by Priscilla Feral, President of FoA
Newspeak, the official language of George Orwell’s Oceania in his dystopian novel “1984” was supposed to be adopted in full by 2050 by the fictional nation as an effort to obfuscate the true meaning of government policies and practices. Known commonly as doublespeak, the fictional Orwellian language of Oceania’s corrupt and menacing regime is here now, front and center and one of its appellations is the Department of Interior’s newly established International Wildlife Conservation Council.
That’s because the name of the council connotes a message of wildlife protection but its directive promotes the opposite, allowing the dwindling hunting population to more easily sport-hunt Africa’s most treasured wildlife, such as elephants, lions, rhinos. DOI director Ryan Zinke tasked the council with advising the agency on the benefits of international hunting, removing barriers to the importation of trophy hunted animals, reverse suspensions and bans on trade of wildlife, reduce seizure and forfeitures and also review foreign animals listed on the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
In other words, the committee’s goal is to fling open the doors to hunting in the name of conservation at a time when the hunting population is actually diminishing and the numbers of Americans interested in observing wildlife is soaring. According to its own data, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s 2016 Survey, there’s a 16 percent decline in the number of hunters. Only 5 percent of U.S. residents now hunt, yet wildlife-watchers continue to increase to more than 85 million. These wildlife-watchers include bird watchers and outdoor photographers and they represent at least 35 percent of U.S. residents whose interests center on observing and preserving wildlife.
Yet, none of that seems to matter to Zinke. He has already shown how eager he is to lift any obstacles to Americans interested in shooting Africa’s most majestic species when his Fish and Wildlife Service lifted the ban on the importation of trophy hunted lions and elephant parts from Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Now’s he’s busy stuffing his new committee with hunters and shooting industry interests despite the fact that the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act requires that federally-appointed advisory panels be comprised of a balanced and objective array of members.
Trophy hunters like to pride themselves on the notion that they are “conservationists,” and that the money they spend on these expensive hunting trips to Africa will help protect the animals they kill. But the end result is the same. Hunters may support anti-poaching efforts but for purely selfish reasons – to preserve elephants, lions and tigers so they can shoot them and hang their heads on their wall. It’s all about killing for either financial or personal reward and none of it helps conservation.
In truth, legal sport-hunting actually reduces the overall chance that these species can continue to survive in the wild. Legalized hunting falsely suggests that funds are being used to ensure the protection of wild populations and that the variety of species are recovering. At the same time, it reinforces the belief that exotic animal trophies should be highly desired. In fact, studies show that increased opportunities to legally kill these animals directly correlates to increased demand for those species and, thus, illegal poaching.
Just look at the numbers. The African elephant population has plummeted by 30 percent in seven years, with just 350,000 left in the world where once there were millions And lions? That population has dwindled by 42 percent, with just about 20,000 still roaming this earth.
While some members of the wildlife advocacy community fear that joining Zinke’s new committee would do little good, we welcome the chance to represent a voice of reason, science and compassion. After all, we have decades of experience in promoting true wildlife conservation efforts in Africa, including funding and supplying anti-poaching efforts to a dozen countries including in Senegal, Kenya, Ghana, Gambia. Thus, we are nominating ourselves ex post facto for a seat on the 18- member panel to add the required balance and refute the doublespeak of “conservationist hunters.”
Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals, has presided over the international, non-profit animal advocacy organization since 1987. She has also served as president of the San Antonio-based sanctuary Primarily Primates and is a food activist and author of three vegan cookbooks.