Monday, August 3, 2015

Ron comments on Cecil the Lion for the Toronto Globe and Mail

Was Cecil the lion’s death business as usual?

Ronald Orenstein

Contributed to The Globe and Mail

Published Monday, Aug. 03, 2015 6:00AM EDT

Last updated Monday, Aug. 03, 2015 6:00AM EDT

Ronald Orenstein is a Canadian zoologist, author, lawyer and wildlife conservationist. He is the author of Ivory, Horn and Blood: Behind the Elephant and Rhinoceros Poaching Crisis.

The death of Cecil the lion has shocked and angered people around the world. It should. But perhaps the most shocking thing about his killing at the hands of a selfish American hunter and his guides is that there may have been nothing unusual about it. Zimbabwe’s government may have created the situation that led to Cecil’s death.

Hwange National Park is ringed with private landholdings where hunting is legal, though the land where Cecil was killed did not have an assigned quota for lions. Luring Cecil out of Hwange has been called “unethical” by the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe, and the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Act makes it illegal to “entice” an animal out of a national park without a permit. However, a 2007 study found that 24 lions radio-collared in Hwange were shot by sport hunters between 1999 and 2004.  Further killings have been alleged since. The difference this time is that Cecil was famous.

Zimbabwe has been treating its wildlife as a commodity for years. Though the kills have decreased recently, its hunting quotas for lions, among the highest in Africa, have been called unsustainable by lion biologists. Lions as young as two years old have been shot for trophies, despite recommendations that only animals at least five years old should be hunted to give young males a chance to reproduce.

In early July, despite protests from around the world (and arguably violating its own laws against animal cruelty), Zimbabwe exported 24 baby elephants from Hwange to a dubious safari park in China, claiming that the move relieved elephant overpopulation. Zimbabwe’s Environment Minister at the time, Saviour Kasukuwere, said that “it made commercial sense” to send the country’s wildlife to China. The Zimbabwe Independent cited claims that the money went to pay a shoe manufacturer for boots for the military.

Hunters argue that the fees they pay for the right to shoot a lion can benefit conservation and alleviate rural poverty. Conservation is certainly expensive, and money helps – though tourism revenue exceeds hunting revenue in many African countries, and a 2010 study, published by the pro-hunting International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, found that hunting companies in Tanzania contributed only about 3 per cent of their revenues to local communities.

When a hunter is willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars into a corrupt system, the benefits can be hard to find. