Category: War on Animals


Gina Simmons is a good friend of mine who lives in Luxembourg, and she leads a great and fun-spirited band, Gina Simmons and the nobodies. They play original material which is always entertaining and rocking, and features animal rights/liberation themes and other important social commentary.

Here is their newest video, “Justice Maker,” a controversial depiction of an animal liberation raid, which was played many times on Luxembourg TV (probably by functionaries who never even watched it!), and which I would like to share with my readers:

 

 

Like all their songs, this rocks and must be entered into the catalogue of great animal liberation videos.

For more information on Gina and the nobodies, see their Facebook, ITunes, and Amazon pages.

Enjoy and share!

This new, short, militant animal rights movie is a moody, brooding, provocative, bold, and brilliant film about a woman who comes to an awakening about the radical extent of speciesism and the unremitting war on the animals. A snippet of my words, from a September 2011 speech in Germany, appear about 5 minutes into a film dominated by action and image. The ending may shock some, but I praise the filmmakers for the courage to dramatize what I call “extensional self defense” — the defense of animals under attack, by any means necessary, as they would defend themselves were they capable (and sometimes they are). This is “One” hell of a film by Devi Rose and brilliantly acted by Samrina Sabri. Let us hope for more like it.

See the film, “One,” here:

 

I am pleased to announce the publication of my new book, Total Liberation: Revolution for the 21st Century. This concise, jargon-free, and highly readable work is soon to be published in three different languages: first, next month, in German, by Echo Verlag publishers; second, by mid-year, in Italian, by Ortica Editrice; and third, in English toward the end of 2014, by the major American academic press, Palgrave-MacMillan.

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Below is the Table of Contents and the Introduction to the work. Please look for the book soon in German, Italian, or English versions and I will post additional details regarding these and possibly other translated editions of the book as they become available.

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Total Liberation: Revolution for the 21st Century

By

Steven Best

Table of Contents

Introduction: Crisis and the Crossroads of History

 Chapter 1: The Animal Standpoint

Chapter 2: The New Abolitionism: Capitalism, Slavery, and Animal Liberation

Chapter 3: The Paralysis of Pacifism: In Defense of Militant Direct Action

Chapter 4: Rethinking Revolution: Veganism, Animal Liberation, Ecology, and the Left

Chapter 5: Minding the Animals: Cognitive Ethology and the Obsolescence of Left Humanism

Chapter 6: Moral Progress and the Struggle for Human Evolution

Conclusion: Reflections on Activism and Hope in a Dying World and Suicidal Culture

 

Introduction: Crisis and the Crossroads of History

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” Lao Tzu, sixth century BCE philosopher

In dystopian and apocalyptic times such as ours, one of accelerating global social and ecological crisis, these essays attempt to articulate a revolutionary politics of total liberation for the 21st century.

All political approaches and social movements to date have been fragmentary, weak, and non-inclusive, and regressive in their views toward nonhuman animals. In the last three decades, there have been initial and tentative alliances between social justice and environmental causes, with growing recognition that the assault on people and the environment have common roots in a growth-oriented capitalist system. But, due to neglect on all sides, these alliances did not include vegan and animal rights/liberation movements, which overflow with potential for advancing progressive values (such as peace, justice, rights, equality, and community), creating ecological societies, and overcoming human alienation from other animal species and the earth as a whole.

Alliance politics generally is a challenging issue, as people prefer to focus on their own causes rather than supporting other movements, especially ones they disdain out of ignorance. This has to change and new political ideologies, tactics, and groupings must be formulated, for everything else has failed and the stakes could not be higher. At risk is nothing less than the future of life on a planet that has been pushed beyond all limits to adapt to human existence and is prepared to shake us off entirely and allow the evolutionary process to continue without us. This century, the next decades or even the next years, is decisive, for what we do or fail to do now will determine the fate of species, our own fates, and evolutionary history on this planet for millennia to come. The urgency could not be greater, there is no time to waste, it is now do-or-die.

Although diverse in theme, the essays collected in this book form a coherent whole and address my core concerns as they relate to current crisis conditions. The most promising and relevant politics for this century, I believe, will not focus on class struggle or the fragmented identity politics pursued along single-issue lines concerning race, gender, sexual orientation, and so forth. It will be, rather, a politics of total liberation that grasps commonalities among various forms of oppression, that recognizes the interdependence and common goals of various liberation movements, and that forges appropriate political alliances.

