possibly be safely released, after so much human interaction) into the wild. Ordering shark fin soup is not something you should do, ever. Just don’t.

Know people in Asia? Here’s another avenue to try. By spreading the word that rhino horn, pangolin scales, elephant tusks, tiger/lion penis/bones have NO MEDICINAL VALUE and they are ILLEGAL to buy, you can help educate people in the countries mainly responsible for the demand. And be sure to tell them it’s not cool to buy those products either since a huge part of the market in many countries isn’t actually traditional medicine, but ego and status. Feel free to share a photo of a poached rhino with them, so they can see how their ignorance/greed/’whatever it is compelling them to buy or sell illegal products’ is leading to this disgusting massacre of life.

People keep bringing up legalising trade. Study after study has shown that not only will legalising trade not help, but given the amount of time it will take to change the laws that allow trade, there will be no rhino left if it ever gets legalised. Let’s not forget the ethical side of trade as well. Or the sociological one. Or the environmental one. Farming rhino is not a walk in the park, nor is it good for the environment or the rhino. In fact, the only things it benefits are the owner selling it to the middle man, and the middle man selling it to the buyer.

Rhino must be knocked out with anesthesia every time you want to cut off their horn. Every time. Not only is this not good for the animal in general, continued activity such as dehorning causes behavioural changes, stresses the animal out and leaves it more susceptible to disease. It also means the rhino has no horn to defend itself. That, in turn, can affect the wild populations. Disease can knock out an entire crash of privately owned rhino. And then who will meet the demand? Sorry, folks. We gotta go back to poaching because there’s not enough rhino horn available legally.

As more people can GET rhino, more people WANT rhino. And that’s a whole other black hole. The DEMAND side has to change, whether we legalise it or not. Because we will NEVER be able to keep up with the demand. The elephants are a great example. We never bothered to deal with the demand side. We legalised ivory sales again. And elephant poaching went wildly out of control (and continues to spiral downward at an uncontrollable rate).

Today, I am asking you to start your own challenge. Like with the Ice Bucket Challenge, I ask YOU to spread the word about rhino poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. Get people to get involved in the fight. Take a photo of yourself doing your best rhino impression, tag it with “#SaveOurRhino” and upload it to every social media account you have. And, and this is one of the most important parts, TAG OTHER PEOPLE and ask them to do the same. And then physically get involved.

Combatting illegal wildlife trafficking is going to take the help of people all over the world. You aren’t just saving an amazing animal (and by default, if we curb poaching, we are in fact saving MANY species of animals). You are saving millions of people’s jobs and the economies of entire countries; you are fighting terrorism and the illegal drug/human/wildlife trafficking trade; you are doing your part to sustain the planet and its incredible biodiversity. If there isn’t a worthier cause than that, I’d love to know what it is.

Please help. Share this post. Get involved. DO SOMETHING!

Video: Critically Endangered Black Rhino Calf Hit the Ground Running Hoedspruit’s young orphan rhino, Gertjie

I know many people have never had the fortune to see these animals in the flesh, except for maybe in a zoo (and speaking from experience, I can tell you it isn’t the same thing as seeing them in the wild). But if you’ve never seen a baby rhino, please watch the video above. It will melt your heart. And maybe it will further convince you to get involved.

While I am using a happy video rather than a brutal and violent poaching one, I’m doing so for no one’s benefit but my own. I’m tired of seeing massacred rhino, so for my own sake, I want to share something positive. But I am not promising anything for the future. I do believe that if you shield your eyes from the truth, you’ll never acknowledge it. So be warned that an ugly, heartbreaking one will likely surface at some point if that’s what it takes to get people to get off their butts and actively involved in fighting this war on wildlife (and on ourselves).

That’s today’s buzz from the bush.

All rights reserved. ©2015 Jennifer Vitanzo

Categories: Africa, Animal, Big 5, Conservation, Education, legislation, Lion, nature, poaching, Rhino, South Africa, trophy hunting, United States, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

South African Adventure #64 – King of the Jungle (but Maybe Not for Much Longer) and Another Jane Goodall Lesson (Treasure This Earth)

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Panthera leo. The king of the jungle. The lion.

The lion is considered by many to be the quintessential animal of Africa, a creature both elegant and dignified, gracing much of the iconography of the continent. To lose the lion is, in many ways, to lose the face of a continent.

Not very long ago, lion populations topped 200,000. Now there are reports that state their numbers are well below 30,000. Sure, 30,000 seems like a big number, right? Now think of this. There are over 7,000,000,000 people in the world. 7,000,000,000. Suddenly 30,000 doesn’t look like such a big number anymore.

Of course, lions don’t only live in Africa. There are lions in Asia as well. But not many. The Asian populations are doing even worse than their African cousins. And while everyone shouts about rhinos and elephants (and by all means, please keep shouting – those animals need as much help as they can get!), the lion is quietly disappearing right under our noses. As with so many other issues with our planet, we are not living up to one of Jane’s life lessons: we are not treasuring our earth. We are failing it and ourselves.

Last month’s debacle over the illegal hunting of #Cecil in #Zimbabwe brought the plight of the lion (and the controversial topic of #trophyhunting) to the forefront. And I’m glad it did, not just because I’m not a fan of trophy hunting, but because I think it’s about time people start talking about what’s going on in Africa, and how it isn’t just Africans but also the rest of the world affecting this amazing continent. It’s about time we realise that as a global community we are not treasuring our earth. And we are collectively letting it down.

I grew up in the US, a child of consumerism and the constant flow of opportunity, excess and – I hate to admit it – ignorance. I was pretty clueless about the ways of the world outside the boundaries of my fine country. Well, let’s be honest, I was pretty clueless about what went on WITHIN my birth country’s boundaries too. But I was always an avid reader, and I did my best to fill my brain with information from National Geographic, newspapers and whatever else I could get my hands on. I did my best to learn, to inform, to debate, to question and to gather nuggets faster than a starving chipmunk in a drought. Then the internet arrived and it was like the heavens opened up and dropped Christmas on me 24-7.

So.Much.Information!!!!

But here’s the rub. The more I knew, the more I wanted to learn. And when it came to conservation, I learned quickly that there was no easy answer when it came to preserving our wildlife and wild places. For whatever reason, we drew a line in the sand: humans on one side, all other species on the other. Hunting was a huge player in that divide.

Sadly (and perhaps ironically), though hunting was a main reason for the decline in many species of wildlife, it was also partly what brought these same species back. In some cases, it was because of hunters that land was set aside for conservation, so they could replenish stocks of animals and then kill them again – I know, odd logic, if you can call it logic at all, but that happened, nonetheless. As a result, conservation and trophy hunting became bedfellows, no matter how strange, contradictory and convoluted it may seem.

