The link below is to an article that reports on how one hunter in Zimbabwe has killed some 5000 elephants in his lifetime and countless other animals. He has no regrets.
The biggest killers of wildlife globally are unsustainable hunting and harvesting, and the conversion of huge swathes of natural habitat into farms, housing estates, roads and other industrial activities. There is little doubt that these threats are driving the current mass extinction crisis.
Yet our understanding of where these threats overlap with the locations of sensitive species has been poor. This limits our ability to target conservation efforts to the most important places.
In our new study, published today in Plos Biology, we mapped 15 of the most harmful human threats – including hunting and land clearing – within the locations of 5,457 threatened mammals, birds and amphibians globally.
We found that 1,237 species – a quarter of those assessed – are impacted by threats that cover more than 90% of their distributions. These species include many large, charismatic mammals such as lions and elephants. Most concerningly of all, we identified 395 species that are impacted by threats across 100% of their range.
Mapping the risks
We only mapped threats within a species location if those threats are known to specifically endanger that species. For example, the African lion is threatened by urbanisation, hunting and trapping, so we only quantified the overlap of those specific hazards for this species.
This allowed us to determine the parts of a species’ home range that are impacted by threats and, conversely, the parts that are free of threats and therefore serve as refuges.
We could then identify global hotspots of human impacts on threatened species, as well as “coolspots” where species are largely threat-free.
The fact that so many species face threats across almost all of their range has grave consequences. These species are likely to continue to decline and possibly die out in the impacted parts of their ranges. Completely impacted species certainly face extinction without targeted conservation action.
Conversely, we found more than 1,000 species that were not impacted by human threats at all. Although this is positive news, it is important to note that we have not mapped every possible threat, so our results likely underestimate the true impact. For example, we didn’t account for diseases, which are a major threat to amphibians, or climate change, which is a major threat to virtually all species.
Hotspots and coolspots
We produced the first global map of human impacts on threatened species by combining the parts of each species range that are exposed to threats.
The overwhelmingly dominant global hotspot for human impacts on threatened species is Southeast Asia.
This region contains the top five countries with the most threats to species.
These include Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Indonesia and Myanmar.
The most impacted ecosystems include mangroves and tropical forests, which concerningly are home to the greatest diversity of life on Earth.
We also created a global map of coolspots by combining the parts of species ranges that are free from human threats. This map identifies the last vestiges of wild places where threatened species have shelter from the ravages of guns, snares and bulldozers. As such, these are crucial conservation strongholds.
Coolspots include parts of the Amazon rainforest, the Andes, the eastern Himalayas, and the forests of Liberia in West Africa.
In many places, coolspots are located near hotspots. This makes sense because in species-rich areas it is likely that many animals are impacted whereas many others are not, due to their varying sensitivity to different threats.
There is room for optimism because all the threats we map can be stopped by conservation action. But we need to make sure this action is directed to priority areas, and that it has enough financial and political support.
An obvious first step is to secure threat-free refuges for particular species, via actions such as protected areas, which are paramount for their survival.
To ensure the survival of highly impacted species with little or no access to refuges, “active threat management” is needed to open enough viable habitat for them to survive. For example, tiger numbers in Nepal have doubled since 2009, mainly as a result of targeted anti-poaching efforts.
Tackling threats and protecting refuges are complementary approaches that will be most effective if carried out simultaneously. Our study provides information that can help guide these efforts and help to make national and global conservation plans as successful as possible.
James Allan, Postdoctoral research fellow, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland; Christopher O’Bryan, PhD Candidate, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Queensland, and James Watson, Professor, The University of Queensland
The government of President Mokgweetsi Masisi in Botswana has announced that it will hold a two-month nationwide consultation to review the ban on hunting, notably of elephants. The ban, introduced by Masisi’s predecessor, Ian Khama in 2014, has come under increasing criticism from people living in areas with significant wildlife populations as well as impoverished communities previously reliant on hunting income.
The announcement of the consultation followed a vote in the country’s parliament calling for the government to consider lifting the hunting ban on elephants. The motion was put before parliament by Konstantinos Markus, a member of the governing Botswana Democratic Party of President Masisi. The consultation will be run by the minister of local government and rural development.
