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Archive for the ‘conservationist’ Category

woodland caribou

I had the pleasure of listening to Diane Boyd, a noted wolf expert, talk about wolf conservation issues on Steven Rinella’s Meatear Podcast. It is very good info about wolves, including wolf conspiracy theories.  One part I found particularly interesting was about the history of Isle Royale, which is experiencing a wolf reintroduction this year. Isle Royale is, of course, home to one of the longest running ecological studies that has examined predator and prey relationships.  The study mainly focuses on moose and wolves on the island, but an inbreeding depression reduced the wolf population of the island to two individuals last year.

I have always thought of Isle Royale as being a place of wolves and moose. But wolves came to the island only in the 1949, and moose came only in the early 1900s.

In the podcast with Diane Boyd, she mentions that Isle Royale was originally known for its woodland caribou and Canada lynx.  Boyd speculated that moose introduced brainworm to the caribou, but a more likely reason for their disappearance is that woodland caribou are sensitive to human-centered activities. All the logging and mining that happened on Isle Royale could not have done the caribou many favors. The last caribou was documented on the island in 1925.

Canada lynx are not particularly good predators of caribou. They were likely living on snowshoe hares, which are found on the island. Maybe, when snowshoe hares experienced the crash portion of their boom or bust population cycle, the lynx occasionally turned to hunting caribou, as they did in Newfoundland.

If Isle Royale’s fauna had remained the same at the beginning of the twentieth century as it did at the beginning, maybe it never would have become such a great place to study predator and prey population dynamics.

The restoration of wolves to Isle Royale, which is happening as I write this piece, is an attempt to bring back an ecology that dates all the way back to 1949. I have readers who can remember 1949.

We have this idea that conservation is about restoring things to an Eden when things were unmolested, untrammeled, and pure.  But what seems to be timeless is ultimately just temporary.

Last night, I was grappling with the concepts of conservation, specifically the idea of rewilding.  Rewilding is about restoring organisms to the land that were there at some point. Some think of feral horses in the West as being rewilded, from the Pleistocene though I am greatly skeptical of this idea.

Of late, though, there have been proposal to restore Pleistocene fauna to their former ranges, and if that animal can’t be found exactly, then a facsimile will be brought in.

In the case of North America, African elephants have been proposed as being equivalent of the Columbian and woolly mammoths. African lions might take the place of old Panthera atrox.   Some have even suggested that the plains of Texas, which are filling with blackbuck, might be a great place to turn out some cheetahs, thinking of course that Old World cheetahs are somehow the equivalent the long-legged coursing cougars that once roamed the Pleistocene wild of North America.

We don’t really know what killed off all these fantastic beasts of the Pleistocene. I lean more toward rapid warming at the time of the Pleistocene/Holocene boundary, but many reasonable people find some merit in Paul Martin’s “Overkill Hypothesis.”  This hypothesis contents that the Siberian hunter-gatherers who came into North America wound up killing off much of the megabeasts, or lacking such evidence of profligate killing, contend that these hunter-gatherers killed off a few keystone species, such as mammoths and mastodons, to cause ecosystems to collapse.

If this hypothesis is correct, there is a moral force for this Pleistocene rewilding concept. Humanity is responsible for killing off the megabeasts, and it is our duty to restore North America to its former glory as the land with the great bison, pachyderms, camels, and equines.

But this takes me back to Isle Royale. Humans certainly disrupted that ecosystem. If we wished to restore Isle Royale to its form ecosystem, we should be shooting off all the moose on the island and turning out woodland caribou from Ontario. We shouldn’t be trapping wolves and turning them loose. We should be trapping Canada lynx instead.

Canada lynx are much rarer in the Upper Midwest than gray wolves are, so by a triage of the conservation needs of the species, it would make more sense to preserve Isle Royale for the lynx.

Of course, that’s not what is being done. The wolf and moose studies are too deeply ingrained in our science and our understanding these two species. And if you were to twist my arm, I’d say choose wolves and moose over caribou and lynx.

But this is logic of Pleistocene rewilding. It is to say that we can somehow turn back the clock on that happened long before North America had cities and agriculture and way long before the continent was divided into nation-states.

Indeed, while we’re theorizing about Pleistocene rewilding, we’re not really coming to terms with that fact that Pre-Columbian rewilding is a project that will only go so far. Yes, we’ll have wolves come back to the Upper Midwest and the Western States.

