Feature

Remarks on wildlife politics

Godfrey Harris

American public policy consultant.
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AT UNIVERSITIES IN SOUTH AFRICA  MAY 2018 

Thank you so much for giving me the privilege of your time. Having taught at the University of California in Los Angeles and at Rutgers University in New Jersey, I know how valuable time is for anyone at a college or university. 

I am particularly proud that you have given me this opportunity to discuss the politics of wildlife, a topic that has been generally ignored in most discussions about wildlife. Those conversations generally tend to focus on 

• Animal rights matters, 

• Natural environment issues, and 

• Conservation techniques. 

The politics of wildlife, however, is seldom discussed, analyzed, or understood. But it is nevertheless very real, very big, and a very important part of the conversation to large numbers of people in North America and Europe. 

Just note that more than 650 U.S. organizations annually raise in excess of $600,000,000 — a staggering R 7.1 trillion — on behalf of animals. That is real money and how that money is spent has a major impact on the politics of the United States. 

As many of you know, the Stormy Daniels revelations in March of this year about Donald Trump’s sexual involvements took a lot of the political air out of the other issues in the Trump orbit. In similar fashion, news involving the welfare of any animal tends to dominate Western attention on conservation and environmental matters while other international questions get ignored by vast swaths of the American public. 

• Circulate a fresh picture on the Internet of a dead rhino with its horns chopped off or an elephant mutilated for its tusks and people instantly renew their demand to ban ivory and rhino horn use and contribute copious amounts of money to any organization that claims they can end poaching. (All do just that.) 

• Read about a dog that dies in the overhead bin of an airliner and politicians step over each other in calling for a new law to prohibit such practice even though it was a one and done happening — one time on one flight on one airline. But “saving” animals from abuse offers a halo to politicians that is too appealing to ignore. 

• Hear that a coyote is threatening a college campus and was shot by campus police officer and listen to the outcry of horror that the animal was executed by some fascist cop for acting on its instincts in what used to be “its” land. 

• See a full-page ad in The New York Times, costing R1.4 million, demanding that McDonald’s buy its chickens from farms that raise their birds in more natural conditions Hello out there. Are you listening? R1.4 million to put heat on McDonalds to buy only chickens that have fresh air and space during its 6 weeks of life. Do you see what kind of resources these groups have at their disposal? 

Are you also seeing how people are easily conflating their personal feelings as humans for those feelings they imagine that animals are experiencing? Wouldn’t you feel trapped and uncomfortable if you couldn’t walk where you wanted, when you wanted, or to stretch your arms out wide? Of course, you would. Well, if you would experience life in a coop that way, surely those cute baby chicks feel it as well. 

It is the same argument that the Humane Society of the United States used against the largest and oldest circus in the United States to get the circus elephants released from “bondage.” Please help us save these poor animals. The money poured in, the pressure on local politicians increased, and eventually any circus with wild animals were refused permission to perform. The animal rights groups said the shows were cruel, unnatural, inhumane. Without elephants and wild animals to watch, crowds dwindled and in 2017 the 146-year-old Ringling Bros, Barnum & Baily circus closed. 

What bothered me was that no one who cheered this monumental victory for animal rights in ending an American cultural icon ever stopped to think that the elephants might have liked the treats they received for working and performing. They might have liked the treat MORE than they disliked the things they had to do to earn them. My daughter-in-law, a veterinarian, tells the story of her helping a cow to birth its calf. Afterwards, the cow only wanted to get back to the feed trough where she could munch the fermented feed that keeps her high and contented. 

Maybe the elephants liked working more than standing around. But once humans project how they would feel if they were in a similar position — enduring the horrors of slavery — the discussion ends. 

This kind of thinking stimulates the belief that animals “deserve” the full panoply of U.S. Constitutional protections that humans enjoy. It has now gotten to such a point in the U.S. that talking about animal interactions requires circumlocutions to reduce the political heat that animal stories can raise. This set of la-de-da euphemisms comes from a New York Times article in the March 25, 2018 issue. 

* Wolves reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park do not kill deer and elk they hunt, but “tidy up explosive populations which have eaten the park barren.” Did you hear that? “Tidy up the deer and elk” not eat them to stop the horrific damage they do to the plants of the park. 

• The wolves are now so in favor after years of banishment for killing cattle and sheep that when a pack kills coyotes, there is no sympathy for the coyotes anymore only delight that the coyotes now have to leave their prey to other species. 

* The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone has meant that bears and raptors are now back to help clean up what the wolves leave behind. Americans, you may have noted, like their wildlife to be like Tarzan movies — clean, green, and friendly to all animals. 

* Of course, we call the chewed up remains left behind “carrion” to avoid upsetting the squeamish in talking about the guts, bones and other parts left behind. 