Markus, who got support of a majority of MPs from all parties, argued that there were several factors necessitating the lifting of the ban. These included the increase in Botswana’s elephant population, the growing conflict between people and elephants (such as crops being destroyed and people’s lives being endangered) and the loss to local communities of income from hunting. He also argued that the ban contradicted the aims of one of the country’s key conservation efforts designed to contribute to rural development.
It’s significant that the environment and tourism ministry isn’t running the process. Given that it’s the local government and rural development ministry in charge the focus is likely to be on rural livelihoods rather than environmental protection.
The history of the ban
Hunting was banned by President Ian Khama in January 2014. The decision followed a survey on Botswana’s wildlife. It suggested that a number of species were declining in northern Botswana, where most sports and commercial hunting occurred. It found that ostrich numbers had fallen by 95%, wildebeest 90%, tsessebe 84%, warthog and kudu 81% and giraffes (66%)between 1966 and 2011.
A weakness of the survey was that it only looked at the numbers and failed to take into account what had caused declines, or what the long-term trends or seasonal factors were.
Khama and his brother Tshekedi, who was minister of the environment and natural resources, blamed the decline on hunting. With urging from animal rights NGOs as well as some wildlife filmmakers they opted to ban sports and most forms of commercial hunting, blaming them for species decline.
But a study carried out by Joseph Mbaiwa of the Okavango Research Unit at the University of Botswana, found that the ban was
not supported by any scientific evidence, and there was no involvement of local communities in the decision-making process.
Mbaiwa found that the ban was opposed in local communities where there had been hunting. This was because it had contributed significantly to incomes which they’d lost. In addition, wildlife was increasingly damaging crops while increased livestock farming in the wake of ban was affecting water resources.
Mbaiwa also found that rural communities had lost an important source of meat which provided vital protein.
Why MPs oppose the ban
The combination of lost income, increased conflict with wildlife and increased poaching all weighed on MPs minds when they voted overwhelmingly to call on the government to reconsider the ban. Markus tabled his motion as a matter of “urgent public importance. He said the urgency was partly due to the latest figures showing a national elephant population of 237,000, compared with a carrying capacity of 50,000.
He also argued that the
expansion of the elephant population in Botswana has impoverished communities, especially those in Boteti, Ngamiland, Chobe or northern Botswana where crop damage and lack of harvest due to elephants is prevalent.
The size of the elephant population is hard to pin down accurately as huge numbers migrate between Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and Angola. The Great Elephant Census survey carried out in 2014 put the population at 130,451, but the 2012 dry season survey showed 207,545.
Possible explanations for the fluctuation in numbers could include migration as well as seasonal factors rather than an outright decline.
What happens next?
The consultation process is due to start when the current parliamentary session ends in the first week of August. It will involve a series of traditional kgotla meetings – public meetings at which everyone is allowed to have their say before leaders come to a decision.
It’s significant that the chair process is being chaired by the minister responsible for rural livelihoods rather than Tshekedi Khama, the environment minister, who was one of the chief proponents of the ban.
One reason for this decision may be that the new president, who replaced Ian Khama on 1 April 2018, wants to placate an increasing number of BDP MPs, local councillors and chiefs who say the ban is damaging the livelihoods of people in rural areas and having a bad effect on rural development. If these issues aren’t resolved the party risks losing rural votes in Ngamiland in elections next year.
There are likely to be very heated debates in the coming months as the government weighs up whether to lift the ban to meet popular demand and economic reality, or whether the Khama factor will still weigh heavily on the decision.
The illegal hunting of bushmeat, or game meat, has long distressed wildlife conservationists. It has persisted in sub-Saharan Africa, attracting international attention and debate. Enforcement by authorities and community-based initiatives have been tried as anti-poaching approaches, but with mixed results. Overall, wildlife populations have continued to plummet.
Why has poaching refused to go away? The answer, as suggested by poachers themselves, is simple: because poaching pays.
We conducted a study with poachers in western Tanzania. Our findings shed new light on what motivates people to poach and shows that poachers benefit considerably while the costs are negligible. The study also knocks down the general perception about who poachers are – they’re not necessarily the poorest of the poor. Rather than hunting for basic subsistence, they take risks to widen their livelihood options and improve their situation.
