Category: Africa


Author’s Preface: What follows are notes I prepared to address the media in a press conference in South Africa, as I began the first of 3 three week-long speaking tours, talking about veganism, animal rights, and total liberation across that beautiful but deeply troubled nation in 2006. This essay was originally commissioned by, and published for, my friend Adam Powell, in his blog OccupyEassys. This is the first of two unusually personal posts I will make to my blog, the second one being a postscript to follow soon. This post is dedicated to all those who think they know me.

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Prologue

Ladies and Gentlemen, you are looking at one of the very last people who should be standing on this stage in front of you, in the capacity of being a scholar, writer, activist, and world citizen.

In my youth, I was seemingly headed toward blue-collar work at a factory, to prison, or to an early grave, but profound changes in my life set me in different directions. A major theme of my talk tonight is change, growth, development, and evolution. Indeed, as a species, if we are to avert total disaster, we need to take a quantum leap in our moral and social evolution, as the global crises in capitalism and ecology portend catastrophic change and a dystopian future.

The Lost Years

My life got off to a rocky start. As a young child, asthma almost killed me. My father died when I was five years old. My oldest brother, a father figure to me, died at age 24 in a plane crash that I also was involved in. Only 11 years old, I was not expected to survive, but I did, broken into pieces, but alive. Despite two remaining older brothers and one sister, I had no positive inspirations or mentorship whatsoever in my life. I was a latchkey kid; I grew up solely on my own devices, making mistake after mistake, barreling down the wrong road at the speed of light.

To quote Malcolm X, “I was born in trouble.” Beginning in kindergarten, I was kicked out of school more than I was allowed in. In high school, after playing on the basketball team my freshman year, I had gravitated to the habit of consuming copious amounts of mind-altering substances and the next three years of high school were passed in a perpetual fog. In my senior year, quite deservedly, I was expelled from school, and from there I graduated to stints in and out of local county jails. My biggest fuck up occurred at age 17, and almost earned me 2-4 years in the notorious Cook County Jail in Chicago, but with a good lawyer and a handsome fee, I got off on 5 years probation.

Looking back on it, that was the best thing that happened to me and it provided the wake-up call I needed to turn my life around. I was a train wreck waiting to happen. I will say I had some life experiences in these troubled times that added piss, fire, and depth to my character. I drove trucks, delivered newspapers, worked in factories, shot pool, drank beer and whiskey, fought in bars, and chased women. I was one step away from 4 divorces, 5 kids, 7 bad tattoos, and living in a two-bit trailer.

I found my first love – jazz and classical guitar – and practiced relentlessly and played open mike nights throughout the Chicago area. This lasted until I blew out the tendons in my right hand at age 21. In deep despair and confusion, the only identity and purpose I ever had stripped away from me with a frozen wrist, I decided to get my high school equivalency degree and begin anew by enrolling in a Chicago area community college. Almost 22, I told the student counselor I had no idea what to do and was not interested in anything but what I just lost. The man suggested I begin with humanities and liberal arts courses, and so I signed up for a plate full. After the first class, a switch turned on; I went to the library and checked out a 4 foot-high stack of books and began to read seriously for the first time in my life.

Quite unexpectedly, I fell in love with reading and learning. Working full-time as a bartender at night, during the day I took courses in film, television production, radio, theater, literature, history, art, and philosophy. I graduated with a degree in television production and film directing, and at age 24 I travelled south to the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana) to pursue a Masters of Arts degree in theater direction. The indifferent or hostile faculty I encountered there, however, led me to switch majors to philosophy, in which I subsequently earned my Bachelors of Arts (UICU, 1984), Master’s (University of Chicago, 1987) and Doctorate (University of Texas-Austin, 1993) degrees. Despite a standard paternalistic warning by faculty to reconsider pursuing advanced study in philosophy due to dismal job prospects, I lunged forward because by then I knew nothing but to pursue what I loved and the path of creative thinking. Ultimately, this also led me to study message therapy, meditation, and herbal medicine; to pursue a teaching certificate in yoga; and to earn a black belt in Tae-Kwon-Do while studying numerous other martial arts (including Judo, Tai-Chi, Aikido, and Filipino stick-fighting).

Epiphany #1

Little did I realize that only the first few layers of change were peeling off my encrusted psyche and soul. At the University of Illinois, I studied radical thinkers like Nietzsche, as well as the revolutionary political traditions of Marxism, anarchism, and critical theory. I became intensely interested in politics, and I joined some left-wing campus groups. I was learning about capitalism and the injustices of imperialism and racism, about the lies I was spoon-fed regarding my “great” country and its mission of spreading “democracy and freedom” throughout the world. I wanted to smash the capitalist system and I became intimate with my hidden affinities for the oppressed and those who suffer injustice or pain in any way.

I immersed myself in organizing support for Central American nations then under relentless attack by Ronald Reagan and US-sponsored and trained juntas and death squads. I led action groups, helped provide shelter for illegal refugees from El Salvador, and organized film festivals to send medical funds to Nicaragua. I was also involved in the anti-apartheid struggle and with local environmental groups. With an appetite for creative writing and theatre still burning inside me, I was regularly writing and performing political-conceptual art, street theatre, experimenting with the political–artistic possibilities of Surrealism and Dadaism, and generally trying to foment subversive thinking and practices of multiple kinds.

Epiphany #2

My second epiphany happened at age 25, now more than 30 years ago, and it led me down the path of veganism and animal rights. I experienced something sacred within the bowels of the profane. I was in Chicago, driving about 2 am, half-drunk and goddamn hungry. I pulled into a White Castle fast food restaurant and ordered a double cheeseburger. As I always was content with a mere single cheeseburger, I found the double cheese and meat patties to be so excessive, so over the top, so gross, so saturated with blood and gore, that I was completely nauseated. For the first time in my carnivorous life, in a total vacuum of information, I made a concrete connection between the processed slop in my hands and the bones, tissues, muscles, tendons, blood, and life of an animal. I suddenly saw something that came from a slaughterhouse, not a supermarket.

