Dallas Safari Club Auctions off the Right to Kill Endangered Rhino

True to its promise, the Dallas Safari Club auctioned off the right to kill a black rhino in Namibia over the past weekend for a price of $350,000. The Safari Club has stated that 100% of the money will be contributed to Namibia’s Game Products Trust Fund. The details for the auction were published previously in my October 28 post.

black rhino

Let me once again state that I am not opposed to ethical hunting. I am also not a knee-jerk liberal conservationist. I understand the pro-conservation arguments being made for the auction by the government of Namibia and other agencies. However, in this instance I think they are wrong.

One of my favorite truth tests to apply to any argument  is the oath one must take to testify in court in the United States. “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” In other words, I will not lie, I will not lie by leaving out any relevant information, I will not twist the truth such that it becomes a lie. If statements fail this test I immediately call into question the trustworthiness of the person and their other statements.

Ben Carter is the executive director of the Dallas Safari Club and has issued multiple statements about the auction. Mr. Carter is not a stupid man. He knew when the Dallas Safari Club agreed to auction off the rights to kill an endangered Black Rhino that there would be conservationist backlash. As expected, he has attempted to make their view known and to put a good face on the auction. However, when I apply the truth test I find his statements coming up short.

According to NPR   “Carter says many of those who object are not educated in the role that hunting plays in conservation. A habitat can only sustain a certain population, he says, and any excess can be harvested and used to raise money through selling things like hunting licenses and permits.” [1]

This is a classic case of twisting the truth into a lie. Carter claims first that we are uneducated and then wants to “educate” us. Trust us, we understand how hunting can be used to manage wildlife populations, especially when a population outgrows its habitat. This frequently happens with wild deer in the United States. A specific number of permits are issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service to reduce the population size to that which can be supported. This is rational and humane policy. However, that is not the situation with the black rhino. There are only 5000 individuals left in the world! They are not outgrowing their habitat. In fact, the $350,000 raised by the Dallas Safari Club will be used in an attempt to increase the number of black rhinos in the wild. No, Mr. Carter is seasoning his comments with just enough science to make the spoiled meat a bit more palatable to the public.

The other claim is that “the hunt will be for an old, post-breeding, aggressive bull known to charge and kill younger bulls, cows and calves in Mangetti National Park. Removing these animals increases herd survival and productivity.” [2] I doubt that there are scientific studies to back this statement up, although it probably represents the best opinion of some experts. The health of a species is not just determined by numbers. Natural Selection has a lot to say about the health and success of a species. Perhaps the old bulls serve a function as reproductive gate keeper. Young bulls who are not sufficiently fit to displace the older bull do not reproduce and pass on their genes. Younger bulls who can defeat the older bull are more fit and theoretically pass on “stronger” genes. Thus the fitness of the species is ensured. The old bulls are not useless. They may be essential.

black rhino

I would like to return to the concept of ethical hunting. I can admire any hunter that tracks his prey and kills it in a sporting manner, i.e.: in a manner that gives the animal a fair chance of survival. I’ll use the analogy of fishing. Catching fish in a lake, river or ocean with a rod and real is ethical sportsmanship. It takes skill, knowledge and patience to succeed. And the fish have a chance of survival. Dragging a net through the ocean is not fishing, it is fish farming. It requires little skill and the fish have little chance of escaping. Another example is hunting from a helicopter, popular in Alaska and other Northern territories. While there is no doubt a great deal of skill involved by the hunter and pilot, the hunted animal has little chance of escaping the fast moving helicopter. However, a hunter that tracks a buck through the woods on foot and shoots it from 50-100 yards away is showing great skill and it is not a certain bet that the hunter will get the buck. This is ethical hunting.

Trophy hunting is different. By trophy hunting I am referring to the killing of an animal solely to obtain the head, pelt or other parts. This type of hunting is done for the thrill of killing the animal and the joy of seeing it’s dead body hanging on the wall. Legitimate arguments for trophy hunting have largely disappeared in the last century. With the rise of the media there are no longer any educational arguments for trophy hunting. Likewise, any type of hunting done simply for target shooting is also immoral.  We should not kill animals for our pleasure or amusement. However, if the hunter kills a (non-endangered) animal and harvests the meat, then I don’t care what he does with the rest of the carcass. Keeping a trophy is fine under that condition. It’s not for me but I don’t condemn the hunter.

