The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission Takes Aim at the Florida Black Bear

On Saturday, October 24, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) authorized the first hunt of the Florida black bear in 21 years; and three years after this iconic animal was removed from the threatened species list. This hunt was to last for seven days.

However, the death toll and carnage inflicted upon the black bear was so devastating, the FWC had to call the hunt on Sunday, effectively meeting the hunting goal of 320 bear in less than a 48-hour period. And News-Press.com described this hunt as “poorly conceived, poorly coordinated, poorly conducted and the end result was embarrassing for Florida.”

SOME BACKGROUND

In 1994, the Commission of Game & Fresh Water Fish (GFC) closed all remaining areas in the state of Florida for bear hunting; and at that time there were only about 1,250 black bear remaining in the state. But, thanks in part to this hunting ban and other conservation efforts, the population had recovered to an estimated 3,000+ bear in six core areas (Eglin, Apalachicola, Osceola, St. Johns and Big Cypress) and two remnant areas (Chassahowitzka and Glades / Highlands).

Yet, despite the fact that the Florida black bear had been removed from the threatened species list three years ago, the FWC made the decision to authorize the killing of up to 320 bear in this hunt. This number was based upon (1) bear count estimates; (2) historic annual mortality rates of 8% to 10%; and (3) an assumption that a subpopulation of at least 200 bear could absorb and survive up to a 23% annual mortality rate and still sustain the species.

As noted in the chart below, the FWC determined that four geographic regions (East Panhandle, North, Central and South Regions) supported this hunt, with the “Objective” in each region to reduce the bear population by 20%, which also factored in the annual average mortality rate.

                                 Est. Bear      20%      Mortality      Hunt
Region                     Total       of Total    Estimate  Objective EastPanhandle         600           120              80               40
North                           550           110               10              100
Central                     1,300           260            160             100
South                           700            140             20               80
Total                          3,150           630           270             320

The map below identifies the four Bear Management Units (BMU) that were targeted for this hunt.

bear-management-units-hunt-map

In an effort to justify this hunt, the FWC argued that the increase in complaint calls, as well as several reported incidents of actual bear attacks justified the need to pare down the bear population. According to the FWC, in 2014, they fielded in excess of 6,000 complaint calls from concerned citizens. They also reported that 227 black bear were killed in vehicle related accidents in 2014. And while this information on the surface might appear to justify the need for this hunt, there is more to the story.

CONFLICTS & INCONSISTENCIES ABOUND

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is composed of seven members; all appointed by the governor and all serve five-year renewable terms. However, the current commission has been described as “a Breakfast Club of power players: a builder, a road builder, a rancher, a hotel magnate, a power company executive, a Republican bigwig, and a developer”. There is not a single conservationist or animal welfare advocate that sits on this board; and it can easily be argued that every one of these Commissioners has a conflict of interest when it comes to the protection of Florida’s wildlife and the environment.

This said, in 2012 the FWC released the “The Florida Black Bear Management Plan” (The Plan), a 200+ page study with an overall objective to “maintain sustainable black bear populations in suitable habitats throughout Florida for the benefit of the species and the people”; and to “address these conservation challenges and to ensure that bears will never again need to be listed as a threatened species”.

Additionally, Florida Administrative Code 68A-4.009 was promulgated to further protect the Florida Black Bear, stating:

(1) No person shall take, possess, injure, shoot, collect, or sell black bears or their parts or to attempt to engage in such conduct except as authorized by Commission rule or by permit from the Commission;

(2) The Commission will issue permits authorizing intentional take of bears when it determines such authorization furthers scientific or conservation purposes which will benefit the survival potential of the species or to reduce property damage caused by bears. For purposes of this rule, activities that are eligible for a permit include:

     (a) Collection of scientific data needed for conservation or   management of the species;

(b) Taking bears that are causing property damage when no non-lethal options can provide practical resolution to the damage, and the Commission is unable to capture the bear.

In 2014, the FWC updated bear population counts for the North and Central Bear Management Units (BMU); however, they had not completed counts for the East Panhandle and South BMU’s. And although those counts had not been updated in 13 years and were to be completed in 2016, the FWC still made the decision to move forward this hunt in 2015. Even Ron Bergeron, the only FWC Commissioner that voted against the hunt was quoted by the Sun Sentinel in September to say “You should have all your science in place before you hold your first hunt in 21 years, especially when you’re dealing with an icon animal.”

In addition, the FWC chose not to limit the number of permits for this hunt; and ultimately sold a total of 3,778 – enough to kill every bear in the state. And although the FWC established a limit of 320 bear, they also guaranteed a two-day hunt; and acknowledged that the total number of bear killed would not be counted until after the end of the second day. So, with a two-day commitment, there was no guarantee that the number of bear killed would be limited to the targeted 320.

While the FWC justified this hunt based upon the perceived “human – bear conflict”, they also acknowledged via their website that “The mere presence of a black bear does not represent a problem. In fact, living in black bear country can provide unique and rewarding experiences! The best way to enjoy our wildlife is to keep them wild and away from food sources like garbage, pet food, and bird seed.”

The FWC further acknowledged that “there is no shortage of natural foods in Florida’s forests for bears. They are very opportunistic feeders and are technically omnivores. Bear typically wander into residential areas because the food they can find there is high in calories and easy to get. The FWC further noted that “black bears avoid confrontation 90% of the time. They are naturally shy animals that will generally give plenty of warnings (e.g. jaw popping, huffing, bluff charging) before attacking”.

Nick Wiley, the Executive Director of the FWC acknowledged that the two attacks on humans in 2013 and the two attacks in 2014 did not prompt the bear hunt because they can’t prove this would reduce future incidents. He further stated that “We have never proposed bear hunting as a solution to conflicts. It’s to control the bear population. We don’t know for sure it will lessen the conflicts. We don’t have the science to prove it.”

The FWC also agreed with animal rights supporters that the best way to minimize human-bear conflict is through managing garbage and food attractants, such as utilizing bear-proof trash cans. And while the FWC suggested that “hunting” is a one tool in their comprehensive approach to curbing the population, the Florida Black Bear Management Plan makes no mention of hunting the black bear as part of the plan.

The FWC also acknowledged that 75% of the 40,000+ calls, letters and emails from Florida residents stated opposition to the hunt; but that they had to weigh public opinion versus scientific research…even though as Mr. Wiley acknowledged, there was not supportable scientific research to justify this hunt.

SO, WHAT WAS THE OUTCOME?

According to the FWC, total bear killed in this hunt was 304. However, both the North and South bear management unit (BMU) fell well short of their targeted range. The North BMU only met 25% of the targeted number, while the South BMU was slightly higher at 275. On the opposite extreme, the Central BMU (143%) and East Panhandle BMU (285%) embarrassingly exceeded their target numbers; particularly considering that those numbers were met on the first day of the hunt.

Naturally, this raises the question as to whether the FWC truly had any idea as to the actual population count; or if this  were simply a guesstimate. And if the FWC was working with inaccurate assumptions and inaccurate data, then we really have no idea as to the detrimental impact this hunt may have on the black bear, both short-term and long-term.

BearHuntSummary_1
OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

As noted earlier, there were nearly 6,000 complaint calls made in 2014. However, the majority of these were made by concerned citizens to either report a bear in the area, or a complaint the bear had dumped over a trash can and was rummaging through the garbage.

And while there were 227 black bear killed in vehicular accidents in 2014, this actually represents a 20% reduction over the 285 bears that were killed in 2012; thanks to the construction of wildlife underpasses, the posting of warning signs and reduced speed limits in frequent roadkill areas, providing of information at rest stops and tourist information areas, and other measures.

Thus while complaint calls have increased from 1990 to 2014, this would be expected, given that Florida’s population of 13.03 million in 1990 had increased 53% to 19.89 million by 2014. Add 6 million more people and development that infringes upon the bear’s natural habitat, this equates to more human – bear conflict.

Florida Passes New York in State Population

Diane Eggeman, FWC’s hunting director, predicted the hunt would claim 183 bears, based upon similar hunts in other states; while Brad McNaughton, the Central Florida Bear Hunters Association President commented that “If you do it by the (Florida) rules, no dogs and no baiting, it won’t be easy. It’ll be a luck deal. They’re sneaky suckers,” he said. And although Ms. Eggeman substantially under estimated the number of bear killed, perhaps there is some truth to both of these statements. They both assumed that all 3,778 hunters would play by the rules, which unfortunately, was not the case. Those rules included:

• No baiting. (Evidence has been presented that baiting did take place; and based upon the number of bear killed so quickly on Saturday, speculation is that baiting had occurred days, if not weeks before the hunt started.)

• No killing of mothers with cubs (The final tally was 179 female bear, of which 21%, or 38 were lactating.)

• No killing of cubs under 100 pounds. (Per Politico Florida, eight of the 170 were less than 100 pounds; and again using the same ratio for the 298 bear kills reported by the FWC, this would indicate a total of 14 cubs killed.)

Hunt Florida TV channel, commission spokesman Tony Young said, “If you see a bear that comes out into view, and you’re thinking about harvesting it because it looks big enough, give it a little while and make sure it doesn’t have a cub with it.” Unfortunately, this advice was not followed by everyone.

FAILURES ABOUND

This article would be substantially shorter if we summarized what went right; because quite frankly, the only “right” of this entire event was in the fact that it was mercifully shut down after the second day. So, let’s summarize the failures.

• The FWC is a commission consisting of developers, attorneys, ranchers and hunters. Not a single commissioner has experience in conservation or biology. Simply put, the financial interest of a developer or rancher is contrary to the protection of Florida’s wildlife, including the black bear and Florida panther, both of which are deemed to be a threat to “progress”.

• The FWC produced a detailed Bear Management Plan in 2012 which was developed to ensure the black bear would never again become a threatened species. A hunting program was never addressed as part of this plan; and this recent hunt represents a significant step backward in what had been a great story of recovery.

• Seventy five percent of Florida residents were opposed to this hunt; yet the FWC ignored the overwhelming majority…and ignored the science as well. Yet, there is no evidence that the FWC decision was a nod to hunters either. There were a number of hunters that were also against the hunt, with some describing this event as about the same as going out and shooting your own dog. Many of the bear had grown accustomed to humans, had no reason to fear them, and walked right up to the hunters. With exception of fences or cages, this essentially became a glorified canned hunt.

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• The FWC choose to move ahead with this hunt before final bear counts were even completed. The completion date was targeted for 2016; but the FWC offered no adequate explanation as to why this hunt was held before finalization of the counts. As the final numbers attested, it was clear that the FWC had no idea as to how many bear, nor where they were located geographically.

• The FWC did not limit the number of permits sold for the bear hunt. Ultimately, there were 3,778 permits sold…enough to kill every black bear in the state. Obviously, that was not going to happen. However, the FWC certainly positioned the black bear into a precarious position that, with a guaranteed two-day hunt, could have been decimated beyond recovery. This was a poor advised gamble that could have had (and may still have) catastrophic consequences.

• The $100 in-state permit fee and $300 out-of-state permit fees were minimal and therefore, failed to generate any significant revenue that could have been invested in bear conservation efforts. Given that this was the first hunt in 21 years and a lot of hunters excited about the opportunity of killing a black bear, the permit price seemed artificially low. This is particularly perplexing, given that Brian Yablonski, the Chairman of the FWC is a major supporter and advocate of the “economic value theory”. The theory goes that the conservation and protection of a species increases in proportion to the animal’s market value. The greater the value, the greater the conservation effort.

Therefore, one would have assumed that the first hunt in 20+ years of an iconic animal such as the Florida black bear would have yielded a much higher permit fee… $2,000 to $3,000. The final amount collected was $377,000, which will do very little toward future conservation of the bear. Higher permit fees would have raised significantly more money that could have gone toward a bear proof trash can subsidy program, further education of the residents in bear country; and investment in over-passes or under-passes, allowing bear and panthers safe haven and access over or under busy highways.

• By allowing an unlimited number of hunters, a compacted hunting period, and a two-day guarantee, the FWC was virtually assured of an unmanageable hunt. Expanding the hunt into multiple weeks and limiting the number of hunters on any given day, this would have helped to manage the hunt count, and ensured that both the Eastern Panhandle and Central Florida bear counts remained in check.

• The FWC held the bear hunt in the first place. Aside from the mistakes referenced above, the simple fact is that there was no justification to even have the bear hunt. The FWC acknowledged that there was not an over-population issue. They acknowledged that natural food sources were ample. They acknowledged that the isolated incidents where bear actually attacked humans was due to human provocation. (Bears are very shy animals, and almost never initiate an unprovoked attack.)

• The FWC acknowledged that the most effective way of controlling the human – bear conflict is to educate the public, and to place a greater emphasis of bear proof trash cans in bear country. Yet, the FWC ultimately justified the bear hunt on the basis that it would reduce the human – bear conflict, even though they acknowledged this hunt would not accomplish that goal. “We know this isn’t going to work but we are going to do it anyway” appeared to be the mantra of the FWC. Additionally, the majority of the bear killed were in Marion County, and deep in the Ocala National Forest. These were not even the bear that were creating the human-bear conflict in the first place.

AFTER SHOCKS

A week after the hunt, a kayaker discovered a dead bear cub floating in the Suwannee River; a previously unreported casualty of this disaster of a bear hunt, which brings up the necessary discussion as to aftershocks associated with this hunt.

Orphaned cubs, according to the FWC are capable of surviving on their own at about 8 months; and with an October hunt, most would have been 8 to 9 months old. Based upon the reported 38 lactating mothers that were killed, and an average litter of 2.5 bear cubs (typical litter are two to three bear cubs), that would equate to approximately 94 orphaned cubs.

And while cubs may have the ability to find food and survive on their own, a 70 or 80 pound cub would have a significantly less chance of surviving the attack of a 300 or 400 pound full-grown male, than one with a mother there to defend him or her. So, the mortality rate of orphaned cubs necessarily will be higher than the mortality rate of cubs protected by a mother bear. According to http://www.bear.org, the one-year survival rate of a litter of two bear is 88% and three bear is 82%, so an average of about 85%. Without a protective mother bear, the survival rate is assumed to be significantly less than 85%.

Additionally, subsequent to the bear hunt, there have been increased reports of bear sightings in residential neighborhoods. This is not surprising and should have been expected; but perhaps with exception of the FWC. There are two reasons for this.