With no prior knowledge of vegetarian issues – no contact with any book, video, speaker, or person of this persuasion – I spit the vile flesh out of my mouth in utter revulsion. I stumbled around in a dietary no-man’s-land for two months, not knowing what to eat, not wanting this consciousness but unable to shake it. I felt perhaps I had been abducted by aliens who rewired my thinking in mischievous ways. Fortuitously, I met some vegetarians who assured me of the value of my new consciousness, mentored me, and pointed me in the right direction.

From a Marxist-humanist-carnivore to a health-oriented vegetarian, I evolved to veganism, and doubled back to mediate these concerns with radical politics and social revolution “by any means necessary” as Malcolm so perfectly put it.

Although alert to the health impact of meat and dairy products, I had no clue about the innumerable barbaric ways human beings exploit animals. Even while researching the evils of juntas, death squads, genocide, fascism, and imperialism, my picture of humanity and the world was still too rosy.

Epiphany #3

That changed in the midst of a third stunning epiphany in 1987 when I read Peter Singer’s book, Animal Liberation. Like so many people, that book changed my life in an instant. I became ill from the emotional stress of what I was learning about the unconscionable exploitation of animals in factory farms, slaughterhouses, vivisection labs, and other human-manufactured hellholes.

Once I recovered from the shock, I morphed into a very different person. Realizing that animals suffered far more than human beings in the quantity and quality of their pain, suffering, and death, I shifted from human rights to animal rights activism. Whereas most human beings have at least some rights, no animals have the most basic right to life and bodily integrity and they needed representation and alliance more than any oppressed human group. When I studied the impact of meat production on world hunger and the environment, I realized that by promoting veganism and animal rights I would also be helping humans in the most productive way possible. I saw veganism and animal rights as the most radical, complete, and holistic forms of activism, having a powerful and positive impact on the crises in human health, world hunger, food shortages, environmental devastation, ubiquitous violence, and the deep and troubling alienation of humanity from the natural world and other life forms.

Many think, for instance, that people should help humans as our first priority and relegate animals to an afterthought at best. They think humans suffer more than animals, which is not true. They think that activism is a zero-sum game, such that one group (humans) gains only if another (all other animal species) loses, which is a capitalist ideology belied by the deep interconnectedness of all life and the natural world. One of the most profound truths I have learned in my life is that the fate of all species stands or falls together, that what we do to the animals we do to ourselves and to the earth, and that promoting animal rights and respect for all life has direct benefits to human society and the environment

Yet I also found my political commitments ridiculed far more than ever before, as animal rights provokes hostility from the arrogant people who enjoy power over animals, from the insecure who boost themselves by demeaning and exploiting animals, and from the guilty who do not want to confront their ignorance and implication in violence against animals. I took heart in the words of Emile Zola: “The fate of animals is of greater importance to me than the fear of appearing ridiculous; it is indissolubly connected with the fate of men.”

The ridicule I received for defending veganism and animal rights was particularly harsh from the radical and Left communities. For leftists have completely assimilated the anthropocentric and speciesist ideologies of agricultural society, Greco-Roman culture, Christianity, modern science, the Enlightenment, and Marxist and anarchist humanism. I grew tired of the inconsistencies and hypocrisies. Over and over again, I listened to humanists, “progressives,” “radicals,” and “peace and justice” activists rail against capitalism, exploitation, and injustice, while devouring the tortured and dismembered bodies of cows, chickens, pigs, and other sentient beings and fellow animals who were brutally exploited and killed in the industrial capitalist institutions of factory farms and slaughterhouses. Champions of holistic theorizing and systemic analysis, one-dimensional leftists completely miss the origins of hierarchy, slavery, war, racism, environmental ruination, and other profound crises requiring urgent attention, all related to speciesism and interconnected by the hideous chains linking animal exploitation to human exploitation and environmental devastation.

Epiphany #4

I realized that the “radical” traditions in no way are a liberating philosophy or politics from the standpoint of animals and the environment. I saw Leftism as merely another form of Stalinism toward animals. The Left doesn’t grasp the deep roots of human power pathologies and would only replace capitalist anthropocentrism with socialist anthropocentrism, and could never resolve key social and ecological problems. They operate with pre-scientific, mechanistic models of understanding animal behavior, still cling to dualist oppositions separating humans and animals with an ontological chasm rather than evolutionary continuity, and to this day they are mired in the Dark Ages, the philosophical (animal rights) and scientific (cognitive ethology) revolutions having completely passed them by as new paradigms emerge vital for salvaging the wreckage of psychologically stunted humanity and the metastasizing cancer of “civilization.”

I came to the conclusion that a truly revolutionary social theory and movement will not just emancipate members of one species, but rather all species and the Earth itself. I rejected the humanist cliché — “We Are All One Race, the Human Race” – for a broader vision: “We Are One Community, the Biocommunity.” I saw that all forms of oppression were interrelated, that they were all facets of one odious system of hierarchy with deep roots in speciesism and the domestication of animals that commenced with agricultural society ten thousand years ago. From animal liberation, I evolved to a politics of total liberation, abandoning single-issue approaches in favor of linking human, animal, and earth liberation struggles. Total liberation involves a dialectical theory of interrelated oppression and an alliance politics deeper and more inclusive than anything yet imagines. Its ultimate goal is to revolutionize global capitalism, reconstruct society along anarchist lines, and harmonize the social world with the natural world and respect the autonomy and equal interests nonhuman animals share with us in freedom from exploitation and suffering and freedom to self-determination in their natural habitat and with their own families and communities.

