To Whom it may Concern,
It has come to our attention that there is a draft proposal asking for comments by tomorrow.
The National Geographic Big Cats Initiative is an emergency effort designed to step in as big cats decline. In 50 years we have seen a virtual crash from 450,000 to 20,000 lions, and best estimates of leopards from 700,000 to 50,000. Tigers are all but extinct (900 in India) and cheetah at perhaps 12,000 are in poor numbers. This represents a crash of 95% in that time across the board.
Big cats keep smaller predators in check and what you are dealing with is a very predictable natural response to the extermination of larger predators in an ecosystem. Your proposal however is disturbing because it too is predictable. The outcome will never be a balanced ecosystem and is just one more step in the systematic extermination of all predatory species anywhere near human settlement.
Disturbing also to us is the language you use in this draft, focusing on ‘hunting’ which is largely now associated with sport and recreation. It seems to me that you are opening up an avenue for a wave of very active sport hunting against smaller predators in large numbers that will end in the eventual annihilation of these species. Like the large cats that keep control of the smaller ones, these mid and small sized predators keep rats and mice and snakes and a range of even smaller animals in check and I have no doubt at all that what you are starting here today will be the end of any natural and balanced ecosystem in your region.
It seems to me that there are lessons to be learned from what we have done and are doing in big cat conservation:
- firstly, we would not be spending millions of dollars a year protecting big cats if we had taken a step back when faced with exactly the choice you are facing with smaller predators today.
- we are finding it easier to protect livestock that keep predators at bay in conflict zones. It makes sense to place ownership on the livestock owners to fence adequately and protect in a passive not invasive way. Understand that we, humans, and we, agriculturalists are the invasive species if you place it in context. Also it is humans that have the most resources and understanding to prevent conflict.
- Livestock and crops are privately owned. Nature and its predators are a national resource. It seems that this initiative is giving the private sector every advantage to enhance their commercial benefit, at the more common prejudice of the nation (and national resource.) in essence if you decide to farm, you need to build in to the business plan the protection of your product, in the same way as a inventor should patent his invention and protect it. If he is not prepared to do that, it is wrong of him to expect the state to kill its own stock to compensate for his lack of foresight. If this were equally distributed in legal terms with a private body owning livestock and another private body owning predators, and one person’s stock was harming another’s (after all means to protect livestock and crops have been exhausted) there would still be an avenue of compensation first, before the predator would need to be put down.
Lastly the methods that are experimental today will become common practice tomorrow, but the baiting, calling, trapping, and shooting from helicopters is not just seen as bad ethics, poor taste but will also be seem as you using every possible method of extermination and you will have a PR disaster on your hands.
We’d strongly urge you to reconsider if only for the PR impact you are about to step into. The impact on large landscapes of nature is a much more complex issue that distributing permits to shoot it back into submission.
South Africa distinguishes itself in PR today on three basic stories if you trawl the world’s newspapers:
- It is unable to or unwilling to stop rhino poaching.
- It is unwilling to take a stand on Canned Lion hunting,
- and it is opening up more and more opportunities to sell lion bone into the bone market. This harms all big cats and all the efforts of conservation world wide.
I would be worried about your adding to that roster of undesirable or uncooperative actions to the international effort to help protect the environment in today’s world where all eyes on on environmental abuse and where all eyes are on every action every moment of every day.
I was in a symposium recently on tourism. The overriding comment to the South Africans was: If you cannot protect your rhino, who will you protect me? An extension of that will be drawn from this: If you don’t care about your nature, why as a tourist should I care about visiting your country?
It is something to be taken seriously.
Please feel free to contact me for further discussion. I will be following this issue very closely.
National Geographic Big Cats Initiative