Elephant Trophy Hunting: “Horror show” or method of conservation?
By Kaitlin Fisher
Dec. 5, 2017
How many times have you entered a home and seen an elephant? Not a real elephant, of course, but a painting, maybe? A photo? A sculpture?
Elephants are a symbol of strength, power and majesty. They are among the world’s most beloved animals and yet many people never have the chance to interact with them.
Tyler Schmitt got that chance. After graduating from the University of Guelph in 2014, he took a leap, packed his bags and went to Thailand to live among the elephants.
Schmitt fondly remembers his days spent at Woodys Elephants Training, a sanctuary in Chiang Mai which rescues elephants that have survived a “bad situation.”
“We’d spend time with them, feed them, walk them—man, they love to go on hikes—bathe them in the river,” he said from his Ottawa home.
“They’re intuitive and curious. They’re extremely good at remembering things,” he added. “When you spend time with these animals and you look at them in the eyes, you can tell some things, like they are conscious of what’s going on and how they’re being treated.”
In recent weeks, elephants have been at the heart of a heated debate.
On Nov. 16, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its plan to reverse a ban—implemented by former President Barack Obama in 2014—on importing the remains of African elephants killed as trophies.
Following the announcement, there was a huge public outcry from Americans and people around the world who felt that the ban should remain in place. Petitions circulated and social media was filled with protests and emotionally-charged messages.
On Nov. 19, President Donald Trump contradicted the Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan when he tweeted: “Big-game trophy decision will be announced next week but will be very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of elephants or any other animal.”
According to Elephanatics, an elephant advocacy organization based in Vancouver, 96 African elephants are killed every day for their ivory. This amounts to more than 35,000 elephants annually. In 1980, there were over 1.3 million elephants in Africa, while today there are less than 415,000.
The status of the ban in the U.S. remains up in the air. Despite many Canadians lashing out on social media about the potential change of policy in the U.S., Canada never had a ban on the importation of elephant trophies in the first place.
Schmitt, who majored in zoology, said he was surprised to discover this.
“Canada is supposed to be one of the leaders in the world. As a first-world country, you should be leading by example,” he said.
In a phone interview from her Toronto office, Melissa Matlow, the wildlife campaign manager from World Animal Protection in Canada, called a ban “essential.”
“They’ve often been described as gentle giants because of the care they put towards their own kind, so to see humans kill them for trophies is particularly appalling,” she said.
Not all Canadians are on the same page. Jason St. Michael, the operations manager of Safari Club International in Canada, said there are places where the elephant population needs to be controlled and managed.
“An elephant will destroy crops, kill human life, and so they must be managed,” he said in a phone interview.
He said is important for farmers to keep the elephant population in check so that their crops and livestock are able to survive.
Safari Club International is an organization which promotes the rights of hunters and recognizes the contributions that hunting can make in conservation efforts.
St. Michael said politicians need to focus on science rather than emotion when it comes to making decisions about the possible implementation of a ban. He also argued that elephant trophy hunting is good for the economy.
“The people that hunt them employ hundreds of people. They also feed communities. No part of the animal is wasted.”
As for the public outcry since the announcement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, St. Michael said that he doesn’t have an issue with other peoples’ beliefs.
“We like to hunt and they don’t want to hunt. But the fact of the matter is that these animals create a lot of economic impact,” he said.
St. Michael said he recognizes that elephants are “easy target animals for anti-hunters.”
“They really are a magical, romantic animal. I mean, they’re beautiful. They’re amazing. The power and the elegance,” he said. “And the numbers aren’t what they were a hundred years ago.”
St. Michael blames the growing human population for the decrease in these animals, but said it can’t go both ways.
“What do you manage? Do you manage human population or do you manage the wildlife population?” he asked.
When it comes to the importation of endangered species, Canada follows the guidelines provided by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). CITES is an international agreement between governments which ensures that trade in wild animals does not threaten their survival.
The species covered by CITES are broken down into three appendices according to the level of protection they need. Appendix I lists species that are threatened with extinction. According to the CITES website, trade in specimens of these species is only allowed in “exceptional circumstances.”
Appendix II accounts for species which aren’t necessarily threatened with extinction, but require a trade that must be controlled in order for them to survive as a species.