Thus, I evolved from vegetarianism to veganism, and from animal welfarism to animal rights then to animal liberation to total liberation and to defense of militant direct action as a legitimate and necessary tactic in the larger struggle for revolutionary change. At this stop in my journey, I abandoned the baggage of pacifism and lent philosophical and political support to the most dynamic and threatening resistance movements of the last few decades, the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front. Parallel groups that emerged in the 1970s and 1990s respectively, both are organized in decentralized cells, operate underground and anonymous to the public and to one another, and carry out the mission of inflicting maximal harm on exploitative industries through destroying property and liberating animal slaves. Their actions were bold, constant, and effective enough to cost industries hundreds of millions of dollars, to liberate hundreds of animals at a time, and to shut down many operations altogether. After 9/11, the FBI elevated them to the nation’s top two “domestic terrorist” groups in the US.

The UTEP Years

I landed a tenure-track position in the philosophy department at the University of Texas, El Paso in 1993, and found myself stranded in a geographical and cultural desert. But I immediately set to work waking up the huge but sleepy and benighted town. I taught radical topics in my classes, involved my students in protests, and engaged in civil disobedience. For 15 intense years, I was Vice President of the Vegetarian Society of El Paso; I led a dynamic animal rights group that was the political epicenter of the area; and I was debating, speaking, and intervening on local radio, TV, and print media on a daily basis. I started my own animal rights radio show, managed it for 4 years, and it continues to this day. I spearheaded a successful drive to free a badly beaten elephant from the El Paso Zoo to a sanctuary in Tennessee. I fought for a new animal shelter, free spay and neutering for low-income families, and aggressive adoption practices. I lobbied the city council and successfully won a vote which made EL Paso the 300th city in the US to declare the USA PATRIOT Act unconstitutional — all the while fending off attacks from colleagues, cops, right-wing media, and politicians.

Unlike the vast majority of academics, I believe that teaching and research should be linked to activism and the urgent issues of the day. It is appalling to me that in the midst of global social and environmental crisis, most academics pursue abstract, arcane, and opportunist lines of research, typically behind the facade of “neutrality” and with sublime detachment from a world spiraling out of control. Just as I believe scientists should commit positively to the politics of climate change (such as James Hansen admirably has), I think that academics and theorists ought to work as organic intellectuals in social movements and communities, using their skills to help understand and transform the dynamics and causes of domination, hierarchy, increasing concentrations of wealth and power among power elites, the ongoing animal holocaust, and planetary ecological meltdown.

As an educator and activist in numerous movements for over thirty years, I can say with confidence that there are few, if any, topics as heated and controversial as animal liberation and veganism, both of which push primordial buttons. Although I have taught radical subjects such as Marxism, anarchism, feminism, postmodernism, queer theory, anti-globalization, post-colonialism, critical race theory, and deep ecology, it was only my discussions of animal liberation and veganism that aroused the ire of colleagues and administrators and provoked intense student interest and debate.

The police chief wrote letters to the university president against my protest and demonstration actions. I was mocked on local right-wing radio. Resentful professors phoned in anonymous complaints based on lies and third-hand rumors. Senior colleagues and administrators admonished me that teaching animal rights was not appropriate (!) for humanities or philosophy. I shot them all down and pumped up the volume.

In 2005, things heated up considerably. In June, a notorious right-wing US Senator, James Inhofe (R-Okl.) sent letters to me, my department, the university president, and the entire Texas Board of Regents, pressuring me to testify before Senate eco-terrorism hearings due to my open support for and writings on the Animal Liberation Front. Almost subpoenaed, I refused to legitimate this McCarthyesque witch-hunt. The hearings went on without me and were broadcast on C-Span Live before an international audience and an audience packed with top lawmakers and FBI Brass. David Martosko of the Center for Consumer Freedom, a corporate and agribusiness front group, delivered a twenty-minute harangue that denounced me as “the leader of the Animal Liberation Front” and a “truly dangerous individual.” He went on to accuse me of recruiting students into the ALF. These were most amusing charges. For there is no leader in a decentralized movement and it certainly was not me. Moreover, I found it challenging to persuade students to attend vegan potluck dinners, let alone to risk a ten-year prison term to join me in alleged criminal underground adventures!

In July, after a series of speeches in England on animal liberation, the British Home Office banned me from the entire UK for life, deeming me a “threat to the public order.” My status was elevated from domestic terrorist to international terrorist, and I can never thank them enough for raising my profile. I subsequently suffered political repression from my own university, however, which inspired me to introduce and edit a 600 page volume history and analysis of academic repression and the corporatization of the university in the post-9/11 era. In Academic Repression: Reflections From the Academic-Industrial Complex (AK Press, 2010), I exposed the myth of free speech in “higher education” and featured numerous cases studies of repression, persecution, and firing professors for their political beliefs and activism. Despite having written over a dozen books and some two hundred articles and essays, despite excellent teaching evaluations, and despite intensive work in the community, I was denied promotion to full professor for clearly political reasons.

The Specter of Animal Liberation

But long before this turbulent time, I began to wonder: Why are people who show compassion to animals mocked and derided? Why are we considered psychologically abnormal or morally flawed? Why are we called everything from bunny huggers to misanthropes to terrorists? Why are the topics of veganism and animal rights so controversial? Why does animal liberation touch a primal and raw nerve in the human psyche and provoke resistance from others and fierce repression from the state? Why is it so threatening?

