Totally Excellent Conference in Australia: Center for Compassionate Conservation, November 2017

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Quite the Trophy: The Truth Behind Trophy Hunting and Conservation

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Lena Cavallo

This past March, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved the request to import “trophies” of two American hunters  These “trophies” will be the remains of two dead black rhinos after a scheduled hunt in Namibia.  Black rhinos are listed as critically endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Therefore, approving such a request requires that the import will enhance the species’ survival.  Since 2003, Namibia has enforced the Black Rhino Conservation Strategy which authorizes the killing of five male rhinos annually to stimulate population growth.  When considering the request, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service experienced an “unprecedented” level of public involvement.

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Rhinos are not the only animals targeted in these trophy hunts. All megafauna of the African ecosystem are available for the hunt. The African lion population has been in a serious decline, prompting individuals and organizations to demand that the species be listed as endangered under the kendall-jones-huntingESA. Studies have shown that trophy hunting is a direct cause to this decline, albeit not the only cause.

Trophy hunting has come under severe criticism by environmentalists, animal rights activists, and the general public.  Trophy hunters, like those involved in Continue reading

Animals of Interest

Nancy Rogowski

ElephantImageA recent edition of the ScienceTimes, a section of the NY Times includes several noteworthy animal articles. Elephants Get the Point of Pointing, by Carl Zimmer writes about a new research lead by Dr. Byrne’s suggesting elephants understand human pointing, a rare gift in the animal kingdom.   Dr. Byrne’s states, “Even our closest relatives, like chimpanzees, don’t seem to get the point of pointing.”  Researchers have done tests, such as putting food in one of two identical containers and then silently point at the one with food.  Primates and most other animals studied fail the test, some have done well, such as domesticated mammals, especially dogs.  These results have prompted researchers to speculate that during domestication animals evolve to become keenly aware of humans.  Dr. Byrne’s began to wonder if elephants would pass the pointing test, so last year one of his students went to Zimbabwe, and for 2 months tested 11 elephants.  The study found that 67.5% of the time elephants could follow the pointing.  Dr. Byrne’s would also like to study the pointing test on whales and dolphins but thinks “they make elephants look easy to work with.”

Think Elephant International, a not-for-profit organization that str

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ives to promote elephant conservation through scientific research and educational programming announced a study on April 17, 2013 co-authored by 12-14 year old students from East Side Middle School in NYC, revealing elephants were not able to recognize visual cues provided by humans, although they were more responsive to voice commends.  The study is a three-year endeavor to mooseimagecreate a comprehensive middle school curriculum that brings elephant into classrooms as a way to educate young people about conservation by getting them directly involved in work with endangered species. This research tested elephant pointing to find food hidden in one of two buckets, and the elephants failed this Continue reading

More On the “Us or Them” Canard

David Cassuto

From the Interesting Summer Reading Desk comes this piece on the persistent and ongoing failure of predator eradication as a management tool and on the continued use and advocacy of said failed method throughout the country.  Here, with a hat tip to HumaneSpot.org, is the abstract for “Us or Them” from Conservation Magazine:

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The Return of the Bully Pulpit — Obama´s Conservation Initiative

David Cassuto

Children in the United States spend about half as much time outside as their parents did.  Between 1995 – 2020, more land will be converted to housing in the Chesapeake Bay area than in the previous three and a half centuries.  Theodore Roosevelt is one of Barack Obama´s favorite presidents.  And President Obama will likely never shoot a bear.

This is some of the takeway from the launch of the president´s new conservation initiative — an admirable effort to cobble together a coalition of the willing to do something other than bomb other nations.  The idea is to bring federal and  state governments and the private sector together to encourage outdoor recreation, connect wildlife migration corridors and facilitate the sustainable use of private land.  In a time of little available $$ and dwindling public will, this seems like a useful way to refocus the national gaze on the natural world.  Particularly strategic (and true) is the argument that conservation initiatives create rather than cost jobs.     Continue reading

The Super Slam: Ethics and the Trophy Hunt

It has been a busy news cycle.  Our economy continues to tank, the conflict in Gaza continues to rage, an unarmed man lying face down in police custody in Oakland is shot dead.  The list goes on.  Much other news, both good and bad, permeates the airwaves, print, and ether.

Faced with all this, I turn to the sports pages of the NY Times for a little distraction and find this story about a group of bow hunters whose goal is to kill 29 North American species.  It used to be 28 but just last summer the Pope and Young Club (the keeper of records relating to this quest) announced the inclusion of the Tule Elk, bringing the grand total to 29.  Killing all 29 is known as the North American Super Slam.

The Times story breathlessly relates the way the men (they seem always to be men) stalk the animals.  One of the hunters profiled described it as “a personal goal” of his to “harvest all 28 species… now 29.”  Those pursuing the Super Slam must adhere to a rigid code of conduct.  Among other things, they cannot kill an animal helpless in a trap, in deep water or snow and they cannot shoot from powered vehicles or boats, use night lights, tranquilizers, poisons.  They seek intimacy: “That’s the advantage of bow hunting,” according to a surgeon from Anchorage.  “You’re forced by the equipment you’ve chosen to spend more time with the animal.”

The code seems to contain a normative component – one cannot kill an animal in a non-sporting way.  Yet nowhere in this code, which encourages people to kill 29 different animals, is there any discussion about whether the killing itself has any moral relevance.  I find this curious.  A code mandating that one not kill animals in certain ways would seem to require antecedent consideration about whether it is right to kill the animals at all.  Certainly, no necessity exists here (one of the hunters interviewed estimated that he had spent over $400,000 pursuing the Slam).  The term “harvest” seems misplaced since the animals do not get eaten.  The entire point of the endeavor (other than fueling the taxidermy industry) appears to revolve around killing for no other reason than fun.  This raises some pressing moral questions.

I believe it safe to assume that Slam seekers would agree that the animals they hunt are sentient (otherwise, why the code of conduct?).  They would probably also agree that the animals can experience fear and suffer.  Why then would it be ethically neutral to kill them for no other reason than fun?  Does the infliction of unnecessary pain and/or ending the existence of these animals rate no consideration at all?   If so, why does the Pope and Young Club call itself a “conservation” organization?  What does it hope to conserve and why?

The club’s mission statement declares that it is dedicated to “protect[ing] the future of our bowhunting heritage” (parsing that little syntactical chestnut must wait for another day…) as well as the “conservation and welfare of habitat and wildlife.”  Should we infer then that the club views bowhunting as the sole reason for conserving nature?  And does sponsoring a quest to kill dozens of animals dovetail with a conservation ethic even thus described?

The ethics page of the P&Y website offers no answers to these questions.  It quotes Aldo Leopold’s adage that “A peculiar virtue in wildlife ethics is that the hunter ordinarily has no gallery to applaud or disapprove of his conduct. Whatever his acts, they are dictated by his own conscience, rather than a mob of onlookers.”  The P&Y page does not mention that Leopold also said: “[T]o acquire a reputation for killing limits is a doubtful compliment, at best.”

Leopold believed that “think[ing] like a mountain” involves understanding that animals exist for purposes other than hunting fodder.  Most memorably, he declared that: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”  In the aggregate, I read Leopold to be saying that hunting has a place in the scheme of things but that killing for its own sake or purely for fun seems per se wrong no matter the species of the victim.

For my part, I would add that writing a puff piece about the people who do it seems little better.  And that leads me to a related issue currently awaiting cert before the Supreme Court and about which I will post in the near future: Are depictions of animal cruelty protected speech?  Stay tuned.

David Cassuto