Appendix III lists species that are protected in at least one country, which has requested the other parties of the CITES agreement for help in controlling trade.
CITES lists the African elephant as an Appendix I species, except for populations of the animal from Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, which all fall under Appendix II.
According to the CITES database, there have been elephant trophies imported into Canada in recent years from countries outside of these four, meaning that Canada has imported an Appendix I species.
In 1989, CITES made it illegal to sell elephant ivory internationally, although each country has its own regulations regarding ivory sales within their borders. At the World Conservation Congress in 2016, Canada was one of only four countries to oppose the closure of its ivory trade markets.
“That’s terrible that Canada was one of those countries. We should be leading the way on this,” Matlow said. “Canadians care very much about wildlife. Canada is often promoted as a country that people go to to see wildlife. So it seems really contradictory and not reflecting Canadian values to take that position on an international stage.”
Matlow said the backlash over the possible lifting of the U.S. ban shows people relate to elephants.
“The public outcry . . . shows that people care,” she said. “They’re very social, very intelligent animals. When one animal is killed, it impacts the welfare of the entire heard. They grieve the loss of their families members.”
Schmitt agreed. “People just are drawn to them.”
Despite the connection that many people feel to these animals, and the push from organizations such as Elephanatics, there has so far been no progress on the implementation of a ban in Canada. In the U.S., the lifting of the ban is on hold as the government reviews the decision.
In the meantime, the debate ensues as to whether elephant trophy hunting is the “horror show” described by President Trump, or the conservation method needed to save these animals.
We are pleased to send money to www.dartwildlife.org who do outstanding conservation work in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. The funds raised at our annual Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, last September, 2017, will go to purchase a new dart delivery system including transmitter darts that will enable conservationists to dart and locate immobilized elephants at night. Their Elephant Protection Project is expected to commence in February to coincide with the peak crop-raiding season and the time when most elephants are persecuted or killed.
We thank all the people who donated their money and time to come to our event. Your funds will be put to great use towards purchasing this essential equipment required to help combat the ongoing poaching crisis and human-elephant conflict.
Sarah Skoglund Klein, Elephanatics Rhino Education Facilitator, sends us her blog. Written when she volunteered in South Africa and Kenya with rhinos, enjoy her experiences as she works with some of the most endangered species on earth.
South Africa, October 2014:
In October 2014, I set off for my first trip to Africa, by myself, to volunteer in rhino conservation. I went through an organization called African Conservation Experience. They have many projects throughout South Africa and I landed on a program called “Care for the Wild”.
This facility focuses on orphaned rhino care, however, they also care for many other animals subjected to injury or who have been orphaned.
I was there for 15 days. Other than 1 day off to see the absolutely amazing Kruger National Park, I worked everyday and I loved it. My days were approximately 13 hours long, taking care of infant rhinos, who were all orphaned due to their mothers being poached.
The first feed came at 6 AM, so I had to be up about 5 AM. Getting dressed (in the cold as the cabins do not have heat or hot water) and preparing the formula, was a bit challenging at times! Throughout the day I continued to feed the babies anywhere between seven and nine times. Each time required making the formula and cleaning the bottles for the next feed. The other tasks were shovelling an awful lot of baby rhino poop, cleaning out their night pans, cleaning out their boma and basic maintenance of their enclosure.
It’s hard to describe what it’s like to work with a vulnerable baby rhino whose complete welfare is in the hands of volunteers. Out of all the things I did while I was there, the most glorious time was the 1 minute or so it took the baby rhinos to suckle down the entire bottle I gave them fist thing in the morning. What a glorious feeling it was to share 7-9 minutes of each day with these babies. It was absolutely phenomenal as I looked into the eyes of these innocent animals while they nursed off the bottle I prepared because their mother was no longer there to nurse them herself.
I also helped care for lions, monkeys, owls, serval cats, a hippo and a few other animals who called care for the while they’re home.
Most of my time in South Africa was spent at the orphanage itself so I did not get to experience too much of the culture. But, my one day at Kruger national Park, was heaven on earth and I had an exciting afternoon in town where everybody I met was warm and welcoming.
At the end of my 15 days I felt like I helped keep a handful of baby rhinos happy and healthy and I will be back to do it again.
Kenya, September 2016:
After my first trip to Africa in 2014, I knew I was going to return as I became addicted to the continent. To further my experience with rhino conservation I decided to visit the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.