But no one is seriously considering restoring grizzly bears to Texas or even attempt to bring back wolverines to Michigan.

We cannot handle that idea of wildlife now. That we have managed to hold onto so many wild places and restore so many wildlife species is a certain greatness about the United States. However, this feature is one that always exists in tension, one that must be recognized and fully understood.

Isle Royal in 2019 is not the same as Isle Royal in 1960, which was not the same as Isle Royale when the loggers and the miners came.

And if that one island is so different, imagine how different the entire continent of North America has become since the Pleistocene gave way to the Holocene, which has now giving away to the Anthropocene.

There is a sadness in knowing that things pass, and we certainly have a moral duty to prevent extinction and to preserve what ecosystems we can.

But we should understand that what we’re preserving was never timeless, and even in our attempts at restoration, we aren’t always going back to the known original condition of a place. We often go back to what seemed wondrous and pure and wild.

And if we can understand this simple fact, maybe we can get a handle on what our species continues to do to the planet and the rest of life that resides here with us. We have done much, but we shouldn’t assume that we are preserving any kind of stasis.

I write these words from the northern edge of Appalachian Ohio, awaiting the arrival of the nine-banded armadillo, which will some day come working its way up from North Carolina and Tennessee into Virginia and then West Virginia.  Xenarthan,  the “strange jointed stranger”  with roots in Latin America, it will come scurrying along into this part of the world.

What it may change in our ecosystems, I cannot guess. But it is coming.  When it arrives, it will roam where wolves once howled and elk bulls bugled.

And its story on the land will be one to note. It will not be timeless. It will a temporal as the fleetingness of existence, a bit of the faunal guild of the Anthropocene making a name for itself in a new land, just as those Siberian hunters did all those thousands of years ago.

 

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tristan moorhen

Off the southeastern coast of Africa, the British Empire still holds onto some islands. The most famous of these is St. Helena, where Napoleon lived out his final days in his second exile thousands of miles from France and Europe and any trouble he might want to cause.

On two of these islands, though, a taxonomic controversy has brewed for decades. On Gough Island and Tristan da Cuhna, insular forms of moorhen (also known as gallinules in much of the US) existed.  They were smaller than the common moorhen, and they possessed shorter wings. In this way, they exhibited both insular dwarfism, a common trait of organism evolving on isolated islands, and the loss of flight that sometimes happens when birds evolve without selection pressures from predation to ensure flight in the population.

The moorhens on Gough Island, nearly 400 miles away, were quite similar to those on Tristan da Cunha, and in the 1950s, some Gough island moorhens were introduced to Tristan da Cunha.

These Gough Island birds did quite well on the new island. where an estimated 2,500 breeding pairs now exist. However, because these birds were introduced from Gough Island, they are not regarded as native and are not protected.

Traditionally, experts have regarded the Gough and Tristan moorhens as distinct species. The Gough species is called Gallinula comeri, while the extinct Tristan species is called Gallinula nesiotis.

However, over the years, it has been suggested that the two were of the same species, and the introduction of the Gough species was actually a reintroduction.

Not many DNA studies have been performed on these birds, but the most notable is Groenenberg et al (2008).   This study examined samples that have been collected over the past two centuries, including a specimen from Tristan da Cunha that was collected in 1864.

The authors found that the two forms were roughly genetically distant from each other as different subspecies of the common moorhen. Indeed, if one were wanting to keep the common moorhen a monophyletic species, one would be forced to include these two insular forms as subspecies of the common moorhen.

The authors found that the Gough moorhen had replaced the Tristan form, and they were different taxa. However, because their genetic difference was equivalent to the genetic difference between some common moorhen subspecies, the authors proposed that these two forms be regarded as subspecies, which they propose as Gallinula nesiotis nesiotis and G.n. comeri.

These birds are most closely related to African and European moorhens than they are to South American ones,

However, the debate gets fairly interesting here because the South American common moorhens are typically considered subspecies of a quite wide-ranging species. When the authors performed their research, the common moorhen was believed to have existed in Eurasia, Africa, and the Americas, but in 2011, the New World population was given full species status, which is usually called the common gallinule. Taxonomists fixed the paraphyly of the common moorhen by creating this new American species (Gallinula galeata).