I concluded that animal rights is subversive and revolutionary on many levels, but to understand this point, one has to appreciate the difference between animal welfare – which every exploiter and speciesist claims to respect – and animal rights, which prohibits any exploitative use of animals and which all parties reject as extremist. Whereas welfarism never challenges the assumption that animals are resources and property for human use, animal rights explodes the prejudices underpinning the hierarchical system of speciesism to insist on equal consideration for the interests of all sentient life. Animal welfare doesn’t change the vast system of animal exploitation that slaughters over one hundred billion innocents every year, it only regulates minor technical and administrative details to “reduce suffering” and kill the endless procession of animals “humanely.” Enlightened people did not ask for a more “humane” Auschwitz, nor did the 19th century abolitionist movement ask for better treatment of the slaves. One does not regulate evil, one abolishes it completely, and the only “humane” way to treat a slave is to free it!

Because animal rights is abolitionist rather than welfarist in logic, it poses two different threats to humans and their societies: first a material or economic threat, and second a psychological threat. Animal rights is a potentially serious economic threat in its goal to eliminate every form of animal exploitation it can bring down, and thereby to end the vast system of animal slavery which is crucial to the growth of the global capitalist machine. In the UK, for instance, where pharmaceutical corporations are the third most important contributor to the economy, activists have shut down numerous breeders, liberated thousands of research animals, attacked multiple laboratories, stopped production of a biomedical facility at Cambridge University, and seriously thwarted plans to build a research complex at Oxford University.

This is very serious indeed, but the psychological threat is deeper. People throughout society are threatened by animal liberation, whether or not they have a direct economic interest in exploiting animals, because it means profound changes in their identities, values, interpersonal relations, and everyday lives. Animal liberation transgresses an inviolable boundary, as deeply rooted and universal as the prohibition against incest. It is considered taboo to challenge the distinction between human and non-human nature. Throughout the entire history of Western civilization, thinkers have built an elaborate lie that reduces animals to machines or things, falsely separates us from the animal kingdom, and arrogantly establishes us as the end to which all other beings are mere means. Animal rights forces us to confront the lies we have told about animals and ourselves.

Whereas prior liberation movements addressed sectors of humanity who were specific oppressors dominating distinct oppressed groups, animal liberation sees all humanity as oppressors; it attacks not just white supremacy or male supremacy, but the larger phenomenon of human supremacy, a universal ideology and everyday practice that cuts across class, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, nation, and other boundaries. Nobel Prize winning author, Isaac Bashevis Singer, stated that, in relation to animals, “all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka.”

Animal liberation is revolutionary in that it demands a complete reorganization of our social and psychological realities. It demands a fundamentally different economy, mode of science, worldview, culture, rituals, social practices, and identities. It rejects the conceptual map humanity (Western society in particular) has developed over the last ten thousand years throughout the reign of “civilization.” Indeed, the identities and traditions animal liberation challenges go back over two million years, with the emergence of the Homo genus and the coeval rise in meat consumption and development of the tools and fire used to hunt, kill, and consume animals.

Animal liberation is the next necessary and logical development in moral evolution and political struggle, whereby humans learn that animals deserve fundamental rights, grant them these rights, and change their social institutions, practices, and mentalities accordingly. Animal liberation builds on the most progressive ethical and political advances human beings have made in the last 200 years and carries them to their logical conclusions. It takes the struggle for rights, equality, and nonviolence to the next level, beyond the artificial moral and legal boundaries of humanism, in order to challenge all prejudices and hierarchies including speciesism. Martin Luther King’s paradigmatic humanist vision of a “worldhouse” devoid of violence and divisions, however laudable, remains a blood-soaked slaughterhouse until the values of peace and equality are extended to all animal species.

Thus, the revolutionary implications of animal liberation explain the intense resistance to it on all fronts.

Animal liberation is not a sufficient condition for avoiding the impending nightmare of ecological catastrophe, for it needs to be articulated with social justice, peace, rights, autonomy, and ecological movements. But it is a necessary condition of revolutionary change, and our attitudes toward animals stand as a litmus test to whether or not we ourselves will survive in viable and desirable form.

Let’s be clear: we are fighting for a revolution, not for reforms, for the end of slavery, not for humane slavemasters. Animal liberation advances the most radical idea to ever land on human ears: animals are not our food, clothing, resources, or objects of entertainment; they exist for their own purposes, not ours.  Although humanists scorn and reject the concept of animal rights on grounds such as that they allegedly lack reason, language, and culture; that only beings who can enter into social contracts can have rights and the responsibilities that go alone with them — all these objections are completely beside the main point. Animals have rights not in relation to one another, but against human beings and their violent and predatory actions.

Every justice struggle up to now was has been relatively easy. Now it gets hard. Speciesism is primordial and universal; it is arguably the first of any form of domination or hierarchy and it has spread like a deadly virus throughout the entire planet and all of human history. The problem is not limited to Western culture or to the modern world, such that there is some significant utopian past or radical alternative to recover. The problem is the human species itself, which but for rare exceptions is violent, destructive, and imperialistic. Universally, humans have vested interests in exploiting animals and think they have a God-given right to do so. To change these attitudes is to change the very nerve center of human consciousness.

That is the task of the worldwide animal liberation movement – no more and no less.

The Aftermath

The net result of my unrestrained passions, relentless critiques, and highly controversial activism is that my academic career is over, frozen at the level of Associate Professor and blacklisted on the national hiring market. But there are no apologies and no regrets. I am one of those rare academics whose primary ambition was never to obey, conform, and promote careerist goals, but rather to make philosophy dangerous again, to be a controversial public intellectual, and to use critical theory and political engagement toward a revolutionary transformation of all psychological, social, and economic structures which have brought us to this critical crossroads in human evolution and the history of the earth itself.