People spend a lot of money to hunt wildlife. I don’t agree with it, and to be honest, I find it appalling and neanderthal that in this day and age people still think it’s okay to shoot something for fun. In fact, why it was EVER acceptable blows my mind. But those are my personal sentiments. From a purely economic standpoint, trophy hunting brings in money, even if not a lot of it goes to the areas the industry says it goes to. It is still money that the armchair activists of the world are NOT bringing in.

I want to note that from what I’ve read, it would appear the trophy hunting industry certainly exaggerates how MUCH they are actually contributing to conservation and communities (see article “Economics of Trophy Hunting in Africa are Overrated and Overstated”), so the trophy hunting industry should perhaps stop patting itself so heavily on the back…

Anyway, while tourism of the non-hunting side still brings in significantly more money than trophy hunting (and, again, it is estimated that significantly more of the eco-tourism money actually reaches the local communities and conservation efforts), the two are still partners in crime in the battle to save wildlife. I may not agree with trophy hunting, but at the moment, until something better comes along, it is what it is. Money is king worldwide. If wildlife doesn’t have a price on it, many people don’t care about it. A fact I despise and am always trying to change but acknowledge, nonetheless.

The other thing is that a lot of hunting concessions are on pieces of land that wouldn’t be appropriate for photographic tourism, though they may be fine for wildlife to live on. In some cases hunting concessions provide buffer zones to national parks, which also helps to keep poachers away. Of course, that isn’t to say that poaching doesn’t continue to happen and that there aren’t trophy hunters who are actually guilty of poaching themselves, or of corrupting the system. In fact, that’s more of a reason to turn the spotlight on the industry now, as from what I’ve read, Palmer’s hunt was indeed illegal – it is illegal to lure an animal off a property, and Palmer’s hunting party did not have the proper permits in place to hunt a lion in the first place: all roads point to poaching. And there are documented accounts of people who’ve somehow been allowed to hunt more wildlife than they were legally permitted to hunt. Or where a single hunting permit somehow turned into 14 permits.

However, too often the hunting community immediately goes on the defensive as soon as people get up in arms about trophy hunting, thus obfuscating the reality that the industry needs a clean sweep. There are MANY issues with the hunting industry, and corruption within it, that need to be addressed – issuing illegal permits, hunting where hunting isn’t allowed, using illegal means and methods to hunt, etc. The hunting community also constantly rolls out the tired story that they are the ultimate conservationists, and if it weren’t for them, there wouldn’t be any animals. While that’s not entirely true, it’s not entirely false either. Though, honestly, how can anyone be expected to believe that anyone who hunts animals (particularly critically endangered ones) for sport is truly a conservationist? Sorry, trophy hunters, you’ll never convince me of that. But hey, if they want to keep large swaths of wildlife alive so that they can then shoot a few of them, at least they are putting their money where their mouths are. I am pretty fed up with animal activists and conservation-minded people complaining about the problems and then doing ZERO to change the situation. Posting about it on Facebook is not going to change the world. You have to actively get off your butt to effect change.

But back to trophy hunting. Trophy hunting is about ego, hence the name. Trophy hunters are doing it for a trophy. And even though I hear over and over that trophy hunters only take animals beyond their prime or that are sick/injured beyond repair, we’ve all seen the smug photos posted on the internet. These are not pitiful specimens on their last legs that these hunters are posing next to. They are beautiful specimens. They are creatures at the top of their game. Look at the professional hunting clubs. There are competitions to see who can bag the biggest and the best, not the sickliest and the most malnourished one about to keel over. In the wild, animals kill the weak and the young. Humans kill the strongest and the best. For sport. So let’s stop trying to wrap it up all pretty and pretend trophy hunting is anything but about getting a trophy, and the best one at that.

Whether or not I agree with or like trophy hunting isn’t the point, though.  What IS the point is that right now, trophy hunting is one of the ways that reserves (private and otherwise) bring in money. If a reserve has an excess of buffalo (which is not a threatened species and which is regularly consumed, at least in South Africa) and there is a trophy hunter willing to pay huge dollars/pounds/whatevs to hunt that animal, what do you think a reserve should do? If they let the animal just die, they lose out on much-needed revenue (revenue that keeps that reserve in business and, therefore, maintains a home for all the other animals on it). Or they allow a trophy hunter to hunt the animal and thus help defray the outrageous costs of running and maintaining a reserve. A reserve that ensures that wildlife and wild places thrive overall. It’s economics. Not only that, the wildlife needs a home. The reserves are the vehicle keeping many of these populations in existence. What do you do? People seem to expect these reserves and parks to run on good intentions alone. They also seem to think that ALL land in Africa is ideal for eco-tourism and photographic adventures. If only.

The fact is, there are too many people who consume too much and who are habitually encroaching upon wildlife populations in one way or another. People are greedy. We seem to have a global collective entitlement attitude that posits that every other animal on this planet exists for our fun, enjoyment, consumption. We’ve taken it upon ourselves to decimate populations, take away habitat and corral whatever we can round up into reserves. Then we have to ‘manage’ those populations, lest they trample or eat a villager’s crops (or a villager him/herself). Park staff have to shoot animals that have become “problem animals,” or when there are too many to control. We put animals in giant pens and then we regulate their numbers when we run out of room for them. This is how it is. And this is where trophy hunting fits in, for better or for worse.

On another note, I may have an ethical issue with trophy hunting, but I have no issue with hunting for food, provided there is a properly regulated system and the animal is not a threatened species. I eat meat. Not a lot of it, but I do eat it. I wear leather shoes. I am fully aware that the way a lot of wildlife is killed on a reserve is often significantly more humane than the treatment of the pigs, cattle and chickens Americans (and people all over the world) consume on a daily basis. And yet where is the outrage over that? The lion’s life is not more important than the pig’s.

But the death of this lion IS important, as it might be the trigger we need to open up a discussion, change policies and rethink how we see and interact with the other members of the animal kingdom. It might change how we manage land and our own populations.

There is a saying that states “If it pays, it stays,” and I hear people attribute that to animals and wildlife management all too often. But you know what? There are MANY people on this planet who do not ‘pay to stay.’ And we aren’t running around shooting them, are we? No. So why do we think that only wildlife has to pay rent while humans live rent-free, multiplying faster than rabbits, flagrantly wasting resources, destroying land and killing the rest of the animal kingdom for fun? And all of this is done not just at the expense of the rest of the animal kingdom, but often at the expense of other humans as well.

And by the way, what makes us think that wildlife doesn’t ‘pay’? The rest of the animal kingdom did a bang-up job of keeping this world in balance and functioning in tip-top shape. Then humans came along. Now look at it. No other species but our own has caused the extinction of another species. And not just one, but hundreds (maybe more, considering there are probably species we wiped out that we didn’t even know existed in the first place).