By “total liberation” I do not mean a metaphysical utopia to be realized in perfect form. I refer, rather, to the process of understanding human, animal, and earth liberation movements in relation to one another and forming alliances around interrelated issues such as democracy and ecology, sustainability and veganism, and social justice and animal rights. To be sure, total liberation is an ideal, a vision, and a goal to strive for, invoking visions of freedom and harmony. But the struggle ahead is a continuous one, conducted within the constraints of human nature and the limits imposed by ecology. Human, animal, and earth liberation movements are different components of one inseparable struggle — against hierarchy, domination, and unsustainable social forms — none of which is possible without the others.

Through predatory behaviors, systems of exploitation, and growth-oriented societies, we have lived in contradiction to one another, other species, and the planet for so long, that we have brought about a new geologic epoch – the Anthropocene Era – whose name recognizes our global dominance and severe impact of Homo sapiens on the planet. In this era of runaway climate change, the sixth great extinction crisis in earth’s history, increasing centralization of power, aggressive neoliberalism, global capitalism, rampant militarism, resource scarcity, chronic warfare, economic crashes, and suffering and struggle everywhere, we have come to a historical crossroads where momentous choices have to be made and implemented into action.

The omnicidal regimes of “civilization” and global capitalism have reached their zenith and will end — whether through an ascendant global resistance stronger than this dying world system, or through the cataclysmic adjustments the planet already has initiated, such as ensure its evolution for billions of years to come but create conditions utterly hostile to supporting humans and countless other species.

Anything short of a radical, systemic, and comprehensive change, of a formidable revolutionary movement against global capitalism and hierarchical domination of all kinds will yield useless reforms, pseudo-solutions, false hopes, and protracted suffering. The time for partial visions, separate struggles, and fragmented resistance is over, and the hour of total liberation and revolutionary alliance politics has arrived.

Yet, alarmingly, we have not yet as a species or critical mass awoken to the true gravity of the situation and the magnitude of the challenges we face. The big picture proves elusive, antiquated paradigms prevail, and dogmatism and complacency strangle possibilities from all angles and quarters. Although few realize it, the human, animal, and earth liberation movements desperately need one another, and the weaknesses and limitations of each can only be overcome through the strengths and contributions of the others.

If revolt can mature into revolution, the starting point for social transformation is to join hands across the barricades; to engage in respectful critical dialogue; to communicate, educate, and learn as equals; to overcome partial histories, critiques, and battles for a systemic struggle. A politics of total liberation could forge alliances more powerful than anything yet created. It seeks to emancipate not just one class, interest group, or even the entire human species from the grip of a nihilistic power elite, but also animal communities everywhere, ecosystems worldwide, and the dynamic energies of evolution and speciation currently strangled.

Listening and learning, working united not divided, a unity in difference and a differentiated unity, forging a plurality of critiques and tactics that attack at all points and mobilize resistance from all social quarters – through a politics of total revolution, a politics for the 21st century, a flank of militant groups and positions can drive a battering ram into the structures of domination, unlock every cell and cage, and open the doors to a myriad of possible futures.

But humans will awake, if ever, late in the process of advanced crisis and decay. Nothing guarantees we will succeed rather than fail. But pessimism is suicide, despair is surrender, the stakes are too high, and our responsibilities are too great. Despite our violent history as a predatory and colonizing species, what humanity can and cannot achieve is still unknown. Our capacities and limits are still being worked out in the laboratory of history and political struggle, as this evolutionary experiment nonetheless might soon end in extinction. Let us not only hope, but also struggle, for a different outcome.

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“For at least the last half century, a biocentric revolution has been unfolding against the destructive tyranny of anthropocentrism — a revolution guided by the natural laws of ecology against the unnatural diminishment of nature at the hands of “civilized” man. In this bold, brilliant, and timely book, Steven Best writes from, and has documented, the evolution of this universal revolution, as he gives us a glimpse into the catastrophic consequences should this revolution fail.”  —  Captain Paul Watson

On April 28 2012, in Montichiari Italy, at 16: 15, in broad daylight, amidst a crowd of over 1,000 protestors, animal activists broke into the compound of Green Hill laboratory animal breeders and liberated 27 beagles. It was a bold, brazen, defiant, and iconic act of defiance, resistance, and liberation. Soon after, the Green Hill compound was closed and hundreds of beagles were adopted to loving homes.