Our research therefore suggests that current approaches to dealing with poaching are misplaced for a simple reason: poachers vary widely. Bottom-up, or community-based, interventions like providing meat at a reduced cost, are unlikely to work unless the benefits can offset what they gain through poaching. And for those who are poaching out of necessity, top-down measures, like longer prison sentences or greater fines, are unlikely to be effective because they don’t have alternative ways to make an income.
Cost benefit analysis
Our study focused on individuals who lived in villages that bordered two premier national parks in Tanzania: Serengeti National Park and Ruaha National Park.
We interviewed 200 poachers, asking them questions about their lives, livelihood alternatives and motivations for poaching. Respondents volunteered information freely and were neither paid nor given incentives for their participation.
We found that illegal hunters are making rational decisions. They earn far more through hunting than through all the other options combined for rural farmers. Over a 12-month period, poachers on average generated US$425. This is considerably more than the amount earned through typical means – such as trade, small business, livestock sales and agricultural sales – which amount to about US$258 each year.
Obviously, benefits are meaningless unless compared to the costs involved. Hunting large animals in the bush carries economic and physical risks. Hunters could get injured, risk imprisonment or lose the opportunity to farm or do other forms of legitimate business.
But, in places like rural Tanzania, the benefits outweigh these costs.
Where farming is the main income generator, there is lots of time available to hunt between planting and harvesting seasons. And with high formal unemployment, labour in a typical household is rarely a limiting factor. We compared poaching and non-poaching households and found that the opportunity costs forfeited by poaching households amounted to just US$116, far below the amount gained through bushmeat sales of US$425. Because other income generating opportunities are few and pay little, poachers have little to lose by poaching.
Other economic costs may come in the form of arrests, imprisonment and subsequent fines. Each time a poacher entered the bush, he faced a 0.07% chance of being arrested. Once arrested, poachers may be fined, imprisoned, beaten or let off. Two-thirds of poachers had never been arrested. Those who had spent just 0.04 days in prison when averaged over a career of 5.2 years. Of those arrested, just over half (56%) had been fined, with fines averaging US$39. For every trip taken, poachers paid just two cents when averaged over their career.
The story here is simple. The majority of poachers never get arrested. And those who do pay a penalty that is paltry compared to the income typically earned.
Physical costs, including injury and possibly even death, have been far more difficult to assess. Outside Serengeti National Park, dangerous wildlife was frequently encountered in the bush and one-third of the poachers questioned had been injured during their hunting careers. Recovery times averaged slightly more than a month. But when averaged over the number of days a poacher spends in the bush (1,901 days), the likelihood of being injured on any given day was remarkably low, just 0.02%.
Still, poaching isn’t easy. Eight in ten respondents claimed it was a difficult activity and that they did it primarily because they didn’t make enough money from legal activities.
Poverty has long been assumed to be a primary driver of poaching activities, however it may not be that poachers are the poorest of the poor.
Our analysis of poachers living along the borders of Ruaha National Park, revealed that they are poor, but not absolutely poor. In the language of the economist Jeffrey Sachs, many poachers may be “moderately poor”. They are unlikely to go hungry in the short term and are able to focus more on expanding their livelihood options.
Regarding their economic self-perception, these poaching households were similar to non-poaching households. Over half (54%) of poaching households considered themselves economically “average” rather than “poor”.
So, if poachers don’t consider themselves to be poor and consider poaching difficult, why do they do it? The answer may lay in a concept that the Nobel Peace Prize winner Amartya Sen has called “capability deprivation”.
Many poachers lack choices by which to improve their lives. They lack access to income which reduces their chances for further education or entrepreneurial opportunity. Deprived of capabilities to make a better life, many poachers —- at least in Tanzania —- continue to poach to gain agency, rather than just to make ends meet.
One respondent, outside Ruaha National Park, stated that after poaching for six years, he gave it up. His livestock numbers had grown enough to ensure sufficient income the whole year through. This poacher’s story reveals that some threshold of affluence is attainable for longtime poachers to curb illegal activity.