This trip was quite different than my first volunteer trip as it was not nearly as hands on. I spent most my time observing and assisting rhino keepers and Rangers, I also had a lot more time to experience the local culture.
The most glorious part of this particular trip was meeting Sudan, Najin and Fatu. These are the last three Northern white rhinos remaining on the planet with Sudan being the only male. Not only is he the only male Northern white rhino left on the planet, he is now 44 years old and will not be with us much longer due to old age.
My days in Kenya consisted of assisting with basic rhino care and monitoring and observing the rhinos in the Conservancy.
I also went into town several times where I stood out like I’ve never stood out before in my life, but I always felt welcomed. It was an experience you cannot put into words. When I left Kenya, I left with some feelings of guilt, as the level of poverty in Kenya is much worse than any poverty we see here in the United States.
Going to Africa to volunteer puts reality right in your face. All the animals I worked with had suffered while others continue to suffer at the hands of mankind. The poaching crisis is at its all time worst, not only for rhinos but many other animals in Africa as well. If more people do not get involved we may lose the battle. It’s a battle I will never stop fighting until my last day on earth.
I am in the planning stages for my third trip back to Africa, and I cannot wait to place my feet back on African soil.
cr. Larry Lavery photo
Will we be the generation that lets elephants become extinct?
A shocking 20,000 elephants are killed every year for their ivory. Scientists and conservationists agree that at this rate, both African and Asian elephants will be extinct in the wild within our lifetime.
Ivory is so valuable on the black market that organized terrorism syndicates such as the Lord’s Resistance Army are committing mass slaughter using helicopters and AK-47 rifles. In 1980 Africa had more than 1.3 million elephants – today it has approximately 415,000. In less than 40 years, 70% of our elephants have disappeared.
In 1989, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) made it illegal to sell elephant ivory internationally. But each country makes its own laws regarding the sale of ivory within their borders. When domestic trade is allowed it permits illegal ivory (poached after 1989) to be sold along with legal ivory because it’s difficult to differentiate between old and new ivory without extensive and costly testing. The only way to protect elephants from extinction is to ban ALL elephant ivory trade.
At the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress, Canada was 1 of only 4 countries to oppose the closure of domestic ivory markets across the globe. At the 2016 CITES conference, Canada voted against placing all elephants in Appendix I – the highest protection level. Sadly, the higher protection was not granted.
The US banned practically all domestic ivory trade in June 2016. China shut down its domestic ivory trade at the end of 2017. The UK solicited feedback on a proposed domestic ivory ban and 85% supported the ban. If China and the United States – the two largest consumers of ivory in the world – can stop their domestic trade, why can’t Canada?
We feel new legislation can protect both elephants and the indigenous trade of narwhal and walrus. We ask the government of Canada to:
1. ban all domestic trade of elephant ivory; and
2. make the import, export and re-export of all elephant ivory illegal.
Let’s make Canada one of the many countries changing their laws to allow the survival of the world’s largest mammal before it’s too late.
Photo Credit: Larry Laverty
Two of Elephanatics’ directors – Tessa Vanderkop and Leanne Fogarty – will be dressing in full elephant costume and plunging into the icy waters of English Bay on January 1! Why? To rescue an abused tourism elephant in Thailand and retire her to the Elephant Nature Park.
Come cheer us on at:
The 98th Annual Polar Bear Swim
Monday, January 1, 2018 at 2:30 pm
English Bay, downtown Vancouver
There was a strong world-wide reaction when President Trump threatened to reverse a 2014 ban on importing elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia. Few Canadians realized, however, that Canada never had such a ban in place to begin with.
Recently a reporter approached Elephanatics President Fran Duthie regarding an Elephantatics petition to the Canadian government asking them to close the domestic trade of ivory and to close any remaining loopholes on the trade of elephants which are a highly endangered species.
Reporter Mia Rabson of the Canadian Press wrote the following story including quotes on Elephanatics position on this issue:
“In the last decade, Canadians have legally imported more than 2,600 trophy animals that are on an international list of endangered species.
The imports also include thousands of animal skins, skulls, feet, ears, tusks, horns and tails of everything from antelope to zebras from all corners of the earth.
