Global conservation cowards  harm people and wildlife Thirty-five African elephants in northwestern Zimbabwe dropped dead under baffling circumstances between late August and November 2020 (File picture)

Emmanuel Koro, [email protected]

DESPITE what animal rights groups suggest to the world, the over-population of wildlife is not an exclusively African issue; the situation exists in nearly every country in the world.

The  problem seems  to be that the animal rights non-governmental organisations shy away from wildlife issues in their home countries because they tend to generate controversy rather than the sympathy that attracts donations. Much of that sympathy is directed towards Africa’s Big Five and nothing raises the level of sympathy more than opposing the culling of elephants.

Wildlife over-population not only harms the animals, but their habitats and the people that live there as well. Yet, politicians fear that the animal rights NGOs will object vigorously to killing animals to reduce herds to suit an available habitat.

Reacting to this worldwide reluctance to cull large wildlife populations, an outspoken American public policy specialist and former advisor to President Lyndon Johnson, Mr Godfrey Harris said, “Public officials who shy away from using culling to solve the wildlife over-population problem, when necessary and which has been scientifically approved as a wildlife management method, must rightfully be labelled as conservation cowards.”

Culling, Mr Harris explained, is the systematic elimination of animals that are no longer beneficially involved in reproductive duties or herd protection to save scarce resources.

Too many foxes, bears, wild horses (mustangs), burros (wild donkeys) and wolves are a problem in various Western countries. Elephant over-population is a big problem in Southern Africa and India.

India’s 30 000 elephants living outside of its protected areas have very small habitats in which to find food and water, bringing them into deadly conflict with humans. 

Elephants kill about 500 Indians annually, amid continuing and growing tensions with farmers and other locals. In Africa, elephants kill hundreds of people annually.

Australia has a very large rabbit (wild hare) population that destroys crops and land, leading to soil erosion. Europe has a wolf population problem. Packs have grown to a total of 20 000 animals.

Fearing the backlash of animal rights NGOs, none of these countries seem willing to employ culling methods to control their wildlife populations.

Notably, the European Union qualified as a conservation coward in November 2022. Rather than calling for the culling of wolves, its Parliament passed a non-binding motion urging the downgrading of protection for the wolf. The politicians, backed by farmers and ranchers from their home districts, were apparently no match for EuroNatur, which opposes the killing of wolves and lobbied successfully against the technique.

“Wolves in Europe pose no threat to humans,” claimed Ms Bruna Campos, EuroNatur senior policy manager, in a report published in The Dispatch last month.

They do sometimes attack livestock, but there are already several known methods (non-lethal) to massively reduce this threat.”

 “Nicely done,” noted Mr Harris sarcastically. “Offer a generalised ‘solution’ without providing any details. That way no one else can judge its past or future efficacy and yet it can give the NGOs a claim to another PR victory.”

It is the opposition of animal rights NGOs to culling that makes governments around the world hesitant to use this method to reduce population loads. Ironically, such cowardice harms wildlife that anti-culling NGOs claim to love. Such inaction causes starvation that leads to slow and painful deaths for the animals.

Humans also suffer from wildlife culling cowardice. Human-wildlife-conflict that ends in human deaths and injuries allows the politicians to offer their “thoughts and prayers” but no solutions.

“Conservation cowardice is the unwillingness of public officials to make the decisions they were elected or appointed to do — to control wild animals — and for which they get a handsome salary and lifelong benefits,” said Mr Harris who is also the managing director of the Los Angeles-based Ivory Education Institute.

“Conservation cowards are particularly annoying because they refuse to deal with a sissy citizenry — a public that fails to face reality and walks away from tough decisions.

“In the absence of doing what needs to be done, wild animals living among human populations are in life and death confrontations.”

Mr Harris notes that in Southern Africa, the problem seems to be different.

“It  isn’t sissy citizens who are influencing the wildlife policies, it is hypocritical politicians who refuse to confront the neo-colonialist voices of the animal rights NGOs on how Africa should manage its wildlife,” he said.

“Could it be that these politicians might be getting something from these organisations that prevent the public officials from criticising them?

“Are the African ruling political parties actually doing the job they keep asking the public to give them?”

The Southern African countries haven’t dared cull their elephants since the 1990s because they needlessly fear the animal rights NGOs’ scare-tactics to boycott their tourist attractions.

But Mr Harris said, “Worldwide tourism is the largest single industry on the planet. It would overwhelm the animal rights NGOs in an instant if they threatened one of the most popular  and lucrative tourism destinations on the world map.”

Mr Harris, who has co-authored three books on international tourism, including a popular university text called Promoting International Tourism, invites the African Ministers in charge of tourism to call the animal rights NGOs’ bluff on who would win a public relations war over the issue of culling.

In 1997, a special edition of Conservation Tribune reported that the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Humane Society International provided SAN Parks (the South African National Parks) with some US$5 million for an elephant contraception project in the Kruger National Park. About 26 years later, the Kruger National Park is faced with an unprecedented elephant over-population situation. Contraception has clearly not stemmed the problem.

So much for “win-win” foreign solutions. So much for the curiosity of the animal rights groups in finding out what went wrong with their “bright” idea. So much for “paying obeisance to these foreign groups” unless there is something else going on.

Other methods that are being used to reduce human-elephant-conflict, caused by a lack of food and water in the savannahs and the forests, include fencing and noise pollution along with pepper spray and lights. More half measures. 

Experts say elephants soon get used to these scare-away tactics and ignore them. They enter villages, destroy crops and property and sometimes kill innocent villagers trying to protect their livelihoods.

“Why aren’t these busybody BINGOs (Big International NGOs) tending to problems in their own countries?” asked Mr Harris and then answered his own question. “Because they don’t fundamentally care about animals — or evidently the people who live among them. They only seem to care about the money that these animals can raise for the salaries and travels of the executives and employees of these organisations.”

*About the writer: Emmanuel Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning environmental journalist who writes independently on environmental and developmental issues.

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