BlackBears-150412-15
  Source: adn.com

One, the young orphaned bears do not have the same level of foraging experience as their moms. The logical question must be posed as to why they normally stay with their mother for an average of eighteen months if they only require eight months? The answer is simple…that is the ideal period of time that nature intended for these bear to have the best chance of survival.

And because these young bear do not have those years of foraging experience, they are likely to seek more readily available food sources like leftover food in unsecured trash cans. Even the FWC noted: “Bear typically wander into residential areas because the food they can find there is high in calories and easy to get. Because black bears are “smart enough to be lazy” and take the path of least resistance – the neighborhood. They will spend a few hours in a neighborhood getting into trash cans, bird feeders, or gardens and get the same number of calories.”

Secondly, bear are intelligent animals and many are now associating the forest with the carnage that took place in the woods. They now see the residential area as a safer environment, which obviously will only result in an increased level of human – bear conflict.

The official tally provided by the FWC is 304 bear. This appears to be an artificially low number. However, even if that is correct, after adding the unaccounted bear injured and never found, the increase in orphaned cub mortality, the increase in bear – human conflict, and loss of future offspring, what is the true death toll resulting from this bear hunt? And what is the long-term impact? Whatever the answer is, it is significantly higher than the original target of 320 bear.

THE ATTACK CONTINUES

Subsequent to the conclusion of the 2015 hunt, the FWC has now introduced proposed changes to Florida Administrative Code 68A-4.009. The most significant change to this code section would be to remove the sub-species categorization of the black bear. Specifically,

1) Remove any references to the specific subspecies of the Florida black bear (Ursus Americanus Floridanus) from the rule, including the title. This change is necessary to:

A) maintain consistency and avoid confusion because all other references to bears in F.A.C.s refer to black bears and do not refer to the specific subspecies Florida black bear, and

B) clarify that any black bear in Florida is protected under the rule. A Florida black bear is physically indistinguishable from an American black bear or Louisiana black bear, which are the two other subspecies of black bears inhabiting the eastern United States. While we have never found anything but a Florida black bear in Florida through thousands of genetic samples analyzed, removing the subspecies reference from the rule would negate the need to analyze DNA from a bear to prove it is the subspecies and therefore is protected under this rule.

This explanation sounds mundane, and suggests that the FWC is proposing this change for simplification purposes. However, the true intent is more sinister.

Current sources indicate that there are approximately 300,000 black bear living throughout the lower 48 states. And while there are actually 16 subspecies, only the Louisiana Black Bear and Florida Black Bear are in that volatile category…the Louisiana black bear currently listed on the federal register as threatened, while the Florida black bear was considered threatened until 2012.

The Florida black bear, as a subspecies of approximately 3,000, enjoys (or had enjoyed) special protections that he would not have received if categorized as part of the larger 300,000 black bear species.

From: American Black Bear Conservation Action Plan (Chapter 8, Figure 8.1 - page 146) "Historic and present distribution of black bears (Ursus americanus) in North America"
From: American Black Bear Conservation Action Plan (Chapter 8, Figure 8.1 – page 146)
“Historic and present distribution of black bears (Ursus americanus) in North America”

In other words, had the sub species title been removed back in 1994 (when the GFC imposed the hunting ban), there likely would have never been a hunting ban because technically, there would not be an existence of a Florida black bear. He would just be a “black bear” and as long as the overall species of black bear was a healthy number, it wouldn’t matter whether or not a black bear population existed in Florida or not.

Now whether that is the intent of the FWC, only the FWC can answer that question. However, this effort to amend the Administrative Code Section should be a concern to wildlife advocates. And it should be noted that the FWC also desires to remove the subspecies categorization of the Florida panther, which would remove his endangered species protections as well.

It also needs to be noted that as to whether there is a difference between the Florida black bear and other black bears, even the FWC states on their website that the Florida “black bear can be distinguished from other subspecies by genetic and skeletal differences.” So, when the FWC acknowledges that there are genetic and skeletal differences, one must question the underlying intent of differentiating the bear, yet wanting to pretend there is no differentiation. This should be viewed with suspicion.

MATHMATICALLY CHALLENGED

Additionally, the FWC has also indicated the intent to have another hunt in 2016, although in recent days Dianne Eggeman has walked that statement back and indicated that the FWC will not make a decision on future hunts until they complete a thorough review of the 2015 hunt.

Meanwhile, Thomas Eason, Director of the FWC’s Habitat and Species Conservation Division has been recently quoted to believe that there are now an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 bear now living in Florida; and producing 1,200 cubs per year. I find this interesting because it is quite obvious now that the FWC was simply guessing when they estimated the 3,000 bear in Florida. Now, they are guessing 5,000 bear? Or is it 6,000? Or does that 5,000 or 6,000 number include the 304 bear reported killed during this hunt? Does anyone really believe any of this?

With regards to the 1,200 cubs per year, this would suggest an annual growth rate of 20% to 24% per year, based upon his assumption of 5,000 to 6,000 bear. It is a generally accepted fact that the average mortality rate of a typical bear population, without undue influences of hunting and other non-natural events is about 10% per year. In fact, in determining the targeted 320 bear in this year’s hunt, the FWC acknowledged a 10% goal, which added to the 10% mortality rate, would equate to an overall number of 20%. They deemed this a conservative number, as previous studies had indicated that up to 23% of a bear population could be killed in a given year without risk of sustainability of the species.

In 1994, there were an estimated 1,250 bear. If we assume a 20% growth rate (which is based upon a 1,200 cub to 6,000 total population that Mr. Eason provided; 24% if the ratio was 1,200 to 5,000 bear) and assume the 10% mortality rate during that period (as hunting was not allowed from 1994 through 2014), this would actually indicate that Florida’s black bear population would be nearly 52,000. Yet, I don’t believe anyone would consider that to be an accurate number.

However, this is simple math; it assumes the 20% cub birth rate provided by Mr. Easton and a 10% overall mortality rate every year. Run the numbers. I did. It works. So, by this calculation, even he has substantially underestimated the overall bear population.

Unless…he is grossly exaggerating the bear numbers, or just making it up because it sounds good. This is not an accusation, but the numbers clearly do not add up; and I would have assumed that the director of habitat and species conservation would have factual data to support these assumptions.

According to the FWC, there was an estimated 3,000 to 3,500 bear before this hunt began. Assuming the 1994 number of 1,250 is accurate (and I have found no dispute of this number), this would suggest an annual net bear increase of around 4.5% per year.

Assuming the same 10% mortality rate, this would indicate a cub production rate of around 5.5% per year, substantially less than the 20% estimated by Mr. Eason. And in fact, http://www.bearsmart.com notes that “Bears are among the least productive mammals in North America.” So perhaps, Mr. Eason has been a little too optimistic concerning the reproductive rate of the black bear; or of the total population, or both.

And why would the FWC once again go on record with a number before final counts have even been completed? This just seems to further enforce incompetence or an agenda reliant upon a gross misstatements of fact, exaggerations or egregious lies.

It should also be noted that Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Jon Steverson has within the past few days, proposed for the upcoming legislative session that the state open up all 161 state parks to hunting, in an effort to “maximize moneymaking opportunities.”

FINAL THOUGHTS

One must acknowledge that there are situations when the only choice we have is to forcibly reduce wildlife populations, particularly when there is a perceived over-population of that animal. Of course, that over-population is almost certainly our fault as well, as we have tampered with the delicate balance of the ecosystem. We have either killed too many predators like the wolf or mountain lion or bobcat or coyote, resulting an over-population of prey animals. Or, we have reduced the animal habitat to such a confined space, they have no place else to go. They are then considered “nuisance” animals because they are infringing on our territory, even though we actually infringed upon their territory first.

And it is ironic when you think about the fact that when the human population over-populates, we don’t hire hunters to reduce the human population to manageable levels. Rather, we simply take over more land to accommodate people. Animals generally don’t over-populate. We just force them into smaller and smaller habitats; and as those habitats become smaller, there is a perceived over-population. And the answer to that problem is to kill and reduce.

The majority of Florida’s citizens did not want this hunt in the first place. After the black eye that the FWC has inflicted upon the state with this embarrassing, unjustified hunt, one can only hopes that the FWC will bow to the will of the people…and to common sense…and to intelligent conservation measures.

The actions of the FWC leading up to this bear hunt, the management of the actual hunt, and their actions after the hunt, combined with the recent legislative efforts, and DEP’s thoughts to legalize hunting in all state parks should send an alarming message to Florida’s residents. The attitude of the current state Administration toward wildlife and the environment is rather obvious, and one only hopes that something can be done before there is irreparable damage. If not, the repercussions of this will be felt by all parties involved: hunters and non-hunters.

The FWC has masterfully manipulated a situation where many of the animal advocates and hunting advocates believe that they are each other’s primary adversary in this battle. As those two groups expend energy fighting one another, the FWC continues to quietly pursue an agenda under the radar; with the hunting and animal advocates too busy fighting one another to take notice.

Fortunately, many appear to be waking up to this; and let’s hope for the sake of the bear and all Florida wildlife, something can be done before it is too late.

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THE FLORIDA BLACK BEAR HUNT – AFTERMATH

Something is bothering me and I just can’t shake this thought, no matter how hard I try. I take a deep breath and try to reflect on last weekend’s tragedy and travesty and desperately reach for even a small iota of reasoning or justification for the Florida black bear massacre. The problem is, I can’t.

A hunt that was ill conceived from the beginning, that was supposed to last for seven days, barely made two days before the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) mercifully put a stop to this. And what irks me is that they are touting the hunt as being so successful, that it only took two days to reach the targeted goal. And worse, many of the talking heads on local television are also using that same word “success” to describe the hunt.

Fortunately, it appears that journalistic integrity is beginning to penetrate this charade, and the true colors of this hunt are beginning to show.

Mamabearandcubs

BY THE NUMBERS

Because this hunt was so horrific, from planning to implementation to result, it was evident and obvious that by early Saturday afternoon, the hunt would not extend beyond the weekend. And original reports on Saturday were projected out to estimate that as many as 450 bear had actually been killed; and potentially 800 to 1,000 for the weekend. That would have had catastrophic implications on the bear population.

On Sunday evening, the FWS called the hunt off and a day later, provided an official reported count of 295. However, this final tally bothers me, and bothers others, because honestly, it doesn’t add up; nor does it consider the aftermath implications. So, let’s discuss that.

In 2012, the FWC published a study entitled “The Florida Black Bear Management Plan”. This is THE handbook, THE playbook, if you will, developed by the FWC to “maintain sustainable black bear populations in suitable habitats throughout Florida for the benefit of the species and the people.” This study determined that there needed to be at least one subpopulation of at least 1,000 individual bear, as well as smaller subpopulations areas of at least 200 bear each.

So, although the overall “goal” of this hunt was 320 bear (theoretically representing 10% of the bear population), the FWC supposedly analyzed the six core bear management areas and the two remnant areas, and concluded that there were a total of four core areas that would support the bear hunt. That included the Central region (1,300 bear), representing the one sub-population of at least 1,000 bear, and three additional regions: East, North and South. And this is where the math becomes fuzzy.

Although the FWC completed counts of the North and Central bear populations in 2014, the East and South region counts had not been completed at the time of the hunt, and are not expected to be released until 2016. Yet, there was only one FWC Commissioner against the hunt. Ron Bergeron was quoted by the Sun Sentinel in September to say “You should have all your science in place before you hold your first hunt in 21 years, especially when you’re dealing with an icon animal.”

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Based upon this partially completed study, and even with bear counts in the East and South regions last occurring in 2002, the FWC still approved the hunt. So, was there any surprise that the final numbers were vastly inconsistent, suggesting that the FWC really had no clue as to what the actual numbers were, and where the greatest damage would incur, in terms of bear kills?

Region      Orig. Est.     Targeted     Actual     % of Target
East               600                 40               112              280%
North            550                100                23                 23%
Central      1,300                100               139               139%
South            700                  80                 21                26%

These numbers greatly concern me because they either suggest that the FWC really had no idea as to the territorial location of the Florida black bear; or worse, artificially reported a lower kill number so as to avoid even more outrage than currently exists today. As noted in the table above, both the North and South bear management regions only met approximately 25% of their targeted numbers, while the Central region (139%) and East Panhandle region (280%), were so substantially above their targeted numbers.

So, one must wonder if the FWC had any clue whatsoever as to what they were doing. Further, of the 295 bear reported, the FWC confirmed that 207 were killed on Saturday, representing 70% of the total. So one must also ask, why were only 88 bear killed on Sunday? Quite frankly, the inconsistency of these numbers raises a lot of suspicion and statistically, it just does not add up.

According to Politico Florida, there were a total of 3,778 permits issued for this hunt. Subtracting the 207 hunters that got their “bear fix” on Saturday, this left a total of 3,571 hunters still seeking a bear trophy. However, two of the four bear management territories had been closed, so only two remained. Granted, some of those hunters planning to hunt in the closed regions probably opted not to pursue any bear in the North and South regions. After all, their “investment” was a paltry $100 for in-state residents and $300 for out-of-state residents. So the total number of hunters on Sunday probably were less than 3,571.

That said, Sunday’s reported number sounds artificially low. If this number is truly accurate, then we should be thankful that only 88 bears lost their lives. However, I have my doubts. Did the North and South regions truly contain fewer bear than estimated, resulting in less success for the hunters on Sunday? Or did the FWC under-report?

Neither is a good answer for the FWC, but these are the only two plausible explanations. So, if the FWC did not under report, then this raises a red flag question as to the competency of the FWC members…and that may be of a greater concern to the state of Florida residents.

ILLEGAL KILLINGS

Diane Eggeman, FWC’s hunting director, predicted the hunt would claim 183 bears, based upon similar hunts in other states; while Brad McNaughton, the Central Florida Bear Hunters Association president commented that “If you do it by the (Florida) rules, no dogs and no baiting, it won’t be easy. It’ll be a luck deal. They’re sneaky suckers.” he said.

And there is some truth in both of these statements, because both were based upon one critical and important assumption: that hunters would play by the rules. Both of these individuals made these comments based upon a belief and understanding that:

• No baiting would not be involved (Evidence has proved that baiting took place.)

• No killing of mothers with cubs (Politico Florida has analyzed 170 kills thus far and of this total, 102 were female and 28 of those were lactating. Assuming this ratio is representative of the 295 reported total, then it can be assumed a total of 49 lactating females were killed.)

