Africa's Wildlife, It’s Past, Present & Future - Part One

Ron Thomson

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Jun 27, 2009
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Africa's Wildlife, It’s Past, Present & Future - Part One

The beginning of the third millenium found Africa’s wildlife standing at a crossroads the likes of which it had never encountered before but few people have recognised this fact.

In the year 2000 – and since - wildlife in Africa has been portrayed on television and in glossy magazines as plentiful and prolific. And the general publics of the world have been fed the propaganda that the CITES curtailment of the illegal trade in rhino horn (1975) and ivory (1989) has saved both the black rhino and the African elephant from extinction.[/font]

These and other so-called success stories conditioned many of even the most intelligent and thinking people of the world into believing that everything was rosy in the African Garden of Eden.

The truth of the matter is very different. If present trends are allowed to continue entire species spectra – of both plants and animals - in most of Africa’s wildlife sanctuaries will become extinct sometime during the middle part of the 21st century. The national parks in which they currently exist will themselves then disappear – because without wild animals there will be no reason to maintain them as wildlife sanctuaries. And Africa’s renowned wildlife-based tourism industries will become a mere fact of history.

The fact that the colonial-style wildlife conservation ethic, that is still promoted by the First World, and that still practiced in most African countries, does not work in post-colonial Africa. To understand this state of affairs in all its dimensions we must, perforce, do three things:
(1). delve into man’s wildlife conservation (sic) history on the continent;
(2). evaluate the current state of wildlife affairs; and
(3). then project ourselves into the future taking into account all the known factors that currently impact on Africa’s wildlife.

At the beginning of the 20th century wild animal populations in Africa were, generally, standing at their lowest numerical ebb in recorded history. This, of course, was not a uniform state of affairs.

It has become vogue to blame this fact solely on the commercial and sport hunting excesses perpetrated by foreign white hunters in the 19th century; and they certainly did a lot of damage - especially to Africa’s elephant and rhino populations. Furthermore, their killing pressure continued well into the 20th century – when it extended into parts of the continent that had remained previously untouched.

These hunters were not poachers – which, by definition, are simply illegal hunters. In those days there were no laws to curtail hunting. Indeed, hunting for ivory and rhino horn was encouraged by Africa’s early governments because it brought much-needed revenues into the national coffers.

Most of the real damage to Africa’s wildlife, however, was not done by the hunters but by immigrant white settlers. They opened up the continent for modern agriculture. They modified wild habitats to accommodate their agrarian needs - and they saw wild animals as being both competition for their domesticated livestock and free rations for their black labour. Over the years, therefore, the farmers eliminated many important wild habitats – causing a myriad of wild plants and wild animals to become locally extinct – and they wiped out all the larger wild animals on the land they had settled on. Here again, there were noted exceptions.

The first national park in the world – Yellowstone in America – came into being in 1872. Its main attractions were its scenic beauty and its geologic and geo-thermal phenomena (hot springs and geysers). It was set aside for the “benefit and enjoyment of the (American) people for all time to come”. At the time of Yellowstone’s promulgation no consideration was given to the management-needs of the national parks’ wild renewable natural resources – its vegetation and its wild animals.

What has evolved from the Yellowstone saga is an ethos embracing the idea that man should not interfere with nature in a national park – and, out of this, developed the principle that, in a national park, no extractive resource-uses should be allowed. Both of these ideals became yard-sticks for the management and administration of national parks world-wide - irrespective of their specific qualities – and these principles were written into the legislation governing all national parks created during the 20th century - including those established in colonial Africa.

In the beginning Africa’s national parks thrived. Throughout the 20th century they grew in size and in number and, as the protected area concept became more and more understood and accepted by society, evermore sophisticated arguments were put forward in support of the creation of even more national parks. And within those parks that were game reserves the wild animal populations increased rapidly in number and exponentially.

Sometime during the 1950s the habitats in most game reserve national parks filled to capacity by the animal species that were adapted to them. They became saturated! And habitat damage (over-use of the vegetation resource) caused by certain robust animal species - particularly elephant - became progressively more apparent. As a consequence the sustainability of Africa’s large wild animal herds was brought into question – and, during the 1960s, population reduction programmes involving several prolific wild animal species (especially elephant) were instituted for the first time. Africa’s big game sanctuaries had come of age!

The United Nations had only been in existence for three years when it created (1948) the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (The IUCN) – now also known as the World Conservation Union. Its purpose was to oversee man’s sustainable use of the natural world.

The IUCN took many years to mature, publishing its mission statement, the World Conservation Strategy (WCS), only in 1980 (revised 1991). The WCS is one of the world’s most important protocols because it spells out how, through man’s judicious and sustainable use of the world’s natural resources, both man and nature can, symbiotically, survive together on planet earth.