Earlier this month, the United States made waves when the Fish and Wildlife Service suddenly reversed a 2014 ban on elephant imports from Zimbabwe and Zambia.
U.S. President Donald Trump stepped in to halt that reversal, tweeting earlier this month that he considers elephant hunting a “horror show” and that it was unlikely anyone could convince him hunting the animals was good for conservation.
Canada, on the other hand, never banned the imports in the first place.
The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, tracks animals on three lists based on the level of protection needed and requires permits to be issued before these animals or any parts of them can be traded across international borders.
That database shows that between 2007 and 2016, Canada allowed the legal importation of 2,647 mammals as hunting trophies, including 83 elephants, 256 lions, 134 zebras, 76 hippos and 19 rhinoceroses.
Another 280 mammals were imported intact after having been stuffed, including antelope, oryx, monkeys and lions. Canadians also imported 434 skulls and 260 feet from elephants, zebras, hippos and rhinos; 87 elephant ears; 1,156 elephant tusks; and 17 rhinoceros horns.
Those do not include animals brought back as trophies that are not considered endangered, which do not require any kind of special permit.
Elephants are among the most endangered species in the world, with a 2016 census finding populations down 30 per cent between 2007 and 2014. Elephants are on the most-endangered list of CITES in all countries except four: South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Populations in Zambia and South Africa are stable, but elephant populations in Botswana and Zimbabwe have dropped 15 and six per cent, respectively, since 2010.
Sixty-one of the elephant trophies imported into Canada between 2007 and 2014 came from those four countries. Fifteen elephants came from the most endangered list.
When it comes to allowing the importation of trophies, any decisions that are made have to be based on sound science, not on feelings, said Jason St. Michael, operations manager for Safari Club International in Canada.
“I think people need to really take the time to educate themselves about the values of big game hunting,” he said.
In some countries, elephant hunting should be banned, but in places like South Africa — where elephant populations are being well managed — it is both an economic driver and a conservation program to allow regulated hunting.
“The government should be using science and not emotions to make these decisions,” said St. Michael. “President Trump is probably not using science and listening to emotions.”
Elephanatics, a Vancouver-based elephant conservation group, is petitioning the Canadian government to support moving all elephants onto the so-called Appendix I list, including those from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and South Africa.
Canada was one of a number of countries that voted against such a move last year.
Environment Canada would not make an official available for an interview, but said in an emailed statement that Canada voted against moving all elephants to Appendix I because the four countries affected “did not meet the CITES criteria for listing on Appendix I.”
“Canada adheres to a strict set of principles in the CITES fora and believes decisions regarding trade controls should be founded on best available science, support sustainable use of well-managed populations, and the conservation needs of species,” it reads.
Fran Duthie, president of Elephanatics, said Canada also needs to ban the domestic trade in ivory. Canada is one of just four countries that refuses to do so, joining Japan, Namibia and South Africa. In Canada, the ivory trade includes Inuit hunters who trade in ivory from narwhals and walruses.
Elephanatics, however, says as long as any trading of ivory is allowed, illegally obtained ivory from poachers who slaughter elephants — even in highly endangered populations — can slip into the system without much trouble.
Via Canadian Press – Mia Rabson
Mara Elephant Project & Elephanatics
November 28, 2017
On Tuesday, November 28, the world takes a collective breath before the holidays and seeks out those organizations deserving of their charitable giving during the holidays. In a season that’s increasingly become very “me” oriented, people reach outside of themselves and see the real impact their dollars can make in this world.
A partnership between Elephanatics and the Mara Elephant Project highlights the true global nature of elephant protection and ecosystem conservation. Our aligning missions couldn’t be more indicative of this partnership, MEP’s mission is to protect elephants to conserve the greater Mara ecosystem in Kenya and Elephanatics’ mission is to assist global elephant conservation efforts by educating Canadians about issues of ivory poaching and habitat loss by connecting Canadians directly with elephant conservation partners in Africa.
We focus on three pillars of advocacy: conservation, education and action. These three keys to Elephanatics success are also why MEP was such an attractive partner. Their approach to protecting elephants is three pronged: elephant collaring, monitoring and research; anti-poaching patrols and rapid response units; and human-elephant conflict mitigation, which includes community engagement and education amongst other innovative techniques and technologies.