But this study does not fix the controversy about the moorhens on Tristan da Cunha. Even if the Gough and Tristan populations constitute different subspecies, a real debate can be made as to whether the birds on Tristan da Cunha represent an introduction or a reintroduction.

And this is where the subjectivity part of taxonomy sets in. If the Gough subspecies behaves in the ecosystem in an equivalent way to the extinct Tristan subspecies on Tristan da Cunha, then one could just make the argument that the arrival of these birds in the 1950s was a reintroduction. If they behave in a fundamentally different way from the extinct Tristan birds, then they were simply introduced and certainly don’t require any special protections as a native species under the law.

But the subjective part is where to draw the line between being fundamentally similar or fundamentally different. Yes, the Gough subspecies is genetically different, and it may have some attributes that cause it behave just slightly differently from the extinct Tristan subspecies.

However one answers this question, one should keep in mind that it cannot answered so easily.

This debate is quite strong, not just in gallinules and moorhens, but a big debate exists within some quarters as to whether the feral horses of the American West represent a rewilding from the Pleistocene. Horse evolved in North America and then became extinct at the end of the Pleistocene, but a huge debate exists on how to classify the various late Pleistocene horses. They may have been a single species that was very close to the modern horse. In which case, the feral horses of the American West might be argued to be rewilding population. A more recent study on cheek teeth and ancient mitochondrial DNA of these horses revealed there were three species of horse in North America at the end of the Pleistocene, one of which was very close to the modern horse.

But the Pleistocene ended around 10,000 years ago, and the ecosystems that maintained horses on the range no longer exist in the same way. In this case, one could not honestly say that this was a rewilding. It would be an introduction. (That’s where I stand on the horses as native wildlife controversy.)

However, I’ve often thought about what would happen if we somehow got greater prairie chickens to thrive on the East Coast once again. A subspecies of the greater prairie chicken called the heath hen once ranged all the way down the coast from New England to Northern Virginia. It was a colonial staple, and it was hunted out of existence.

The last population of these birds lived on Martha’s Vineyard, and the last one died in 1932. Attempts have been made to introduce greater prairie chickens to the island in an attempt to restore something like the heath hen to the island, but these attempts have fails.  If such an attempt were successful, it would be very much like the replacement of the Tristan moorhen with the Gough subspecies.  A debate could be had as to whether it was was reintroduction or not, but at least it would be something.

So the story of the moorhens on these South Atlantic islands tells the story of a controversy. It is one that rages in the conservation community all the time. Can you restore an extinct subspecies by introducing another related subspecies?

That answer is never going to be fully black and white. Ecological as well as taxonomic considerations have to be examined. Otherwise, someone could easily make the argument that wolf reintroduction and conservation are silly ideas, because, well, domestic dogs are everywhere. Dogs are a subspecies of wolf, so they just replaced them.

So this controversy will rage hard as we try to deal with this nasty extinction mess. We don’t always have all the answers. We don’t always have the best solutions. But we need to think it through carefully. It’s all gray or grayish.

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red fox new jersey

New Jersey is a place I think of when I think of a place where animal rights ideology has become quite pernicious.  It is a densely-populated state that still has a lot of wild areas still left within its borders, but wildlife management decisions that include lethal control are quite controversial in that state.

For example, in my state of West Virginia, we have plenty of black bears. Black bears are state symbol, and if you go to any gift shop in the state, there will be black bears featured on so many different object. We love our bears, but we also manage them with hunting season.

New Jersey has the same species of bear, and this bear species is one of the few large carnivorans that is experiencing a population increase. Biologists know that hunting a few black bears every year doesn’t harm their populations at all, and in my state, bear tags go to promote bear conservation and to mitigate any issues between people and bears. Hunting these bears also gives the bears a healthy fear of humans, and it is virtually unknown for a bear to attack someone here. New Jersey has had a bear hunt for the past few years, but it has been met with far more controversy there than it ever would be here. Checking stations get protesters, as do wildlife management areas that are open to bear hunting.

Since the bear hunt began, human and bear conflicts have gone down dramatically. The population is thinned out a bit, and the bears learn that people aren’t to be approached.  But those potential conservation gains are likely to be erased sooner rather than later.

The animal rights people have become powerful enough in that state that no Democrat can make it through the primaries without pledging to end the bear hunt. The new Democratic governor wants to do away with the bear hunt.

But the bear hunt isn’t the only place where the animal rights people are forcing misguided policy.