The objectives of what the WCS describes as living resource conservation (sic) are (in brief):

1. To maintain essential ecological processes and life support systems.
2. To preserve genetic diversity (i.e. to prevent species extinctions.). AND
3. To ensure the sustainable utilisation of species and ecosystems (notably fish and other wildlife, forests and grazing lands) which support millions of rural communities as well as major industries.

Note: this latter principle supports the sustainable use of wild natural resources for both subsistence AND commercial purposes.

Immediately following the publication of the WCS (1980) most responsible nations in the world (who were members of the IUCN) designed their own National Conservation Strategies based upon its principles; and they wrote those principles into their domestic laws. Thus did the WCS obtain its legal teeth.

After World War II man’s population started to increase at a rate hither-to-fore never encountered before – and man’s use of the earth’s natural resources increased in concert. Realising that it needed help to fulfill its commitments, in 1961 the IUCN was instrumental in creating the independent World Wildlife Fund (WWF) – now also known as the World Wide Fund for Nature. The purpose of the WWF is to:

“create an awareness, together with a moral consciousness, of threats to the environment on a world wide basis; to generate finance that will safeguard the living world; and to transpose that finance into action based upon scientific priorities.”

Since its formation WWF (International) has raised hundreds of millions of dollars to finance its operations all over the world. In the process it has helped save many plants and animals from extinction, and it has helped create hundreds of national parks, both great and small, on all five continents.

Over the years, in most countries of the world, local nature-lovers established their own (national) WWF offices – buying into what amounts to the WWF franchise and thereby being permitted by WWF International to use the now well-known WWF panda logo. And they set about raising funds for national conservation projects.

Although WWF offers these national WWF offices advice regarding how to deal with certain wildlife issues – especially the more controversial onesthe national WWF offices are not obliged to follow that advice. They are, therefore, truly independent entities in their own right.

After World War II, and particularly since the advent of fast international jet air travel, there was a progressive build up of both legal and illegal trade in wildlife (wild plants and wild animals) and wildlife products. Much of this was unsustainable and it threatened the survival of many of the trade-affected species. So, in 1975, the IUCN, the WWF and UNEP (The United Nations Environment Programme) established a third international wildlife organisation - The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES).

By the end of the 20th century CITES comprised over 160 sovereign state members - who became known as “signatories” or “parties” to the convention. CITES is empowered – through votes cast by the parties - to ban commercial trade in particularly endangered species of both plants and animals; and to monitor and to regulate trade in certain other vulnerable species. These species are specified on lists, called appendices, which are reviewed and ratified at conferences of the parties (COPs) every two years.

The CITES articles allow NON-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to contribute to the debates conducted during the conferences of the parties – but does not allow them to vote.

That CITES was, and remains, necessary is not in dispute. Eugene Lapointe, who was Secretary General of CITES in1987, then said of the wildlife trade:

“It is estimated that each year there is about four billion US dollars’ worth of illegal and legal trade in wildlife and its products; including ivory and skins, but not including timber and fish. A lot of this is illegal. In fact, it could be the second largest illegal business after drugs.”

And the magnitude of the problems associated with both the legal and the illegal trade in wildlife and its products grows every year.

The IUCN, WWF (International), and CITES, are all independent non-profit organisations that are largely funded by UNEP. They all have their headquarters in Switzerland where they work in close cooperation and they advise each other on their priorities. The one thing that gives them cohesion is their purported joint belief in the WCS.

During the period when the IUCN, WWF and CITES became established, another international wildlife phenomenon was born - and it grows in size, in influence, and in importance, in modern urban societies every year. It is what has become popularly known as The Green Movement.

The Green Movement comprises three elements.

1. The Enviromentalists. TRUE environmentalists are people who are concerned with man’s use of, and/or destruction of, the environment. The purpose of true environmentalists is to ensure that the earth’s environment remains a habitable place for both mankind and the natural world. This being the case everyone on earth should be an environmentalist because to be otherwise is to be suicidal. True environmentalists support all three above-listed principles of the WCS.

2. The Animal Welfarists. These are people who accept all three WCS principles, too. They insist, however, that when man uses an animal (any animal) for his own benefit, no cruelty should be involved when the animal is alive; and/or that it should be killed humanely when killing is necessary. Animal welfarists, therefore, ensure that man adheres to civilised standards in his treatment of animals. Consequently, all responsible (and civilised) people should support the objectives of TRUE animal welfarism.