* The wolves have been elevated to benign canines that live in the woods. Because the deer and elk are no longer denuding the area of trees for food, erosion has been controlled, river flows are less chaotic, and pools offer new habitats for other animals. Cue Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies and order up a dozen golden halos. – 

What is so fascinating to me in all of this favorable PR now being lavished on the wolves is that the cheerleading for the “re-wilding” of carnivores evades two major points in the matter of wildlife: 

• No one is willing to say that the effort to engineer nature’s balance — so favored by the big animal rights groups who “have to do something” to save the animals — has been a basic FAILURE. The fact is that man has NOT been able to find a way to balance the demands of nature as it reacts to changing conditions and evolves because of changing circumstances. Because this is a delicate issue, you may be hearing this revelation for the first time. But playing in nature’s sandbox may feel good to a lot of people observing nature at a distance, but it seldom works very well or goes any distance into the future for those on the ground. 

• Secondly, no one seems to recognize that what HAS NOT worked in the U.S., PROBABLY WON’T work in Africa either. But few know it hasn’t worked in either location. Why? Nature on TV and the Internet is safe and sanitary. In addition, most Americans are not touched by actual nature any more. What happens in the U.S. in terms of wildlife, happens “out there” in the rural areas. “Out there” is flyover country when going between New York and Los Angeles, Boston and San Francisco, Atlanta and Seattle. These are the coastal places where all the clever, cultured and commercially successful Americans chose to live. The rest of the populations live in the great unknown middle of the country — Chicagoans included. These same clever, cultured and commercially –successful people on the coasts will say that what happens in Africa is different. Those big animals are iconic, awe-inspiring, belong to the world and must be protected. 

Everything possible must be done to keep humans away from them so they can live their lives naturally. Trouble is that you know that millions of people live among the wild animals in Africa’s rural areas — but all those clever, cultured and commercially successful masters of the universe ignore, forget or are ignorant of that untidy little detail. They’re Africans, after all, what do they count for? Are you hearing a hint of racism here? 

How have we gotten to this situation that so distorts reality? How have the major animal rights groups overwhelmed the debate on conservation topics involving elephants, rhinos, lions and other animals and been so successful at winning over so much of the public to the fairy tale that they spin about African wildlife? Part of the answer lies in the changing demographics of Western societies. As fewer and fewer people live and work on farms in Western countries, two things have been happening: 

(1) Hunting has declined precipitously as a sport and as a means of supplementing food supply. In California alone, hunting licenses have decreased from 700,000 issued annually in 1970 to around 250,000 last year — a 70% decline. As the numbers fall, there are less and less parents taking kids out to show them how to hunt, less familiarity with guns, and less knowledge of nature and wildlife. And ignorance breeds contempt. 

(2) Animals are no longer seen by a majority of people as commodities needed for earning a living or feeding a family; to nearly all Americans, animals are pets. We aren’t 

talking just about dogs and cats, goldfish and turtles here, but horses, pigs, goats, sheep, llamas and more. And as pets, animals become members of the family— they live in the house, not the barn. Moreover, there are now hotels that advertise a welcome for animals, spas for animals now flourish, kennels have become canine hotels, “comfort animals” wear special coats to identify them, groups are advertising for $10,000 to train a rescue dog in case of emergency. Animals now go everywhere and are treated like children. 

As a result, most Americans see any animal in the news, on television, in a video as akin to their pets. If they are aggressive, they are scared and whose fault is that? Humans have upset them. The animal rights groups realized that if the public treats their pets as members of their families and are willing to spend fortunes on medical treatment and luxuries, so they would do the same for wild animals — especially if they don’t seem so dangerous or threatening. 

So there is no mention of prey and predator, no scenes of animals fighting over a female, no pictures of Alpha Males forcing deference from pretenders for their thrones. The result? These organizations add millions to their treasuries as people poured money to “save” wild animals in danger from human encroachment or worse. 

So you are right if you thought that the heart of wildlife politics is money. It is. Gobs of it are raised to “save” the elephants, rhinos, green parrots or whatever. But only a small amount of the money raised trickles down. The vast majority of the funds gathered are used, one way or another, to enhance the power of those who run these organizations. How? 

• Funds are donated to political campaigns to ensure that friends of the cause are in public office and that those in public offices have access to funds for local animal projects. 

• The money raised pays for jobs for former politicians and their relations when needed — a clear message to politicians who worry about jobs for their in-laws and looking toward the future, 

• Money buys luxuries for the organization’s bosses and their colleagues to enjoy life with the rich and powerful while doing exactly what they like — staying involved with animals. 

• Money pays for colleagues and friends to conduct research that shows that they are doing good works. 

• Money pays for advertising to support all kind of animal activities. 

