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Year: 2017

We just wanted to provide an update on the Podcast. We have many episodes recorded all ready to be published, including two interviews with conservation experts. These will be released in the coming weeks. Even as Chris is preparing to move to New Zealand with his family the first week of 2018, episodes will still be released each week. Show notes should continued to be released, but may be delayed if Chris’s internet isn’t quite set up yet.

We both are excited for the growth we have already seen with the All Creatures Podcast and we hope with your help we can continue to grow and expand the show in 2018. We want to wish you all a very happy holiday season and new year as we head into 2018.

Warmest Wishes,

Chris & Angie

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Is Trophy Hunting Ethical?

Why Trophy Hunting is in the news

Trophy hunting is defined as the hunting (killing) of an animal purely for the sport, and not for need. Often the animal parts are displayed to boast of the trophy hunt’s success.

Image of Deer Trophies.

This past week the President of the United States proposed to lift the ban on the import of elephant trophies. After much public outcry, he has decided to delay the decision. This news thrusted back into the spotlight the plight of elephants.

In another recent example of trophy hunting, a wealthy American hunter had his image posted all over social media with a dead snow leopard draped over his shoulder. While the image is more than 30 years old, it again highlights the plight of many species. With only a population of as low as 3,500 left nature, this particular killing of a wild snow leopard most likely contributed to the decline of this species. Again, this is just another contributing factor to the Earth’s sixth mass extinction and how humans are directly responsible for the environmental crisis we find ourselves in.

Image of hunter holding a rare snow leopard killed almost 30 years ago. 

What are the pro arguments for trophy hunting?

The mainstream argument supporting trophy hunting is that it brings money to poor regions of the globe. Others will argue that humans should have a right to hunt whatever they wish. Yet, general opinion is the wealth generated from trophy hunts are critical to conservation. Furthermore, supporters argue the money brought into the region actually promotes conservation of targeted species.

For example, in 2015 a healthy male Black rhinoceros was legally killed by a hunter who paid a $350,000 (US) premium. Those supporting the hunt stated by killing surplus male black rhinos, we are preventing inbreeding, supporting population growth, improving breeding performance, stopping bulls from killing each other, and the money goes directly into conservation.

Image of a Black Rhinoceros killed on a trophy hunt

Throughout the world, many are calling for a ban on trophy hunting. In a recent opinion piece published in the Trends in Ecology and Evolution Journal, Di Minin et al. argue that the outright ban of trophy hunting will:

  • Decrease funding for conservation. Sustainable trophy hunts help impoverished regions where ecotourism is not feasible.
  • Increase carbon emissions since trophy hunting has a decreased carbon footprint compared to ecotourism.
  • Force hunting management to conserve their wildlife. Officials will have incentive to increase and manage larger populations compared to those for ecotourism.

These authors further went on to state trophy hunts in South Africa in 2012 generated $68 million (US) in revenue with:

  • $5,635,000 from 635 Cape buffalo
  • $1,194,000 from 33 African elephants
  • $647,000 from 37 leopards
  • $15,270,000 from 617 African lions
  • $300,000 from 1 Black rhinoceros
  • $5,355,000 from 63 White rhinoceros

The bottom line is, people will pay extreme amounts of money for a trophy hunt. Therefore, the main pro argument to continue its practice is all about money.

What are the con arguments for trophy hunting?

The first con argument is why is it we are selling the lives of endangered species, some critically endangered. For example, the IUCN estimates there are only about 5,000 wild Black rhinoceros left. Yet, instead of moving the bull to another park, or into captivity where we can study him, or bank his genetics, he was auctioned off to the highest bidder. Some find this distasteful.

The outrage of the illegal killing of Cecil the Lion in 2015 by a wealthy United States citizen also brought up many of the negative consequences of trophy hunts. Baiting, using meat or an animal carcass, to lure a lion out of a protected national park is legal in Zimbabwe where Cecil was killed. However, Cecil was killed illegally (details here) and the only reason we know about this particular illegal hunt is because Cecil was a well-known male lion. This example demonstrates how trophy hunting is not well regulated and begs the question of just how many illegal trophy hunts are executed each day. Furthermore, many of the lions hunted in South Africa are ‘canned hunts’, meaning the animals are raised by humans and kept in cages until just before they are killed. There is no ‘sport’ involved.

Image of overcrowding of lions in South Africa, often used for ‘canned hunts.’

In response to the Di Mini paper quoted above, Ripple et al. argue that the idea that ecotourism impacts global greenhouse emissions are minuscule and cannot be linked to impacting biodiversity. Second, the authors argue that promoting trophy hunting, many lesser species will suffer as game parks focus on attracting top dollar for the hunting of large herbivores or carnivores. Additionally, by promoting rapid population growth of larger animals, the impacts on the environment are not known and could lead to habitat destruction.