3. The Animal Rightists. Animal rightists are people who purport to believe that man has no right to use an animal (any animal) for his own benefit. In the wildlife arena the animal rightists’ particular purpose in life is to oppose the third WCS principle – which identifies them, and which separates them, from the other two elements of the Green Movement. Animal rightists, therefore, also work to frustrate the attainment of the objectives of all National Conservation Strategies (NCSs). As a consequence it can be said that animal rightists undermine the primary purpose of the WCS – which, I remind readers, is to create a symbiotic and sustainable relationship between man and nature to effect the survival of both.

Finally, the demographics of Africa’s rural communities at the end of the 20th century is a vital ingredient of the wildlife jigsaw puzzle that cannot be ignored. Indeed, the disposition of Africa’s rural people is the key issue that will determine whether or not Africa’s wildlife will endure in the longer term – irrespective of the positive or negative effects of the various wildlife interest groups that are currently working towards the survival of Africa’s wildlife. Despite the ravages of HIV/AIDS, of malaria, and those of the other fatal diseases that infest Africa, the human population of the continent is exploding.

It has been variously estimated that Africa’s rural population is doubling every twenty years. Whether or not this is an accurate assessment or not the fact that the continent’s population is expanding very rapidly cannot be denied and the ultimate effect on Africa’s wildlife will – whether it be sooner or later – be exactly the same.

This then is the picture that I present to you illustrating the history of Africa’s wildlife and its management, and people’s involvement, at the end of the 20th century.

During the latter part of the 20th Century the power, and the numerical and financial strengths of largely urban-supported international animal rights organisations, grew in leaps and bounds. Two of the most affluent groups, at the turn of the 21st century, commanded annual incomes of U.S. $ 100 million and U.S. $ 200 million, respectively. Their power and influence to undermine the WCS, therefore, is now immense and they present huge competition for the WWF - with regards to the WWF’s ability to raise funds from the general publics of the world, and from the major corporations.

The animal rights movement is, generally – although highly successful - an unscrupulous phenomenon. It uses highly emotional propaganda to sensitise the unversed (to wildlife affairs) urban publics of the world to raise funds for their cause, and they have amply demonstrated that they are not averse to fabricating facts and/or using blatant lies to achieve their objectives. And it has become an openly debated fact that very little of the monies they generate is actually used to further the interests of the animals for which the monies were raised. As a consequence, in many quarters around the globe, thinking people have started to identify the animal rights brigade as the biggest confidence industry the world has ever known. Their influence, however, cannot be denied – and it is growing.

The animal rights organisations’ infiltration of the IUCN had become so intense that many people believe the Union’s resolve has begun to waver. And their competition-for-public-funds to WWF has become so great that many national WWF offices have, in fact, become animal rightist in practice and in orientation. Many such offices, for example, use the same emotional (and false) propaganda to raise their funds and they have abandoned their erstwhile support for the principles of the WCS. The head of the WWF (U.K.) office was a one-time senior executive officer of the Human Society of the United States (HSUS) – one of the world’s biggest animal rights organisations – and she still has contact with HSUS.

This prostitution of many national WWF offices across the globe, especially in Africa, is a sad reality of the current state of affairs.

CITES is another casualty of the animal rightists onslaught on our wildlife institutions. Because the CITES’ articles permits almost unqualified accreditation of NGOs the wildlife trade-regulation organisation is now swamped with animal rights delegations whose purpose in life is to STOP the trade. They achieve this – even though they don’t command a single vote - by participating in the debates and influencing the official state delegations that do have a vote. And there is sufficient evidence to support the many allegations that some animal rights groups even buy the votes of whatever uncommitted Third World delegates that they can persuade with their wiles.

The 1989 international ivory trade ban, for example, was orchestrated entirely by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a British based animal rights group.

Animal rights influence in Africa has intervened to stop the opening of hunting in Kenya – which was closed some thirty years ago following earlier animal rightist agitation. And they have intervened to stop the culling of excessive elephant herds in Zimbabwe and in South Africa.

As a consequence, South Africa’s Kruger national Park is now, arguably, 300 percent overstocked with elephants. Zimbabwe, as a whole, is 400 percent overstocked with elephants. Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park is 1200 percent overstocked with elephants. And Botswana, as a whole, is now 2000 percent overstocked with elephants. And there are other examples.

The damage to the habitats in all these locales is way beyond what can be described as sustainable and the ecosystems, in the worst affect areas, is verging on ecological collapse. And the biodiversity of southern Africa’s prime wildlife sanctuaries is degrading daily.

Professors – research funded by ani al rights groups. Animal translocations funded by animal rights grioups. Hunting organisation marginalised. Lager segment Academiv sentiment againt huntin g and utilisation. He who pays the piper calls the tunme.

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