Heroes and Villains

Update below.

You know a cause has achieved cult status when it makes it into the comic books.

Marvel Comics has come out with a double pack of comic books featuring the popular character of Wolverine and the issue of the illegal trade in endangered animal parts. Written and illustrated by the great Phil Jimenez, the comics couldn’t be more timely.

The Dallas Safari Club auctioned off a chance to hunt an endangered rhino for $350,000 last week, over widespread protests and petitions.

Savage Wolverine #12 Art: Jimenez/Marvel

Savage Wolverine #12
Art: Jimenez/Marvel

Ostensibly, the money will go towards conservation efforts in Namibia. The hunt has been sanctioned by the government.

I can understand the need to cull non-breeding, older male rhinos from a herd to promote younger, healthier males that might otherwise be attacked or intimidated. I can understand the Namibian government wanting to earn hard cash for a cull that would otherwise only cost them time and money.

But let’s not kid ourselves: Paying a vast sum of money for the thrill and privilege of hunting an endangered animal, even in the name of conservation, does little more than glorify the illicit status of that animal’s value to humans, and add value to the illegally traded body parts of poached animals.

This auction comes the same week that saw an Irish native, Michael Slattery Jr., convicted and sentenced to almost two years in prison for coming to the United States to buy mounted rhino horns, which he sold on to Asian buyers for an estimated $30,000 per pound.

Horns of endangered black rhinos. According to the prosecutors in the Slattery case, the horns he sold were resold twice and tripled in price before leaving the U.S. Photo: US Attorney's Office - Eastern District of New York

Endangered black rhino horn.
Photo: US Attorney’s Office – Eastern District of New York

Mr. Slattery claimed he was just doing business  and saw no connection between his actions and its effect on endangered species. According to the prosecutors in the Slattery case, the horns he sold were resold twice and tripled in price before leaving the U.S. Slattery argued that he was just a salesman, turning a dollar on something already there.

As Judge John Gleeson of United States District Court, who presided over the trial, is quoted as saying by way of comparison to Slattery’s defense, “‘I didn’t make these drugs, all I did was distribute them; I didn’t create this child pornography, I just distribute it.’”

The hunters and poachers in Savage Wolverine don’t fare well at the hands (well, claws) of Wolverine, but he reserves just as much anger for those who trade in the endangered animal business.

I wonder where Wolverine would stand on the trophy hunt auction of endangered animals.

UPDATE: 21 May 2015. The rhino auctioned for hunting was shot dead on 20 May 2015 by Corey Knowlton, the Texas hunter who won the auction bid.

From the AFP: Knowlton stated, “I think people have a problem just with the fact that I like to hunt… I want to see the black rhino as abundant as it can be. I believe in the survival of the species.”

Since 2012, Namibia has sold five licences each year to kill individual rhinos, saying the money is essential to fund conservation projects and anti-poaching protection. The only rhinos selected for the hunts are old ones that no longer breed and that pose a threat to younger rhinos.

Sorry, I just don’t agree. This is no different from countries selling off illegal rhino horn or elephant ivory seized from traders.

As long as the animals are worth more dead than they are alive, for any reason, poaching and the trade in illegal animal parts will be encouraged.

Savage Wolverine #13 Art: Jimenez/Marvel

Savage Wolverine #13
Art: Jimenez/Marvel

Precedent Setting

Update below.

At its 2014 convention, the Dallas Safari Club will be auctioning off the rare chance to kill an adult rhinoceros in Namibia and the even rarer chance to bring the trophy parts back home. The organizers say they can expect up to $750,000 dollars, and that every penny will go to the ‘Conservation Trust Fund for Namibia’’s Black Rhino’.

The hunt would be carried out with the permission of both the Namibian government and of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to import parts of the black rhino. These animal parts are otherwise highly controlled and illegal, as there are only an estimated 5000 black rhinos left in the world and they are both protected under the Endangered Species Act, and heavily poached for their horns.

The DSC 2014 convention banner

The DSC 2014 convention banner

This notion of high profile hunting as a means of conservation is nothing new, and hunters have often been aligned with conservationists when it comes to protecting land and species.

However, not one article I have read on this has mentioned the background to the strange approval of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Earlier this year, the USFWS set a precedent by issuing a permit allowing the import of a black rhino trophy. The permit was the first USFWS permit ever allowing parts of an endangered species hunted abroad to be brought into the United States.

It was approved  following an import application filed by the hunter himself, with the assistance of lawyer John J. Jackson III, who runs Conservation Force, a Louisiana-based conservation non-profit organization.

David K. Reinke poses with the black rhino he shot in 2009. The work of Conservation Force means he was able to bring the horn back to the U.S. Photo: Thormählen & Cochran Safaris

David K. Reinke poses with the black rhino he shot in 2009.
The advocacy work of Conservation Force helped him bring the horn back to the U.S.
Photo: Thormählen & Cochran Safaris

For insight into the Conservation Force strategy, reading the group’s Updates and Alerts page is enlightening.