• No killing of cubs over 100 pounds. (Eight of the 170 were less than 100 pounds; and again using the same ratio for the 295 bear kills reported by the FWC, cubs killed is estimated to be approximately 14.)

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Excluding the estimated 63 illegal kills of lactating females and cubs less than 100 pounds, the total number of legal bears killed would be about 232. This number is still significantly higher than the 183 estimated by Ms. Eggeman; however, this does not consider the amount of baiting that apparently existed. And based upon the rapid pace of bears killed on Saturday, there is little doubt that a number of hunters had begun baiting days, if not weeks ahead of the hunt.
The fact of the matter is that had the hunters strictly played by the rules, the carnage would likely have been less. However, this continues to be the problem with the rationalization of hunters being touted as conservationists. Before we can even have an honest debate about this statement, there are a number of assumptions that must be made. Those assumptions are that hunters follow the rules; that honest governments collecting the revenue actually invest this into conservation programs (rather than pocketing the money); and that hunters truly target the oldest and the weakest. The reality is that none of these assumptions are true; and until they are, this will remain a moot discussion.

UNACCOUNTED FOR

On Saturday, a Kayaker sadly discovered a dead bear cub floating in the Suwannee River, a previously unreported casualty of this disaster of a bear hunt. So, let’s discuss these additional casualties and long term impact of this hunt.

Interestingly enough, some protestors of the bear hunt included those that traditionally hunt with dogs, referred to as “hounding”; and they actually view “still hunting” as unethical. Now, many will argue that hounding is equally unethical, however they do make one valid point. Under hounding, the dogs chase the bear up the tree. And from this angle, the hunter can determine the sex of the bear, whether she is lactating, the approximate weight; and the bear is unlikely to suffer as the shooting accuracy is much greater. In other words, it is less likely that an injured bear might escape, only to suffer and succumb to his injuries days or weeks later.

It could be argued that had hounding been implemented, there would have been fewer lactating mothers and cubs killed; and fewer injured bears yet to be found. The problem is, no one knows how many of those casualties may still exist in the wild. I would assume that hunters are required to report any bear shot but not found to the FWC. However, it is questionable whether this rule was followed or not.

Orphaned cubs, according to the FWC are capable of surviving on their own at about 8 months, and with an October hunt, most would have been 8 to 9 months old. Based upon the assumed 49 lactating mothers that were killed, and an average litter of 2.5 bear cubs (typical litter are two to three bear cubs), that would equate to approximately 123 orphaned cubs.

However, while cubs may have the ability to find food and survive on their own, a 70 or 80 pound cub would have a significantly less chance of surviving the attack of a 300 or 400 pound full grown male, than one with a mother there to defend him or her. So, there must be an assumption that the mortality rate of an orphaned cub is substantially higher than one protected by a mother bear. According to http://www.bear.org, the one-year survival rate of a litter of two bear is 88% and three bear is 82%, so an average of about 85%. Without a protective mother bear, the survival rate is certainly less than 85%.

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Additionally, within the last week, there has been an increase in bear sightings in residential neighborhoods, which of course, was completely expected by everyone; with apparent exception of the FWC. There are two reasons for this.

One, the young orphaned bears do not have the same level of foraging experience of their moms. The logical question must be posed as to why they normally stay with their mother for an average of eighteen months if they only require eight months? The answer is simple…that is the ideal period of time that mother nature had intended for these bear to have the best chance of survival.

Because these young bear do not have those years of foraging experience, they are likely to seek more readily available food sources like leftover food in unsecured trash cans. And even the FWC has noted: “Bears typically wander into residential areas because the food they can find there is high in calories and easy to get. Because black bears are “smart enough to be lazy” and take the path of least resistance – the neighborhood. They will spend a few hours in a neighborhood getting into trash cans, bird feeders, or gardens and get the same number of calories.”

Secondly, bear are intelligent animals and quite frankly, many now associate the forest with the carnage that took place last weekend; and now view the residential areas as safer environments. Unfortunately, this will result in further human – bear conflict, and an increase in bear fatalities through future vehicle collisions.

Additionally, the Politico Florida report indicated that 102 of the 170 bear killed were female. Again, using that ratio and applying to the 295 reportedly killed, this equates to a total number of female bear killed to be approximately 177. With an average of 2.5 cubs per litter, this means that there will be about 450 fewer bear cubs born in 2016…and 2017…and 2018. Simply put, any hunt will always have long-term negative implications of future population growth.

So, the official tally provided by the FWC is 295 bears. For reasons already addressed in this article, this figure appears to be suspiciously and artificially low. Add the unaccounted bears that were injured but never found, increase in orphaned cub mortality, increase in bear – human conflict, and loss of future offspring, what is the true death toll resulting from this bear hunt? And what is the long term impact? Whatever that answer is, it is significantly higher than the original target of 320 bear.

A HUNT WITH NO EXPLANATION

Perhaps the greatest anger, outrage and frustration of this bear hunt was in the fact that the FWC never provided an adequate explanation of the hunt in the first place. The Editorial Board of the News-Press.com labeled this hunt as “poorly conceived, poorly coordinated, poorly conducted and the end result was embarrassing for Florida.”

There is no question this is a black spot on the state of Florida. And because this hunt was conducted only three years after the Florida black bear was removed from the threatened species list, with no indicators of over-population issues, no reports of starving bear, an ample food supply and only a handful of isolated incidents of bear attacking humans (with most of those proven to be provoked by humans or human carelessness), this made national as well as international news.

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WHAT WENT WRONG

It would be simpler and easier to address what went right; because in truth, nothing went right, except that the FWC mercifully called a TKO after the second day of the hunt. However, most of the “wrongs” have already been covered in detail in this article, and the myriad of other articles that are now circulating. So “What Went Wrong” will consist of a simple list.

• The FWC consists of real estate developers, attorneys, ranchers and hunters. Not a single commissioner has experience in conservation or biology, and any on the job education obtained as commissioner has been offset by their conflicts of interest. The reality is that the majority of these commissioners would benefit financially if there were no Florida black bear, if there were no Florida Panther, and no other wildlife to stand in their way. Simply put, decisions made by the FWC are made to benefit the FWC commissioners and not the residents of Florida, and they are using the hunters as their pawns.

• The FWC produced a detailed Bear Management Plan in 2012, which was developed to ensure the black bear would never again become a threatened species. A hunting program was never addressed as part of this plan; and this recent hunt represents a significant step backward in what had been a great story of recovery of the black bear.

• Seventy five percent of Florida residents were opposed to this hunt; yet the FWC ignored that 75% of the population, and chose to side with a small minority of the hunting community.

• The FWC choose to move ahead with this hunt before final bear counts were even completed. The completion date was targeted for 2016. Why couldn’t the FWC wait one additional year and establish solid counts of the bear population, then make a decision?

• The FWC did not limit the number of permits sold for the bear hunt. Ultimately, there were 3,778 permits sold…enough to kill every black bear in the state. Obviously, that was not going to happen. However, the FWC certainly put themselves in a vulnerable position that, with a guaranteed two day hunt, the bear population could have been decimated beyond recovery.

• The $100 in-state permit fee and $300 out-of-state permit fees were so low, it failed to generate any significant revenue that truly could have been invested in bear conservation efforts. While many may believe $376,000 is a significant amount of money, it really is not. Charging $2,000 for in-state residents and $3,000 for out-of-state residents, and limiting the number of permits to 2,000 would have generated $5,000,000 in revenue (assuming an equal number of in-state and out-of-state residents). This is real money and could have gone toward a bear proof trash can subsidy program, further education of residents in bear country, and investment in over-passes or under-passes, allowing bear and panthers safe haven and access over busy highways.

• Additionally, more expensive permitting tends to draw in a more experienced hunting crowd. Because they are more experienced; they are less likely to shoot lactating mothers and less likely of shooting cubs. And if there are any ethics to be found in the hunting community, it certainly is more likely to come from the experienced hunters.

• By allowing an unlimited number of hunters, a compacted hunting period, and a two day guarantee, the FWC virtually assured themselves of an unmanageable hunt. Expanding the hunt into multiple weeks and limiting the number of hunters on any given day, this would have helped to manage the hunt count. This would have ensured that both the Eastern Panhandle and Central Florida bear counts remained in check. As it happened, the number of bears killed in the Eastern Panhandle were nearly triple the target and bears killed in the Central region exceeded that target by 40%.

• The FWC held the bear hunt in the first place. Aside from the mistakes referenced above, the simple fact is that there was no justification to even have the bear hunt. The FWC acknowledged that there was not an over-population issue. They acknowledged that natural food sources were ample. They acknowledged that the isolated incidents where bear actually attacked humans was due to human provocation. (Bears are very shy animals, and almost never initiate an unprovoked attack.)

The FWC acknowledged that the most effective way of controlling the human – bear conflict is to educate the public, and to place a greater emphasis of bear proof trash cans in bear country. Yet, the FWC ultimately justified the bear hunt on the basis that it would reduce the human – bear conflict, even though they acknowledged this bear hunt would not accomplish that goal. “We know this isn’t going to work but we are going to do it anyway” appeared to be the mantra of the FWC. Additionally, the majority of the bear killed were in Marion County, and deep in the Ocala National Forest. These were not even the bears that were creating the human-bear conflict in the first place

SO WHAT DID WE LEARN?

In the movie Burn After Reading, the final scene captured a conversation between the CIA Superior and one of his officers. The CIA Superior posed the question “What did we learn Palmer?” to which Palmer answered “I don’t know sir.” The Superior responded back “ I don’t bleeping know either. I guess we learned not to do it again.” The officer’s only response was “Yes sir”, to which the Superior commented “I’m bleeped if I know what we did.”

The majority of Florida’s citizens did not want this hunt in the first place. After the black eye that the FWC has inflicted upon the state with this embarrassing, unjustified disaster of a bear hunt, I only hope that the FWC will bow to the will of the people…and to common sense…and to intelligent conservation and also never have this hunt again.

However, this assumes that the people making the original decision to hold this hunt in the first place have now developed the knowledge and intelligence not to repeat this mistake. Unfortunately, the only way to ensure that this does not happen again would be to remove the entire Commission, and appoint members without conflicts of interest, and with the proper backgrounds and education necessary to make decisions that protect Florida’s wildlife and not destroy it.

DRAWING A “LION” IN THE SAND

“I am an expert witness because I say I am.
I will testify for you, I’m a gun for hire, I’m a saint, I’m a liar.
Because there are no facts, there is no truth; just data to be manipulated.
I can get any results you like. What’s it worth to you?
Because there is no wrong, there is no right, and I sleep very well at night.”
(Don Henley – The Garden of Allah)

Don Henley is one of the greatest songwriters of our time, and his words often speak of a truth that is absolute. And this particular verse really captures my attention, particularly as related to the plight of many of our endangered, threatened and beloved wildlife; including lions, tigers, cheetahs, leopards, elephants, rhinos, polar bears, etc., etc. And while few question the precipitous drop in population of these various species of animals over the last 20, 30, 40 years, data presented by the hunting establishment would suggest that not only are these animals at no risk of extinction, but they are actually increasing in numbers. (“I’m a gun for hire…I can get you any results you like. What’s it worth to you?”)

Big Cat Threatened Poster

The simple fact is, the populations of these beloved creatures are dwindling, and dwindling quickly.

This particular article was one I started to write several months ago, but wasn’t quite sure the path I wanted it to follow. Originally, I envisioned this as a follow-up to “Agent of Change” and “Riding the Wave of Change”. However, as any artist will attest, when the creative juices aren’t flowing toward that idea, you can’t force it. Put it away, and sooner or later, the timing will be right, and I find that time to be now.

So, three months ago, the tragic story of Cecil the Lion erupted into national and world news. Cecil was mortally wounded on July 1st; but it was not until July 26th that his story first appeared in social media pages. Three months later, Cecil continues to generate a myriad of strong and passionate emotions. And while Cecil is no longer headline news, if you listen carefully, you can still hear the steady and slow beat of the war drum off in the distance. Dum…Dum…Dum…not unlike the classic Hollywood westerns. Cecil may no longer exist in the physical realm, but his spirit projects that slow steady drum beat that continues to inspire his supporters to fight the cause of those that cannot speak for themselves.

I believe it is safe to say that the hunting community was initially caught off guard as to the passion and drive of a re-energized anti-hunting movement. And while there were, and are, a number of people who questioned why Cecil was a story at all, public opinion could best be described as shock, anger, outrage, a demand for justice, and a demand for change.

However, what caught the hunting establishment off guard was not necessarily the traditional animal rights activists and the well-known animal welfare organizations. They have been battling the hunting establishment for years. No, the surprise was that this anger was coming from the main stream. And of course, that is their greatest fear.

Historically, the hunting establishment has often been able to pass off animal activists as extremists; as people with a love for animals that exists beyond a rational behavior. And unfortunately, even though this is an unfair and very untrue statement, this argument has been bought and sold many times. And from first-hand experience, I know that many within the mainstream did not always believe the narrative of the animal rights activists. They just could not believe that humans were even capable of this type of activity or behavior, and that the story told must be a gross exaggeration. Then Cecil opened up the proverbial “can of worms” and suddenly mainstream had no choice but to acknowledge man’s capabilities of the senseless killing of defenseless animals.

As they dug deeper into the subject, they realized it was even worse than they could have imagined…canned hunting and other extreme acts of animal abuse. And once the general public becomes outraged and demands change, it becomes almost impossible to stop the momentum. Knowledge is power, and power begets change.

As Hermann Meyeridricks, president of the Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa (PHASA) stated “From my dealings with the media and the community, it has become clear to me that those against the hunting of lions bred in captivity are no longer just a small if vociferous group of animal-rights activists. Broader society is no longer neutral on this question and the tide of public opinion is turning strongly against this form of hunting, however it is termed. Even within our own ranks, as well as in the hunting fraternity as a whole, respected voices are speaking out publicly against it.”

Trophy Hunting Illustration
Unfortunately, as animal rights activists will argue the cruelty of hunting and the unethical and immoral facets associated with this sport, the pro-hunting community will argue hunting as a mode of conservation; and that it is naturally engrained in the human psyche to hunt.