In a world of environmental ruination, species extinction, human overpopulation, predatory global capitalism, resource scarcity, runaway climate change, and an ever-growing animal Holocaust, academics should not have the luxury to pursue abstract issues unrelated to the urgent need for systemic change at all levels. They ought, rather, to abandon petty ego obsessions and narcissistic careerism in order to help clarify and change the causes of social and ecological breakdown, which demands a break from the ten thousand-year reign of dominator cultures and the much longer tyranny of Homo rapiens.

My life is the story of principled commitment, endless self-overcoming, and ceaseless struggle: the struggle for truth, enlightenment, justice, and peace; a struggle to bring change to myself, to others, and to this world. The struggle goes on, it will never stop. It provides the continuity and coherence for my ever-changing life.

Indeed after 40 years of non-stop intensive work, a new crossroads and novel challenges lay before me, once again, right now.

To be continued……

Wow, I knew if I lived long enough I would agree with Prince Charles on something, and it seems we agree that there is an implacable war against animals, a world war on a global scale, starkly evident in the high-tech poaching industry that is wiping out species such as rhinos and elephants before our eyes (see, for instance, my posts here and here). It seems we also agree that the human assault on other animals ought to be viewed as and treated as a war in which we defend animals from attack by any means necessary on this dying planet (see, for instance, my posts here and here). 

Nice to be in agreement with you on these points, Prince Charles. Now how about putting the UK’s armed forces in the service of wildlife under attack?

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The Guardian, May 21, 2013

Princes Charles and Prince William

Prince Charles and Prince William examine confiscated items made from endangered animals at the conference.

Prince Charles has warned that criminal gangs are turning to animal poaching, an unprecedented slaughter of species that can only be stopped by waging war on the perpetrators, in the latest of a series of increasingly outspoken speeches about the environment.

Addressing a conference of conservationists at St James’s Palace in London, the Prince of Wales announced a meeting of heads of state to take place this autumn in London under government auspices to combat what he described as an emerging, militarised crisis.

“We face one of the most serious threats to wildlife ever, and we must treat it as a battle – because it is precisely that,” said Charles. “Organised bands of criminals are stealing and slaughtering elephants, rhinoceros and tigers, as well as large numbers of other species, in a way that has never been seen before. They are taking these animals, sometimes in unimaginably high numbers, using the weapons of war – assault rifles, silencers, night-vision equipment and helicopters.”

It is the second outspoken speech that Charles has made this month, at a time when he is taking on an increasing number of monarchical duties, after he told a group of forest scientists also at St James’s Palace that corporate lobbyists and climate change sceptics were turning the Earth into a “dying patient”. The Prince of Wales warned that iconic species – which could include rhinoceros, tigers, orangutans and others – could be extinct in the wild within a decade if efforts to protect them were not stepped up. “By urgent, I mean urgent,” he told the dignitaries, who included governmental and United Nations officials as well as NGOs and grassroots activists.

His son, the Duke of Cambridge, added to the plea: “My fear is that one of two things will stop the illegal trade: either we take action to stem the trade, or we will run out of the animals. There is no other outcome possible.”

Charles also stressed the need to deal with the demand for exotic species. In the past, much of the market for tiger parts, rhino horns and ivory was said to be driven by beliefs in traditional Chinese medicine, in which the rare animal parts were believed to have curative or aphrodisiac properties. But the prince dismissed such ideas, saying the trade was in fact about status symbols rather than belief systems. “The bulk of the intended use is no longer for products that can be classified as traditional medicines. Instead, many more people in rapidly growing economies are seeking exotic products that reflect their economic prosperity and status.”

The conference called for celebrities to publicise their outrage and opposition to the trade, and for young people in countries such as China to be educated to reject the demands of their parents for such status-fuelled goods.

A disturbing update from the front lines of the war on animals, with elephants and rhinos the principle targets, certainly in Africa, and headed rapidly for extinction. A new study described below confirms one’s fears that the inexplicable fetish for ivory, its high monetary value aside, still principally driven by Chinese market demand (the same country also in midst of revolutionary change in its views toward animals reflected in scores of liberations of cats and dogs headed for slaughter and rise in animal advocacy generally).

There is no measure too costly, no action too extreme, no coordinated effort too large to stop this escalating holocaust of  rhinos and elephants, It is clearly high time to defend these majestic animals by any means necessary by shutting down lines of demand and supply, through a ruthless counter-war on poachers, via draconian penalties for consumers and peddlers of ivory, through drone attacks on crime syndicates descending from helicopters for their unconscionable kill, and with crackdowns on state complacency or complicity anywhere in Africa and Asia.

This is a dramatic window into the sixth extinction crisis in the history of the planet unfolding before our eyes; may we do more than watch this continuing saga of rhinos and elephants dropped by guns and machetes until all are wiped off the continent, with nothing remaining of their millions of years of evolution but macabre carvings and statues and graveyards.

The articles linked below are well worth reading, and anyone who doubts the vicious and implacable greed and violence driving the war on elephants and rhinos should read through the valuable New York Times archives.

v

Jaymi Heimbuch, Tree Hugger, January 17, 2013

If you’ve been following ivory poaching in the news lately, you may be wondering if there is any hope at all for elephants.

Just yesterday, the Washington Post reported, “Custom officials seized 638 pieces of illegal elephant ivory estimated to be worth $1.2 million at Kenya’s main port, evidence of what wildlife officials described Wednesday as a growing threat to East Africa’s elephants.”

And just two weeks ago, on January 5, eleven elephants were killed in one massacre by a gang of poachers at Bisadi area of Tsavo East National Park.

The problem is vast and complex, but part of the reason for the growing crisis is the booming economy in China. As the BBC reports:

“China is the main buyer of ivory in the world,” said Dr Esmond Martin, a conservationist and researcher who has spent decades tracking the movement of illegal ivory around the world. He has recently returned from Nigeria, where he conducted a visual survey of ivory on sale in the city of Lagos. His findings are startling.Dr Martin and his colleagues counted more than 14,000 items of worked and raw ivory in one location, the Lekki Market in Lagos.