Results here present a new twist for those seeking to protect dwindling wildlife populations. It means that strategies to stop poaching can no longer focus merely on the poorest of the poor. Without other ways to improve their livelihoods, even poachers who can meet their basic needs will continue poaching. For one really simple reason: it pays.
On March 17, the 2018 duck shooting session will open in Victoria. The first shots were fired in Tasmania and South Australia last weekend. The Northern Territory allows certain types of bird shooting later in the year. Duck shooting is prohibited in the rest of Australia.
States and territories have jurisdiction over duck shooting. In Victoria a new raft of regulations has been introduced to try to limit the damage to the state’s wetlands. One change of note in Victoria is that this year the Blue-winged Shoveler cannot be legally shot due to the low numbers of the species.
Other new regulations require that hunters recover the birds they shoot. This rule serves to formalise what Victoria’s Game Management Authority (GMA) refers to as “standard practice for responsible hunters”.
However, in most other respects Victoria’s 2018 duck season will look almost indistinguishable from previous years. It will still be three months long, with a “bag limit” of ten birds per person per day.
In Tasmania, authorities postponed the shooting start time in 2018, among a raft of other minor amendments.
In fact, the various states regularly make minor changes to the rules. Hundreds of minor adjustments have been made over many decades. While these changes may seem significant, from a broad socio-legal perspective they do little to challenge the status quo.
Playing by the rules?
A GMA-commissioned review by Pegasus Economics last year documented regular instances of duck shooters behaving irresponsibly. The independent report concluded that “non-compliance with hunting laws is commonplace and widespread”.
The ABC has aired allegations that unsustainable hunting is on the rise and that regulators feel unable to enforce the rules. It revealed pits containing around 200 unrecovered shot birds from the 2017 opening weekend at Victoria’s Koorangie State Game Reserve alone.
Activists interviewed in the report claimed to have brought out 1,500 dead birds from the wetlands. Of these, 296 were protected species, including 68 endangered Freckled Ducks.
In my book Animals, Equality and Democracy, I argue that there is a generalised tendency for animal welfare laws to be more effective for socially visible animals. Laws that govern the welfare of zoo animals have improved much more quickly, for example, than those that cover animal welfare in factory farms.
Duck shooting is not a highly visible cause of animal harm. Relatively few people live near the wetlands where shooting takes place. But animal advocates have been effective in making it visible, despite laws that limit their ability to do so.
Elaborate events such as Duck Lake, in which animal activists performed their own version of Swan Lake on the opening morning of the 2016 Tasmanian duck shooting season, help generate media attention.
In 2017, long-time Victorian anti-duck-shooting campaigner Laurie Levy from the Coalition Against Duck Shooting was once again fined for entering the water to help an injured bird. While such activities go some way in generating public visibility, they have thus far not been able to stop duck shooting outright.
The gun lobby’s growing influence in Australia
At present, only 28,000 Australians are registered duck shooters. According to 2012 Australia Institute analysis, 87% of Australians support a ban on duck shooting. There is mounting evidence that endangered and non-game species are also being killed.
Before being re-elected at this month’s Tasmanian state election, the Liberal state government promised to soften the state’s gun laws. It also committed to “always protect the right of Tasmanians to safely and responsibly go recreational shooting”.
In Victoria the picture is a little more complex. A 2016 report asserted that most members of the state’s Labor Party oppose duck shooting and that the Andrews government’s continued support may cost it votes.
Indeed, despite the pressure from within the ALP, the daily bag limit for the 2018 season is ten, compared with just four in 2016.
‘Industry capture’ reinvigorating duck shooting
The Pegasus Economics review identifies “industry capture” as a significant factor in the continuation of duck hunting. Industry capture refers to a situation in which industry has a disproportionately close and influential relationship with policymakers compared with other relevant stakeholders.
The decision by the Tasmanian Liberal Party to share details of its proposed softened gun laws with shooters and farmers, and not other interested parties or the public, suggests industry capture is a genuine factor in Tasmania too.
With widespread community opposition ranged against the entrenched interests of the shooters themselves, state governments will need to make some big calls on the future of duck hunting, rather than the current tinkering around the edges.
Recent calls for a ban on legal traditional hunting of dugongs and marine turtles imply that hunting is the main threat to these iconic species in Australia. The science indicates otherwise.