The reality is that this world is a complex place; and rarely are issues truly black and white. For every action or inaction, there is a justification for that action or inaction; regardless if it is steeped in logic. The basis may be supportable by facts; or it may just be an emotionally charged response. “Because there is no wrong, there is no right, and I sleep very well at night.”

Hunting appears to be one of those subjects that is so divisive, it truly “draws that line in the sand”. It is a dare of debate; and not a friendly and spirited debate that concludes with both sides shaking hands and wishing each other a nice ‘rest of the evening’. And in fact, if one side did extend a hand in friendship, the other side would be suspicious as to what weapon is hidden in the other hand.

Yet at the same time, this is a subject that people must engage in active communication and debate, because the end result of this will have far-reaching consequences not only in our lifetime, but in the lifetime of our children and grandchildren. The crux of the issue is not just survival of these magnificent animals; but an environment in which they flourish and are not constantly facing “threatened” or “endangered” classification, or worse, extinction.

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It is a sure bet that 99.99% of the animal rights groups would like to see every animal that is currently either threatened and endangered to be restored to a healthy sustainable level. At the same time, it is also a safe bet to assume that 97.5% of the hunting community also desires sustainability above threatened level – at least for certain animals. Unfortunately, this solidarity stops there because survival of these species has a very different meaning and very different intent for the two groups.

Animal advocates have a fundamental belief that animals have as much right to exist on this earth as humans. They have beating hearts, they have souls, they have feelings, they have emotions, and killing for the sake of killing is a cruel and inhumane sport. It is immoral, it is unethical. The act lacks complete compassion and is contrary to us as stewards of our planet.

The pro-hunting group desires a healthy animal population; but only to ensures an ample supply of trophy opportunities. Aside from the sample size of the population that hunts deer or elk, or similar game for food, the remainder of the hunting population simply has an insatiable desire to hunt…to kill.

WHY THAT LINE HAS BEEN DRAWN

Obviously, the fact that the two groups are polar opposites when it comes to the “trophy” animals (Have I mentioned that I hate that word?) is in itself the reason that line of demarcation is drawn. However, I believe it is more than that. The manner in which the trophy hunter touts his kill naturally generates this seething anger and venomous hate from the animal advocates directed at the hunter. The triumphant pose in a dominating position over their lifeless victim, or holding the animal up for a photo opportunity, and always exhibiting an ear-to-ear grin…as if this activity marked the highlight of their life. This over the top behavior is sure to spew hatred.

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Source: One Green Planet

I compare this to a football game and the fan reaction when the opposing team scores a touchdown. If the wide receiver simply returns the football to the referee or perhaps engages in the basic spiking of the football, the fan’s reaction is generally limited to disappointment and maybe some frustration. However if that same receiver appears to be promoting his second career as a Broadway dancer wannabe, engages in a celebratory touchdown dance ritual, and attempts to show up the opponent, the fan tends to be a little more expressive of his feelings.

If these photographs of hunters in their celebratory poses were not circulated widely, and did not appear on social media pages, the anger and outrage toward the hunting community would be substantially lessened. The “pose” has essentially become a middle finger extension to the animal community, and certainly has added fuel to the fire.

Additionally, I would surmise that if the hunting community was more honest and simply acknowledged that this desire to hunt as just that…a desire to hunt, at least some within the animal community might have a tad bit more respect for this activity. However, when hunters attempt to justify the act with buzz words of “conservation”, “weeding out the weak and the old” and that they are doing it to help feed the villagers, this does nothing but generate more anger and hostility.

So, let’s simplify this entire discussion and make it as crystal clear as it can be. The hunter trophy hunts because he (or she) likes to hunt. Period.

Now, there is certainly a driver behind this hunting passion. Maybe it truly is related to a less than average appendage, or another biological shortcoming. Maybe it is related to an inferiority complex, or some other shortcoming. Maybe it is something handed down from generation to generation. Perhaps there are some hunters that truly believe that hunting provides an overall environmental benefit. Maybe the hunter feels a need to project his power over something, and in that regards, I guess killing an animal is better than beating his wife and child.

And while I attempt to give these trophy hunters the benefit of the doubt and to come up with a justifiable reason for hunting, I draw a blank. I hear some of the reasons (“I love animals so I shoot them.” or “The kill is just a small part of the entire experience.”), and they don’t make any rationale sense. I could easily write an article entitled “Why I Hunt” and just leave the page blank.

It pushes my limit to grasp the understanding of a hunter that states it is the love for animals that drives the hunter to kill the animal. That is no different from me saying that I love Lamborghinis, so I can’t wait to buy one so that I can crash it into a wall. True love is not stalking and it is not controlling. It is appreciating something or someone for whom or what they are; not trying to change them or own them. And killing something or someone definitely is not indicative of love.

But the true crux of the debate always seems to come back to the issue of conservation. Hunters tout that they are better conservationists and do more for lions and other wild animals than the animal loving / anti-hunting community. But, how does one define conservation?

According to the dictionary, conservation is defined as “the action of conserving something; in particular, preservation, protection, or restoration of the natural environment, natural ecosystem, vegetation and wildlife.” The hunting community’s definition of conservation seems to only focus on “restoration” for the sake of killing.

This explanation suggests that hunters spend a significant sum of money for the right to kill these animals, and that money in turn is invested into the local economies. That local investment will encourage the local community to protect the lions and leopards and help them to view these animals as revenue sources rather than livestock threats and their way of life. And the second part of this argument is that by targeting and killing the older and weaker animals, this ensures survival of the species.

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Okay, I get it. In theory (a word that needs to be triple underscored, bolded, italicized, quoted and in a 48 Font), this has some validity. As much as the rest of the world loves the beauty, grace and awesomeness of the majestic lion or the leopard or the elephant, many of the African natives simply see these creatures as a nuisance; damaging and destroying crops or livestock or threatening human life. It is difficult for us to put ourselves in the position of these simple farmers and ranchers. However, if you have ever had a squirrel in your attic, or a neighbor with a dog that barks all night along, you can somewhat understand this attitude toward these wild creatures.

So, if the local community was a benefactor of this hunting revenue, that money could be invested in fencing to keep the lion or the elephant away from the crops. It could be an incentive for the local people; that rather to shoot or poison the animals, to actually look after them. Or the money could be utilized to hire additional rangers to fight off the poachers.

Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that this money does not make it down to the community levels; and if it does, it is such a nominal amount, it accomplishes none of the above. There have been a number of studies on this subject, and only about 3% of the total hunting revenues actually benefit the local communities. Perhaps this has to do with the amount of corruption existing in many of these African countries. If the government leaders operated more honest and open governments, more money would funnel down to the local communities. Unfortunately today, that revenue is no more than an occasional drip of a leaky faucet. Theory is not reality. It does not work.

The hunter also suggests that he (or she) must take a God-like role in nature, and that somehow he (or she) is playing the hero because he targets the old, the weak and the sick. And in doing so, this strengthens the remaining herd and ensures its survival. Well of course. Eliminating the old, weak and sick does help preserve the remaining herd; because this is exactly what nature does and the ecosystem quite frankly, does not need our help. It operates perfectly without us.

Within the lion community, the male lion will run a pride until he is usurped by a nomadic lion who has challenged his authority. He will beat either back the challenger and continue to rule, or the nomadic lion will prove the stronger; take over the pride; and the older, male lion will be banished from his rule. At that point in time, he will live out his remaining years in isolation or perhaps team up with another nomadic lion and jointly challenge leadership of another pride.

Charles Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory is clearly at play within the lion community, as with all other animals in the natural world. The oldest, sickest, and weakest will be left behind and will die through natural causes. This may be difficult for us to accept, because we feel compassion for those who are sick and frail and elderly; and generally, we take care of our weak. While animals also have compassion, the animal species also has an innate understanding that the entire species will be under constant threat of survival if the weak and sick are not weeded out.

This is how the ecosystem was designed and quite frankly, without man in the mix, it works perfectly. There is not a need for the hunting community to insert themselves into this process. Additionally, how many hunters, if completely honest, would agree that they seek the largest rack, the largest mane, the biggest tusks…not the smallest rack, the smallest mane, and the smallest tusks. Targeting the old, weak and sick is completely contrary to the “thrill of the hunt” and the adrenalin and emotional highs that supposedly drive this sport. This argument is completely without merit and needs to be eliminated from the conversation entirely.

If there needs to be final “nail in the coffin” proof to the fact that the hunter is not a conservationist, this may be answered in an article that was just published by Bloomberg Business.com entitled “Lion Heads Arrive in Record Numbers as U.S. Considers Crackdown”.

As the African lion population continues the dramatic and downward spiral, the US Fish & Wildlife Service has been pressured to designate the lion as a threatened species, if not endangered status. We will not get into the details as to why the US FWS has dragged their feet for so long on this issue, or the fact that certain US FWS officials are too closely aligned to Safari Club International and other hunting organizations to effectively govern without an obvious conflict of interest; although this certainly would be an eye-opening subject to expose.

Very shortly, the US FWS will be making this determination, and threatened species status would effectively make it illegal to transport any part of the lion into the United States. Although this act would not prevent a hunter from hunting lions, he would no longer be able to transport the trophy into the country. And given that approximately 60% of lions killed in Africa are killed by U.S. citizens, ban the shipment of lion trophies, and the number of hunters making that trip to Africa will drop significantly.
But according to this article and the US FWS, Americans imported a record 745 African lions as trophies in 2014; up 70 percent since 2011 and more than double the total in 2000.

As noted by Aaron Neilson, an African safari broker based in Colorado noted “Guys fearing that I’ll never get my opportunity to get a lion, they’re getting it while the getting’s good. The overall consensus among everybody selling lion hunts has been, ‘Man, get it now.”

This simple and succinct statement sums it up. The hunter cares nothing about conservation. The hunter cares about his trophy. That’s it. Certainly, if hunters were concerned about the plight of the lion; rather than intensifying their efforts to go shoot one, they should be voluntarily backing down and giving the lion population an opportunity to recover. This is the opposite of conservation.

Graph 1

The bottom line is this: the population of the big cats has dropped significantly in the last 50 years; and at the current rate, they will all become extinct. And to be fair, aside from natural factors such as disease and starvation (which should have a nominal bearing on the overall species count), poaching and loss of habitat are probably bigger contributors to the population loss than hunting. That said, losing 600 to 700 male lions every year to trophy hunting is a statistic that cannot sustain this population.

Hunters will continue to argue themselves as conservationists. However, there is one very simple way of proving this. Ban all trophy hunting activity for a period of five years. At the end of that five-year period, let’s take a look at the lion, leopard and cheetah populations. If these populations have continued to decline at the same rate, this will prove that trophy hunting does not have a negative impact on these animals. However, if these species show stabilization and recovery, then this proves otherwise. Something tells me that the hunting organizations will never go for this idea because they already know what the answer will yield. What do you think?

FLORIDA BLACK BEAR ACTIVISM: FIGHTING THE CAUSE

12032170_10205576831924318_2214424757975891658_nMy mind wanders this Sunday morning, struggling with the myriad of topics and subjects that could be discussed. And in this Day 2 of the Great Black Bear Massacre of 2015, which has truly become just that, coming up with ideas is not a problem.

Should I talk about the lack of scientific evidence that supported this hunt? Should I talk about the idiotic approach (my words) of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) in implementing this hunt? Should I talk about the clear conflict of interest of the FWC? The fact that the actual acronym should be the FWCC; and that it is obvious which “C” was left out? Should I talk about the FWC completely disregarding and ignoring the 75%+ of the Florida population against this hunt? Should I talk about the shortcomings of those hunters participating in this tragedy? Should I talk about the steps involved in returning the black bear to the threatened species list, because that is exactly where he is headed?

It is indeed a somber day and a hunt that was supposed to have lasted up to seven days will probably end in two; with two of the four territories ending the hunt after one just day because the devastation was so incredible. Had the hunt continued into day two in those regions, it may have wiped out the bear population entirely. And in fact, it just staggers the mind to think that people in position of authority, those supposedly charged with protecting our environment and protecting the species, would fail this epically? Anyone with a small iota of common sense would have seen the recipe for disaster. Compact a hunt into a small window of time, sell an unlimited number of hunting permits, establish a hunt limit, but don’t count, don’t monitor and don’t limit the number of bears killed in the first two days, and what other result could have occurred? Seriously? This was the plan.

On top of the poorly laid plan, the FWC acknowledged that the hunt would also rely upon the “honor” system, a code of ethics if you will. They entrusted that these hunters (1) would not shoot mothers with cubs in tow (didn’t happen); and (2) they would not shoot any cubs (didn’t happen). Lactating mothers were found within the dead…as were bear cubs. A hunter with a code of ethics is an oxymoron, wouldn’t you agree?

So, as of 9:00 on Saturday night, the FWC reported 207 bears killed…or the preferred hunting terminology, “taken” or “harvested”. The FWC also reported this to be “a number that is well within the allowable range of a conservative hunt”.

The FWC press release further indicated that “the harvest success in the East Panhandle BMU, while higher than expectations, is an indicator of the region’s increasing bear population. FWC took a conservative approach to setting harvest objectives, building in buffers so the number of bears harvested will stabilize growing populations while ensuring healthy bear numbers.“

Unfortunately, the 207 number has been challenged as accurate. Of this total, 81 bear were killed in the Florida Panhandle, exceeding the allotment by more than double the targeted 40. Another 99 bear were killed in central Florida, meeting the 100 targeted in that region. However, only 12 bear were allegedly killed in the North, a territory with a target of 100; and 15 bear in the South, a territory with a target of 80.

Those dedicated volunteers monitoring the hunt (because the FWC could not be entrusted with this task) had observed bear carcasses loaded in trucks at an average of 1.1 per hour for all 33 check stations, which would effectively equate to about 450 bear for the day. And this number did not include any bear that may have been hunted on private land; does not include any bear that may have been shot and not found; and does not include the orphaned cubs that will either starve to death or be euthanized by FWC officials. (There were 11 lactating mothers reported among the carnage.)

The statistics even suggest this number is substantially and artificially low. The fact that one region reflected total killed to be 200% over target, and another region at exactly the desired range. Yet, the other two regions only reported 12% and 19% rates. The sad reality is that the true impact of this hunt may never be known. However, simple math suggests the actual number is more likely to be in the 800 to 1,000 range, which would represent about one-third of the entire bear population. That is not sustainable.