Most entries deal with overturning the endangered status of various listed species (lions, polar bears, etc.); legal attempts to reduce or eliminate restrictions on the importation of restricted animal parts; and finally, an update on the Dallas Safari Club’s award to John and Chrissie Jackson of Conservation Force for their “tireless advocacy of hunting as an integral part of wildlife conservation.”

Through a variety of strategies including tourism and rural development, Namibia has been very successful – far more so than its neighbor South Africa – in preventing poaching and promoting the recovery of the black rhino population without the assistance and funds of high end foreign hunters. So I am not sure what kind of value this new trend (if two cases can be called a trend) is supposed to add to conservation.

 

Credit: Planet Save

Credit: Planet Save

I am not fully versed in the value of hunting individual animals from a small genetic pool of an endangered species like the black rhino (Diceros bicornis); perhaps it’s a useful method.

I also don’t know much about the ‘Conservation Trust Fund for Namibia’’s Black Rhino’, the fund to which the Dallas Safari Club intends to donate the auction amount from the black rhino hunt – I was unable to find any listings online which mentioned this trust fund, but for all I know it could be part of one of Namibia’s many long-standing legitimate conservation groups.

I can’t claim agreement with the argument that promoting the hunting of endangered species, putting a high monetary value the hunt and on the very parts for which these animals are being poached into extinction, is a viable path towards saving these animals – not only for our future generations, but for theirs.

What I do know is that the Conservation Force’s determined efforts over many years to establish an endangered species import precedent succeeded this year with the USFWS permit.

I am also quite sure that this first trophy hunt auction, which would not have been possible without that precedent, will almost certainly not be the last of its kind.

 

UPDATE: 21 May 2015. The rhino auctioned for hunting was shot dead on 20 May 2015 by Corey Knowlton, the Texas hunter who won the auction bid.

From the AFP: Knowlton stated, “I think people have a problem just with the fact that I like to hunt… I want to see the black rhino as abundant as it can be. I believe in the survival of the species.”

Since 2012, Namibia has sold five licences each year to kill individual rhinos, saying the money is essential to fund conservation projects and anti-poaching protection. The only rhinos selected for the hunts are old ones that no longer breed and that pose a threat to younger rhinos.

Sorry, I just don’t agree. This is no different from countries selling off illegal rhino horn or elephant ivory seized from traders.

As long as the animals are worth more dead than they are alive, for any reason, poaching and the trade in illegal animal parts will be encouraged.

 

Going South

Gray Whale (Eschrichtius robustus) Via: Earthisland.org

I’ve been fortunate to have seen gray whales off the California coast. They are a majestic sight, even from a distance, when they make their annual migration along their regular route between northern feeding grounds and southern breeding havens.

There are currently two known populations of gray whales: One on the eastern rim of the Pacific Ocean, a group that is estimated at around 22,000 individuals and migrates between Baja California and Alaska; the other a small group of around 130 that migrates along the western Pacific rim from northern Russia to somewhere Hainan Island off the Chinese coast. Gray whales used to populate the North Atlantic Ocean as well, but the population along the North American coast is assumed to have been hunted to extinction during the 18th century.

The existing populations haven’t experienced the kind of migration confusion suffered by some animals due temperature fluctuations and climate change. Until recently.

Over the past couple of years, two whales have been spotted in the Atlantic Ocean. One was seen off the coast of Israel. The other, last week, was photographed off the coast of Namibia – the first recorded image of a gray whale in the Southern Atlantic and in the Southern Hemisphere.

Graphic shows possible routes taken by the gray whale now off Namibia, and another that showed off Israel in 2010. Credit: Uko Gorter

Graphic shows possible routes taken by the gray whale now off Namibia,
and another that showed off Israel in 2010.
Credit: Uko Gorter

It is being speculated that the whale in Southern Atlantic waters likely got lost while feeding in the normally frozen Northwest Passage. Most of the discussion surrounding an ice-free Northwest Passage has focused on the viability of new shipping routes, the potential for resource exploitation, new areas for tourism. After all, the search for a northerly trading route was a major driver in sea exploration for centuries.

With the discovery of these lost whales, attention is beginning to focus on the changes this might bring to a wide variety of animal and plant species.

Possible Northwest Passage shipping routes Image: NASA

The Passage has been partially ice-free over the past four years, and it’s possible the Namibian gray whale just kept moving east until it reached the Atlantic. It seems unlikely that it will be able to return the way it came.

This is probably a sign of things to come. There will be the sudden disappearances, the animals and plants that find new territories. Some creatures will make unexpected appearances, some will get lost.

And some will just head south.

Gray whale off Namibia
Photo: John Paterson/Namibia Dolphin Project

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Pete Thomas Outdoors article