I wrote various reports and updates on the Green Hill action (see here, here, here, and here). In September 2012, during a speaking tour of Italy (see here, here,  and here), I had the honor of speaking throughout Italy, of meeting with key Green Hill activists, of speaking to Green Hill campaigners and Italian animal rights activists, and meeting some of the Green Hill dogs.

At Green Hill Compound

At Green Hill Compound

Animal rights activist and director of a forthcoming documentary on the Green Hill liberation, Piercarlo Paderno, was kind enough to interview me for this film, an interview which is featured in this short clip from “Green Hill – A Story of Freedom.”

The narrative is in Italian, my own words are translated and subtitled, and the images of the bold raid on Green Hill tell the story in a universal language.

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.

On May 24, a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk, Ven. Bowatte Indrarathana Thera, self-immolated near the main entrance of the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy, to protest cattle slaughter  in his country (see video here)  . He had conducted raids to investigate illegal slaughter houses and was a vocal critic of cattle slaughter. He died of severe burns to over 95 percent of his body. Buddhist monks clashed over possession of his remains. This stunning action raises the bar on animal activism and political commitment more than a bit.

Monk_Succumbs

Below follows an editorial from Ceylon Today:

Ban Cattle Slaughter Immediately

Political parties affiliated to the UPFA Government demanded that President Mahinda Rajapaksa take immediate action to ban cattle slaughter in the country.

Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) insisted the slaughter of cattle should be banned before the funeral of Ven. Bowatte Indrarathana Thera who had succumbed to the injuries sustained after setting himself ablaze at the main entrance to the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy on 24 May.

General Secretary of the JHU, Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka, addressing the media in Colombo said, Indrarathana Thera’s death was not a suicide but a sacrifice of life for the sake of the country.He added that Indrarathana Thera had been involved in various campaigns against cattle slaughter, and the monk had clearly declared before setting himself on fire that no one should be held responsible for his action.

Speaking about his connection to the JHU, Minister Ranawaka said that Indrarathana Thera was a member of the Pelmadulla Pradeshiya Sabha, but he had lost his membership of the local authority as he had not attended the Pradeshiya Sabha meetings due to his social service engagements.

He went on to say that some foreign media are attempting to create a wrong impression about the monk’s death by stating it was suicide related to a religious issue.

Meanwhile, the Leader of the National Freedom Front (NFF), Wimal Weerawansa, has also requested President Rajapaksa to immediately ban the slaughtering of cattle in Sri Lanka.

In the wake of a Buddhist monk setting himself ablaze,  Weerawansa has written to President Rajapaksa saying that measures should be taken based on the incident. He had further pointed out that the majority of the country’s Buddhists and Hindus reject cattle slaughtering, and that only a small group among Sri Lankan society approves of it.

He stated that in India, which has a majority of Hindus, cattle slaughtering has been banned and that during festivals such as Thai Pongal, they express gratitude to the cow that plays an important role in the traditional Indian farmstead. As such, it is greatly disappointing that cattle slaughtering continues to take place in Sri Lanka, a country which boasts of an agricultural economy, Weerawansa added.

Meanwhile, the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) also said they will do their best to ensure that the wishes of  Indrarathana Thera are granted.

BBS General Secretary, Ven. Galaboda Aththe Gnanasara Thera, told the media that Indrarathana Thera’s death was not a suicide, but one of life sacrifice. He added, Indrarathana Thera had demanded that both the slaughter of cattle and unethical conversions be stopped and a suitable Constitution for Sri Lanka be set up, vowing that BBS will work towards those objectives.

“Although the Animal Welfare Bill was drafted, it did not become law. Indrarathana Thera continuously fought to pass the Bill and establish it as a law. There was a Bill to stop unethical conversions but that too has not become law,” he said.

Gnanasara Thera stressed that cattle slaughter should be stopped and the majority of the people in the country are also against it.

Another hopeful sign of how moral progress and animal advocacy continues in the 21st century version of the “cultural revolution” in contemporary China.

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MSN News, May 22

 China animal cruelty: A farmed brown bear with a metal corset

Courtesy of Peter Li. In China, bears are kept in tight cages and farmed for their bile.