It is this writer’s opinion that the entire FWC commission needs to be removed for dereliction of duty and in its abject failure to serve in the role of conservation commissioners. The Florida black bear was removed from the threatened species list three years ago, and was (and I emphasis was) one of the true remarkable stories of bounce back…increasing from a few hundred in the 1970’s to perhaps 3,000 today. Unfortunately, the FWC’s faulty plan combined with poor management of the hunt may return the black bear back to the threatened species list; and in some regions such as the Panhandle, it may be decades before the bear returns to sustainability.

All this said, the purpose of today’s blog was not necessarily to criticize, although this is such a disaster of a result, it is impossible to write something without talking about this epic failure. However, what I really wanted to write about is the dedication and commitment of all of the volunteers participating as monitors, the attorneys fighting to stop this, the protestors standing on the side of road with signs, volunteers calling, emailing and writing in an effort to stop this.

There are not enough positive words in the dictionary that could possibly capture the gratitude and thankfulness of these dedicated, impassioned, wonderful people who have dedicated their time, energy and effort to stop this massacre. And when that effort failed, they were on the front lines, monitoring every check station, documenting the events and taking photographs. And all those activists having empathy with the bear, this was an excruciating exercise. They felt the pain that the bear must have felt when bullets were piercing her body. They felt the pain of a mother bear’s final thoughts of her orphaned cubs. They had to experience the hunter’s ear to ear grin; one proud of an action that took away the breath of another living being. And they had to stand there, knowing there was absolutely nothing they could do.

These are the brave volunteers; and if you know one of these dedicated people, please let them know how much you appreciate their efforts. But also send them love and compassion, and ask that they remain brave and courageous; and know that their efforts will have not gone in vain.
There is nothing more that can be done to stop this weekend’s carnage. However, continued pressure can force those behind this plan to be held accountable for their actions; and we can ensure that such an event never happens again. Be safe. Be strong. Be brave. Lose the battle. Win the war.

THE BLACK BEAR MASSACRE OF 2015

On Saturday, October 24, 2015, and less than three years after being delisted as a threatened species, the Florida black bear will once again be fighting for his life; and perhaps a survival of the species. This will be the first legal hunt of the black bear since 1994, when the Commission of Game & Fresh Water Fish (GFC) closed all remaining areas for bear hunting. And at that point in time there were approximately 1,250 black bears remaining in the state.

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Photo from Sierra Club Florida

Thanks in part to this hunting ban and other conservation efforts, the population has recovered to over 3,000 bears in six core areas (Eglin, Apalachicola, Osceola, St. Johns and Big Cypress) and two remnant areas (Chassahowitzka and Glades / Highlands). And while recovery rate of this magnitude should be perceived as a great victory for the black bear, the decision by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) may succeed in returning the black bear population back to those pre-recovery levels.

Bear_Distribution_Map
Beginning Saturday and continuing for seven days until the following Friday, the FWC has approved the killing of up to 320 bears in four primary geographic areas, although the FWC will not be tracking total kills until after the weekend and has guaranteed the hunt will last at least two full days. Therefore, the likelihood is great that the total bears killed will greatly surpass the 320 bear objective.

Including historic mortality rates, this would essentially represent 20% of the population. (The FWC study “Florida Black Bear Management Plan” concluded that a black bear subpopulation of at least 200 could absorb and survive up to a 23% annual mortality rate and still sustain the species.)

Bear Chart

bear-management-units-hunt-map

As referenced above, in 2012, the FWC completed a lengthy study entitled “The Florida Black Bear Management Plan” (The Plan); with the objective of this study to “maintain sustainable black bear populations in suitable habitats throughout Florida for the benefit of the species and the people.” To reach this goal, the study determined that there needs to be at least one subpopulation of at least 1,000 individuals and smaller subpopulation areas of at least 200 bears each.

The North and Central estimates referenced in the chart above are based upon 2014 counts, while the East Panhandle and South counts have not been updated since 2002; but were estimated, based upon the concluded increase in the North and Central counts. However, Nick Wiley, Certified Wildlife Biologist and Executive Director for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission admitted that the FWC really doesn’t know if 3,150 is an accurate number or not.

But to read Nick Wiley’s June 22, 2015 news release, one might conclude that the Florida black bear is running rampant, wild and out of control on Florida’s highway and byways, and causing severe risk and danger to Florida drivers.

This is not to say that a human – bear conflict does not exist. In 2014, the FWC fielded in excess of 6,000 complaint calls from concerned citizens; or about 16 calls per day. And according to the FWC, there were 227 black bear killed in vehicle related accidents in 2014. However, this represents a 20% reduction over the 285 bears that were killed in 2012; thanks to the construction of wildlife underpasses, the posting of warning signs and reduced speed limits in frequent roadkill areas, providing of information at rest stops and tourist information areas, and other measures.

And all efforts to date seemingly have followed the FWC goal of delisting and restoring the black bear to healthy levels; and The Plan’s intention to “address these conservation challenges and to ensure that bears will never again need to be listed as a threatened species”.

ETHICS? WE DON’T NEED NO STINKIN’ ETHICS

So, if the bear population can sustain up to a 23% loss in a single year, why the anger and protest by those attempting to stop the hunt? One could easily bring up the ethical aspect of hunting just to hunt. Unfortunately, it seems that this argument never gains any traction because in today’s world, we seem to view life as simply black and white. That is, if it is legal, it is okay; and ethical and moral implications be damned.

The reality is that those individuals that live a life built on an ethical foundation will likely continue to maintain a level of morality. Those that have built their lives on excuses and an ‘unethical act justification’ will always be ethically challenged. Therefore, although this should be a significant consideration against bear hunting, we will unfortunately have to check this one-off the list as non-applicable.

So, if ethical behavior is off the list, this also means compassion, the humane treatment of wildlife, and being a steward of our environment is also off the list. Which would seemingly suggest that we just get this carnage started; to see how much death, destruction and devastation of the black bear population we can actually cause over a 7-day period.

Yet, you may ask that if the FWC has capped the number at about 10% of the total estimated population, how can that cause this gloom and doom scenario? Simple. As of early October, the state of Florida had already issued 2,659 licenses for the right to kill these 320 bears, and nearly enough licenses to kill every black bear in the state. And because the FWC will not even attempt to track or monitor the number of bears killed until after the first two days, the likelihood is that the number of bears killed will far exceed the maximum 320.

And given that these 2,659 hunters are already well aware of this likelihood, we can also assume that there will be few, if any, that wait until Monday or Tuesday for their hunting experience. Rather, they will all descend into bear territory at the same time. So, in addition to the plight of the black bear, I would venture to guess that when you combine 2,659 hunters, an animal that has not been legally hunted in twenty plus years, a contracted timetable and a limit of how many bears that can be killed, there is an added probability of accidental shootings and injuries to hunters as well. However, I assume this would just be chalked up as collateral damage.

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A FAILED PLAN

Even those supporters of the bear hunt must surely be scratching their head and questioning why the FWC would implement such a questionable plan. After all, who in their right mind would establish a capped or targeted number, yet not establish parameters to ensure that number would not be exceeded? Two days of open-ending hunting. Come one, come all. Kill as many bears as you can, then we will see if we are at our limit. And keep in mind that it will also take the FWC time to tally the numbers, since there are 33 bear hunt check stations. So while the FWC is in the process of counting the number of Saturday and Sunday kills, bear hunting will continue to operate as normal well into the third day.

Intelligent planning would suggest that if the bear hunt was truly necessary (which remains a question), why would you not spread the hunt over at least three or four weekends, and limit the number of hunters per weekend? The FWC could have auctioned off permits and sold the first weekend permits for a significantly higher amount than $100 for Florida residents and $300 for out –of-state residents, and staggered pricing such that those permits acquired in the fourth or fifth weekend would be discounted.

The idea that the black bear would be hunted in the first place is sad; but all the more so, given that the price on his / her head is such a paltry amount. I would anticipate that in a lottery type scenario, a hunter would gladly pay at least $5,000 for the right to kill a bear that has been protected for the past 20 years. At that price, the State may have raised $10 million in revenue. But, as it stands, they will probably generate about $400,000 (assuming 50% of permits were issued to in-state residents and the other 50% issued to out-of-state residents).

LEGAL BASIS FOR KILLING

So, where does the FWC have the power to authorize such a hunt? Florida Administrative Code 68A-4.009 (i.e. Florida Black Bear Conservation) states:

(1) No person shall take, possess, injure, shoot, collect, or sell black bears or their parts or to attempt to engage in such conduct except as authorized by Commission rule or by permit from the Commission;

(2) The Commission will issue permits authorizing intentional take of bears when it determines such authorization furthers scientific or conservation purposes which will benefit the survival potential of the species or to reduce property damage caused by bears. For purposes of this rule, activities that are eligible for a permit include:

(a) Collection of scientific data needed for conservation or management of the species;

(b) Taking bears that are causing property damage when no non-lethal options can provide a practical resolution to the damage, and the Commission is unable to capture the bear.

Therefore, under Florida statutes, the FWC may authorize the killing of bears, only if it “furthers scientific or conservation purposes, which will benefit the survival potential of the species or to reduce property damage caused by bears.” Clearly, this effort has nothing to do with any scientific study, so it must fall under the vague and highly debatable “conservation” argument. However, through my research, I have yet to locate any study that definitively states the black bear population is deemed to be at a level that would require the “management” of the species. In other words, no over-population issue has been introduced that suggests the population needs to be reduced by 320 bears over a single week.

So, is the justification related to “property damage”? And if so, has the FWC determined that there are no non-lethal options that “can provide practical resolution to the damage”? We noted earlier that there were about 6,000 complaint calls made in 2014, with the majority of these calls representing concerned citizens that had either seen a bear in their back yard, or the bear had dumped over a trash can and was rummaging through the garbage. (See chart below.)

bearpiechart

However, can that truly be argued as damaging property? And isn’t this a correctable issue that can be accomplished simply by trading out traditional trash cans with bear-proof containers, something the FWC has already been pushing as part of its Education and Outreach program – which is described in the Florida Black Bear Management Plan?

Even the FWC acknowledges on their website that “The mere presence of a black bear does not represent a problem. In fact, living in black bear country can provide unique and rewarding experiences! The best way to enjoy our wildlife is to keep them wild and away from food sources like garbage, pet food, and bird seed.”

The FWC has also acknowledged that “there is no shortage of natural foods in Florida’s forests for bears, they are very opportunistic feeders and are technically omnivores. Bears typically wander into residential areas because the food they can find there is high in calories and easy to get. Because black bears are “smart enough to be lazy” and take the path of least resistance – the neighborhood. They will spend a few hours in a neighborhood getting into trash cans, bird feeders, or gardens and get the same number of calories.”

And that “black bears avoid confrontation 90% of the time. They are naturally shy animals that will generally give plenty of warnings (e.g. jaw popping, huffing, bluff charging) before attacking”.

The FWC has been keeping track of incidents where a person has been injured by a bear in the state of Florida since 1976 and they have noted it is a very rare event. And in most cases the bear was acting in a defensive manner protecting itself, its young, or a food source.

Further, the FWC officials have acknowledged the majority of feedback the agency has received is against the hunt (40,000+ calls, letters and emails – 75% of them against the hunt), but they said they have to weigh public opinion versus scientific research. And that they agree with animal rights supporters that the best way to minimize human-bear conflicts is through managing garbage and food attractants, such as utilizing bear-proof trash cans. However, they also indicated that hunting is one tool in their comprehensive approach to curbing the population. Yet, if you review the Florida Black Bear Management Plan, you will find there is no mention of killing the black bear as part of the plan.

Nick Wiley noted that the two attacks on humans in 2013 and the two attacks in 2014 are not prompting bear hunts because they can’t prove they would reduce future incidents. He further stated that “We have never proposed bear hunting as a solution to conflicts. It’s to control the bear population. We don’t know for sure it will lessen the conflicts. We don’t have the science to prove it.”

ORPHANED CUBS

Of course, aside from the bears killed during this event, the additional victims of this hunt will be the orphaned cubs. FWC indicated that the hunt is occurring in late October for two reasons. One, it is just prior to winter hibernation; and two, the bear cubs will be old enough to fend for themselves and survive on their own by then. However, according to the FWC website, cubs are normally born in late January to mid-February and the family dissolution period is typically 15 to 17 months.

So, for those cubs born in early 2014, they most likely left their mothers between July and September, and should be fine. However, those cubs born early this year? They are only 8 to 9 months old, and certainly, will have no chance to survive without their mothers whatsoever. Their only hope is that the good-hearted volunteers that plan to scour the woods after the hunt is over, in hopes of finding the cubs. If not, the cubs will simply starve to death.

black-bear-mom-cub
Photo by Norbert Rosing, National Geographic

What I find humorous is that the Hunt Florida TV channel, commission spokesman Tony Young said, “If you see a bear that comes out into view, and you’re thinking about harvesting it because it looks big enough, give it a little while and make sure it doesn’t have a cub with it.”

I laugh because I ask the question, what hunter is going to follow this advice? Would that be the same hunter that seeks to kill the oldest and weakest lion out of conservation’s sake? No, the time is ticking. As soon as the hunter sees something large enough, he’s blasting away. He doesn’t have time to risk another hunter getting to this animal first. (Remember, we will have close to 3,000 hunters running rampant through the forests.)

I find it equally humorous when hunters use the word “harvest”. They talk as if they are going out to pick blueberries or apples. The simple fact is that fruits and vegetables are harvested…animals are killed. Let’s not mince words here. If you are going to kill the animal, say it proudly. You aren’t going to harvest the animal. You aren’t going to take the animal. You are going to kill the animal.

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FINAL THOUGHTS

“It’s a mismanaged animal,” said Andrew Moyes, 45, of Fort Lauderdale, who plans to hunt bears on private land near Apopka. “These animals have no fear of humans. If people start taking a few bears, it’s going to change their thought processes. I think it’s actually beneficial to the bears.”

My question to Mr. Moyes is how do you conclude that an animal that has been on the threatened species list for nearly twenty years, has been off the list a total of three years, and with a population that has increased from 1,250 to around 3,000 over that twenty year period is a mismanaged species? And my question to those that would argue that hunting is conservation, why was the black bear on the threatened species list in the first place? Simple…over-hunting. If hunting was not the culprit, then the FWC would have never banned this activity in the first place.