A few days ago, I posted a piece about the inherent conflict between animal rights ideology and conservation, and it didn’t take me long to find an article about red foxes in Brigantine, New Jersey. Brigantine is an island off the New Jersey coast.

Like most places in the Mid-Atlantic, it has a healthy population of red foxes, but it also has a nesting shorebird population, which the foxes do endanger. One of the shorebirds that nests on the island is the piping plover, a species that is listed as “near threatened” by the IUCN.  Red knot also use the island on their migrations between South America and their Canadian arctic nesting ground. This species is also listed as near threatened, and both New Jersey and Delaware have enacted regulations and programs to protect them.

At Brigantine, people began to discover dead red foxes in the sand dunes, and because red foxes are canids and canids are charismatic. It was speculated that the foxes were poisoned, and the state DEP was asked if the agency had been poisoning foxes there.

The state apparently answered that it had no been poisoning foxes on Brigantine’s beaches. It has been trapping and shooting red foxes.

To me, the state’s management policy makes perfect sense. North American red foxes are in no way endangered or threatened. Their numbers and range have only increased since European settlement, and they are classic mesopredators.  Mesopredators are those species of predator whose numbers would normally be checked by larger ones, but when those larger ones are removed, the smaller predators have population increases. These increased numbers of smaller predators wind up harming their own prey populations.

This phenomenon is called “mesopredator release.” It is an important hypothesis that is only now starting to gain traction in wildlife management science. What it essentially means is that without larger predators to check the population of the smaller ones, it is important to have some level of controls on these mesopredators to protect biodiversity.

Animal rights ideology refuses to consider these issues. In fact, the article I found about these Brigantine foxes is entitled “These adorable foxes are being shot to death by the state.”   The article title is clickbaitish, because the journalist interviewed a spokesperson at the DEP, who clearly explained why the fox controls were implemented.

The trappers who took the foxes probably should have come up with a better way of disposing of the bodies. One should also keep in mind that New Jersey is one of the few states that has totally banned foot-hold traps for private use, so any kind of trapping is going to be controversial in that state. So the state trappers should have been much more careful.

But I doubt that this will be the end of the story. The foxes have been named “unofficial mascots” of Brigantine, and it won’t be long before politicians hear about the complaints. The fox trapping program will probably be be pared back or abandoned altogether.

And the piping plover and red knot will not find Brigantine such a nice place to be.

And so the fox lovers force their ideology onto wildlife managers, and the protection of these near threatened species becomes so much harder.

This sign was posted in 2016 after the first dead foxes were found:

save our foxes

But I don’t think many people will be posting “Save Our Piping Plovers.” Most people don’t know what a piping plover is, but red foxes are well-known.

They get their special status because they are closely related to dogs, and people find it easy to transfer feelings about their own dogs onto these animals.

This makes sense from a human perspective, but it makes very little sense in terms of ecological understanding.

And it makes little sense for the foxes, which often die by car strikes and sarcoptic mange, especially when their population densities become too high.

Death by a trapper’s gun is far more humane than mange. The traps used are mostly off-set jawed ones, ones that cannot cut the fox as it is held. The trap is little more than a handcuff that grabs it by the foot and holds it. The traps are checked at least once a day, and the fox dies with a simple shot to the head, which kills it instantly.

And the fox numbers are reduced, and the island can hold rare shorebirds better than it could before.

In trying to make a better world for wildlife, we sometimes have to kill. This is an unpleasant truth.

And this truth becomes more unpleasant when we start conflating animal rights issues with conservation issues. Yes, we should make sure that animals are treated humanely, but we cannot make the world safe for wildlife without controlling mesopredators and invasive species.

I think that most of the fox lovers do care about wildlife, but they are so removed from wildlife issues on a grand scale that it becomes harder to understand why lethal methods sometimes must be used.

My guess is these people like seeing foxes when they are at the beach and don’t really think about these issues any more than that.

It is not just the wildlife exploiters and polluters that conservationists have to worry about. The animal lovers who extend too much animal rights ideology into conservation issues are a major problem as well.

And sadly, they are often the people that are the hardest to convince that something must be changed.

I don’t have a good answer for this problem, but it is one that conservationists must consider carefully as the future turns more and more in the favor of animal rights ideology.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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cecil

The story of Cecil the lion is one I’ve avoided.  I absolutely abhor stories that involve one animal cause celebre, be it Marius the Danish giraffe or some abused dog.