Finally, another con argument and from a paper published in Nature, scientists have documented trophy hunting and the negative consequence on heritable traits for that species. For example, when bighorn rams are targeted and only the rams with the most impressive set of horns are killed, those traits cannot be passed on to future generations. These trends are even being noticed in African elephants. Calves are being born without tusks, or are producing much smaller tusks over their lifetime. This is directly due to the poaching of elephants with impressive set of tusks and the heritable traits are not passed on to future generations. All having negative consequences to those animals natural life cycle.

Summary

This is not an easy issue for conservationists and hunters alike.  An opinion piece published recently by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization details the benefits of trophy hunting to conservation and can be read here. The authors, many affiliated with the International Union for Conservation of Nature, details how well managed trophy hunts can help conservation, and help manage populations of endangered species. They further state the outright ban will most likely result in negative consequences for many species.

The most logical answer is, both sides of the issue need to come together and find a reasonable resolution. Like many issues facing so many endangered species, it will take all of us, not some, but ALL of us coming together to find solutions to support and sustain our planet.

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Animals Going Extinct, Who Cares?

Where We Are

The major question plaguing humanity today, should we really care if some species go extinct?  What did the Yangtze (Baiji) River Dolphin ever do for us? All this news about the lonely male Northern White Rhinoceros, named Sudan, it doesn’t affect me, does it? It is sad, but we can’t stop human progress, right? Why should we, homo sapiens, spend enormous sums of money on saving creatures that don’t benefit us? Who cares?

Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya on June 25, 2015. Credit: Georgina Goodwin/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

These are just some of the many arguments being made today across the world. Still, as hundreds, thousands, countless animal species struggle to survive in the modern world, humanity as a whole rarely takes notice. Social media and many news organizations are more focused on the latest political scandal or who’s sports team won a big game, rather than focus on the environmental crisis we now find ourselves in.

Just this week in the Gulf of California another Vaquita Porpoise has died, leaving only a total of 29 animals left in the entire world and this only deserves a minor mention on some news sites. In the last 100 years, conservative estimates have over 500 different species of reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds going extinct, to include 69 mammals. Scientists predict less than 9 species should normally go extinct per century. Yet, the current background rate of extinction far exceeds that, and has many scientists calling our current era the ‘Earth’s Sixth Mass Extinction’.

 

Vaquita Porpoise. Credit: https://wildfor.life/mexico-in-last-ditch-effort-to-save-the-vaquita-porpoise 

Mass Extinction

The last great mass extinction, defined as when 75% of all species die off, happened over 65 million years ago. It is thought this was caused by a large asteroid slamming into the Yucatan Peninsula in modern-day Mexico.  Many species died out to include large dinosaurs such as the Tyrannosaurus Rex, all happening over thousands of years. The other mass extinctions were similar in that more than 75% of all species on Earth died out over thousands, or millions of years.

By comparison, today we are losing species faster than the previous Big Five Extinctions. The pace at which we are losing species, some estimates 12 species a day, is only picking up steam. In the next 40 years some estimates have up to 50% of all current species becoming extinct. In 100 years, we could be near the 75% threshold.

Why You Should Care

Still, again, who cares? Humans need the land to grow crops, raise livestock, to settle and raise our families. Why should we suffer inconvenience, change our lifestyles, so some strange-named amphibian can continue to live in the muck down the street? We need the land more than they do, we are the dominant species. Survival of the fittest right? And some would argue we are part of nature, and our dominance of the planet is just, well, natural!

Well think about this. The massive tree of life is nurtured by each species, large and small, all playing their part. The African Elephant eats an acacia seed, walks 60 km (40 miles) and deposits it in a new location its manure. Eventually a new acacia tree sprouts, providing a much-needed habitat for other animals, and more importantly prevents degradation of the savannah. When you remove the elephant, you remove its important ecological niche, and in some instances the landscape quickly becomes desert (see the story of Allan Savory and culling elephants in Zimbabwe). You can look at each and every species on the tree of life, and they all play their part.

We have trimmed the tree, so to speak. For each leaf we drop, the tree receives less life-giving nutrients it needs to survive and thrive.  Many smaller branches have already been cut, and the larger branches are beginning to shrivel and die. How many more branches do we have to cut before our own section of the tree begins to take notice?

What Can You Do

If we as a species do not use our incredible ability to critically think and overcome these obstacles placed before us, future generations will look back at this time and ask why? Why did my ancestors let so many beautiful creatures die off when they had the power to change, the power to rise up and say enough is enough? Why did they not have the foresight to see humanity marching to its own destruction?

The time to act is now. Not tomorrow, not next year, not next decade, now! We must come together as a species and begin to rehabilitate our planet. It is not too late, but the challenge becomes that much greater each day every one of us does nothing. Ask yourself, how can I change, how can I make a difference? Once each and every person does that, we have taken the first step.

Share this message. Knowledge is power and we need to wield it more than the mightiest weapon. You, yes you, can make a difference. The question is, are you willing?

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About the Authors

The All Creatures Podcast is a new show sharing the knowledge of many species in crisis. Each week hosts Chris and Angie will be discussing a new species of animal. Both have earned their PhDs in Animal Physiology and want to share their passion about this planet and its wildlife with you. They can be followed on social media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube) or on their website.

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