Africa Must Take the Lead On Animal Rights

12 November 2019
opinion

One of the United States' most outspoken ivory experts has suggested a new approach for Africa to topple Western animal rights groups from their harmful global leadership positions in wildlife management.

"Given the overall dismal experience of the sustainable use of forces at CoP18 in Geneva, Switzerland, it's time to consider doing something different now or forever risking being forlorn victims that complain endlessly about the failing policies of the victors (Western animal rights groups)," said Godfrey Harris, managing director of the Los Angeles-based Ivory Education Institute.

"To wrench the leadership of true wildlife conservation away from the animal rights groups requires a pivot to something outside of our past as well as our current comfort zone. In short, I am urging sustainable use advocates to move forward through alliances with those actively involved in opposing environmental degradation through climate change."

Mr Harris' call to put the impact of climate change high on the agenda of wildlife management comes at a time when the world's wildlife management specialists, including those from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, European Commission and the CITES Secretariat are attending the Africa Wildlife Consultative Forum (AWCF) in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe from yesterday to Friday, to discuss African-wide sustainable use on wildlife issues.

The forum, sponsored by the US-based Safari Club International Foundation, will also focus on the outcomes of the May 2018 Kasane Elephant Summit and the June 2019 Victoria Falls African Wildlife Economy Summit along with the August 2019 Geneva UN Convention on International Trade In Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

It was at COP18 that SADC countries suffered their heaviest losses in proposals to trade in wildlife and its products.

The losses arose from a rigged voting system that remains contested.

In a protest move last month in Tanzania, SADC countries agreed by a two-thirds majority vote, to submit protest documents that will allow them to legally trade in elephants, rhinos and giraffes, without CITES control.

These positions, known as "reservations", will be made known to CITES before the 26th of this month.

Until now, the threat to wildlife survival from climate change has yet to be identified as a major risk to conservation efforts in Africa.

Yet the ravages of climate change have the potential to destroy wildlife far more completely than poachers.

Currently, climate change-related drought has already started killing many elephants in elephant over-populated Southern Africa. Zimbabwe lost 115 elephants to drought in the past two months and Botswana has lost 100 during the same period.

These appalling numbers are far worse than anything any poaching gangs have ever inflicted on elephant populations in a two-month span.

Irritatingly, one of the world's biggest animal rights groups, the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) chooses to talk about elephant resilience and not hunting or harvesting to help reduce population numbers to ensure that many of the species don't die needless, slow and painful deaths caused by climate change.

The WWF only says, "Identifying which traits contribute to a species resilience and vulnerability will allow us to develop more robust conservation action plans in the face of a changing climate." Nothing, in other words, should alter the public's perception -- and WWF's proven fundraising model -- that has poaching gangs representing the greatest threat to elephants.

In sharp contrast, Mr John Rance, the president of the South Africa-based True Green Alliance, disagrees with WWF's go-slow approach.

Clearly, severe droughts linked to climate change are already killing African elephants and other wildlife, including those at Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe.

To solve the problem, Mr Rance argues for "limiting (reducing) the populations to that which can be sustained by the available habitat in drought times."

"It is even sadder to contemplate that when these animals die, probably in the thousands from a lack of food and water, their products will not be able to be recovered and sold due to the attitude of Western animal rights groups who insist that a trade ban saves elephants," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Harris believes that Western animal rights groups "are purposely ignoring" the obvious problems caused by climate change in African elephant range states.

"Deaths from a lack of food and water is an act of God, allegedly nothing can be done about that. But collecting money to wage war on poachers is something that the animal rights groups have been doing for years," he said. If nothing is done to save wildlife from the effects of climate change, the world faces a needless and painful collapse of elephants that over-populate southern African countries.

Ecologists, park managers and their governments have recommended that large elephant populations be culled to levels that meet the ability of their habitats to sustain them.

"We need to start now to work with others, particularly young people, to show what it will take to save elephants and other species in the current changing climate conditions of Africa," said Mr Harris.

"When they become our allies in the forthcoming political debates, they bring to the table the power of their numbers, their energy, and their idealism."

He observes that the leadership of the animal rights movement, led by dedicated vegans (people who don't eat or use animal products), argue that humans have no inherent right to interfere, profit or otherwise benefit from other animals on the planet.

The fact that man has risen to the top of the food chain seems to embarrass them.

"But if the world allows Western animal rights groups to continue controlling how wildlife is treated, wildlife over-population within geographically limited habitats will do more harm to kill off each species than any gang of poachers ever could," said Mr Harris.

Changes are afoot, notes Mr Harris, that leave people wondering who will control our environment in future.

Vegans in California now not only refuse to eat anything other than food derived from plants, but they dress in clothing and furnish their homes without the use of leather, wool, mohair, or silk. California is about to ban all fur sales in the state and New York City has just voted to ban all sales of the liver of a specially fattened goose or duck (foie gras) prepared as food.

"These developments illustrate that human beings are voluntarily quitting their leadership position over the animal kingdom and may soon make real what was only mythical in the film, 'Planet of the Apes'," said Harris in his appeal to African countries to dethrone the Western animal rights groups from their misleading and harmful global leadership position in wildlife management.

Emmanuel Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning environmental journalist who has written extensively on environment and development issues in Africa.

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