Conservation and Hunting on World Wildlife Day

Dear Wildlife Supporters,

We find ourselves at an intellectual crossroad today, March 3rd, 2016, U.N. World Wildlife Day. 

Outside of the poaching and illegal wildlife trade afflicting the world, 2015 has produced scorching discussion and action against trophy hunting of large wildlife, namely African rhino, elephant and lion. 

Rather, we need to take a step back from fighting the hunters and instead focus on the real culprit at hand: the poachers who slaughter the wildlife, destroy economies, murder park rangers, and help fund terrorists. Then, we need to act and agree on more measures to stop the poachers.

Hunters Are Not the Problem, Poachers Are

For six years, we have heard much about the current devastation of wildlife by the poaching and illegal international trade in elephant ivory, rhino horn and hundreds of other species.  Unfortunately, this trade in illegally-obtained animal products continues to thrive.  We still have no clear solution to significantly curb the number of slaughtered or enslaved wildlife, or injured or murdered rangers and wildlife stewards.

In the last six months, in response to citizens’ outrage over the illegal hunting of Zimbabwe’s prized lion, Cecil, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service extended its endangered species protection of lions — creating even tighter restrictions on the import of lion trophies into the U.S.

Three weeks ago, hundreds of animal rights activists gathered at “Rally for Cecil” in dozens of cities around the world — a protest intentionally timed to coincide with the largest hunting conference in the world hosted by Safari Club International in Las Vegas, with approximately 25,000 attendees.  At that conference, wildlife park owners and professional hunting guides clearly stated that if the citizens of the U.S. and international communities continue to target hunters as the problem with ecosystem and wildlife health, those in Africa participating in the legal and well-managed wildlife hunting parks, will lose not only their livelihoods, but their animals as well.  Specifically, without funds from international hunters, these parks’ anti-poaching patrols can no longer be funded and all wildlife on these lands will suffer.

Last week, the Bubye Valley Conservancy, one of Zimbabwe’s largest and most successful wildlife management areas, painfully announced they will need to cull approximately 200 of its 500 lions, as a direct result of the restrictions and bans on trophy hunting now being called for and implemented around the world.  This is the result of activists who are uninformed of the specifics, and who respond emotionally rather than rationality and curiosity that they should have to the media stories around only a few unfortunate hunting incidents of the last year.

Also last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the SHARE Act of 2015 (H.R. 2406), which grants sportsmen and hunters in the United States access to more land with fewer restrictions for sport hunting and fishing.  The hunting community is mostly pleased with the passage of this bill and its amendments. Many animal rights groups are furious and are rallying to block it at the future vote in the U.S. Senate.  For the record, neither I nor Save The Wild / SAHF Foundation is taking any position on the SHARE Act of 2015 at this time and may never.

The Real Issues on World Wildlife Day

As stated on the Wildlife Day website, "The biggest threats to wildlife are habitat loss as well as overgrazing, farming and development. Poaching and trafficking in wildlife driven by transnational organized crime groups pose the most immediate threat to many iconic species.  Elephants, pangolins, rhinoceros, sharks, tigers and precious tree species are among the most critically poached and trafficked species across the world."

*** Nowhere in that description is trophy hunting mentioned as a major threat to wildlife today. ***

Thus, as a wildlife biologist, sustainability expert, and informed activist, I implore you to do two things on this day:

1.     Recognize the difference between hunting and poaching.  Poaching is illegal, unmanaged, and robs nations of their natural resources and due financial compensation.  Hunting is legal, managed and invests significant amounts of money into local economies, supporting wildlife conservation and human livelihoods.

2.     Share the knowledge that the hunting community is not the enemy — hunters and fishermen are extremely ecofriendly groups in the wildlife arena, not only putting conservation first in theory, but also in practice. They are recorded to have contributed $89.8 billion, in the last survey of U.S. wildlife use, to the U.S. and global economies through sport goods and activities, as well as conservation through licenses, permits and charitable donations (see USFWS report).  Rather, the poaching and trafficking individuals, organizations and consumers are where we need to focus our anger.

Why Am I So Sure?

If it surprises you that today I vocalize this position as a wildlife conservation activist, know that it has taken years to garner the courage to address this. I fear the potential public backlash against my comments that so many hunters have already unjustly experienced.  But I do so with hope to stop the acrimony against the hunting community. We all need to gather the information and tools to fight the true culprits of biodiversity destruction, namely those listed above from the Wildlife Day website, and fund the war on the ground to protect our own gorgeous planet covered in an incredible array of wild animals and plants, and caring soldiers who fight this battle every day.

If you question my motivation or credibility to make these statements, first know that I have spent the last 25 years focused on this issue, having seen it first hand while growing up in Africa.  Secondly, I have spent the last three years independently investigating the poaching crisis in Africa as well as researching it and actively leading education about it in the U.S.  Thirdly, I have met with hundreds of conservationists and hunters in Africa as well as at the recent February conference in Las Vegas, where I was an inquisitive attendee, not a protestor, and so heard the pleas of the responsible and acclaimed African wildlife community to lighten restrictions on imports of legal international wildlife trophies so they might continue their conservation roles.  Lastly, no hunter or organization has donated or asked me to take this position.  Rather, I am a realist and reasonable environmentalist who sees that sportsmen’s love of maintaining truly healthy ecosystems is one we need to use to our advantage in the cause of protecting, paying for and promoting biodiversity.  Biodiversity and ecosystem health is the true goal, not just saving every individual of the magnificent, charismatic species that move us.  Please ask yourself today: "What have I done lately or ever in my life to help promote biodiversity?"

Next Steps for Wildlife

Developing countries have little money to devote to park maintenance and poaching prevention.  Wildlife conservation and human livelihood benefit tremendously from international funds from both photographic safaris and managed hunting safaris. Thus, together, we can use our voices and our pocketbooks to fund conservation through true stewardship of our wildlife habitats now fading from deforestation, human encroachment, habitat loss, and poaching, rather than focus on fee-paying hunting.

It is 2016 and we now have an opportunity to stand together, marrying our knowledge with our ethics, to accelerate to a truly sustainable, environmentally-sound world.  We need to take a step back from fighting the hunters and instead focus on the real culprit at hand: the poachers who slaughter the wildlife, destroy economies and murder innocent park rangers.

In conclusion, please join me and Save The Wild / Save A Horny Friend Foundation to focus our energies on anti-poaching efforts using education and technology to protect this most precious animal, plant and human world. By making a donation today, be it small or recurring, we are ready to use your funds effectively to fight poaching of elephants, rhinos and numerous others, and promote biodiversity in general!

Kindest Regards,

Valerie Kosheleff

Founder & Director

Save The Wild / Save A Horny Friend Foundation

March 3, 2016