I dislike animal cruelty. I dislike poachers even more.

So you will not be getting any defenses of Dr. Walter Palmer from me.

But we’ve been dealing with poaching in Africa for a long time now, and that is not the part of the story I find disturbing.

What I find disturbing is that social media has turned into a giant lynch mob.

Vox reports:

When an American dentist named Walter Palmer killed a beloved lion named Cecil, the social media platforms that allowed outraged web users to spread the story also enabled them to do more than just fume. It gave them the power to act on their anger, to reach into Palmer’s life and punish him for what he’d done, without having to wait for the wheels of more formal justice to turn.

Web users uncovered Palmer’s personal information, including about his family, and published it online. They went after his business, a private dental practice, posting thousands of negative reviews on Yelp and other sites. The practice has since shut down. Users also went after professional websites that host his profile, leading the sites to remove his information. On Twitter and on his practice’s public Facebook page, people made threats of physical violence.

This should look familiar: It is the same set of tactics that has been used in online harassment campaigns such as the “Gamergate” movement that targeted women in technology, or the seemingly endless online harassment conducted against female journalists. It is a growing trend of internet mob justice, one that often bleeds into real-world harassment with real-world consequences.

It’s actually pretty similar to Gamergate.

This is the mob, and because the mob has projected onto Dr. Palmer the worst possible evil, it is totally okay to be an asshole to bring about justice.

Of course, this also gets mixed in with calls to ban all lion-hunting, and at the risk of getting the same treatment as Palmer, I’m going to say that this is a very short-sighted reaction.

Let’s get some facts on the table first.

Lions are not easy animals to live with. They are huge predators that have killed people, but they also do enjoy eating cattle.

If you’re a poor farmer in Sub-Saharan Africa, you are not going to like lions very much. You’re not going to be sitting by the campfire at night in awe of the roaring lions. You’re not going to be proud that all these Westerners love lions so much that they will raise an internet lynch mob to get someone who poached one.

Instead, you’re probably sitting by the fire with a gun or a spear, hoping that the damned things don’t show up an take a calf.

And you certainly hope they don’t kill your children while they sleep.

Most of the people engaging in the lynch mob who are also excoriating hunting have never lived anywhere near large carnivores. Even those of us who live near black bears in the East Coast honestly don’t have a clue. Black bears are timid creatures that have killed very few people in recorded history of this continent.

We have no clue what it’s like to live with large predators. Predators would be a constant worry for our ancestors living in hunter-gatherer camps, and even in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, predation by wolves was a constant worry.

Most Westerners live in cities, and the city has an insulating affect. Most people have never seen an animal kill anything, unless they see it on television.

And what most people see on television is pretty sanitize. Sir David Attenborough readily admitted that the most gory parts of predatory sequences had to be clipped from his documentaries.

Most Westerners think of lions as being really big cats.

Which is exactly what they are.

However, even a domestic cat can be a fierce predator to a mouse or a songbird.

And when you scale up a cat to the size of a lion, you are the mouse or the songbird.

We have a very distorted view of what lions are about.  The Lion King posits that the lion cub gets presented by the mandrill on top of the big cliff and all the subject animals, which are mostly things that lions eat, are just elated to see their new prince.

In truth, most of these animals would be avoiding a lion with cubs, and in the case of African buffalo, they would be actively seeking out the cub to trample it to death.

It is certainly true that lion numbers have dropped in recent years.

In 1975, there were an estimated 250,000 lions in Africa. There are now 25-30,000.

Were those lions all killed by trophy hunters?

Even if we accept that some were, there is just no way there are that many trophy hunters in the world who would kill that many lions.

No, what really got the lions is that in many countries where they are found populations are on the rise, but the economies are not growing fast enough to keep up with the population growth. Millions of people are being forced to farm and raise stock in the last redoubts of lions, and the lions start to cause problems.

If your’e a poor person living in Africa, you have every reason to want lions dead. Lion poisoning is becoming quite common in Kenya and in other parts of Africa. Poisoning does in entire prides of lions, but it takes care of the problem from the perspective of the poor farmer.

If we Westerners truly value lions, then we have to think of ways to make the lives of people living in those regions better. One way to do this is to create some sort of economic value for lions, and the best way to do this is to allow some limited, managed hunting.