While more is being done to address traditional hunting than any of the other impacts, the main threats to their survival often pass unnoticed.
The real threat to sea turtles
The draft Recovery Plan for Marine Turtles in Australia evaluated 20 threats to the 22 populations of Australia’s six species of marine turtle. Climate change and marine debris, particularly “ghost nets” lost or abandoned by fishers, are the greatest risks for most stocks.
Indigenous use is considered to be a high risk for three populations: Gulf of Carpentaria green turtles, Arafura Sea flatback turtles and north-eastern Arnhemland hawksbill turtles.
However, in each of these cases it is the egg harvest, not hunting, that causes concern. International commercial fishing is also a high risk for the hawksbill turtle, whose future remains uncertain. Traditional hunting of marine turtles in Australia is limited to green turtles.
Is hunting a threat?
The Torres Strait supports the largest dugong population in the world and a globally significant population of green turtles. Archaeological research shows that Torres Strait Islanders have been harvesting these species for more than 4,000 years and the dugong harvest has been substantial for several centuries.
The situation for dugongs is very different in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef south of Cooktown. The Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report classifies the condition of the dugong population in this region as poor.
Modelling indicates that the southern Great Barrier Reef stock of the green turtle, which live and breed south of Cooktown, is increasing.
Nonetheless, both green turtles and dugongs died in record numbers in the year after the extreme floods and cyclones of the summer of 2010-11. Dugongs stopped breeding in the Great Barrier Reef region south of Cooktown.
Thankfully, our current aerial survey indicates that dugong calving has resumed as inshore seagrass habitats recover. There is no evidence that the 2011 losses significantly affected green turtle numbers.
Traditional owners are the first managers of our coastal waters, with cultural practices extending back thousands of years. They have the most to lose from any loss of turtles and dugongs. It is therefore in their best interests, and the government’s best interest, to work in partnership to protect and sustainably manage these species.
Longstanding tensions between traditional owners and tourist operators are behind much of the opposition to traditional hunting in the Cairns area. Some of these tensions have been relieved by the Gunggandji Traditional Use of Marine Resources Agreement signed in June 2016.
Under this agreement, the traditional owners decided to cease hunting turtles and dugongs in the waters surrounding Green Island, Michaelmas Cay and Fitzroy Island.
The Gunggandji agreement is the seventh to be signed between the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and traditional owners. In addition, there are two Indigenous land use agreements that address hunting issues in the Great Barrier Reef.
In the Torres Strait, dugong and turtle hunting is managed through 14 (soon to be 15) management plans. There are similar agreements with traditional owners and management agencies in other regions in northern Australia.
Indigenous rangers are crucial to implementing all these agreements in collaboration with management agencies and research institutions. Rangers deliver the practical, on-the-ground arrangements to conserve these species in their Sea Country.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has implemented an Indigenous Compliance Program that authorises trained Indigenous rangers to respond to suspicious and illegal activities that they encounter as part of their work.
Indigenous rangers also remove marine debris from remote beaches. The community-based organisation GhostNets Australia has worked with 31 coastal Indigenous communities to protect over 3,000km of northern Australia’s saltwater country from ghost nets. These community projects have been instrumental in rescuing turtles, clearing ghost nets off beaches and identifying key areas to aid management agencies to better understand the impact.
Traditional owners from the Torres Strait and the northern Great Barrier Reef also play a valuable role in intervention works at Raine Island, one of the world’s most significant green turtle rookeries. This includes rescuing stranded turtles, using fences to stop turtles from falling over cliffs, and altering beach profiles.
What about welfare?
Traditional hunting raises animal welfare issues. The turtle and dugong management plans developed by the Torres Strait communities explicitly address animal welfare. The Torres Strait Regional Authority has been working with a marine mammal veterinarian and traditional owners to develop additional methods of killing turtles humanely.
Indigenous hunters who breach state and territory animal welfare laws can be prosecuted. But more widespread animal welfare problems, not associated with hunting, are largely hidden and ignored. The Queensland Strand Net Program reported that 879 turtles died of their wounds from vessel strike between 2000 and 2011.