And let’s not talk about hunting as conservation because the revenues will help support the preservation of the Florida black bear. Permits are $100 for in-state residents and $300 for out-of-state residents. Even if every hunter was out-of-state and the 320 bear max was attained; that is less than $1 million in revenue.

The FWC should have significantly upped the price for this hunt; generated millions and millions of dollars which could have been invested in additional wildlife underpasses, more signs, further communication, or perhaps as a subsidy toward the purchase of more bear proof trash cans and dumpsters. This tells me that conservation really was not a consideration in the FWC decision to allow this hunt.

The fact of the matter is that the reason there has been an increase in complaint calls from Florida residents is not that bears are suddenly coming out of the woods and into people’s back yards to eat. The simple fact is that Florida’s population is growing and is now infringing on territory that was bear territory. So, in truth, we are bothering them…they are not bothering us. And hunting bears deep in the woods is not going to prevent them from foraging for food in people’s back yards. As the FWC noted, black bears are smart enough to be lazy.

How many times have you decided to pick up a meal at a fast food restaurant because it was easier and more convenient than going home and creating a meal from scratch? The bears are no different. Why forage for food, when someone has left an unsecured trash can that makes for an easy meal? So, kill off 20% of the bears next weekend; but don’t be surprised when the number of complaint calls increases in 2016.

The challenge of course, is how to deal with the human – animal conflict when the human population continues to grow. The traditional method is to just expand into the territory of wildlife and wildlife be damned. And if humans prefer to live in a world with little wildlife, then there really need not be a further discussion. Just maintain this current strategy and this will happen, and it is happening at a frightening pace.

There is of course ample opportunity to recycle previous developments and to take a brownfield redevelopment approach rather than a greenfield approach. However, that is an article for another time.

The reality from this observer’s point of view is that hunters simply want to hunt. There will be arguments that dance around this issue – arguing that hunting is conservation, or that the black bear population is out of control. But, in truth, hunters simply want the opportunity to hunt something. But because they know they are often negatively viewed by the general public, they will attempt to spin this as if they are doing all of us a favor.

From this writer’s perspective, I admit that there are those unfortunate times when an animal must be killed for conservation or environmental purposes; and those situations arise where there is simply an over-population of that animal. Of course, that over-population is our fault as well – as we either screwed with the eco system (killing too many predators like the wolf or mountain lion), resulting in san over-population of prey animals. Or we have reduced the animal habitat to such a confined space, they have no place else to go and are then deemed as becoming “nuisance” animals because they are infringing on our territory (which was their territory).

It is ironic when you think about the fact that when the human population over-populates, we don’t hire hunters to reduce the human population to manageable levels. Rather, we simply take over more land to accommodate people. Animals generally don’t over-populate. We just force them into smaller and smaller habitats; and as those habitats become smaller, there is a perceived over-population. And the answer to that problem is to kill and reduce.

The reality is that the black bear hunt will likely occur next weekend…short of any last-minute miracles. And assuming this hunt occurs, I hope this hunt truly exposes the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for what it represents and who it represents. The FWC is composed of hunters, developers and ranchers; those individuals with motivations contrary to the protection of wildlife and contrary to conservation ideals.

If the Florida black bear suffers the fate we all fear, we can only maintain the faith and belief that positive change is often born from the ashes of ruin and devastation. But regardless, this will be a sad day for the state of Florida, for Florida residents, and for anyone that loves wildlife.

THE KARMA OF CECIL

It should really come as no shock that the Zimbabwean government announced on Monday that they would no longer seek extradition of Walter J. Palmer for the illegal killing of Cecil the Lion on July 2nd; nor attempt prosecution of the alleged act of poaching. If anything, the biggest surprise is that it took this long for them to make this decision.

LionAid was quoted as saying…we are “disappointed but not at all surprised that Zimbabwe eventually decided to decline prosecution of Walter Palmer. After all, Walter Palmer was only one of many hundreds of trophy hunters before him who hunted at the thin edge of the law. If Zimbabwe had decided to prosecute Walter Palmer it would have established a procedure by which future Walter Palmers could be prosecuted. That would not benefit Zimbabwe’s hunting operator income streams.”

Of course, it is worth noting that had Zimbabwe not dropped these charges, the U.S. Department of Justice was still not obligated to honor the Zimbabwean government. And despite the efforts of millions of petitioners to pressure the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and the Department of Justice to seek justice for Cecil, many never believed this would actually happen.

The current extradition treaty between the United States and Zimbabwe went into effect in 2000. However in the 15 years since, there still has not been a single American sent to Zimbabwe to face charges. And LionAid makes a strong point. Would you want to test extradition and prosecute for an act that would negatively impact future hunting revenues? Profiteering should not be the guiding principle in this issue, but in today’s world, that is often the sole consideration of governments and businesses. It is why this world is in the condition it is today, but more on that lengthy subject at a later time.

What one must remember is that Zimbabwe is not exactly the poster child of honest government. And even if they did pursue prosecution, the U.S. government might deny the extradition request, out of fear and concern that Dr. Palmer would not receive due process. Of course, public opinion would yield little sympathy for Dr. Palmer, and many have had a view-point of an eye for an eye to avenge Cecil’s death. And believe me, I have no sympathy for the man either. However, if anyone has ever watched the program “Locked Up Abroad”, they would certainly respect and appreciate the fact that the U.S. government would vet the rights of American citizens; and to ensure that if extradition did occur, there would be some guarantee of due process.

Of course, Palmer may not completely escape without consequence. Although Zimbabwe will no longer pursue extradition, he can still be charged and convicted by the United States Department of Justice for violation of The Lacey Act; which makes it illegal “to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase in interstate or foreign commerce … any fish or wildlife taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any law or regulation of any State or in violation of any foreign law.”

The primary intent of the Lacey Act is to prevent protected species from being imported into the U.S. However, wildlife expert Eric Freyfogle indicated that he could still be prosecuted regardless of whether the remains of Cecil were imported.

“It is enough, to satisfy the ‘purchase’ requirement, that he hire guides, outfitters or other local services or purchase a hunting license of permit and that this happen in ‘interstate commerce’ (meaning simply that he crossed national borders or communicated across national borders..”

That said, Lewis and Clark Professor Daniel Rohlfe believes that he would have to bring part of the lion into the US to get prosecuted under the Lacey Act. “The Lacey Act provides for both civil and criminal sanctions for trafficking in illegal wildlife (importing parts of this lion would constitute trafficking),” Rohlfe said. “However, as an element of the offense, the hunter would have to bring or attempt to bring a part of the lion into the US. So if he’s smart, the dentist will show up at US Customs with nothing but apologies.”

So, perhaps this does not quell the feelings of anger and outrage that many still have regarding Cecil’s death. They still want vindication and revenge and justice to be served. For that reason, I offer you Exhibit A.

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The photograph on the left is one of Dr. Palmer, obviously taken in his dental office and prior to the Cecil controversy erupted. The photograph on the right is a recent photo that was posted with the Zimbabwean announcement. Dr. Palmer is apparently 55-years old. However, would you not agree that the man on the left looks dramatically older than the man on the right, by at least 20 years? I’m not going to mince words. The man looks bad. So for anyone to suggest he is walking away from this tragedy completely unscathed, he isn’t. And, if you believe there is such a thing, it looks karma has a little say so here.

I have emphasized all along that regardless of the legal action or inaction in Palmer’s case, his life has changed, and not for the better. Aside from the stress that has clearly impacted his health, here is a man who for the rest of his life, will be looking over his shoulder. Not necessarily fearful that someone might take ‘eye for an eye’ literally, although there are probably some people out there that given the opportunity, might consider it.

Everywhere he goes…to his dental office, to the gas station, to the grocery store, to a restaurant or shopping, he will be fearful that someone will recognize his picture and blurt out “Murderer” or maybe they will announce his anatomical shortcomings to anyone within ear shot. His business will be impacted because every patient now knows that each dollar earned is a dollar designated for the next Cecil trophy. He may even find a lack of allies within the hunting community, as his story has exposed much of what that industry has worked hard to keep below the radar.

Safari Club International revoked his membership. Will they give it back? Perhaps, but they likely feel greater wrath from the general public than they do now. So, it is very possible that they will distance him from their organization, for fear of more negative publicity.

Most people hope to leave this earth with a positive legacy. They hope to be viewed by others as someone who has made a positive contribution to this world; someone who left the world in better condition than when they entered the world. It may not matter to him; but any positive contributions he has made in his life will now be dwarfed by Cecil, and the two of them will forever be linked. William and Clark… Bonnie and Clyde…Thelma and Louise…Palmer and Cecil. Five years from now say the word Walter Palmer and people will instantly conjure up Cecil’s name. His name is mud and it is unlikely that will ever change.

Karma is the spiritual principle of cause and effect where intent and actions of an individual (cause) influence the future of that individual (effect), and when something does something bad, we always like to say that karma will have its revenge. And we often say that because we have no confidence in the justice system to be just and fair; or we say it about a cruel, inhumane or act that is deemed unethical or immoral, but not illegal.

I believe in karma, but perhaps not the same way others believe in karma. Each of us is composed of energy. Every living being and even every material object is composed of energy. When we promote positivity, compassion and love, we project a positive energy. When we promote anger and hate, we project negative energy. My view of karma might be better defined as fitting within the framework of the Law of Attraction…simply meaning that we attract everything into our lives…positive and negative, good and bad.

So, a life evolving around illegal and or unethical behaviors will attract like-minded individuals; and will also project that same negative energy into the universe, and thus, attracting more negative energy in return. We’ve heard it many times before: ‘You reap what you sow’. And even the golden rule of ‘Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Done Unto You’ applies the same metaphoric definition of the Law of Attraction. I believe that Dr. Palmer will ultimately reap what he sows, as with the rest of us.

I certainly believe that the general public’s outrage and response Dr. Palmer’s killing of Cecil is proof of the universe at work. Call it karma if you will. However, the universe may have a definition of justice that might not necessarily fit within the narrative as to how you view justice, or how I view justice. Yet at the end of the say, we may observe that justice indeed has been served, regardless of the method in which it was dished out.

And a final thought. I originally described Cecil as the agent of change, and this decision by Zimbabwe not to pursue criminal action has not changed this view at all. Cecil’s death was a tragic event…but not anymore tragic than any other African lion that paid the ultimate price to a hunter with an over-sized ego.

Cecil brought ‘center of the stage’ attention to an activity that those participants would have preferred to remain largely invisible to the world. Dr. Palmer is just a small pawn in a much larger game, and he should be treated as such. Originally, I felt that anger toward him that everyone else did. But in time, I realized that this that anger could be directed at something much larger…something more far-reaching.

Cecil’s story expanded news of the lion’s plight beyond the animal welfare groups into the mainstream. Only 20,000 lions remain in the wild; and most people now know about canned hunting and lion farms. This is not the time to become discouraged and frustrated and conclude that because Zimbabwe will not attempt to extradite Dr. Palmer, this is just the sad end of Cecil’s story. It isn’t.

Cecil’s tragedy is Chapter 1. The failure to prosecute is Chapter 2. We have many chapters still yet to experience. Those chapters include the passage of the CECIL Act, passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act, and passage of the Rare Cats and Canids Act. They include the ultimate goals to stop trophy hunting practices…particularly of those animals on the threatened and endangered species list; and definitely a stop on canned hunting practices. They include solidifying and protecting the Endangered Species Act; and beyond just animal welfare, a hope that this might lead to a greater compassion in society. Perhaps you might say that this final goal is unrealistic and too lofty, but I will still choose to believe this. After all, karma is watching.

BLOOD LIONS – WHAT DID WE LEARN?

For the first time in what seems more than a month, the sun finally returned from vacation and greeted us with its warm presence this morning; and even hung around for a sunset. The temperature was a near perfect 78 degrees and it was about as perfect of a day as one could ask. Yet, there was a feeling of emptiness, and there was a feeling that something just wasn’t quite right.

Twenty-four hours earlier, many of us took a collective breath, found a comfortable chair and settled in to watch the long-awaited premiere of Blood Lions. Some of us had the box of tissues next to us, some of us had a stiff drink; and almost all of us had our hand on the remote control, just in case the program was just a little more than we could take.

Many of us had a general idea as to what we would see but weren’t sure if we were entirely prepared for the truth. Others may have only heard about the concept of canned hunting, and were only vaguely prepared to watch. And those channel surfers just looking for something to watch were truly in for a rude awakening.

For those of us able to soldier through the full hour without breaking down emotionally (there were many of those, and understandably so); or without throwing a brick through the television (I managed, although there were a few times I was looking for that brick), what did we learn? And for those that could not, did not or will not watch this program, what can we share with them?

To respond with the most basic, matter of fact, answer: there are many liars among us, and there are many more that have some misguided understanding view of conservation…or CONservation, which may be a more accurate pronunciation of the word.

Among the more interesting, or should I say, disturbing facts are these…although I hesitate to use the word “facts” universally. Some are facts, some are myths, some are downright lies, and some just leave you puzzled.
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THE FACTS

An opponent of canned hunting is known as a “greenie”. Okay, I guess green is a term that is associated with the environment. It’s a good word. My favorite color is green, so I have no problem with this.

For a canned hunt, all you need is a long weekend. Zip over, shoot a lion, and zip back. Three days and two nights is all that is required. After all, this is the immediate gratification society. No time to waste.

Traditional trophy hunting of lions costs an average of $76,000, requires a time commitment of 21 days, and is only met with a 61% success rate. Canned lion hunting costs an average of $19,000, requires only 3 days and has a 99% success rate. And they even offer trophy insurance for that 1% that fails in their quest for a trophy.

Unlike traditional hunting, the canned hunt virtually guarantees success through a program that involves captive breeding. This program includes the taking away of the lion cubs from their mothers within 3 to 10 days after birth, are bottle-feed, and then ultimately sold to one of the safari outfitters. By this time, the lion has a complete trust of people, so he (or she) has no fear of humans.

The lion is then baited with food, unknowingly eating his final meal before execution. And he may be partially drugged, to ensure he remains lethargic and doesn’t run away. However, even if he does try to run, there is no escape. He is enclosed in a small fenced-in area.