Here’s another fact – while there are trophy hunters from countries in Africa, it isn’t Africans who make up a big piece of the trophy hunting pie. It’s Americans. And Russians. And Europeans. And plenty of people from plenty of other countries not found on the continent of Africa. So while people around the world sit in the comfort of their home and type their loathing and outrage for trophy hunters and trophy hunting, their neighbours are out shooting the animals. And sadly it is the people who shout their outrage without knowing the full story that are doing more damage than the people pulling the trigger. Because right now, as stupid as it sounds, African wildlife needs trophy hunting. I wish that weren’t the case, but until people start doing and not just saying, it will remain that way.

Look, I would like nothing better than the end of trophy hunting. However, until we all learn to treasure our earth – start valuing wildlife for wildlife’s sake, start demanding that we put into place efforts (conservation and agricultural and population ones) that don’t kill wildlife (AND then donate a whole lotta money to those efforts) – that ain’t gonna happen. Many people would rather shell out hundreds of dollars for a brand new iPhone every year than donate that money to conservation. Or have smaller families. Or consume less. The sad truth is, many people would rather overconsume at the expense of wildlife than give up their unnecessary materialism. And every year, when they toss out that ‘old’ iPhone or no-longer-in-style pair of $300 jeans, where does their waste end up? In landfills. Which keep expanding. And which take MORE land away from wildlife. Think about that the next time you buy something.

I agree with the airlines who banned the shipment of specific animal trophies. I wish they would extend the ban to the shipment of ALL animals, Big 5 or otherwise (c’mon, guys – the pangolins could use a massive hand!!!). But I don’t agree with the ban because of how I feel about trophy hunting. I agree with it because until we can better police our borders, root out corruption, enforce our laws and effectively prosecute poachers and illegal wildlife syndicates, airlines are just another easy way for these criminals to get their goods out of the country and across borders. If we shut down the shipping of trophies via planes, we help to shut down the transfer of many illegal wildlife products. And THAT is why I am happy about the bans.

I hope that the incident with Cecil is the catalyst necessary to evoke change. I hope it is the driving force that shines a blinding light on corruption within the trophy hunting industry and forces much-needed policy changes and better policing. I hope it shows us that perhaps it’s time we start implementing OTHER ways to raise the much-needed funds to save our wildlife and wild places. I hope it makes people sit up and take notice about how THEIR actions are affecting events on the other side of the world. I hope it is the instigator that propels people into action beyond empty rhetoric.

I want to be optimistic and believe that the tragedy of one lion will open up people’s eyes, start a viable dialogue and usher in much-needed change (and money!). I want to think the world will collectively experience an about-face and we will all finally begin to, as Jane Goodall’s life lesson states, treasure this earth and all of its creatures.

But I have a sinking feeling that in a few weeks people will have forgotten all about Cecil, Walter Palmer, trophy hunting and the issues facing wildlife worldwide. It’s already starting to happen. It’s already getting swept under the rug. And that makes me fear for the future of not just Africa’s iconic species, but of ALL species on this planet.

On another note, I’ve been told that I should get off my soapbox about this stuff, that I shouldn’t say it like it is, and that I should ‘soften’ my approach because that no one wants to feel bad about their actions, even if those actions are wrong. Here’s what I think about that: reality bites (to steal a title from a 1990s film). The truth is the truth, even if we don’t want to hear it (hey, I know I’d often like to hide from it myself). If we all chose to ignore the evil or hush it up, we are the just as complicit in the evil-doing as the people doing the evil. If we continue to soften stuff until it becomes palatable, then we forget the horror of what it is. And then it starts to matter less. And then we start to care less.

People can feel however they want about what I have to say; it’s their choice how they react or whether they choose to read what I write. But whether someone’s going to like the truth or not is not going to keep me from telling it.

My thing is, we can either face reality and deal with it, or we can ignore it and continue to let a lot of bad things happen. The choice of what we decide to do is ours. I’m not okay with sitting back and pretending something doesn’t exist just because that’s the easier thing to do. After all…

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. – Edmund Burke

Or, as the eloquent and brilliant Lucille Ball says:

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

So, here’s to our lions, those magnificent creatures that will hopefully roam this earth long after I am gone. I hope I always have the truly special opportunity to shoo them from my doorstep. And here’s to all the other species out there, including the humans. Here’s hoping that we humans finally wake up, rise up and work together to fix the mess we’ve made of our beautiful planet. And that’s today’s #buzzfromthebush

 All rights reserved. ©2015 Jennifer Vitanzo

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Lion, trophy hunting | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jane Goodall-ism and South African lesson for today: enter Santiago

mantid photo shoot

mantid photo shoot

In keeping with 15 Life Lessons of Jane Goodall, here’s another nugget of wisdom Dr Goodall drops on us, and one that is very relevant in my current situation – there are many teachers in life. My latest teacher has six legs and thousands of eyes. And his name is Santiago.

I love animals, but I can’t really have any pets in the bush. And to be honest, the longer I work with animals, the less I feel okay about having pets in general. However, I inadvertently became the ‘mom’ of a praying mantis several months ago when a stowaway nymph (baby mantid) came into my home tucked away on a flower. He was so small and well camouflaged, I didn’t even discover him for a whole week.

Not knowing where the flower came from, I had no idea where the mantid came from either, so I decided to keep the little guy. This was a very big step for me, as I have never been a fan of insects. Nor had I a clue how to raise one. Things did not look promising for the teeny invertebrate.

As a little girl, I spent a lot of time outside. But I was always told to NOT dig in the dirt, to NOT play with bugs. Bugs were dirty and gross.

And then I saw nature documentaries with really awful bugs that did really awful things to people. These bugs (which I later understood were actually parasites) were pretty much my worst nightmare.

So I stayed away from the insect world.

Then I spent a few months in Costa Rica as a university student. And I saw some REALLY big bugs. ‘Size of my hand’ big. Every morning I had to shake out my shoes, lest I put my foot into a dark, cosy space that had become home to a scorpion or tarantula overnight. Every evening I battled it out with my biggest nemesis, the mosquito. But having people around me who appreciated bugs (okay, not the mosquitoes – I’ve YET to meet anyone who appreciates mozzies) made me more tolerant. Also, being in such a wild place sort of weened me off of bug-free living. It was my initiation into what was to come many years later on the other side of the world.

Enter Africa. The insects here are not just plentiful in number. They are also plentiful EVERYWHERE. My initial reaction was to gently usher them out of my clothes, bags, shoes, house, wherever they might be congregating, and back into open spaces where we’d be less likely to conflict. I was happy to let them live, but I drew the line at having them share my space like miniature roommates.

However, when you live in the bush, you simply cannot avoid them getting into your stuff. So you can either learn to live with them, you can learn to live with them AND appreciate them, or you can be miserable. I chose the middle option, mostly because when I finally stopped and watched insects, I was hooked. They are fascinating, so completely alien to us (green blood, funky eyes, lots of legs, and all that), they could hold my attention for hours at a time. That in itself is impressive.

You know when people talk about watching grass grow? Watching insects is not like that (except in the case of watching a cocoon, since nothing happens there for a long time). Insects are alert. They are a whirring world of activity: little bulldozer spiders clearing out dens, little ant armies marching in formation, little artistic dung beetles rolling the most perfect ball of poo imaginable.

