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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

What Will It Take?

I follow numerous animal welfare/conservation/environmental/animal protection groups on Facebook. I support some of them financially. Most of these pages have thousands of followers. Elephant Voices, for example, has close to 300,000 followers, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust close to 350,000 fans. Save the Elephants has more than 431,000 fans. The Cecil the Lion page has some 33,000 fans. And the numbers continue to grow.

These numbers started me thinking: Given the large numbers of people who really care about wildlife, why are we so powerless to stop the slaughter? These hundreds of thousands are people who oppose the wanton slaughter of wolves, who oppose the numerous coyote killing contests and who are adamantly opposed to trophy hunting and the killing of elephants and rhinoceros for their tusks and horns. Countless others are equally concerned but have no Facebook accounts.

So why are we so powerless? What will it take before we succeed in stopping the slaughter? What will it take before the human race wakes up and realizes that animals have a right to live, and that the earth is not here for us to pillage and plunder?

It isn't that we don't voice our opposition to these atrocities. We contact members of Congress, governors and newspaper editors. We hold marches and rallies, and we sign and share countless petitions. Why are we so easily ignored?

It has to be that our opposition has BIG BUCKS to buy influence at the highest levels. We also have morals, something that appears to be sorely lacking these days among the high and mighty who run our government on all levels, the oil and gas companies, the ranching conglomerates, the trophy hunting clubs, pro-hunting and -trapping groups, and other 'opposition organizations.'

To be sure, there are a few well-funded pro-wildlife, pro-environment organizations. Some of them even have lobbyists. But the numbers pale in comparison with what the opponents of wilderness preservation, non-consumptive uses of the ecosystem and animal advocates can muster.

We do occasionally see some small progress. The number of great whales being slaughtered has decreased. Recycling has become a way of life for many. But at the rate we are moving, many species will become extinct, the environment irrevocably damaged. State fish and game commissions are little more than the mouthpiece for ranchers, hunters and 'outfitters.' Politicians are in bed with the enemies of wilderness, wildlife and non-consumptive uses of the environment. How else do we explain the wholesale attempts to sell our national parks to oil and gas companies? How else do we explain the annual slaughter of bison in Montana at the instigation of the ranching industry?

Studies have shown that living animals in the wild bring in much more money than do hunters, through eco-tourism, safaris and other venues that leave the animals in peace. When I go on safari in Africa, I know the money directly benefits the local people. The guides, housekeepers, cooks and other support staff typically come from local villages. And while trophy hunters like to brag about how their money helps the local population, in reality most of the money goes to just a handful of people -- the guides and outfitters -- not to the local villagers.

I and many like me go to far northern Canada to view living polar bears, not to kill one to stuff and display in our 'man caves.' The same goes for people who go to Yellowstone for the opportunity to see wild wolves or to Alaska to see grizzly bears close up. These animals are worth so much more alive than dead. I have been to Yellowstone five times in the past two years, expressly to see the wildlife, wolves in particular. My trips contribute to the local economy in the form of meals, hotels, souvenirs and guides.

So the question remains, why does the culture of death continue despite overwhelming opposition to consumptive, non-food uses of wildlife? A recent story on Facebook bragged about a killing contest designed to slaughter so-called 'vermin,' including peacocks, goats, rabbits and other small mammals. Worst of all, children were encouraged to participate in the slaughter. Contests like this aren't hunting. They are held simply to allow the sick-minded individuals who participate to kill living beings for no reason other than 'fun.' Is it any wonder our country has become such a soul-less, violent place?

We need to teach our children compassion and respect for all life. There should be no place in our society for the wanton killing of animals for fun, for trophies to hang on a wall, for ivory trinkets or for the supposed mystical powers of rhino horn, pangolin scales or anything else. Enough is enough!

We know we will have an uphill battle against politicians who ignore the will of their constituents (nearly 70 percent of New Mexicans support the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf into its former range), yet the state steadfastly blocks all attempts to do so. We know we are fighting ancient cultures that continue to believe that rhino horn makes men more virile. Fortunately, well-known representatives of these cultures are now speaking out against the use of ivory and rhino horn. We cannot defeat the enemies of wildlife and wilderness with dollars alone. But maybe more people will see the light and realize the inherent value of wilderness and the animals trying to survive.