So we now come back to the black rhino “hunt”. Is this ethical hunting. I’m fairly sure that there is little taste for old rhino meat. So what about the sport of the hunt, does the rhino have any reasonable probability of avoiding being shot? The answer of course is no. The fact that the Namibian government has already pre-selected individuals to be killed suggests strongly that they know exactly where the individuals are. Thus there is no sport. The hunter and his tracker will simply drive their range rover up to the targeted rhino and put a high powered bullet through its head. Under these conditions, I do not understand how any ethical hunter could pull the trigger. According to Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States,“Shooting a black rhino in the wild is about as difficult as shooting a parked car.”

This blog, nor any of the many other articles written about the hunt are going to change the outcome. However, I do hope that the Fish and Wildlife Service refuses to issue a permit to bring the trophy into the United States. Make your voice heard. To protest the importation on the black rhino trophy carcass contact:

Mr. Timothy J. Van Norman
Chief, Branch of Permits
Division of Management Authority
Fish and Wildlife Service
4401 North Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22203

Telephone: 703-358-21040
fax 703-358-2281

email: tim_vannorman@fws.gov

FOOTNOTES:
[1] – http://www.npr.org/2013/12/29/257881008/to-save-the-black-rhino-hunting-club-bids-on-killing-one
[2] – http://gametrails.org/rhino-auction-hunt-praised-by-boone-and-crockett-club/

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South Africa Safari – Day 12

Humble apologies to my gentle readers. Due to travel to the Midwest, Christmas and a nasty cold I have fallen behind in my postings. However, I’m back with the final day of our South African Safari.

We awoke on this, the 12th, and last day of our safari with both a sense of sorrow and relief. Sorrow because we did not want the experience to end. We had seen so many incredible sights and animals in the past 2 weeks and yet it was time to go home. Home to our own bed and our own wildlife (our 3 cats, Casper, Jasmine and Bosco).

It was an absolutely beautiful morning with golden light. The animals seemed to be energized, everything was moving. We almost immediately passed some rhinos grazing in the field. As always, they were accompanied by oxpeckers. With their bright bill and eyes I never tire of looking at them.

Our ranger headed the land rover toward the river to see if the overstuffed lions we observed the previous day were still there. He was driving at a pretty good clip as we passed a watering hole with a grey heron in it. The light on the pond was incredible. The water looked like liquid gold. We were yelling at our driver to stop but he kept going. We finally got him to stop and back up so that we could get the shot. It was worth it.

Leaving the heron behind we found a spotted hyena, sculking through the tall grass, that clearly had the scent of something. We continued on to the river and sure enough, the lions were still there. Still looking over stuffed and lethargic. It was clear that we would see no action out of this group today so we moved on.

Click on any image to enlarge it. Hover over an image to reveal the caption.

When we left the lions it was still early, about 6:40 am. We sighted a small herd of impala and then some steenbok. Steenboks are really cute but hard to photograph. They are very shy and hide when approached. However today we were lucky. The steenboks chose to hide in the tall golden grasses that lined the road. With the beautiful lighting that we had that morning we got some wonderful shots of steenboks backlit by the morning light and surrounded by the dry golden grass.

We heard via the radio that there were leopards in the area and headed off in the direction of where the reports were coming from. It took about an hour to get there and find the leopards. There were 3 of them, 2 males and 1 female. According to our ranger the female also had one or more cubs although they were hidden. We got there just after the female and one of the males had a fight. Apparently the male was interested in mating and the female was most definitely not interested. In this case the male came out on the loosing end.

The bloodied and beaten male attends to his wounds.

We continued to track and watch the leopards for almost an hour. The other male was also interested in mating but the female continued to show that there would be no fooling around today. It was fascinating to watch the interplay between the male and female and how the female controlled the situation even though she was much smaller than the male suitor.