More and more Chinese, especially young people, are calling out cruel practices, such as bear bile farming, in China.

Bile extracted from caged bears. Stray animals abused and neglected. Sharks‘ fins lopped off for soup.

Most people’s perception of China’s animal rights record is as grim as the fates of some of the animals living there. But a movement has quietly risen to challenge that.

“‘Animal welfare’ was a foreign term,” Peter Li, who works in China for Humane Society International, told MSN News in an e-mail. “It is now a well-known concept in China.”

In February, China Daily reported that the China Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine said at a press conference that “the process of extracting bear bile was as easy, natural and painless as turning on a tap. After the operation was done, bears went out to play happily.”

Bear bile is used in cosmetics and for medicinal purposes, such as preventing gallstones, but experts disagree over whether it works.

China animal cruelty: School children protest animal cruelty.

Courtesy of Peter Li. Young people in China have been particularly active in protesting animal cruelty.

After the association’s comments, a video went viral in China showing a much less sunny version of the bile extraction process. Animals Asia says the practice is cruel and invasive.

“Over the years, the campaign against bear bile farming has often been a sensitive one, but today it is clear that the issue is finally mainstream and even schools are engaged and involved, with support and numbers growing all the time,” Animals Asia Founder and CEO Jill Robinson said in a statement.

That response is one sign of a larger animal-welfare movement in China, Li believes. He said the country has “changed beyond recognition.”

According to Li, ordinary people in China, especially young people, are pressuring the government for anti-cruelty legislation. Even pet ownership has changed. Li said that regulations on pet ownership have softened and that dog culling has abated.

“The movement is strong and will grow stronger,” he wrote.

It’s not just young people motivating the changes. Animal rights in China has been endorsed by some of the country’s best-known celebrities.

Jackie Chan . . . has been speaking for tiger protection and against cruelty to farm bears,” Li wrote. “Yao Ming . . . is a towering moral figure. He calls on the Chinese people to stay away from shark fin soup, from ivory products and bear bile products.”

China animal cruelty: A government cat shelter in China

Courtesy of Peter Li. Stray animals are often abused in China, but that is changing now.

Groups like Humane Society International and Animals Asia are still pushing, however.

“The explosion of newspaper, TV, radio and Internet stories in China about bear bile farming has seen a massive online outcry demanding justice for the bears,” Robinson said. She said in the statement that when Animals Asia was working on its campaign against bear bile farming, the group was “inundated by people who wanted to take part.”

But Li sees a lot more work ahead if things like bear bile farms and the hunting of endangered species is going to end.

“A lot needs to be done, admittedly,” he said. “But, today, it causes a strong reaction when animal abuse is exposed.”

 Steven Best

(This piece was originally written for my good friend Adam, and earlier published on his blog, OccupyEssays)

“I’d like to share with you a revelation I’ve had, during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you aren’t actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with its surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply, and multiply until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague.” Agent Smith, The Matrix (1999)

This essay tells a story. It is more than a little story, it is one of the biggest stories of all — the story of how humans evolved from one of the weakest to the most dangerous animal on the planet, from hunted to hunter, from vulnerable prey to top predator. This is the amazing saga of how one species became the first and only global species and in a very short time built a vast empire that has colonized the planet for need and greed, has created a new geological epoch – the human-dominated Anthropocene Era — and is threatening to bring down the planetary house.

Like all empires, the human empire rose, had glorious triumphs, but ultimately was a decadent and unsustainable colossus; and thus it also dies, ebbs, declines, and falls like the rest. But much more is at stake in this drama than an imperialist state and its colonies, for here we are talking about the entire species of Homo sapiens and its impact on biodiversity and the ecological dynamics of the planet as a whole.

 There is no scientific consensus to this story; there are, rather, a thousand narratives of the origins of Homo sapiens and the proper taxonomical tables and nomenclature. The prevailing cacophony of dispute arises partly for the empirical reasons (the science is uncertain and always changing), and also for political reasons (scientists, researchers, and historians have vested interests in challenging competing narratives and validating their own discoveries and narratives). Uncertainties aside, grasping the outlines of the human past are critical for understanding what kind of animal we are, illuminating the causes of current social and ecological crises, and creating viable future societies — if indeed such a project is still possible in a significant sense.