(I guess I should note that technically a spider is not an insect. While it IS an invertebrate, just like other insects, it falls into a different group called the arachnids. Scorpions are also part of that group. But for the purposes of this blog, all the creepy crawly invertebrates get lumped together as bugs.)

mantid and his grape

Santiago and dessert

And then there are the mantids.

Praying mantises get their names from their habit of sitting with their front arms folded, almost like they are in prayer. These ambush predators can sit still for hours, and the extreme patience with which they stalk their prey makes a person who DOES watch grass grow seem impatient.

When my little mantid arrived, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. Mantids eat live prey. Where was I going to get food? Believe it or not, my home does not teem with bugs, even though there are plenty outside of it. I would have to learn to wrangle crickets, flies and grasshoppers and lure them to their unpleasant death at the hands of my tiny ninja. So I was not only living with a bug, I also had to catch MORE bugs to feed him.

Praying mantises are also in the same family as cockroaches. So you KNOW I would have to have a serious change of heart about insects to be happily sharing my home with a roach’s cousin. It did not sound like a good plan. But I was up for the challenge; I was ready to start a new chapter of growth in my life – learning to love a bug.

Plus, I have to admit I felt an immense amount of guilt over displacing him. How could I not take care of him?

I shouldn’t have worried. He grew on me very quickly.

It was hard NOT to like him, honestly. He was so entertaining. When he was a baby, he hopped around on my hand, his little legs tickling like weightless feathers dancing over my skin. His little head would swivel around and watch the world, snapping to lock eyes on me whenever he heard my voice.

When I took him outside, he would get as low as possible on my hand and nuzzle his little face in my palm. And when I put him in the grass, he would freeze and look up at me, waiting for me to put my hand back to within bolting distance, and as soon as it was close enough, he’d come scurrying back into my palm. It was adorable.

It’s amazing, seven months later, how attached I have become to the mantid we eventually named Santiago (for no other reason than we liked the name). He sits on my computer when I work. At night he sleeps on the curtain in my room.

These days he only eats from my hand and is quite the discerning gourmand. He no longer hunts, refuses bugs, and instead insists on fish, chicken or some type of fruit. I worry if he hasn’t eaten in a while. And I make sure he doesn’t get too far out of my reach (because if I can’t get to him to feed him now, he will likely starve). And I have to make sure none of the other predators (birds, spiders, lizards) get to him, especially the female mantid that lives in the bush just outside my door. I’ve caught her checking him out now and again, and she has been informed that my ‘child’ is off limits; no eating him. She keeps her distance, but on occasion she does pop up on the window to say hello. He freaks out, rears up on his back legs, opens up his wings (the ONLY time I’ve even seen his wings since they sprouted, fyi) and puts on his best threat display. She is not phased in the slightest. He looks ridiculous, but he thinks he is protecting his family, so he gets points for trying.

mantises eyeing each other up

I hope that one day Santiago becomes a household name, an ambassador for the smaller, less attractive members of the animal kingdom that often get overlooked or demonised because they are so foreign to humans. A beacon for the creatures that aren’t traditionally cute and cuddly. (Santiago does NOT like to cuddle, fyi. You wouldn’t either if cuddling reminded you of being caught and eaten…)

So in going back to Jane’s life lesson, Santiago has shown me that teachers come in all shapes and sizes. And they don’t always teach you the lessons you think they will teach you. With Santiago, I have learned not just about bugs (particularly how to care for a mantid), but about my ability to see everything as valuable in the world. I have been reminded that we all must be more tolerant of what is so vastly different from ourselves. I have also been reminded that beauty is a feeling, not a face. And even the smallest, most unlikely bits in this world can steal your heart and make a lasting and profound impact in your life. And that’s today’s #buzzfromthebush.

#vivasantiago #onlyinafrica

Here are some choice shots of the little guy doing what he does, which is mostly preening, eating, and pretending to be a mantid model.

 

All rights reserved. ©2014-2015 Jennifer Vitanzo

Categories: Africa, Animal, Conservation, Education, praying mantis, South Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Practicing Compassion, Even When You Want to Slap Someone Silly

monkeysinaction18
Life, while fascinating and different every day, is never easy. So, in light of a recent post about one of my heroes (the inimitable Jane Goodall), I just couldn’t resist sharing some of her words of wisdom with you. I’m going to do a series of posts, one for each of the 15 life lessons she speaks of in the link I’ve provided near the bottom of this post. I’m going to start with practicing compassion, as that is one of the lessons that stands out the most to me.

I find myself questioning my level of compassion often, which some people may find odd, considering how much I love wildlife. Yes, I am clearly compassionate about wildlife, but often I’m not as compassionate about humans, and that doesn’t make much sense since we are ALL wildlife. And while I certainly feel empathy for many people, I think that because I am a human and I understand what it is to be a human (or at least I’m pretty sure I do, though some days I’m not positive I have it right), I am less tolerant of the things we humans do to ourselves, each other, and the world around us. We always have a choice to make good decisions, and when I see people choosing poorly, I find myself losing compassion. And that’s not necessarily fair of me, as I’m not the judge, jury, and executioner here. But I also realise that I am human and fallible, and even people like Gandhi and Mother Theresa had their detractors and deficiencies.

I don’t expect myself to be perfect, and I don’t expect others to be either. But I do expect us all to be decent to one another and to our home, the planet. Some days I wonder if that’s too much to ask.

At any rate, living in the bush has tested my compassion for people on a huge scale. One woman I worked with stole compulsively, using as her excuse the reasoning that her employer didn’t pay her enough, so she was entitled. While I agree she was paid poorly, I certainly didn’t agree with her stealing OR her reasoning for it. Entitlement is a scary thing. It blinds us to what’s real and what’s a dream. And feeling you are entitled to anything is a lot like living in a dream. Having self-esteem and believing in yourself is fine. Feeling like the world owes you? Not so much.

I’ve also watched an assortment of wealthy people pass through the camps, some of whom walked around like they lived on a permanently forward-moving pedestal, looking down their noses at everyone and everything else around them. They thought the world existed to serve them. And I had to wonder what they were doing in the bush, some of them training to be customer service agents (which is in many ways what a field guide does) for others.

I’ve seen guests who won’t even make eye contact with people of a different colour. And I’ve seen employees do the same to each other. While there are some cultural differences there (in some tribes it is actually considered rude to look someone in the eye), 90% of the interactions I saw were flagrant examples of people purposefully turning their backs on others.

I’ve seen people who are paid to protect wildlife go out and poach it. And I’ve seen people who say they are conservationists go out and shoot endangered species (all under the auspices of a ‘legal permit to hunt’).