We love that MEP also refers to itself as a “boots on the ground organization.” While Elephanatics is out raising awareness and garnering support at the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, MEP is deploying rangers on the ground to mitigate human-elephant conflict. We are truly two organizations working on a parallel path.
The MEP connection comes from Dr. Jake Wall, the co-founder and chief scientific researcher of Elephanatics. Dr. Wall and MEP worked together in 2016 on his GPS tracking system with advanced mapping technology algorithms that can detect anomalies in a single elephant’s movements. MEP uses Dr. Wall’s tracking system on their 23 collared elephants to detect poaching or injury in an elephant’s movements.
Elephanatics is committed to aligning ourselves with other organizations that hold the same philosophies and values as we do and we feel Mara Elephant Project’s work could not reflect any better our commitment to raise money and awareness.
MEP’s rangers at work in the field at night.
We would like to thank Golden Hill K-8 Secondary School, San Diego, for letting us come in their Grade 8 Science class and present about the African elephant poaching crisis and the unethical tourism issue in Asia. The students were keen to learn about the crises and help in any way they could. We look forward to hearing about any efforts they have made to bring awareness to the crises in the following months!
A wet and wild Global Walk for Elephants and Rhinos took place September 30th at Creekside park in Vancouver. Our Solicitor General showed up and gave a wonderful speech about the importance of advocacy work in order to affect change in Canadian laws and regulations in regards to the ivory trade within Canada.
Elephanatics BC, a Vancouver-based elephant advocacy organization, is hosting its 4th Annual Global Walk for Elephants and Rhinos on September 30. The walk is part of the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos – the world’s largest grassroots wildlife movement with more than 120 cities participating worldwide.
The goal of this initiative is to demand that all governments take action to stop the poaching of elephants and end the illegal trade in ivory.
Every day around 100 elephants in Africa are brutally killed for their tusks. That equates to one elephant every 15 minutes. Poaching has reached unprecedented levels, causing both conservationists and scientists to estimate the extinction of elephants in the wild within 10 – 20 years.
The Canadian government’s track record in protecting elephants is lackluster at best. At the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress, Canada was one of only four countries to vote against all countries closing their domestic ivory trade. At the 2016 Conference of the Parties to CITES, Canada voted against moving all African elephants to Appendix I to give them the highest level of protection.
In recent years, Canada has been the sole country to issue blanket reservations on all new CITES listings, and has failed to lift those reservations in a timely manner. These inexplicable positions put the Canadian government at odds with the growing international movement to save the African elephant from extinction.
Elephanatics BC has brought together a coalition of Canadian and international animal advocacy groups, to urge the government of Canada to fully protect African elephants. The organizations include BC SPCA, Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, Born Free, Zoocheck Canada, Animal Justice, WildlifeDirect and World Elephant Day Society. They have agreed to sign Elephanatic’s letter to the Canadian government and those attending the Global Walk for Elephants can sign a similar petition to be delivered with the letter.
The focus of the walk in Vancouver is to strongly urge the Canadian and provincial governments to:
Sheryl Fink, IFAW’s Director of Wildlife Campaigns in Canada said, “It is extremely disappointing that Canada is not living up to our international obligations and it is setting a terrible example for other countries around the world. I would like to see the Liberal government live up to their commitment to provide greater protection for endangered species.”
4th Annual Global Walk for Elephants and Rhinos
Saturday, September 30 – 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm
Creekside Park (behind Science World)
The event includes: music; elephant face painting and henna tattoos; an elephant market including t-shirts, artwork and jewelry; selfies with a life-size elephant; learning how you can help elephants; and a walk around the False Creek seawall.
Elephanatics is a Vancouver, registered non-profit organization founded in May 2013. It is run exclusively by volunteers who aim to help the long-term survival of African and Asian elephants through conservation, education and action. Elephanatics first introduced the city to the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos (GMFER) in October 2014 and has hosted the annual free event ever since. This year, the event will not be a march, but a -walk.
The Global March for Elephants and Rhinos is a registered, non-profit organization in the United States. It is a global movement demanding an end to ivory and rhino horn trade. The first march took place in 2013.
For more information, please contact:
Director of Strategic Relationships & Advocacy
Twitter: @ElephanaticsBC and @EleRhinoMarch
Instagram: March4ElephantsBC and GMFER2017