Other serious animal welfare issues are associated with animals drowning in nets and being caught in and ingesting marine debris. In addition, the potential impact of emerging threats like underwater noise pollution and water quality remain as substantial knowledge gaps. These matters tend not to make the headlines.
Australian waters are home to some of the world’s largest populations of marine turtles and dugongs. A comprehensive and balanced approach to their conservation and management is required to enable our grandchildren and their children to enjoy these amazing animals.
Crocodiles are protected in Australia. These impressive, if dangerous, animals are icons of the north. But it wasn’t always so. Crocodiles used to be hunted freely in northern Australia, an activity that led to their decline and eventual protection.
There have been calls to cull crocodiles to improve safety, but experts argue that this will make little difference to the risk. Besides, crocodiles are already sustainably farmed for leather products.
However, there are also calls – for instance, from federal MP Bob Katter – to allow crocodiles to be shot for safari. Selling hunting licences worth thousands of dollars to rich shooters, the argument goes, could provide vital income.
But this ignores Australia’s history of crocodile hunting.
Postwar crocodile hunting
Immediately after the second world war, .303 rifles were widely available and were capable of reliably killing crocodiles. Crocodile skins suddenly increased in value — the Australian crocodile-hunting boom was the result.
The boom attracted hunters from southern Australia, including new immigrants. Some made significant amounts of money as the price of crocodile skins rose, but the prospect of adventure was often a far more significant lure. For many, coming north to hunt crocodiles was a working holiday combined with a boy’s own adventure. It was also an opportunity for men restless from the war to put off settling back into domesticity.
That mood of adventure was captured in a 1956 home movie, aptly titled Northern Safari. Shown as a feature film, it packed cinemas in Australia and overseas. Northern Safari documented a family trip north and showed the accessibility of hunting in northern Australia to anyone with the time and practical skills to get there.
In addition to this accessible but rugged style of hunting, some postwar entrepreneurs began to offer organised hunting. Aimed at people with more money, less time and a greater desire for comfort, the commercial Australian safari was born.
The Australian Crocodile Shooters’ Club actively promoted safari cruises to hunters who wished to shoot in luxury. In 1952 it established one of Australia’s first safari camps in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
However, the Australian safari at this time was less exclusive than the original African version. While expensive, hunters might subsidise their holidays through the sale of crocodile skins – and the services and amenities provided could not be described as truly luxurious.
Safari hunting in the present
Nevertheless, the Australian safari has evolved since the ban on crocodile hunting and has taken its place among international safari organisations. Safari operations cater to visiting sportsmen by providing access to introduced species and game fish. The Australian experience is one of many such distinct experiences promoted at the annual Safari Club International convention.
New Zealand provides an example of how such tourist trophy hunting operates. Based on privately owned red deer estates, some hunting providers sell clients the right to hunt an animal selected for its probable value under the Safari Club International scoring system.
Estate deer are bred for their trophy value and their antlers command scores unmatched by red deer found on public land. Access to them is limited and the cost of hunting one of the highest-scoring stags is more than NZ$20,000. Estate deer hunting is largely invisible to ordinary New Zealand hunters.
Despite the enthusiasm of proponents, there is widespread unease about the killing of big game. As with the red deer industry in New Zealand, the safari industry in Australia at present depends on introduced species of game, and so avoids controversy.
Overseas the death of Cecil the lion brought public unease about big game hunting into the open, as did the participation of touring New Zealand rugby players in a legal hunt in South Africa. Privileged access to native game and the killing of large native animals for sport has been made more visible by the sharing of images via the internet, and that visibility has demonstrated widespread public unease with the safari.
So who gets to hunt?
Scientific commentators agree that crocodile culling is unlikely to decrease the number or severity of crocodile attacks on humans in Australia. Neither is hunting crocodiles in Australia about managing an introduced pest.
Instead, it is desirable because of the adventure involved, because for some hunting provides a meaningful connection with nature and because for others killing large animals brings prestige. These motivations aren’t being discussed.
If the crocodile safari were to be re-established in Australia it wouldn’t be the freely available experience it once was. Modern safari hunting is expensive and the preserve of only a few. Australians need to consider if they really wish to entice elite international hunters to Australia using a native species (even one as unlovable as the saltwater crocodile) as prey.