The last survey, conducted at the same market in 2002, counted about 4,000 items, representing a three-fold increase in a decade.

It is enough to make us wonder if there is any possibility of saving elephants as a species in the face of such rampant killing and rising demand for ivory. Save the Elephants, a prominent nonprofit working to bring attention to poaching issues and Africa’s elephants, just released a 14-year study of elephants in northern Kenya, concluding that adult elephants are more likely to be killed by humans than to die from natural causes.

Science Magazine reports,

“Clearly it is the most detailed and comprehensive demographic analysis undertaken for any elephant population, and perhaps any wildlife population, at least in Africa,” says Norman Owen-Smith, an ecologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. It provides a base “for modeling the potential impacts of increased poaching” on other African elephant populations, which are also suffering from illegal killing.

The study notes that in 2000, there were 38 males over 30 years old in the study population, but by 2011 there were just 12, with seven males maturing into that age group. That means only five of the original 38 males over 30 years old were still alive 11 years after the study began. And by the same year, 56% of the elephants found dead (and few elephant carcasses are actually found) had been poached.

The rise in poaching is not only a concern of conservationists, but also tour operators. The loss of elephants in Kenya means a loss of revenue for people running sight-seeing and safari tours. And the businesses are responding to events like the massacre in Tsavo East National Park. AllAfrica reported this week, “The umbrella body Kenya Association of Tour Operators wants a new wildlife bill to be drafted and the government to take major steps to address the poaching menace.”


After National Geographic’s impressive expose, Blood Ivory, a renewed attention has been brought to the serious issue of poaching, a problem on the rise and reaching a disturbing level of intensity as Save the Elephants has proven with their study.

But there is a glimmer of hope. Elephants have proven that they can recover their numbers if given a chance. The elephants studied by Save the Elephants experienced a small baby boom after the intense poaching of the 70s and 80s lessened.

However, the renewed pressure of poaching has stopped that rebuilding of numbers, and could have a long-term impact on the species, with the loss of important information passed down from older generations of elephants to younger generations, including where to find water, food, and other vital resources in a harsh landscape.

In a recent conversation with National Geographic, Iain Douglas-Hamilton notes that losing older elephants means the loss of the “memory bank” and a lower potential for survival for younger elephants:

Studies elsewhere in Africa show that families which lose large numbers of matriarchs do much less successfully in later life. They have a low survival rate. In the time of drought, for example, the really smart and experienced matriarchs may take their families to a completely different place, only because they’re experienced. Maybe they remember their mothers took them to a place like that when they were young. That means sometimes that they have to take a counterintuitive decision. Like maybe in a really drought-stricken area you’d have to go deeper into the worst area to get through to the other side. That’s actually happened in Tarangire, as reported in a study which showed that the really old matriarchs knew what to do. Young elephants tend to have a higher rate of survival if they have good leadership.

So, are elephants doomed? The fact is, there is hope. There is always hope. But unless something changes, and fast, to protect elephants from poaching, that hope is dying with the older generations of elephants.

The New York Times has created a landing page for all their stories on the ivory trade, making it easy to explore the issue.

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Also see:

The Elephant Killing Fields

Vatican Stand on Religious Use of Ivory Would Help Slow Illegal Killings of Elephants

Environment News Service, January 14, 2013

CAPE TOWN, South Africa – Record rhino poaching death statistics released by the South African government Friday reveal a grim picture – 668 rhinos lost their lives to poachers in 2012 – up from 14 rhinos killed by poachers in 2005. Conservation scientists report that corrupt game industry insiders are now poaching rhinos alongside other criminal groups – all well organized, well financed and highly mobile.

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Rhino horns taken from a carcass

The 668 rhinos killed across South Africa in 2012 is an increase of nearly 50 percent from the 448 rhinos poachers killed in 2011. Five more rhinos were killed by poachers just since the beginning of this year.

A 2012 report by the international wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, calls these rhino killings “an unprecedented conservation crisis for South Africa,” which until recently has had a stellar rhino conservation record.

TRAFFIC is a strategic alliance of the global conservation group WWF and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN, which maintains the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The methods used in the most recent rhino killings show a new, very worrying dimension, says the TRAFFIC report, “The South Africa – Viet Nam Rhino Horn Trade Nexus,” co-authored by Dr. Jo Shaw, rhino co-ordinator with the South Africa chapter of WWF, and Tom Milliken of TRAFFIC.

“Typically, rhinos are killed by shooting with guns, usually AK-47 assault rifles. More recently, however, a growing number of rhinos have been killed by a single shot from a high-calibre weapon characteristically only used by wildlife industry professionals or, less frequently, have been darted with immobilization drugs and had their horns removed,” Shaw and Milliken report.

“The use of such equipment, and other evidence that has even suggested the presence of helicopters at crime scenes, represents a completely “new face” in terms of rhino poaching,” they write.

“Such developments underscore the emergence of corrupt game industry insiders into rhino poaching. Rogue game ranch owners, professional hunters, game capture operators, pilots and wildlife veterinarians have all entered the rhino poaching crisis and become active players,” write Shaw and Milliken.

“This is a unique and devastating development in South Africa, severely tarnishing the image of a key stakeholder in the rhino equation even if the majority of private rhino owners and wildlife industry personnel remain committed to protecting rhinos and supporting rhino conservation.”

A majority of the 2012 rhino deaths, 425, happened in Kruger National Park, South Africa’s premier safari destination, the new government statistics show. Poaching incidents in this park rose sharply from 252 in 2011.