And thus ended our 12 day safari. We had to head back to camp so that we could catch our flight to Johannesburg. However, our adventure was not quite over yet. From Johannesburg we would fly to Cape Town for a 3 day visit to this jewel of the African coast. During our visit there we would see penguins, fur seals, whales, sharks as well as visit incredible wineries and some of the most beautiful coastline I’ve ever seen. Stay tuned.

Entry to Kings Camp

Entry to Kings Camp

For Ethan

For the past week I was visiting family back in the Midwest. Last Saturday I had the pleasure of having dinner with my nephew Russ, his wife Erin and their two children Ethan and Nova. My dad, sister and brother-in-law were also there. Dinner was at a nice brew pub and the food was good. As usual there was lively conversation around the table.

I was sitting next to Ethan. I knew Ethan was very interested in animals from past encounters so I was expecting to talk to him about our latest trip to Africa. Even though Ethan is a bit on the quiet side he peppered me with questions about our safari. My sister had already warned me that he is very smart and usually right when he says something.

At some point Ethan asked me if I knew what a guineafowl was. I immediately launched into a description of the helmeted guineafowls that I had seen in Kenya and South Africa. What I didn’t know was that Ethan’s family raises domestic guineafowl. It wasn’t long before he was asking questions that I didn’t know the answers to. But of course he did…

Ethan then told me that guinea eggs were very tough and that he had even dropped one on concrete and it didn’t break. I had no reason to disbelieve him but I also thought it might just be the exaggeration of a 9-year-old. The rest of the meal continued in a pleasant fashion until we had to go our separate ways.

When I got home I decided, out of curiosity, to check Ethan’s claim of guinea egg durability. I Googled “helmeted guineafowl” and found an entry in Wikipedia that said “Domestic birds at least, are notable for producing extremely thick-shelled eggs.” This appeared to support Ethan’s claim, however, Wikipedia is not really the most reliable source around. I continued to search but mostly found a bunch of YouTube videos of questionable veracity. So I kept digging until I found this:

guineaeggsSo there it was. Ethan’s claim was substantiated by the journal of British Poultry Science!

Why am I writing about this? With his sharp mind and strong interest in animals Ethan would make an excellent Naturalist (among other things) someday. So this posting is to applaud all of the young people out there who are interested in science, wildlife and the environment. Our world needs people like them. Let’s encourage their interest so that our future will be brighter.

South Africa Safari – Day 11

As we roll out of bed this morning we realize that this is our last full day on safari. Hopefully it will bring lots of exciting new discoveries.

We headed down to the river. Our ranger had heard there were lions there that had made a kill the night before. What a sight. I have never seen a group of lions with such extended bellies in my life. They could barely lie on their stomachs. Most lay on their backs with their feet extended in the air. Needles to say they weren’t very active. Comical but not active. We hung around for about 30 minutes photographing these lethargic beasts before moving on.

Driving around we spot a few zebras. Zebras are among the most beautiful of Africa’s animals. However, they photograph much better on the savanna of Masai Mara that the brush of the lowveld. It doesn’t help that this is the dry season and there is no green to contrast with their beautiful stripes. It does give an idea of how well the zebra’s stripes can serve as camouflage under the right conditions. We were also fortunate to spot a couple of endangered ground hornbills.

We headed over to a large water hole and spotted a hyena, and before we knew it there was a whole pack of them, including a couple of youngsters. We parked the land rover and watched these guys cavort in the water and chase each other for over 30 minutes. The main behavior of the pack seems to be checking out each others genitalia. The hyena is unique in that the female has a pseudo-penis. The female is also slightly larger than the male and they live in a female dominated pack. It was also astonishing the number of vocalizations that these animals made. It was downright noisy.

After the hyenas moved on we joined up with others from our group for our morning bush breakfast. These brief interludes each morning were highly civilized and gave us a chance to get to know our rangers and trackers better. And besides – they make great coffee!

D591608

Ray, Pat, Ed, Tom and Colbert

As we wound our way back to camp we saw a crested francolin, a yellow billed hornbill, a warhog and a Nyala taking a rest in the shade. A pretty good morning overall.