Many that participate in canned hunting are not skilled at hunting. They have money to spend but could not hit the broad side of a barn. Relying upon their own hunting skills, they probably would not survive without this ambush style of hunting. One hunter took 6 shots to kill the lion, even though he was no more than 30 yards from the animal.

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Trapped: The hunters sit on high platforms from where they can take potshots at the animals in front of them – Daily Mail.

There are an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 captive lions in about 200 facilities in South Africa. This is an increase from the 1,000 to 2,000 estimated in 1999. Current expectations are that by 2020 (unless this practice is stopped or slowed), there may be 16,000 to 20,000 lions raised for the sole reason of becoming someone’s trophy.
There is little concern for the well-being of the lion. “They are not worried about genetics…just need to pump them into the industry and to do as little as possible” So, the poor lion with the terrible gimp and struggle to walk? No problem as long as his “trophy” head is intact.

The lack of regulations in South Africa has resulted in the proliferation in this industry. In fact, to operate a lion farm, all that is required is money to purchase the land, the fencing, and the lions. There is no requirement that a person has a background in animal husbandry, or has any veterinary or biological background. In fact, no experience is required at all.

Many people are duped into raising these captive lions. For the modest price of $2,800, these farms offer volunteers the “chance of a lifetime” to spend a week interacting with the supposed orphaned cubs. They sell this story as a conservation effort; and that once raised to adulthood, lions will be released into the wild to help re-establish the population.

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Once the lions reach three to four years of age, they are then sold to the safari companies. Many of the safari companies then post a photograph of each lion with a price below each one. So, the wannabe trophy hunter simply logs in to the safari website, pays the appropriate fee, then clicks on the lion of choice and just like that, the lion’s fate is sealed.

There are actually some hunting operators that are angry at this practice and do not agree with it. Unfortunately, they are probably the exception and certainly in the minority.

THE LIES

“We don’t breed…maybe every 2nd year we allow a lioness to have a litter.”

This was the story the documenters were told at facility after facility. Every farm is a sanctuary and this is where the lions live the remainder of their lives. That said, no one could explain where all the lion cubs were coming from, or why there were no older lions on any of these lion farms.

The orphaned lion cubs are hand-raised as part of a “breeding project” to help re-establish the population.

These animals have lost their fear of humans and have lost the ability to hunt and survive. No captive lion has ever survived in the wild. So even if this wasn’t a lie, it would be an extremely poorly conceived conservation idea.

“Lion numbers are going up as daily as we speak”, so says Freddie Oosterhaus, a hunting operator.

As Dereck Joubert responded “Saying the lion population is increasing is like saying the world is flat. You design the argument that keeps you doing what you want to do.” Now if he is referring to the captive lion program, then unfortunately he is right. The number of genetically inferior, inbred, and defective lion population is growing daily. And there are even those conservationists that sadly believe if you shutter the canned lion industry down, the best thing to do would be to just humanely euthanize every lion in the program. It is sad indeed.

THE COMMENTS THAT JUST LEAVE YOU SHAKING YOUR HEAD

“I am an animal lover, therefore I am a hunter” – Olivia Nalos Opre.

So, this assumes if you don’t kill animals, you can’t love animals. I must admit, this was a real head scratcher.

“Wildlife is a very precious thing and every hunt that I go on, it’s not about the kill. It’s about the full experience. It’s about getting to know the indigenous people…about seeing the wildlife and appreciating them and then when the time comes to hunt the oldest animal. It’s going to die a certain death at some stage, so to take that Cape buffalo and give the meat to the people and to enjoy the experience and the adventure and thrill behind hunting. One of God’s most incredible creatures” – Olivia Nalos Opre.

I believe this is when I first started looking for that brick to toss at the television. “Wildlife is precious”, therefore we must kill wildlife; but it has nothing to do with hunting at all…it is the experience. Then why not pick up a camera instead of a gun? Every comment she makes above (with exception of the giving meat to the people – which we all know is a thinly veiled attempt to justify and rationalize the killing of these innocent animals), is also accomplished with a camera. Seeing wildlife, appreciating wildlife, getting to know the indigenous people? All accomplished with a camera, and much less expensive. And we know the part about hunting the “oldest” is a complete lie. As long as the hunter desires to take home a “trophy” that celebrates the kill, these arguments will never be valid or accepted.

“Hunters are the real conservationists” – Leon Munyan.

If you would like to view Leon’s conservation efforts, please visit the Munyan Family Hunting Conservation Museum or his website http://museum.munyan.com/home.html. He touts 313 separate exhibits of accomplished killing…err, I mean conservation practices.

And you will be proud to know that Leon has practiced his “conservation efforts” throughout the world, including Africa, Asia, North America, Europe, South America and the South Pacific. And his two daughters have also joined his conservation efforts as well; so we should be pleased that this family of conservationists is so active at protecting the world’s wildlife. If everyone was such an avid conservationist, I’m pretty sure that just about every animal species would have been wiped out by now.

“This is conservation because if it wasn’t for hunters, that lion wouldn’t be there. He never would have been bred…At least he has a purpose in life”. – Leon Munyan

Basically, he is saying that animals exist on this earth for our own personal pleasure and we can pretty much do whatever we want with them. And I suppose there are people out there that truly believe that “Man has dominion over the animals” is interpreted to be just this…we can do whatever we want. Needless to say, I and many others strongly disagree with this statement.

Earth Is Land Lion Photo
Earthisland.org

“There’s no comparison between hunters and non-hunters, because hunters understand animals.” – Leon Munyan

I would be willing to put my knowledge of animals up against any hunter that wishes to take on that debate. I am not a hunter, but I watch, I study, I read, I observe, I photograph. And there is one piece of knowledge that I know better than the hunters. And that is that the animal does not want to be shot and does not want to be a trophy.

“Yeah, I’m an animal lover. I have four dogs.” – Leon Munyan

Clearly, Leon has a different view of domestic animals versus wild animals when professing his love. I am pretty sure he would have a problem if someone walked into his backyard and shot his four dogs. However, he clearly does not have a problem shooting other animals.

THOUGHT PROVOKING QUESTIONS

Is this something we feel proud of as a nation? My feeling is I’m not proud of it.“ – Derek Hanekom, South Africa Minister of Tourism.

The reality is that as much of the world may be outraged at the existence of this industry; and while there may be certain legislation enabled by other countries (such as Australia banning the import of lion trophies into the country) or bans enacted (major airlines no longer importing trophy parts), the South African nations must take the lead to stop this horrendous practice. It is not conservation and this is not saving the species…nor was it designed to. The South African people need to look inside themselves and ask this question. I believe it would be hard pressed to find anyone truly proud of this industry.

“Clearly, of the great evils you can imagine in this world, putting a wild at heart predator into a confined area is one of them. Then sending a safari to shoot him is another.” – Dereck Joubert.

I have nothing to add to this. Dereck Joubert is probably the greatest lion conservationist that has ever lived; and has spent the last 40 years of his life with his wife Beverly, studying lion behavior, filming them, watching them. Therefore, when Dereck speaks, people need to listen.

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FINAL THOUGHTS

Suffice it to say that I am not a hunter, yet my comments are not universally critical of the entire hunting industry. It would be hard pressed for me to pull the trigger and kill any animal; therefore, I am incapable of getting into the hunter’s mind and mindset to understand what drives that behavior.

What bothers me is that hunting has reached the level of no longer truly being a sport, if it ever was in the first place. As someone commented about the last stock market crash, when your plumber or butcher starts to offer stock tips, you know something really bad is going to happen. No disrespect to plumbers and butchers, but they excel at their professions. If they excelled at stock picking, they would be stockbrokers. Canned hunting has provided an avenue for those without any true hunting skills to participate in this sport. If you have money, you have the opportunity. Even traditional hunters should be incensed at this activity, as it puts their credibility into question.

With the advancement of high powered rifles and bows, four-wheeled drive vehicles that can maneuver anywhere, and global positioning satellites, even traditional hunting provides the animal with virtually no fighting chance. And I fear that it is only a matter of time before drones are used to patrol the killing fields of Africa. Then, the hunter can simply sit in his easy chair, a cool beverage in one hand and the joy stick in the other; maneuvering the drone to target the lion or other animal of choice. Of course, at this point, they would not be hunters at all; but glorified video game enthusiasts. As Rick Swazey, the hunter that assisted with this documentary stated, “This isn’t hunting”.

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There is a reason that lion cubs stay with their mom for up to two years; and it is the same with the human population. We don’t drop our children off the side of the road at 3 years of age and wish them good luck surviving on their own. During that two year period, the cub learns survival skills…he learns how to capture prey and how to socialize…which is a critical part of the lion social structure. Pulled away from his mother after ten days, he learns none of this, and becomes completely dependent upon humans for everything. He is raised in very sparse conditions, no concern for his well-being…other than to stay alive long enough to be killed. Bred for the Bullet is unfortunately a dead-on description of this young lion’s life.

Yes, nature is cruel and the life of a wild lion is fraught with daily challenges of survival. The mortality rate of lions in the wild is high, and many unfortunately, will succumb to starvation, disease, or attacks by other animals. However, that is nature and we need not interfere. To think that we are somehow giving them a better life by raising them in confined quarters and then killing them is ludicrous. Prison offers many of the same benefits. “Three hots and a cot.” Anyone interested in trading in their life for one behind a cell door? I’m not. So, how is captive lion breeding and canned hunting considered acceptable?

Pieter Potgieter, President of the South African Predator Association stated that he doesn’t seen a difference between domestic and wild animals, other than the fact that one is tame and one is wild. He also states that the lion is an icon of wildlife, but that perception is only in people’s mind and that captive breeding and canned hunting is a globally accepted practice.

I would argue that it is not accepted; and the only reason this practice has existed at all is that most people cannot even fathom someone resorting to such a practice. To participate in an activity with a singular purpose of stuffing and mounting a replica of what was once a wild, beautiful and majestic animal takes the human to a new low level of embarrassment and deceit. Are we capable of becoming even less compassionate, even more unethical than this? The unfortunate answer is probably yes; and it is sad because we should be evolving as a species and elevating ourselves to a higher level. I thought that was the whole idea of life…to evolve, to transcend, to grow, to learn. Canned hunting is none of those.

Blood Lions final scene captured the camera zooming in on the innocent eyes of wildlife…not just lions, but leopards and rhinos and elephants. And the question was posed to Ian Michler as to why some hunters actually put their weapons down, and I leave you with his response.

“It has something to do with the look in the eye of the animal. For the first time, that hunter sees himself in the eye of that other. And I think it is the beginning of seeing everything a little differently, after you put down that gun. It is in the eye of the prey that the shift of skin takes place that the barrel points the other way and you find yourself hunting in a new country.”

It is unlikely that those proponents of lion farming and canned hunting will be moved to change as a result of this film. However, I don’t believe that was the intention, although perhaps it may sway a few. The purpose of the film was to uncover a dark secret that the majority of us either didn’t know about or didn’t believe actually existed. After watching the film, canned lion hunting is now in the public spotlight, and there are few who would disagree that this is a cruel and inhumane practice. The all-important question is, what are we going to do about it?

BLOOD LIONS: THE DARK SECRET OF TROPHY HUNTING

It is likely that you are familiar with the term “blood diamond” and you probably have a basic understanding of this term. If not, blood diamonds are diamonds “mined in a war zone and sold to finance an insurgency, an invading army’s war efforts, or a warlord’s activity”. (source – Wikipedia) However, there is a relatively new term that perhaps you are not as familiar…Blood Lions, and there are sadly, similarities between the two. So, picture this scenario below:

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A young lion cub, born into a world completely vulnerable, blind for the first two to three weeks of his life. He is solely reliant upon his mom to protect him, to shelter him, to feed him. Yet, within a few hours of birth, he is ripped away and separated from his mom’s grasp. He is then bottle fed by human surrogates. Meanwhile, Mom is forced back into estrus, to reproduce again and again and again.

Four years later, the lion cub has now become completely entrusting of humans and has no fear of them. He is released into a fenced-in area to roam about, albeit in a semi-drugged state – to ensure he remains lethargic and doesn’t stray very far. Little does he know there is no escape route in this fenced-in area.

He sees a human approaching; but has no fear. That is because this human is no different from the human he viewed as his protector…his defender, his mother. So, he approaches this individual, who we will refer to as Joe Bob.

He then sees Joe Bob holding something in his hand, but doesn’t know what it is. He observes that the object is long and is perpendicular to his body, one end facing the hunter…the other end facing the young lion. Of course, the lion has no reason to fear this human, nor whatever he has in his hands. So, in his drugged state, and out of curiosity, he moves closer. Perhaps this kind-hearted person has food to share. Suddenly, the sound of gunshot. The lion buckles from the intense pain and collapses to the ground.

Unfortunately for the lion, Joe Bob is not a very good shot. He was a simpleton…born into wealth but without the good sense to spend his money on positive societal contributions. So, he must pay a handsome fee for a “guaranteed kill”, to offset his lack of skill as a hunter and lack of compassion as a human being.

The lion is suffering in immense pain, stares up at the hunter with innocent eyes, asking why? Of course the lion cannot talk, but his expression asks the question, “Why would you do this to me? What did I do?”

Mercifully, a professional hunting escorting this hunt steps in and mercifully ends the poor young lion’s suffering. The lion’s final thoughts are those of betrayal and confusion.

This is known as a canned hunt. It is brutal It is savage. It is deplorable. To put this as blunt as possible, it is sick. And in the 21st century, it is also legal. Is it ethical or moral? Far, far from it. In fact, it is hard to envision a scenario any more inhumane or cruel than this. Not just the final moments of his life, but the entire cycle…from separation from his mother, the deplorable conditions of which he exists, and his brief existence — serving solely to satisfy the ego of someone who believes the mighty lion is best suited to serve as a conversation piece over a fireplace.

This is so shocking, that many people have no idea that this barbaric activity exists today. And many people would view this as so incredulous that surely it is an exaggeration; that no one would stoop to this level to treat another living being. Yet, it does exist. And on Wednesday, October 7 at 10:00 p.m. EST, MSNBC and on the Discovery Channel around the world, the long-awaited premiere of Blood Lions will finally be premiered; and it will lay bare the dark underbelly of South Africa’s captive breeding and canned hunting industries.

The link to the trailer is found below. However, a warning to the weak of heart; the trailer and the actual documentary may be deeply upsetting and tough to stomach. Unfortunately, this may be necessary to shed the light and bring out the truth that has been hidden for so many years.