Money, in short, is power and power is prestige. That is why the Executive Director, Wayne LePierre of the National Rifle Association, is so powerful in Washington. He controls a huge treasury that is filled up year after year on the threat that “they” (Government bureaucrats, uncaring media representatives) are coming after your guns. And they are. Its real. Many believe that without guns there wouldn’t be so many killings in the U.S. So the more the government threatens gun control legislation, the more money accrues to the National Rifle Association. 

It is all well and good to lament the power of the NRA in terms of gun control legislation, but that is the system we have allowed to develop and no one is moved to change it. So in talking about the politics of wildlife never lose sight of the power that money affords the organizations that raise it and spend it. But if a group can cut off the appeal of the animals rights groups, you deny them the oxygen they need to live. So my organization, the Ivory Education Institute, on its own and through the Sustained Use Consortium, have tried to do just that. – 

• We had a campaign at a CITES meeting to show that there is a big difference between wildlife and pets — passing out cards showing dead humans at the hands of wild animals. But that was small potatoes. We had the right idea and right material, not the means to make it go viral. 

• We created the Afri-CAN campaign to demonstrate that Africans are perfectly capable of deciding how to safeguard their resources. 

• We developed a series of videos that made the point that the Western animal rights groups are no better than the European colonialists of the 19th century in wanting to dictate to Africa how to deal with its wildlife. We called that racist. 

• We began a PR campaign that animal rights groups are led by exactly the wrong people to be speaking for wildlife — pointing to Harvey Weinstein and Wayne Parcelle as prime examples of sexual predators with ulterior motives in every decision they make. 

Now let’s talk about the international organization charged with regulating wildlife in Africa, Asia and South America — both flora and fauna. It is called CITES — the Convention on International TRADE in Endangered Species. It went into business in 1977 and now 40 years later, the big animal rights groups — the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), the Humane Society of the United States, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Biodiversity, the International Foundation for Animal Welfare (IFAW), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and others (the guys that raise and spend that $600 million a year!) — have been busy trying to erase CITES’s middle name — TRADE. They hate the thought of TRADE in endangered species. Never mind that those of us who believe in the thought of TRADING causes people who have pets and give to animal support groups to wince — the idea that you would keep a wild crocodile or an endangered rhino imprisoned for its skin, horns, or meat is somehow abhorrent while raising cattle on a ranch for meat, skins and horn is not. 

What is troubling to those of us who are fighting this elimination trading in say elephant tusks is that the organization was specifically founded on the premise that participating members had to find a balance between trade in endangered and threatened specifies — elephants, rhinos, tigers, pangolins, green parrots as well as Brazilian rosewood and mahogany — to protect them from extinction while allowing natives and outsiders to earn a living from these animals. 

So that is the crux of the politics of wildlife. It is currently controlled by large, wealthy animal rights groups funded by people who conflate their own needs and desires with those of their pets and see their pets as just an extension of wild animals. 

Those in Africa need to respond if for no other reason than your sovereign rights are being attacked by racists claiming to know what is best for you, your governments and your resources. I have summed up the argument that Afri-CAN in a book I have written called CREDIT THE CROCODILE. 

It is a fun story about two idealistic American boys, on a gap year trip to South Africa representing an American animal rights group, who organize a demonstration in a small village to free the wild crocodiles being raised on a nearby farm. The locals don’t think the idea of freeing the crocs is a good idea — primarily because a lot of them work on the farm. As tensions rise, the boys get arrested for failing to have a permit. A South African magistrate sentences the 

boys to spend two weeks in the bush to experience life as the “freed” crocodiles would have to do — as prey and predator. 

Their predicament draws the attention of Credit, the dominant crocodile in the farm’s bask. Years before, he had come to understand English from conversations his master had directed at him. Credit and his friends, including Cynthia who is trying to get Credit to father her first clutch of eggs, decide to protect the boys while they are among Africa’s most fearsome wildlife. The crocodiles want the boys to carry a message back to the United States that concern for human and animal populations living together in Africa is primarily an African responsibility. 

While in the wild together, the boys and the crocodiles learn to communicate with each other and form a surprising bond that promises to change how Westerners deal with African wildlife far into the future. 

I hope some of you get a chance to read the book and let me know what you think of it. 

Let me now give you the bottom line of everything we have talked about. 

1. The politics of Africa’s wildlife is dominated by money from Westerners who see wild animals as extensions of the pets they love and protect as members of their families. 

2. This money has been used to corrupt the independence of an international organization and many African governments. 

3. The fight for elephants and rhinos has been to build defenses against poachers. But just as the U.S. prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s failed miserably because no one dealt with the demand side of the equation — people still wanted liquor and paid whatever it took to create a black market and a crime network to keep the booze flowing. 

Thank you. 

April 27, 2018 

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