Lunch was a special treat on this day. Our host at King’s Camp, Tristan, is the proud keeper of an African Wildcat. As this was our last lunch at King’s Camp he promised to bring the cat out for us to see. I wasn’t sure what an African Wildcat was but I was looking forward to seeing one. It turns out that the African Wildcat, to my eye, is indistinguishable from a common tabby. And for good reason. The house cat was probably domesticated from the African Wildcat about 9000 years ago in the fertile crescent of the Middle East. If you’d like to know more about what domestic cats have in common with the African Wildcat click here.

The weather was stunning as we left for our afternoon drive. We observed giraffes, including a young giraffe, more zebra and saw how birds can protect their nests by building them inside of a very thorny Acacia tree.

The afternoon, however, belonged to the elephants. We followed a large herd through the trees, brush and river bed for close to an hour. Our ranger, Remember, and our tracker, Elvis, did a good job of keeping us positioned to get some great shots. I never tire of watching these incredible animals.

Once the elephants had finished with us we drove to the river where a large concrete dam had been built years ago to control the flow of the river. There lying on top of the concrete, basking in the golden glow of the setting sun was a beautiful leopard. He seemed completely unconcerned with anything other than having a comfortable nap. As the sun set we could see hippos swimming in the river and shore birds on the river bank. One last surprise awaited us as we exited the area. A scrub hare  was laying by the road, just waiting for us to take its photograph. A lovely way to end an exciting day!

South Africa Safari – Day 10

What day 10 lacked in variety it made up for in quantity. One again we started the day by tracking a pride of lions on the hunt. It was clear that they sensed nearby prey but we never figured out what they were after. We stayed with them for over 30 minutes and they stalked through the dry grass before moving on.

Click on any image to enlarge it.

We explored the veldt for about 40 minutes before coming upon a few elephants at a watering hole. Unlike yesterday the light was good and we stopped to watch these magnificent animals.

We moved on but almost immediately came upon the rest of the herd. For a moment we thought we were going to see a scuffle as two males challenged each other. However, the smaller of the males showed good sense and backed down.

We drove ahead of the herd and parked at a second water hole and waited. Within minutes the herd arrived and began to fill up. Along with the herd was one baby elephant. It was so young it had not yet learned how to use its trunk to drink. It was so cute as the baby got down on its knees to drink water directly with its mouth. The adults kept the baby surrounded at all times in what was clearly a protective maneuver. There was lots of other activity around the water as well. There was some pushing and shoving by some of the elephants. Some waded directly into the water while the others remained on the bank. This continued for about 30 minutes. Then the herd reversed course and headed back into the bush.

With the departure of the elephants we resumed our search. We came across a few Cape Buffalo. I must admit that I find these beasts fascinating.

Cape buffalo, King's CampAfter about 50 minutes of exploration we found a leopard hidden in the bush with fresh prey. (An antelope or Impala I think.) We watched as the leopard ripped the fur from the carcass and then tore in to the meat. Despite the grisly scene in front of us you could not help but admire the beauty of this animal.

Our afternoon drive began with more elephants. It was probably part of the same herd that we saw this morning. We grabbed a few shots and moved on.

We decided to see if the leopard from this morning was still there – and she was. She was still working over her prey. A somewhat older cub briefly made an appearance but then quickly disappeared back into the bush.

Mother and cub

Mother and cub

As we drove around we spotted a few rhinos but not much else. Finally, around 5 pm, we came across a pride of lions. They of course were doing what lions do best – rest. We watched them lay about and groom each other. Then slowly they started to show some signs of life, eventually heading over to the water for a drink. By this time the sun was down and it was starting to get dark. (i.e.: some of the following shots were taken at ISO 12800) We left them as they were getting ready for their evening’s adventures.

South Africa Safari – Day 8

The morning of October 2nd was to be our last game drive at Mala Mala. After an abbreviated drive  we would move to our final safari destination, Kings Camp in the Timbavati game preserve.