In the TRAFFIC report, Show and Milliken write, “…the complicity of South African national and provincial officials undertaking or enabling illegal trade has been documented.”

“In terms of killing rhinos, four government rangers were arrested in Kruger National Park in 2012 and, at the Atherstone Nature Reserve in Limpopo, the reserve manager committed suicide after allegedly being implicated in five rhino deaths. Provincial administrators have repeatedly turned a blind eye to “pseudo-hunting,” especially in North West and Limpopo provinces, and allowed rhino hunts to transpire that violate TOPS [Threatened or Protected Species] regulations,” the TRAFFIC report states.”

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A White Rhino, Ceratotherium simum simum, cow and calf

“The most shocking aspect of the illegal trade in rhino horn has been the poaching of live rhinos on a brutal scale. For 16 years, between 1990 and 2005, rhino poaching losses in South Africa averaged 14 animals each year.”

“In 2008, this figure rose to 83 and, by 2009, the number had reached 122 rhinos. In 2010, poaching escalated dramatically throughout the year, nearly tripling the toll and reaching 333 rhinos killed. In 2011, the total again climbed to a new annual record of 448 rhinos lost,” they report. Last year, 668 rhinos were killed across South Africa.

Arrests of suspected poachers and smugglers in South Africa also increased in 2012, with 267 people now facing charges related to rhino crimes.

In November, a Thai man was sentenced to a record 40 years in prison for conspiring to smuggle rhino horns to Asia.

Rhino horns are believed to have medicinal properties and are seen as highly desirable status symbols in some Asian countries, notably Vietnam, whose native rhinos have recently been pushed into extinction.

While rhino horn is composed entirely of keratin, the same substance as hair and nails, and no medicinal value has been proven, the increased commercial value placed on rhino horn has drawn well-organized, well-financed and highly-mobile criminal groups into rhino poaching.

“Vietnam must curtail the nation’s rhino horn habit, which is fueling a poaching crisis in South Africa,” said Sabri Zain, TRAFFIC’s director of advocacy.

“Viet Nam appears to be the only country in the world where rhino horn is popularly gaining a reputation as an aphrodisiac,” the TRAFFIC report states, adding that the use of ground powdered rhino horn by wealthy Vietnamese to detoxify after drinking too much alcohol is “probably the most common routine usage promoted in the marketplace today.”

“Rhinos are being illegally killed, their horns hacked off and the animals left to bleed to death, all for the frivolous use of their horns as a hangover cure,” said Zain.

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Vietnamese man drinks from a rhino horn grinding bowl

In December, Vietnam and South Africa signed an agreement aimed at bolstering law enforcement and tackling illegal wildlife trade, including rhino horn trafficking.

The agreement paves the way for improved intelligence information sharing and joint efforts by the two nations to crack down on the criminal syndicates behind the smuggling networks.

“Whilst we commend South Africa and Vietnam for signing a Memorandum of Understanding regarding biodiversity conservation, we now need to see a joint Rhino Plan of Action being implemented, leading to more of these rhino horn seizures,” said Dr. Jo Shaw, rhino co-ordinator with the South Africa chapter of WWF.

“There is also an urgent need to work closely with countries which are transit routes for illicit rhino horn, specifically Mozambique,” said Dr. Shaw.

Two Vietnamese men were detained in separate incidents earlier this month in Vietnam and Thailand for smuggling rhino horns, which were believed to have been exported from Mozambique.

Both Mozambique and Vietnam have been given failing grades by WWF’s Wildlife Crime Scorecard for failing to enforce laws meant to protect rhinos.

The TRAFFIC report explains that all animals alive today of the southern subspecies of White Rhinoceros Ceratotherium simum simum originate from a remnant population of 20 to 50 animals that have been protected in South Africa’s Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve since 1895.

South Africa now conserves 18,800 White Rhinos, which represents nearly 95 percent of Africa’s total White Rhino population.

“The remarkable recovery of the Southern White Rhino via Natal Parks Board’s “Operation Rhino,” which pioneered wildlife translocation and other important management strategies, remains one of the world’s greatest conservation triumphs,” write Shaw and Milliken.

The report credits the country’s private sector who account for a growing proportion of the national White Rhino population. Estimates from 2010 indicate that approximately 25 percent of all White Rhinos in South Africa are privately owned.

The Southern White Rhino is now listed in the IUCN Red List’s Near Threatened category and, although conservation dependent, the subspecies is no longer regarded as a threatened or endangered species.

But Africa’s other rhino species, the Black Rhinoceros Diceros bicornis, has been nearly wiped out. The estimated 100,000 Black Rhinos in Africa in 1960, before the first catastrophic rhino poaching crisis, were reduced to just 2,410 animals by 1995, the report explains.

Since then, numbers have more than doubled to 4,880 animals in 2010, but this species is still listed as Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List.

In South Africa, Black Rhino numbers have shown a steady increase since the 1980s. South Africa now conserves an estimated 1,915 Black Rhinos – more than any other range state – and nearly 40 percent of all wild Black Rhinos alive today. Again, the private sector has played a major role in Black Rhino conservation, holding approximately 22 percent of South Africa’s current population.

“But the country’s superlative conservation record of more than a century is under threat,” write Shaw and Milliken.

They recommend that South Africa ensure that those arrested for rhino crimes are prosecuted and punished.

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See Also:

http://sg.news.yahoo.com/kenyan-officials-impound-two-tonnes-ivory-police-185942068.html

http://www.bloodyivory.org

An informative and disturbing documentary on the war on South African rhinos and economic markets, mythologies, crime syndicates, government corruption, high-tech massacre technologies, and vicious mercenaries driving the immanent extinction of this magnificent species. The urgency of the crisis is vividly dramatized, as are the violent urges deep in the human condition, and the armed struggle taking place right now in Africa and elsewhere in the struggle to save animals from extinction and as a vital part of the politics of nature.