Often I am confused, which isn’t surprising since humans are such complex creatures. But it doesn’t make me any less frustrated by the situation. So every day I have to remind myself to practice compassion. Compassion because there is a man who has to run home because his daughters have been left alone and he is petrified that they will be raped. Compassion because there is the woman who works 14-hour shifts on the reserve doing hard labour and still manages to get home to raise chickens so that she and her family have enough food. Compassion because there is a man who sneaks over barbed-wire electrified fences, walks 12 kilometres in the middle of the night through a reserve stocked with lion, leopard and hyena, to see his girlfriend, because the reserve does not allow anyone who doesn’t work there to enter the property (which is an understandable rule, given the poaching problem). Compassion because there are rangers who spend their days and nights taking care of the orphaned baby rhinos whose mothers have been poached and who can’t survive on their own. I have to have compassion because if I didn’t, I would not be able to continue doing the work that I do. I would lose heart and hope. And then what would be the reason to be alive?

Anyway, here’s the link to the list. Don’t say I never gave you anything 🙂 Oh, and because I haven’t included a song in a while (and practicing compassion definitely deserves a song), here’s an oldie but a goodie. And that’s today’s #buzzfromthebush.

 

All rights reserved. ©2015 Jennifer Vitanzo

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Jane Goodall, Life Lessons, South Africa, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why I came to Africa – It all comes back to one of my heroes

a fly on the wall

a fly on the wall

We cannot live through a single day without making an impact on the world around us — and we have a choice as to what sort of difference we make… Children are motivated when they can see the positive results their hard work can have.  – Jane Goodall

When I was a little girl, I was fascinated by Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. At the time, the show was only on on Sunday nights, so if you missed it, you missed out. There was no DVR, and episodes weren’t replayed twelve times a week. You were basically just SOL (shit outta luck). I would plan my days to make sure I didn’t miss an episode, and I was broken up if I did (especially if the episode was about animals I loved most, like sharks, apes, big cats, or elephants).

What I recall most vividly about those documentaries were two things: 1. they were so much less sensationalised (nay, they weren’t even REMOTELY sensationalised) than much of the crap that Nat Geo and Discovery air now – Shark Week, for example, has devolved into a joke, much to my dismay; and 2. there were women involved who were doing things other than painting their nails and shopping. They were tromping through mud and swamps and desert, bundu bashing, 4-x4ing their way around remote locales and hidden paradises. They were living in and among the natural world, connected to something I felt so separated from in my little NJ home by the sea.

My little heart yearned to join these women, to step away from what everyone thought was my pre-determined life, to flee the shackles of what was expected of me. My body ached with the desire to breathe the air at the top of Kilimanjaro, or to swim with whale sharks in Madagascar, or to stealthily slip through the dense brush as I searched for some new species, or to climb the steep ravines and hillside tracking gorillas in the mist like Dian Fossey. I wanted out. And I wanted outside.

I met Jane Goodall through those documentaries, and she changed my life.

Now, the reality is, I’ve never ACTUALLY met Jane Goodall. I would love to meet her one day, but I haven’t yet. I HAVE read so much of her work, and I’ve learned tremendous amounts about animal behaviour from her. But more importantly, I learned that I, as a female, could go hang out in the bush with the animals and IT WAS OKAY. Not only was it okay, it was awesome!

Thanks, Jane, for inspiring me to toss behind my life in America and drop myself into the colourful madness of South Africa, with nary a job in sight, doing the kinds of things I wanted to be doing. But it all worked out in the end.

I’d like to think everyone in this world has their own Jane to push them, to remind them to live out their dreams, to inspire them to care about more than just themselves. I hope that maybe I am a Jane to some people, that I’ve done something or been someone who has inspired others to live their best life. One can only hope.

I doubt I will ever achieve even an iota of what this remarkable woman has achieved. But that will never stop me from trying.

Thanks, Jane. Though we may never meet, know that you have touched another life profoundly. By the way, how cool is this book? Me…Jane

And that’s today’s #buzzfromthebush.monkeys at play

 

All rights reserved. ©2015 Jennifer Vitanzo

Categories: Africa, American, Bush, Conservation, Education, Expat, nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

My South African Adventure: Continuing On My Soapbox to Appreciate All Things…

Who said hyena are ugly?

a little chocolate drop of cuteness

Hyenas Are Fascinating, Not Disgusting

I saw this article and it made me think of my recent post about how we love supporting the cute, cuddly, and/or vegetarian creatures. But everything else?  Nope. Does it fit our perception of what is considered “pretty”? No? Kill it. Wait! What??? How would you feel if someone said that about you? What if you were a fugly baby and your parents looked at you and said, “Oh well, let’s try again,” and then threw you out the window? Every creature – big or small, cute or fugly – is important.

Hence why this article made my smile. I love hyenas. I think they are fascinating for a number of reasons, not least of all because they are one of the few species where the female is the dominant figure in the clan (yup, a group of hyena is called a clan). The sexes are incredibly difficult to tell apart, the female is often bigger than the male, and they all make the most astounding vocalisations.

Yes, hyena really do giggle. I’m convinced that the sounds used when the bad gremlins were hatching in the movie Gremlins were actually hyenas. And if so, it’s yet another example of people misunderstanding these incredibly intelligent animals. I feel a need to help change this negative perception. I also have to admit, two of my most treasured memories of Africa include episodes with hyenas (one where a male came up to my fiancé and I and drank from the bathtub in front of us, and another, where a mother and her two cubs slept on my front lawn like domestic dogs and let us sit with them for a good hour).

Hyenas are not dogs and they are not cats. Though their behaviour is more in line with canines, they’re actually more closely related to felines. However, they are actually their own little family (Hyaenidae).

I’ve checked this out in a few different places, and it appears that no one can make up their mind as to how many species of hyena there are. I’ll go with there being four species of hyena – spotted, brown and striped and, of course, the family misfit – the aardwolf. And the aardwolf – threatening as it may sound – is insectivorous, pretty much living on termites. A little bit of a letdown there. With the exception of the aardwolf, whoever named the different species of hyena suffered from a severe lack of creativity. And even their Latin names are boring. Crocuta crocuta? Hyaena hyaena? Really?? At least the brown hyena and the aardwolf got a little more variety, Parahyaena brunnea and Proteles crostata, respectively. I wonder if they might get more love if we renamed them. The Golden Spotted Hyena? The Mahogany Hyena? The Zebra Hyena? Sounds much nicer than plain old spotted, brown and striped. Anyway…

So, one of my beefs with the bad rap hyenas get has to do with lions. Everyone praises the lion. The incorrect perception is that lions are the mighty hunters while hyenas do nothing but steal everyone else’s food. Yet as far as scavengers go, lions scavenge much more than hyenas. In fact, spotted hyenas in particular are actually quite good at hunting and catching their own prey. It’s often the lions who come in and take the hyenas’ food, not the other way around.

Anyway, enough of my rambling. Here are some good sites if you want to learn a bit more about these fascinating, misunderstood creatures. After all, better to come from the experts than some girl from New Jersey…

Oh, and they spell hyena like so in South Africa: hyaena. Eish, somebody needs to start a petition to make all spellings of English words consistent.