Now, hunting like this can be abused, and it is certainly true that a lot of the money spent on this kind of hunting doesn’t stay in the communities, but it is still enough of a payment to give people incentive to keep lions alive.

Managed hunting, by definition, is not the same kind of hunting that seeks to make animals extinct. It is a kind of hunting that we’d recognize in our own country, especially if we paid some attention to the conservation policies of Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt began a conservation revolution in this country. Before his time, we saw wild animals as either commodities or nuisances. When we began to conserve them as game animals, they were seen as creatures with value that extended beyond that animal’s life.

Using this conservation tool, we’ve seen all sorts of species rebound from near extinction. The cougar that was wiped out in the East is making a strong comeback in the West, where it is still hounded with strictly regulated hunting (except in California, where the cougars carry off dogs on a pretty regular basis).

But the US is rich country, and most of Africa is not. Land and resources are being stretched.

If we do want lions to exist, we either say that the lives of Africans don’t matter or we say that we have to use trophy hunting as way of generating funds and adding value to the people who otherwise would be better off without them.

No country in Africa would ever set up such a draconian conservation policy that would deny people the right to graze their cattle on public lands or on private property. They might deny it in a park, but outside the park, they are much more likely to look the other way if a lion gets killed.

Westerners look upon the lion situation with self-righteous ignorance. We can’t be bothered to elect politicians who will actually do a thing about climate change, which is driving extinctions left and right, and we can’t be bothered to stop having children or curbing our rapacious desire for new stuff.

But we can tell the poor nations of Africa that they must save their lions– just don’t ask us to pay for it!

Cecil the lion was named for Cecil Rhodes. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps you’ve heard of the Rhodes Scholar program at Oxford that was funded through his estate. Rhodes was champion of British imperialism and a diamond magnate in Southern Africa. He was instrumental in getting a chunk of southeastern Africa added to the British Empire which were called “the Rhodesias”. Rhodes wound up ruling that region as a part of the British South Africa Company. Yes. It was essentially a corporate colony, which Rhodes as the CEO. The region of  the Rhodesias became a land of white landowners with large numbers of landless native Africans working on the plantations and mines.Southern Rhodesia became independent under the racist regime of Ian Smith. Dylann Roof, the Charleston church shooter, would pose with two flags on his jacket. One of these was Ian Smith’s Rhodesian flag, and Rhodesia, Ian Smith, and Cecil Rhodes have long captured the imagination of white supremacists

So Westerners have named a lion in honor of a brutal imperialist.

The West has grown fat off of Africa. First with the slaves. Then with the gold and the ivory and the diamonds.

And now when the Africans try to live in basket-cases we’ve left behind, we excoriate them for killing lions. We excoriate them for poisoning them, and we excoriate them when they try to raise money for conservation by selling a few tags to trophy hunters.

The West has forgotten what it’s done to Africa.

And the West is now so far removed from that natural world and its processes that it cannot have a reasoned moral discussion about how to best save the African lion.

It’s all turpitude masquerading as morality.

Cecil the lion was a killer. He killed game animals to survive. When took over his pride, he killed his predecessor’s cubs in order to bring the lionesses into estrus again.

He was not Mufasa or Simba.

He was a great cat who lived by the tooth and the claw, and he was magnificent. He lived a life far better than most dogs in North America, who spend their days pacing behind closed fences. He lived, breathed, fought, and fucked.

A poacher killed him, but if a poacher had not, he probably would have been killed an in an even more horrific manner. Male lions don’t rule over their prides forever. Soon or later, another male lion or a coalition of males would have overthrown him, and he would have either been killed by them or died from his wounds. Or he would have starved to death as he tried to eke out an existence on the edge of pride territories.

He may have been already a victim of an overthrow, and maybe that was the reason he was so easily lured out of Hwange National Park so easily.

The poacher may have actually done the old boy a favor.

What irks me most, though, is that we now live in this bizarre world that combines ignorance of wildlife management issues with the disgusting behavior of a lynch mob.

It’s more sound and fury, but this does signify something.

Western man is a totally adrift in this world.

He will either burn us all up or blow us all up, because he’d rather be self-righteous than think critically.

And that scares the hell out of me.

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prince harry feral water buffalo

There is much nattering among the ARista lobby in the UK over this photo.

Prince Harry killed a buffalo.

Won’t someone please think of the children?