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Al Jazeera Correspondent

“It’s a creature from a bygone age, older than mankind itself. Greed and corruption, myth and superstition, had brought the rhino to the brink of extinction.

For millenia its best protection, the rhino’s horn is now its worst enemy. If the killing doesn’t stop than the last rhino in the wild could disappear in just a few years.

These days rhino poachers come by a helicopter armed with powerful tranquilizers and a chainsaw. The cruelty of the attack is just breathtaking. A philosopher once said that we can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals. If so what kind of men are doing this?

In 2010 more than 300 rhinos were killed for their horns. With acts of such heartless cruelty taking place every day now, that annual total will almost double in 2012. It amounts to the wholesale slaughter of one of this continent’s most praised natural assets, by means both crude and sophisticated.”

I never thought the day would come I could find a pretext to support to use of lethal US drone planes, but that day has arrived. Amidst the sixth extinction crisis in the history of the planet, this one entirely human-caused, as rhinos and elephants are being butchered into extinction for their lucrative horns worth more than gold on the international market, and as high-tech organized crime syndicates are leading the slaughter, only pacifist traitors to animals, deluded utopian fools, and rhino-killers themselves would take issue with Mr. Vivier’s point that “radical solutions are needed.”

Even armed struggle pitting anti-poachers against poachers has not done enough to stop the implacable slaughter of rhinos, a species expected to be extinct within two years. The war to save the rhinos therefore needs to escalate to another level. From armed struggle to rocket launchers to drone planes, these are means of extensional self-defense, tactics that rhinos themselves would use if they could. But dangerous creatures they are, they are no match for helicopters, mercenaries with machine guns and hatchets, and Asian markets driven by impotent men seeking penis power through the phantasmagoria of ivory aphrodisiac.

Animals under attack in a fierce war of extinction have to rely on human beings with enough sense to grasp the realities of commodified slaughter, merciless killers, and the utter irrelevance and treachery of pacifism in these apocalyptic conditions. But alas, the subjective and objective conditions of struggle are nowhere near advanced enough to take appropriate action and save rhinos, elephants, and countless thousands of other species from immanent extinction.

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Mail Guardian, December 26, 2012

A rhino farmer is planning to use surveillance drones designed for the US military to combat poachers who are driving the animals towards extinction.

Poaching-rhinos

Clive Vivier, co-founder of the Zululand rhino reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, said he was granted permission by the US state department to buy the state-of-the-art Arcturus T-20 drone.

He is now seeking clearance from local civil aviation authorities to put 30 of the drones in South African skies.

Radical solutions are needed, he argued, at the end of a year that saw a record of more than 650 rhinos slaughtered for their horns to meet demand from the Far East.

Vivier said the true figure might be closer to 1 000, a significant dent in a population of about 20 000.

“We’re now eating into our capital of rhino,” he said. “From here they are heading rapidly towards extinction. Despite all our efforts, we’re just historians recording the demise of a species. We don’t have the numbers on the ground to see people and stop them [from] killing the animals.”

Around 400 rhinos were killed this year in the world-famous Kruger National Park, which spans nearly two million hectares – impossible for a limited number of rangers to guard effectively. Vivier estimates it as the equivalent of a town with one policeman for every 100 000 houses, “all with the doors and windows and open and rhino horn inside”.

He continued: “We need to change the rules of the game. We need technology. The only thing that can see these people before they do the dirty deed is surveillance drones.”

The answer, he believes, is the unmanned Arcturus T-20, which, with a 17ft wingspan, can fly for 16 hours without refuelling at a height of 4572 meters. Its lack of noise and infrared camera would be invaluable for spotting poachers at night. “It can tell whether a man is carrying a shovel or firearm and whether he has his finger on the trigger or not,” said Vivier (65). “We can see the poacher but he can’t see us. We’re good at arresting them when we know where they are. Otherwise it’s a needle in a haystack.”

Vivier has spent two years in talks with civil aviation officials and is hopeful that he will soon get the green light for a six-month trial. He proposes 10 of the drones for Kruger park, and a further 20 for other vulnerable reserves in South Africa.

He estimates that each drone would cost roughly $300 000 (R2.5-million) to keep in the air for two years, making a total of around $9-million (R77-million).

“The drones are economical to fly and will get us information at a very low cost. We need this technology to put us in a position to catch the guys. We need to do it before they kill rhino. The drone is, in my opinion, the only solution. It is highly sophisticated and can see things no other technology can.”

After the worst rhino poaching year on record in South Africa, air technology is seen as a crucial preventative step. Earlier this month, a reconnaissance plane with surveillance equipment including thermal imaging began patrolling over Kruger park.

But Vivier said such alternatives lack the Calfornia-built Arcturus T-20′s capability. “The smaller ones are like using a bucket to put out a fire at the Empire State building. We need fire engines. We’re now an inferno. If we don’t wake up and do something, the world will lose the rhino.”

He appealed to the US, United Kingdom and other countries to help raise the necessary funds. “The company making the drones has to be paid and we don’t have the money. We need the best technology because the criminals are sharp. We’ve had approval from the US state department and we’re trying to work with them. It’s a world problem and the rest of the world needs to help us.”

Vivier is among a group of rhino farmers who believe that legalising the trade in horn would thwart the black market and reduce poaching. Several conservation groups disagree and call for measures that will reduce demand in countries such as Vietnam, where horn is seen as a delicacy with health benefits.

Ike Phaahla, a spokesperson for South African National Parks, welcomed moves to put eyes in the sky. “In the past three months that is a strategy we have decided to use,” he said. “We are able to use the intelligence to intercept the poachers, although you can’t have a silver bullet for this kind of thing.”

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