We were out before 6 am as usual and found the usual herd of Impala grazing near the camp. It was quite chilly that morning. Continuing on we came across a termite mound. Between our Kenya trip and this one we had seen dozens of termite mounds. What was unique about this one was that it was clearly active with steam rising from the mound and condensing in the cold morning air.

Click on any photo to enlarge

Active termite mound.

Active termite mound.

At about 6:15 we spotted a bush buck. We watched him for a while and then came across a beautiful African fish eagle and a male kudu.

Around 7:30 we spotted a pride of lions at the “green slime” watering hole. One lioness was pacing at the edge of the water and staring out to the center where an animal carcass was stuck. It appeared to be a Nyala but how it got there I don’t know. What I did know was that the lioness wanted it and was trying to figure out how to get it.

We watched her try to figure out how she could get to the carcass and drag it to shore. Finally, almost without warning, she leaped into the pond only to find herself chest deep in mud. This was a nasty turn of events that clearly displeased her. When we left about a half hour later she was still lying at the edge of the water hole trying to figure out how to get the carcass.

After leaving the lions at the water hole we found another leopard. This handsome cat spent most of the time either under a tree or creeping through the brush. We followed the cat for about a half hour but then needed to head back to camp. On the way back to camp we did get a photo of a water buck. We had been trying to get a good shot of a water buck ever since we went to Kenya.

We got back to camp, packed our bags and loaded into a small bus for the 2 hour drive to King’s Camp. The drive was interesting. We were a long way from the urban centers yet we saw a lot of residential construction. Most of the homes are very small and made from concrete blocks. Most were unfinished. Apparently people would buy construction materials as they could afford them and then continue building their homes as they were able to.

We arrived at Kings Camp, our final destination for this safari, and were warmly welcomed, as usual, by the owners and staff. Unlike Londolozi and Mala Mala, which were unfenced, Kings Camp was surrounded by a wide electric fence to discourage the wildlife from entering the compound and snacking on the tourists! Despite the fence, we were warned not to roam the camp unescorted at night.

It was almost 4 pm by the time we began our afternoon drive. Our Ranger/Driver for King’s Camp was “Remember” and our tracker’s name was Elvis. Almost immediately we discovered a giraffe busy munching on trees nearby. With that long neck and horns on its head the giraffe always appears rather cartoon-like. Continuing on our way we soon came across a pride of lions. They appeared to be tracking some nearby wildlife. They were clearly attentive but unhurried. The largest male had a large abscess or growth on his left front leg. Eventually they settled down in the grass and do what lions do so well much of the time – nothing.

We saw a herd of Cape Buffalo nearby and headed in that direction. After watching the herd for a short while Remember mentioned that there was a watering hole nearby and the herd seemed to be slowly moving in that direction. He suggested that we go down to the watering hole and wait for the herd there. We arrived at the watering hole and positioned ourselves strategically such that we would have good light when the buffalo arrived. Remember was correct. Within 10 minutes the herd was meandering towards the water for an afternoon drink. And we were in the perfect position to capture nature in action.

The Cape Buffalo finished up and wandered off about 5:15 so we took off in search of other animals. In short order we came across a spotted hyena. Hyenas are very odd animals, looking like they were built with left over spare parts of other animals. Some people consider them to be ugly, but I just think they look kind of strange.

As we were driving around I spotted a tree with whitish/yellow roots growing on top of a boulder. I asked Remember what type of tree it was. It was a Large-leaved Rock Fig tree (Ficus abutilifolia), a member of the mulberry family. They characteristically grow out of the rocks with their roots penetrating the cracks, searching for water. The fruit is said to be quite tasty.

By now it was almost sunset. One thing about southern Africa is that the sunsets are typically spectacular. Presumably this is due to the presence of the Kalahari desert to the west which kicks up lots of dust into the atmosphere. Whatever the cause, the colors are incredible.

Sunset

Sunset

On the way back to camp we lucked upon another leopard. This cat was definitely on the prowl for its dinner. We followed it in the gathering darkness for about 20 minutes. To our surprise it headed for our camp! When it came to the electric fence the cat was not deterred in the least. With one easy leap he soared over the fence and into the camp. Now I understood the warning about not roaming around the camp unescorted at night!