By Kevin Heath
The Exotic Wildlife Association are working with a company called groupelephant.com to negotiate the translocation of 1,000 rhino orphans from South Africa to the game ranches of Texas. The question that needs to be raised is why? What need is there for a major exodus of rhino from South Africa to the United States.
There is no need for the equivalent of 5% of South Africa’s rhino population to be moved to Texas. South Africa has substantial experience of breeding rhinos and until recent years have been very effective at increasing the rhino population.
There is a current issue with poaching but that needs to be dealt with in South Africa and substantial pressure needs to be placed on Vietnam to deal with the consumer demand in the country. What is not needed is for 1,000 rhino’s to be shipped to game and hunting ranches in Texas.
So, who are the Exotic Wildlife Association and do they have the resources and skills to look after and protect 1000 young rhino if the deal with South Africa goes through?
The Exotic Wildlife Association represents the views of the game and hunting ranches of the United States. Their byline is “Promoting Conservation through Commerce” and their conservation partners include the likes of the Dallas Safari Club, Houston Safari Club and the International Professional Hunters Association.
Their mission statement is to:
- Protect the rights of private property owners, including, but not limited to, the right to manage and control their own land and the indigenous and non-indigenous hoofstock animals living on it;
- Defend the owners of indigenous and non-indigenous hoofstock animals against the misrepresentations and false allegations of animal rights activists;
- Articulate the need for “sustainable utilization’ of wildlife, as a viable tool to maintain proper “carrying capacity” on private property.
- Educate policy-makers, the media and the public through research and advocacy;
- Foster development of the alternative livestock industry through agricultural diversification into production and marketing;
- Promote “Conservation through commerce”;
- Provide technical support and useful information to our Members, so as to benefit them, their animals, and their industry.
It is an organisation that believes in the utilization of wildlife to support conservation measures. So they obviously see some sort of income that can be derived from importing a large herd of rhino. What role the rhino will play in the profits of the game ranches is not yet known.
In an interview with local media Charly Seale, executive director of the Exotic Wildlife Association, said “These animals will never be in commerce, they will not be sold, they will not be hunted.” He said that the aim of the programme if granted by the US and South African officials will be to protect and propagate the species.
The rhinos will be bought into the US and put in quarantine. Any ranches that want to have a rhino will be thoroughly checked and they would need to build a special facility for them.
This all sounds very good – expensive and unnecessary – but good-hearted. What sort of experience does the Exotic Wildlife Association have with breeding and managing endangered species. It when we start to look at previous activities of the Exotic Wildlife Association (EWA) that alarm bells may start to sound.
The EWA do not like being monitored, they are against government legislation put in place to protect endangered species and questions have to be raised about their willingness to work with officials once the rhinos are in their procession.
The EWA fought for years through the courts to retain the rights to hunt endangered antelope species that the game ranches were breeding. When the three species: scimitar-horned oryx (Oryx dammah), addax (Addax nasomaculatus) and dama gazelle (Nanger dama) – all critically endangered African antelope species – was added to the Endangered Species Act in 2005 the ranches were given exemption from the ban on hunting because of the captive breeding and conservation work on the populations.
The blanket exemption clause was challenged by some conservationists and after a number of years going through the courts the decision was made in 2012 that ‘blanket exemptions’ to hunting went against the spirit of the Endangered Species Act. The result was for the game ranches to continue with their hunting they had to apply for a $200 five-year captive breeding licence and a $100 annual culling licence.
With hunters paying $5000 a kill on the antelopes the cost to the game ranches would have been minimal and you would expect the ranches to just pay up and continue as normal. But thy did not and here lies the problem as we see the attitude of the EWA and its members.
In a Scientific American blog on the issue one ranger said, “Since we can’t hunt and eat them anymore, the ranch I work on will now be forced to stop its breeding program and exterminate the remaining stock as feral pests.”
So rather than pay $200 every 5 years the ranchers would rather kill off their stocks of critically-endangered species which itself would be against the law.
The attitude of the EWA is clearly summed up by Charly Seale in the interview, “Ranchers in this country are very private-property individuals,” Seale told McClatchy Newspapers. “We bought the animals with our own money and they’re telling us what to do with them. They are not anybody’s animals but ours.”
So here we have a real problem. Currently the 1000 rhinos are in sanctuaries in South Africa, a country with strong laws to protect the rhino and with a concerted international effort to protect the rhino. They have substantial experience of breeding and managing rhino populations. More importantly the eyes of the world are on the plight of the populations and where there is considerable teamwork between different agencies.
The fear is these 1000 rhino could be moved to a ranch in the outback or Texas, out of sight of the world to be managed by ranchers who are antagonistic to even minor changes in regulations, probably against independent inspections or monitring and who believe that once they buy the rhinos then the rhinos are theirs to do with how they wish without interference of authorities.
This second option may not be the best option for the rhino.
I guess that as the vote for allowing a regulated trade in rhino horn gets closer and the size of the potential market becomes known there is going to be an increasing rush to get in early by speculators and investors.
Is the potential trade in rhino horn the reason for the EWA wanting to have such a large herd shipped over to Texas? Who knows but it would certainly fit in with their organisations ethos of conservation through commerce.
While Seale has said that the rhinos will not be hunted will this also include the non-lethal ‘green’ hunt using tranquilisers. This method of hunting was banned in South Africa after studies showed that darting with tranquilisers unnecessarily caused high levels of stress to the rhino and increased the risk of death if the dart was badly landed and if the rhino collapsed in a poor position.
Unfortunately the ‘green’ hunt is back on the cards to be made legal if South Africa wins its possible argument on a trade in rhino horn as a supplemental form of income for rhino ranchers.
The other question is does the US have sufficient laws in place to protect the rhino once they arrive on American soil. The United States are one of the leading nations in protecting the rhino but the legislation revolves around international trade and action not a domestic market. The US does not have a substantial rhino herd at the moment that will change if this proposal goes through and adequate protection needs to be in place before the move.