 Out of Africa and Out of Control

Our earliest ancestors evolved from an independent branch of the primate tree some 5-7 million years ago. Pressured by climate changes, they moved out of the Eastern and Southern forests of Africa and into the savannas where for various reasons they stood up on two legs and evolved into bipedal animals. These Australopithecines were 3 feet tall, hairy, ape-men — like apes in their relatively small brain size, and like humans in walking upright. After 2-3 million years, various australopithecine types evolved into diverse variations of the Homo genus, including species such as Homo habilis, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalensis, and Homo sapiens, and Homo sapiens sapiens (behaviorally modern, language-speaking humans). Along this dynamic, variegated evolutionary path, hominid brains grew increasingly large; their technologies and cultures became ever more sophisticated; and their populations continuously expanded in size and geographical reach as their ecological impact became more and more severe.

 There is no consensus on key questions, such as: What is the proper taxonomical language to characterize humans in relation to other primates? What alleged Homo types were true species rather than sub-species? What Homo species co-existed, and when? Did they evolve as one species in a linear fashion, as the “Out of Africa” thesis argues, or did various Homo types co-evolve and leave Africa at different times and in many migrations, as the “Multiregional” theory claims?[1]

 Whatever the diversity of human types and subsequent migration patterns, about 100,000 years ago (there is no consensus on this date either) Homo sapiens left the African continent to explore a vast, unknown world in which continents were conjoined by ice sheets. They migrated to Europe, Asia, Australia, Siberia, Indonesia, and into the Americas, establishing their empire throughout the globe. All the time multiplying, diversifying, and scattering across the continents, humans wasted no time in colonizing the world from north to south and from east to west.

Just one among tens of millions of existing animal species – many already dispatched to oblivion, thousands currently poised on the end, and thousands yet on the brink of extinction and some yet to be discovered – Homo sapiens has risen from humble mammalian and primate origins to become the most dominant, violent, predatory, and destructive animal on the planet. Nearly everywhere it journeyed and lived, Homo sapiens wrought social and ecological devastation, extinction crises, and chronic warfare.  Continue reading

I interrupt my regularly scheduled apocalyptic programming to report more good news out of China.

By a strong of luck, a truck carrying 600 cats fattened for slaughter crashed on route to the restaurant where they would be served as fleshy delicacies, regardless of the hideous and nauseating condition which they typically arrive in the long and torturous ride to Hell’s Kitchen. Unfortunately, and 100 feline victims died in the crash, some escaped to an indeterminate fate.

But experienced Chinese animal activists rushed to the scene to save hundreds of survivors, liberated them from the truck at their own response, and are caring for them until all can be adopted.

An activist reports that the response by compassionate Chinese citizens was swift and decisive. We can safely assume all surviving cats will be adopted and homed, and while some may remain round and fat, they will likely lead comfortable and content lives, experience  experience human love rather than hate, and die of natural causes rather than being murdered, butchered, and stabbed with knives and forks before shoved down the pipes of human gluttony and indifference.

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RT News, January, 17, 2013

Cats being cared for after truck crash

Up to 600 plump white cats escaped death when the truck carrying them to be slaughtered crashed and they were rescued by animal rights activists in central China.

Volunteers hauled the cats from the overturned lorry in the central city of Changsha. Around one hundred felines, however, died in the accident while others escaped, says Xu Chenxin of the Changsha Small Animal Protection Association.

The cats, most of them plump and white, were heading to restaurants in the southern Guandong province, the China Daily reported.

“It was easy to tell they were meant to be eaten, from looking at the crates you could tell their owners didn’t care if they were alive or dead. When I arrived, the truck was piled high with more than 50 crates. The cats had travelled for days, without water or food, and the smell was dreadful” Xu told AFP on Monday.

The volunteer group which recued the felines negotiated with one of the trucks drivers to buy the animals for 10,000 yuan ($1,600) and they were now awaiting adoption.

“We’ve already had inquiries from families across Changsha,” said Xu.

Activists often come to the rescue of animals in China. In one of the biggest occasions they bought around 500 dogs intended for the dining table from a convoy of trucks on a highway in Beijing in 2011.

China does not have laws to protect non-endangered animals such as cats and dogs. Although cats are not commonly served up as dinner in Chinese restaurants, some establishments, especially in the south, will put cat on the menu.

AFP Photo/China Out

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.

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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

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