The big outrage is that his father, Prince Charles, just recently made ending the illegal wildlife trade a major public campaign of his. Prince Charles and Prince William are going to be in a film that talks about wildlife conservation.

And I think this is wonderful.

But then Prince William is seen hunting wild boar in Spain, and people lose their minds. Never mind that wild boar are actually overpopulating in large parts of their range on the European continent. They were actually extirpated from the British Isles but were accidentally restocked when a few escaped English game farms. The animals are still very uncommon in the UK, so most people have no idea what wild boar actually do when they exist at very high numbers. Namely, they destroy crops and forest land, and without large numbers of wolves– their only real natural predator– the only way to manage them is through culling or hunting. Hunting raises some funds for wildlife conservation, but if you cull, you have to pay for the professional cullers.

So it would be much more sensible to allow hunting, don’t you think?

But the real outrage I’ve seen is about Prince Harry killing this buffalo while the whole family has pledged to support wildlife conservation as their major campaign this year.

He must surely be a hypocrite! Right?

Well, behind the outrage there is a story.

The buffalo that Prince Harry killed was an Asian water buffalo. These animals exist in both wild and domestic populations in Asia, and there is a bit of debate as to whether there is only one species of water buffalo in Asia or two of them. The two species are not split between wild and domestic, but rather, there is a river population and a swamp population that differ in chromosome number and almost never interbreed in their native range in the wild. They are both sources for the domestic water buffalo, and in captivity, they do cross and produce fertile offspring despite the chromosome number difference.

Prince Harry did not kill a wild water buffalo of any species.

He wasn’t even in Asia when he shot it.

He was in Argentina.

What are water buffaloes doing in Argentina?

Well, they were brought to South America as meat, dairy, and draft animals. Now, it’s certainly true that certain game ranches in South America do raise water buffalo to hunt, which is certainly a problem, but killing an invasive species– especially a feral domestic animal– is one of the best things that can be done to protect wildlife.

In the Southern Cone of South America, there are big game ranches that have stocked their lands with water buffalo and even red deer. Now, these ranches may be criticized for many things, but they do keep some areas wild that would otherwise be used for agriculture or development, which winds up being good for at least some native species. Would it be better to have these ranches with a few small herds of managed feral buffalo or to have them filled with Indicus cattle?

And this is not much different from the English sporting tradition of managing the legendary wild park cattle as a game species. At least, no one in Argentina made up any nonsense about these buffaloes being an ancient native species.  According to legend, these wild white cattle were the original wild white aurochs of England, when in truth they were nothing more than feral domestics that were selectively bred through culling to have the white coloration. And they were bred as game animals in exactly the same way the Argentines breed water buffalo.

Not a single royal is going out and shooting endangered species. They are not going to Africa and shooting “Cape” buffalo or elephants.

They are not shooting tigers or rhinos.

And by campaigning for real wildlife conservation and not animal rights outrages, they are actually doing the world a lot of good.

Real conservation is not anti-hunting. It sees hunting as an important management tool that can be used to reduce populations and generate revenue at the same time.

This is where the animal rights outrages come into total conflict with scientific management and sound economics. You cannot save animals because you get enough people in your wealthy, developed country to look down their noses at hunters. You can only save animals when you can create some economic value for the animals in their native countries or, at the very least, be able to find some intelligent way to mitigate any damages caused by such animals.

This is the big problem in conservation.

We have many people in the West who want to save species, but they don’t live in the countries or regions where these animals exist. Westerners are outraged at the poaching and habitat destruction, but they fail to understand that these issues are the symptom of greater human problems. When you have people living on the edge, your morals as well-fed Westerner really don’t mean much. You can be outraged all you want, but unless you address the human problems with conservation, all you will have is outrages and bromides.

I wish the royal family the best of luck in their venture in trying shed light on the need to conserve wildlife, but i also hope they can talk some sense into their citizens about the importance of hunting in conservation. I think this would be a great opportunity.

Otherwise, people are going to go on and on complaining about the supposed hyprocrisy of the royal family.

Of course, I’m not even a monarchist, and I’m very happy to live in a republic!

 

 

 

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Pretty amazing stuff.  This is the most beautiful duck species in North America.

Source.

 

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Wildfowling is English for duck hunting.

Source.

He may be “wildfowling,” but he’s hunting with an American dog that was once called the “Chesapeake Bay duck dog.”

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