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Of course, the captive lion breeding program or canned hunt is no different from any other marketable product. Without demand, there is no supply. So, enter Joe Bob. And it is unlikely that any representative within the hunting community, or a hunting organization such as Safari Club International would actually admit the truth.

You ask why? Okay. If you have read some of my previous posts or other articles written on the subject – which probably number in the thousands by now, you probably have a general understanding of the conservation argument. However, this is THE issue that trophy hunters use to justify the killing of lions and other animals. So, I will briefly provide this explanation again. The good news for you, the reader, is that the reasoning itself is not subject to debate. Both sides generally agree as to the why; the dispute is in the reality and accuracy of the argument.

So to keep this is as basic as possible; the pro hunting community argues that they are conservationists, because trophy hunters spend top dollar to purchase the licenses required to hunt these animals. Most of these African countries establish an annual quota of animals to be shot; with that quota established to theoretically maintain a healthy balance of the surviving population. The revenue generated – argued by the hunting associations – is $200 million per year. And that $200 million is then filtered back down where it can be used for conservation purposes and to support the local communities.

This theory is sound in its logic; with the $200 million number based upon a 2006 publication entitled, Economic & Conservation Significance of the Trophy Industry in Sub-Saharan Africa (Lindsey, Roulet and Romanach). However, in February 2013, The African Lion Coalition published “The $200 Million Question: How Much Does Trophy Hunting Really Contribute to African Communities”; in an attempt to verify not only the legitimacy of this $200 million number, but also to determine the true economic benefits of hunting to the local economies – the primary component of this argument.

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http://www.lionaid.org

The origin of the $200 million estimate is from a variety of sources, with $100 million of that total provided by the South African Professional Hunters Association (PHASA). However, despite repeated attempts by the African Lion Coalition to obtain the necessary documentation and source of this estimate, PHASA failed to provide any further documentation in support of this number. And given that this information was provided by a pro-hunting organization clearly benefitting from the existence of trophy hunting; and with no source of origin, it should be accepted with great caution and skepticism. One might even wonder if this was an erroneous doubling up of the first $100 million derived from the other combined sources.

In fact, as noted in the chart below, the only two documented sources of information were Namibia’s $28.5 million – provided by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism; and Tanzania’s $27.6 million – provided by the Selous Game Reserve Data. The African Lion Coalition also determined that Zambia’s $5 million was overstated, with an actual figure of $3.1 million.

Lion Revenue by Country

Unfortunately, the Lindsey, Roulet and Romanach is the only known continent-wide study of trophy hunting available, so it is constantly sited…accurate or not. That said, according to the African Lion Coalition, these same three authors also provided another study in 2005, And in that study, they estimated South African trophy hunting revenue of between $68 million and $81 million. So, can we put any faith or trust in any of these numbers…other than those provided by legitimate and confirmed sources?

Yet, despite the discrepancy, whether $100 million or $200 million, there is no question that this is a significant amount of revenue that is generated by the hunting industry. So, the more important question is how much of this revenue actually filters down to the local communities?

According to both the pro hunting organization International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, only 3% of total revenues actually filter back to the local communities; which might be better described as a trickle or even a drip. The majority of the revenue accrues to hunting firms, governmental agencies and individuals located internationally or in national capitals.

Simple mathematical calculations suggest this 3% equates to somewhere between $3 million and $6 million annually (based upon the assumption that $100 million to $200 million is an accurate revenue range). And keep in mind that this number is representative of the entire continent; so the actual benefit per country is substantially smaller.

The African Lion Coalition, in their study, also concluded that hunting revenue only contributes .04 of 1% to the gross domestic product of those African countries; and hunting revenue only represents 1.77% of total African tourist revenues. So, does trophy hunting contribute to the local economies? Yes, but in an extremely nominal amount.

And keep in mind that the $100 million to $200 million estimate represents revenue from the trophy hunting of all animals, not just lions. The buffalo, for example, contributes 22.1% of trophy fees to Tanzania, far more than any other species. And further studies by the African Lion Coalition have determined that a reduction of lions hunted would have a minimal impact on the overall revenue of the industry. So in truth, it could be argued that actual revenues and benefits to the local communities tied to the trophy hunting of lions is nominal at best.

And this brings us back full circle to Blood Lions. Owners of private breeding farms say that more hunting of captive-bred lions takes pressure off declining wild lion populations. Not so, says Dr. Luke Hunter, president of Panthera, an organization dedicated to conserving endangered big cats. “This industry pumps out cats to be shot in cages or shipped to Asia to supply the demand for big cat parts. Blood Lions blows away the hollow ‘conservation’ arguments made by South Africa’s predator breeders to justify their grim trade.”

Export of Canned Lions
Yellow – USA, Green – Spain, Red – Rest of the World.(source http://www.lionaid.org)

The narrator of Blood Lions, Ian Michler, spent 25 years in Africa as a specialist safari operator, journalist and conservation advocate. In the 1990’s he was living full-time in the Okavango Delta, and during this period, he began learning about the lion farms and canned hunting. According to Michler, there were an estimated 800 to 1,000 lions living in cages in 1999. By the time he submitted a report to the Botswana Minister of Environment and Tourism in 2005, there were an estimated 3,000 to 3,500 captive lions. Today, there are an estimated 8,000 captive lions, tigers and leopard in Botswana.

Defenders of these lion farm facilities will argue that they exist for education and conservation purposes. However, there are currently no South African ecologists trying to re-establish lion populations. Additionally, lions are among those species that cannot be re-wilded after being hand reared. Yet, many of these organizations continue to promote these falsehoods and even recruit unwitting volunteers to pay up to $1,000 to go work these properties, with the understanding that they are simply caring for these orphaned lions until they can be released back into the wild.

Lion Cubs with People
Image: Young volunteers with lion cubs, allegedly bred for canned hunting purposes. (Ian Michler)

Additionally, Michler notes that “These lions are genetically contaminated, sometimes to the extent that they suffer from rickets, back and eyesight problems, all sorts of issues that come from inbreeding and cross-breeding.” And “ No self-respecting conservationist would ever allow a genetically contaminated lion to be introduced into wild populations.”

Canned vs Wild Lion Exports

SO, WHAT ARE THE NEXT STEPS?

Demand Change!

According to Michel, they initially reached out to Australian and American audiences with a promo clip to help raise money to get the documentary made. An Australian organization – For the Love of Wildlife saw the clip and took it to their Parliament, from where it made its way to the minister of the environment. It caused outrage.

Greg Hunt, the environment minister, subsequently signed an order to prevent the import of the gruesome hunting trophies, effective immediately. Hunt, said the practice of canned hunting was “cruel” and “barbaric.”

“It is about raising the most majestic of creatures for a singular purpose and that is to kill them, to shoot them for pleasure and for profit, it is done in inhumane conditions. It is involving things such as raising and then drugging and in many cases, baiting. It is simply not acceptable in our day, in our time, on our watch.”

And this should not be an acceptable practice on our watch either. It is time to stop this barbaric and inhumane practice once and for all.

OREOs…THE KEY TO WORLD PEACE

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Oh, my goodness, look at all these! Golden Oreos, Cookie Dough Oreos, Mega Stuff Oreos, Birthday Cake Oreos—perhaps the system of free enterprise is not as terrible as I once feared,” saith Pope Francis.

Now, I must admit there is some question as to the legitimacy of this photograph, and of the Pope’s comment about the wide selection of Oreos and the free enterprise system. None of this sounds “Pope Like”. However, this did get me thinking about the wonderful Oreo. Could it somehow be the key to World Peace? Think about it. And one might even say the original Oreo was years ahead of its time. The Oreo was touting the harmony of ebony and ivory long before Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder made this into a hit song.

That said, before you write this article off and suggest I return to animal activism, there is some seriousness and legitimacy to this discussion. Not so much the Oreo, although wouldn’t that be wonderful if world peace were attained so easily. After all, who doesn’t like Oreos? And with the introduction of Almond Milk, Lactose Free Milk, and Soy Milk, even the poor lactose-intolerant souls can now join the rest of us in dipping our Oreos in a cold glass of milk. In fact, I might celebrate the completion of this narrative by having an Oreo…with milk of course.

So, the photograph of the Pope holding up the bags of Oreos was published in The Onion.com and perhaps it is legitimate. Who knows? However, the Pope’s visit to the United States certainly created a lot of excitement, interest and perhaps some compassionate momentum that is so desperately needed in today’s world…particularly in our treatment of animals. And his words were so eloquently spoken, I won’t even attempt to paraphrase or regurgitate in my own words. So, let me simply quote him below:

“We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people. Every act of cruelty towards any creature is ‘contrary to human dignity.”

“Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.”

“In assessing the environmental impact of any project, concern is usually shown for its effects on soil, water and air, yet few careful studies are made of its impact on biodiversity, as if the loss of species or animals and plant groups were of little importance. … As a result, some species face extinction.”

“It is not enough, however, to think of different species merely as potential ‘resources’ to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves.”

“It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly.”

“Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth.”

There was a time when I believed coincidences to be just that. However, in recent years, I have come to conclude that the occurrence of similar events over a short period of time is only coincidental if we choose to accept that belief. I would like to believe that there is a link between Cecil the Lion’s tragic story, the world release of the Blood Lions documentary, and the Pope’s visit to the United States. And critical events often occur in the sequence of three. Could all these be connected?

Cecil brought outrage and anger; unveiled much of what the pro-hunting community would have preferred to remain under the radar, so to speak. He also helped to enact some immediate change, as well as positive momentum toward more potential change to protect the animals. Blood Lions will be released to the world in just a few days, and based upon previous screenings in South Africa and for select groups; this documentary will cause similar…if not greater outrage than Cecil and demand for further change. And with the Pope’s edict on the treatment of animals, 1.2 billion Catholics around the world at least have the moral and ethical obligation to follow his direction.

Given that 41.3% of the Catholic population is in Latin America, perhaps this is good news for the jaguar. And according to the BBC, Africa actually shows the greatest increase in Catholicism, with an increase in Catholics from 45 million in 1970 to 176 million in 2012. So, perhaps, this may drive the African communities to do more to protect the lion, leopard, cheetah and other exotic species. And with another 85 million in North America, I don’t know if the Pope’s message will sway hunters to put down their rifles and pick up their cameras. But perhaps, a few legislators may now feel obligated to do something.

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Source: http://www.DevotionToOurLady.com.

And of course, aside from the 1.2 billion Catholics on the earth, this does not factor in non-Catholic Christians and other religious groups that are also likely to be influenced by the Pope’s guidance and leadership. And this piece was never intended to be a discussion of the religions; however the geographical shift of Christians (including Catholics) is intriguing.

According to Pew, Christians comprised approximately 35% of the world’s population a century ago and 32% today. So, the overall percentage is similar. However, as noted in the chart below, there has been a dramatic drop of Christian population in Europe – from 66.3% in 1910 to only 25.9% in 2010. Yet, the Sub-Saharan Africa Christian population has increased from 1.4% to 23.6% and Asia-Pacific Christian population from 4.5% to 13.1%.

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So according to Pew, there are nearly 2.2 billion Christians on this earth today. This is a sizeable portion of the overall world’s population that should be influenced by the Pope’s message; and with some obligation to answer and follow his message. But that is not to suggest that other religions: Muslims (23.2%), Hindus (15%), Buddhists (7.1%), and others, including non-affiliated, shouldn’t be influenced by the Pope’s message as well. It is compassionate and ethical and right. We all should be influenced by this message and influenced to act.

THE SIXTH MASS EXTINCTION

Scientists have noted that five times in the past, the Earth has been struck by cataclysmic events; so severe and swift (in geological terms), that they obliterated most kinds of living things before they ever had a chance to adapt. Those scientists are now saying that the Earth is on the brink of a sixth such “mass extinction event.” And unlike the previous extinctions, this is all on us.

In 2003, Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson calculated that Earth would lose half its higher life forms by 2100 if the current rate of human disruption continued; and scores of scientific studies have sought to bolster that claim. And whether you buy into the gloom and doom of a mass extinction, there are few that would disagree that we are losing wildlife at an alarming rate; with the primary influencing factor clearly being habitat loss.

Think about this: In 1800, there were an estimated 1 billion people on this earth. In 1900, there were 1.6 billion people. Today there are 7.2 billion people and projections indicate nearly 11 billion people on this earth by the turn of the century. That is incredible, truly unsustainable growth – at least as it relates to the negative impact on our world’s wildlife.

Another 4 billion people between today and the turn of the century will need a place to live and loss of habitat will continue to have a devastating impact on wildlife. Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that much of this cannot be stopped. However, there is so much we can do to slow these rates down…improving our sustainable habits, increasing environmental conservation, improving density planning, taking a more aggressive approach to clamping down on poaching, and eliminating non-productive hunting practices (i.e trophy hunting of threatened and endangered species).

world_population_1050_to_2050

So, can the conflux of Cecil, Blood Lions and the Pope influence our behaviors to the good? The answer is an adamant yes. But we must all look deep within ourselves and ask the question of whether we are all doing everything we can to make a difference. Otherwise, these beautiful creatures below will be gone long before I breathe my last breath in this world. So, have an Oreo on me and let’s make some positive change.

Big Cat Threatened Poster

BIG CAT PUBLIC SAFETY ACT – H.R. 3546 – IT IS TIME!!

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“You must be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

On September 17, 2015, H.R. 3546, a bill entitled The Big Cat Public Safety Act was formally introduced in the United States House of Representatives.  This bill, issued in previous sessions, has steadily picked up steam and will finally put an end to back yard breeding and exploitation of big cats and their cubs in America!

Your voice will be heard; and it is as easy as clicking a few links and filling out your name and address.  Just click the link below and follow the instructions. 

http://salsa4.salsalabs.com/o/51389/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=13966

And remember Edmund Burke: “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”  

We can make a difference.  We can do this.  And if you are motivated to take the next step, pick up the phone and call your congressional representative and ask them to champion this bill.  Write a personal letter.  Share this bill with your friends. 

We owe this to those that do not have a voice.  Do it for Cecil.  Do it for all the Big Cats and do it for all wildlife. 

Below is the link to the actual bill, should you wish to read it.

 

http://bigcatrescue.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/HR-3546-big-cats-bill-Official-Bill-Text.pdf.

It is simply right and it is time.