African Wildlife Foundation

Hyaenidae

Okay, I’m not sure about the expertise of this last link, but I still think it’s a good read: Another Land

And my hyena anthem would have to be: Beautiful, by Christina Aguilera, because honestly, words can’t bring you down, little hyena. Rise above!

 

Creature of the night

Creature of the night

 

All rights reserved. ©2014 Jennifer Vitanzo

Categories: Africa, Animal, Bush, Conservation, Education, nature, South Africa, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The ‘Truth’ About Hunting, in South Africa and Elsewhere

Okay, I imagine everyone reading this also saw some mention of the American hunter (or huntress, as one commenter wrote, though that seems a little too Xena, Warrior Princess to me…) posed over the lion she shot in South Africa, which was undoubtedly followed by thousands of vitriolic comments you may have read that ranged from simply banning her from entering an entire country to wanting the woman’s head on a platter. This all because she did something that is, unfortunately, COMPLETELY LEGAL and then had the (some say) audacity to flaunt her prize. And, if I’ve read a lot of the comments correctly, because she happens to be a woman, it is apparently an even worse crime. ??? Bear with me here as I tackle all of this. I’m still trying to make sense of it all.

Here’s the rub about the whole situation – she didn’t actually do anything wrong, according to the law.  And now anyone named ‘Melissa Bachman’, or any variation of that name, must hire armed guards and prove to the ravenous mobs of angry (and in a lot of cases misinformed or, worse, uninformed) posters that they are not, in fact, the ‘guilty party’ (who again, I must reiterate, is guilty of nothing but being a pompous ass with a large ego and misdirected sense of self).

Now I do not agree with trophy hunting. And I REALLY don’t agree with canned hunting, which, if I’m reading all the reports correct, is indeed what this woman’s hunt was. But the fact of the matter is, trophy hunting (even canned trophy hunting, which is conveniently called ‘captive hunting’ now) is legal in South Africa, as it is in many places in the world, including the United States. There are South Africans whose SOLE profession is as a professional hunter (or PH, as they are called here). There is a society dedicated to these people (http://www.phasa.co.za). Hunting is big business here. In fact, according to PHASA’s site, hunting tourists contributed R811 MILLION to the South African economy in 2012 alone. And most of the hunters who pay the money to hunt the game? They come from outside of the country (mostly the US and Europe). Now, whether the money ACTUALLY goes to conservation is another story, but the fact of the matter is, it does make money. And for many people, that’s all that matters.

PHs also hunt the wildlife many of these internet proselytizers so vehemently call for ‘protecting’. Yet it’s one woman people are directing their anger towards, not all these other hunters. This one woman, even if she got REALLY good at hunting, could still never do the amount of damage that South Africa does to itself when it comes to its wildlife. The same can be said of the US, and many other countries around the world. We hunt our own majestic animals, and then we rail against anyone with the nerve to do something we do ourselves. And we are okay keeping the cattle, chickens, and pigs we eat in miserable, miniature pens. Go figure.

I’d like to point out several facts that people should know before they continue on the witch hunt.

1. The same people who call for the ban of hunting are also often the people who want to visit the petting zoos so they can have a chance to cuddle a lion cub.  And then this happens: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/south-africa-lion-park-attack-5805070  And people then want to put all the blame on the lion. Why? Because it wasn’t tame? Because it did what lions do? There are signs all over that park telling visitors to keep their windows closed.

And as for the other lions in these types of places, the little cubs? What do you think happens to those lions when they grow up? You guessed it – they get used for canned hunts that bring in tens of thousands of dollars to the South African economy. So tourists ply money into the country via aggrandized petty zoos filled with adorable fuzzy predator kittens, and then other tourists come and shoot those kittens when they grow up. It’s a pretty sick cycle, but it is a cycle nonetheless, and if you want to hate on the hunting, don’t be the hypocritical idiot who goes to pet the baby lions. I know; I’m one. I had NO IDEA that this stuff happened. Now I do. And I will never do it again, nor will I encourage anyone else to do so. If you think I’m exaggerating, check out this article (http://www.lionaid.org/news/2013/11/the-furore-about-melissa-bachmans-lion-kill-in-south-africa-continues.htm) and spend some time on the LionAid website (www.LionAid.org). Africa Geographic did another article worth a read, if you feel like educating yourself even further (http://blog.africageographic.com/africa-geographic-blog/hunting/how-lions-go-from-the-petting-zoo-to-the-dinner-plate/).

Oh, and this current point goes for the place I used to work at as well, that abomination of an establishment that pretends it practices conservation, all the while abusing the wildlife it pretends to protect. I’m still debating about whether to just out the lodge, to be honest. Especially since now they have baby rhinos that they let guests pet. Yes, pet. You know, rhino? The critically endangered animals about to go extinct because of poaching? Yeah, they ACCLIMATE the animals to people. Makes it easier for a poacher to just walk up to one and shoot it, doesn’t it? Really great CONSERVATION work, isn’t it? Oh, and they charge serious ducats for the ‘privilege’ (with the rhino and with the cheetah) to interact with an animal they keep in captivity forever. But that’s another story for another day…back to the trophy hunting.

2. As I said, while the practice may not be nice, it is legal, and so was she. So instead of aiming your tomatoes (or daggers or abusive language or whatever else you choose to hurl) at her, aim them at the entire industry on the whole, and don’t restrict it to South Africa. If you hate trophy hunting and think it is a despicable practice, then take EVERY PLACE and EVERYONE associated with it to task, not ONE measly woman! She doesn’t deserve that much credit! Get pissed at the game farmers who raise animals to be shot for fun. For food, fine. For fun, not okay.

3. No one is actually doing anything but gossiping, for all intents and purposes. Get off your butts and do something. Instead of ‘Like’-ing a post from someone, create a petition that calls for the banning of trophy hunting. Get a few million people to sign it (if the petition in reaction to this Melissa chick is any indication, I’m sure you could get an actual USEFUL petition signed by even more people). Then get it out there. Contact places like the World Wildlife Fund, CITES, Panthera, and all the other conservation and/or lawmaking groups out there. Petition the governments of the countries. Make a difference, not a snide comment.

4. The conservation industry and the hunting industry are rather uncomfortable bed buddies. For a long time, the two have been intertwined, and many people believe that hunting HELPS conservation because it brings in money for the wildlife industry to pay for stuff like anti-poaching units and animal relocations. This causes serious issues, because people WITHIN conservation believe in trophy hunting as a fine and dandy practice. Not all of them, but some do. Also, it’s still up for debate as to where the funds actually go, but again, another story for another time.

And for a little lesson in conservation: the Kruger Park, one of the most beloved and beautiful places on earth, was STARTED as a hunting concession. The land was delegated as protected area so that game stocks could have a place to replenish. Because of uncontrolled hunting way back when, Paul Kruger and some friends decided that the best way to preserve the wildlife and restock the supplies of game was to set up a protected area for them. That way the animals could reproduce, gain in numbers, and then – drumroll, please – be HUNTED! Kruger, the epitome of conservation? Yup, that same Kruger. I kid you not, dear readers. So if you wonder why this topic is such a challenge, now maybe you’re starting to get a fuller picture of how difficult it is to separate the conservation industry from the hunting one. In the last two centuries, they grew up and developed together, those funny little animal-obsessed industries that they are.

5. From the myriad posts I saw, an awful lot of them were aimed at this woman more because she was a woman than because of what she did. This is something I find very interesting. Why is it that a female hunter is an abomination, but the gazillion male hunters who do this same thing every day don’t face the same vicious backlash? Wtf? Don’t be sexist about it. Choose to be either against something or for it, but don’t be a hypocrite who draws the line based on the machinery ‘down there’.

6. The other thing I noticed is that there was much less furor over other pictures on the internet of people killing other wildlife. Why is it that the lion gets so much attention, but the other animals – who are equally as important in the food chain – do not? Is it simply because the hunter is posed proudly next to her kill? There are plenty of those to be found online. What about people killing foxes in fox hunts, for instance?

Again, we can’t choose to champion one animal while we allow other animals to fall prey to more hunting simply because those other animals aren’t as ‘majestic’. Or we can, but we are once again proving to be hypocritical. And it’s very easy to poke holes in hypocrisy when you’re a lawmaker. Or a hunter. Or a poacher. Or a local desperate to feed his family. Or really anybody. It sort of ruins the foundation of your argument, you know? So by all means, protect lions. But protect hyenas as well, and vultures, and sharks, and…I don’t know…golden moles. You get the point.

7. It’s speculated this Ms. Bachman’s hunt was a captive, or canned, hunt. Canned hunts are perhaps the most shameful kind of hunt imaginable. They require pretty much no skill. I’m going to quote directly from the Born Free website here (www.bornfree.org.uk) to give you a better idea of what they entail: “Canned hunting, the hunting of wild animals in a confined area from which they cannot escape, is not only legal in South Africa, it is flourishing.  Hunters from all over the world, but notably from the United States, Germany, Spain, France and the UK, flock to South Africa in their thousands and send home lion body parts, such as the head and skin, preserved by taxidermists, to show off their supposed prowess.

The animals involved are habituated to human contact, often hand-reared and bottle fed, so are no longer naturally fearful of people. Such animals will approach people expecting to get fed-but instead receive a bullet, or even an arrow from a hunting bow.  This makes it easier for clients to be guaranteed a trophy and thus the industry is lucrative and popular.”

If you want to be nauseated a bit, check out the video of an actual canned hunt, courtesy of The Humane Society:

Another note about this? Lion parts are now being sold off to Asia to fuel the illegal wildlife trade, which then fuels demand, which then fuels poaching, etc. So yet another reason to not support the activity.

8. Many of the lodges here tout animal skins and heads as chic decor (the lion seems a very popular decorating item, in fact). It seems that to qualify as African decor, many a lodge feels the need to display pieces of dead animals all over its property. In fact, I’m sure if you did a little digging, you’d find some of those lodges online, with spectacular glamour shots of their animal-laden interiors. People still go to these places. And in many places, they pay stupid amounts of cash to go them. And that money is very rarely reinvested into the conservation industry (or the local community, for that matter). But you don’t see people ripping apart those lodges, their owners and their interior decorators, do you? You don’t see people boycotting them, or banning them from existence.

9. Most posts I’ve seen neglect the fact that the largest threat to animals overall is us. Not just hunting of the wildlife. Or over-loving it. Nope, it’s a simple numbers game. Our burgeoning and out-of-control population leaves little space for the rest of the animal kingdom to live. But no one seems ready to give up all the comforts they have to alleviate the situation. People just keep buying and wasting and expanding (in more ways than one). So again, I’m all for people getting aggro about this hunting situation and for taking notice of a situation that really is ugly. But unless you actively DO something about it, why bother getting mad? Why bother spending time firing verbal bullets at a woman who was doing what she had every right to do? Why not use the time to make a positive difference that matters? Volunteer, donate money, get off your butt to get laws changed, but for the love of all things wonderful in this world, please educate yourself before you start throwing lightening bolts at the next target. And walk the walk if you’re gonna talk the talk.

Okay, and with that, I’m off my soapbox.  I know I have more points to make, but for now, maybe chew on that cud for a while. There’s a lot to digest, and plenty more where it came from.

Like I said, I don’t agree with trophy hunting. In fact, I don’t agree with hunting at all unless it’s for food, it’s fair game (meaning the animal can actually get away) and it’s legal. But I also don’t agree with this whole circus surrounding a woman who was, for better or for worse, within her rights. So if you have a problem with this practice, forget about the bimbo posing next to her kill. Go to https://www.change.org/petitions/stop-canned-hunting-in-south-africa and sign the petition to ban canned hunting in South Africa. And if you want to expand your banning to other locales, go for it! You can create your own petition on the website. It isn’t everything, but at least it’s a start. And it’s a start in the right direction.

I’d like to include some other links that would be good reading about the topic of mistreating wildlife, but rather than overwhelm you, I’ll focus on one specific post that I thought was quite interesting, given the fact that we seem to pick and choose how we like to interact with our wildlife.

Check out the newest venture of a Hilton Hotel in Hawaii, which is introducing sharks into its dolphin interaction lagoon. Dolphin interactions are also the antithesis of conservation, by the way. They do nothing good for the wildlife and a lot of good for the lining of the pockets of the people who force the wildlife to interact with humans. If this article doesn’t make you sit up and say, “Huh”, I don’t know what will…

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/19/hawaii-hilton-sharks_n_4305392.html?ir=Travel

Categories: Africa, Animal, Big 5, Bush, Conservation, Education, Habituation, legislation, Lion, poaching, rehabilitation, South Africa, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

South Africa – To Be Afraid or to Not Be Afraid

Eland in the Karoo

Antelope mirrors in the Karoo

Recently I was asked what was the bravest thing I’ve ever done. Most people who know me would probably say me moving to South Africa was very brave. To that I would say that are right in some ways, but I don’t think I’d consider it the bravest thing I’ve ever done. However, for anyone who’s ever lifted off the bowlines and set sail, by car, plain, train, boat, horse or foot to a new destination, I’d say they certainly have at least one brave bone (if not an entire skeleton of them) in their body. It takes a lot of guts to change your life so dramatically.

But for me, bravery is about staying strong even when you’re feeling so very small. And this story is about one of those moments.

South Africa, though very cosmopolitan in places, and with most of the modern conveniences first-world countries take for granted, is still very different than those same countries. For one, crime really is bad here. Many South Africans have told me otherwise, but everyone I’ve met here has experienced some sort of crime, whether it was a mugging, car-jacking, house break-in, and in some cases, even gone so far as been a victim of rape and/or some other physically violent crime. The taxi drivers carry guns here, and I’ve been warned more than a dozen times to not honk at them or they might actually shoot me. I’ve been told this by people I trust, and who said it with no hint of irony or humour. They don’t honk at the taxi drivers either.

When I first started driving in South Africa, my fiance told me I must never stop at a stop light or stop sign after dark, and that if I see police lights behind me, to not pull over, but to instead drive to the nearest police station. Certainly didn’t make me feel comfy and cozy driving around, and certainly not something I expected to hear about a place known for its tourism, world-class hotels and restaurants, and reputation as the ‘Rainbow Nation.’

I’ve been told by many South Africans that the US is much more violent than South Africa. I feel the need to set the record straight on that. Yes, the US has plenty of crime. But in terms of levels and percentages, it isn’t even close to that of South Africa. I lived in three major cities – New York, Washington, DC and Los Angeles. In none of those places did I ever have to live in a compound brimming with video surveillance cameras and locked down with fences and metal bars on every possible window, door or small opening. While I did live in what are considered nicer sections of those cities, even the nicest sections of Cape Town and Joburg have considerable crime, both non-violent AND violent. In South Africa, we live in walled compounds surrounded by home security systems and the alarm company not only on speed dial, but offering patrol cars that constantly monitor the streets. My friend’s sister was mugged right outside her house the other day by a kid who wanted her cell phone. It’s not pretty. To be honest, I’d rather take my chances in the bush than in any city in South Africa.  I’ve never met a lion who’d pull a knife on me over a laptop or an iPhone.

But the bush DOES have it’s share of human dangers. In fact, the reserve I worked on up in Limpopo had apparently seen a few murders committed by the two-legged primate known as man. I’d go so far as to say the most dangerous places in the world are the ones inhabited by people.

The following story is one of the few instances in my life where I was truly afraid. And it was one of the few times in my life when I also felt truly brave. Funny that they often go hand in hand like that.

When I was living on the reserve out in the Karoo (an arid region north/northeast of Cape Town), I lived in a small house by myself. It was connected to another little row of rooms/houses, none of which were occupied while I was there because they were under construction. My kitchen opened into one of the cheetah enclosures, so I always knew I’d be safe from that side of the house (provided the cats didn’t break down the door, which they did threaten to do every morning when they saw the lights come on in my kitchen and they thought I had breakfast for them). However, the front of my house faced another empty house and an unlit walkway, and the other side faced the very empty and open Karoo. The fourth wall was connected to another house, so it didn’t actually ‘face’ anything but a lot of concrete)

People walk off into the Karoo and disappear. The landscape is like an infinite horizon that doubles back on itself, with a stubble of low shrub and hardy grasses and a terra firma sea of dusty mirages and dried up dams. On moonless nights, the sky is a blanket of stars shimmering like sequins against a silvery satin dress. On cloudy nights, blackness envelops you like a velvet curtain and you can’t see so much as your hand in front of your face.

Karoo before rain

crusty pan screaming for rain

My cell phone had no reception at my house; I had no landline. I didn’t have a working two-way radio. The reserve had yet to provide me with one (which was one of the first indicators that my employers did not give a whit about their employees – they made no effort to get me one for the first few weeks I was there, and not even after this incident, or the one when I was bitten by one of the cheetah and couldn’t contact anyone for help). I was therefore alone in the equivalent of a desert, with no way to call anyone if anything were to happen to me. In fact, my best defense might have been simply letting the cats into my kitchen so they could attack whomever came after me.

I kept a Bowie knife under my pillow alongside a massive Maglite torch (aka flashlight). And every night I listened for the squeaky gate that led to my front door, the telltale sign that someone or something was prowling around my house. The gate was too high and too flimsy for anyone to jump over, so I had some peace of mind knowing that if anyone tried to break in, they had to go through that crappy gate and alert me of their presence. One of the few times I’m glad my ex-employers took care of nothing on the reserve – in a better lodge, the hinges would’ve been replaced and I would’ve never heard a sound.

When I first got to the reserve, my house wasn’t ready. They still hadn’t cleaned it up from the previous tenant and the miserable blue macaw that lived with her and left several months’ worth of bird shit caked into the ground around his stoop. So I stayed in a tiny but well-lit and secure rondavel near the field guides. I ended up moving into the house a day earlier than expected, which is what probably caused the incident. I think people figured no one was in the place yet, and they could take advantage of the empty house full of goodies like tableware and bedding. I’ve realised that people, when they want to and think they can get away with it, will steal just about anything, including a spatula.

At any rate, at around 12:30am, I heard my front gate scrape, soft footsteps padding across my little yard, and then the front door rattling. Someone was clearly trying to get in. I then heard some muffled and disgruntled whispers as they tried again. At this, I turned on the flashlight. Alarmed by the light, my potential intruders immediately scuttled away through the gate. I heard their car doors slam shut as they got into a car and drove off.

I immediately checked the area around my house, and then booked it to the closest neighbor, who happened to be one of the lodge managers. I relayed the story and we got into one of the lodge’s trucks and drove around looking for suspicious cars in places they shouldn’t be. It probably wasn’t the brightest idea for two women to be speeding around the reserve in the middle of the night, but we did need to get a read on where everyone was, and if anyone or any cars where missing.

While we were driving, the lodge manager informed me that quite a few of the workers were very disgruntled, did not like the owners, and were plotting on robbing the lodge blind any chance they got. I think they were hoping tonight was one such chance, and that they could take advantage of whatever goodies were in my place while it was still empty. After realizing the empty house wasn’t so empty, though, they tucked tail and never came back.

The next day I checked the tracks left by the night visitors and their escape vehicle. They hadn’t bothered to try and cover them up. It was easy to identify the type and size of the shoes they wore by their tread. The same goes for the truck they drove. There was enough evidence to figure out who my ‘guests’ were – and they were indeed people who worked at the lodge.

We called the lodge owners the next day and told them what happened, but did not mention any names or point fingers. I thought, given what happened and how vulnerable we were, that it would be more appropriate for the owners to initiate a real investigation so there was no bad blood against either the lodge manager or myself. My employers were so clearly concerned about us that they blew it off. Couldn’t be bothered. They told us we were overreacting. Nothing was done. And as I found out, that was how they handled everything at that lodge. The employees don’t matter; we can always find new ones.

That was the second mark against them. The cheetah bite would be the last and final blow against that shitshow.

When I returned to my house that afternoon, I checked my bedroom window, which another employee told me didn’t lock. It hadn’t locked for two years. My employers insisted it was fixed. When I checked, it was still broken. No effort had ever been made to sort out the lock or the window.

I slept with the knife and torch under my pillow until the day I left that job, only a few short weeks later.

 

All rights reserved. ©2014 Jennifer Vitanzo

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Karoo, South Africa, United States, Western Cape | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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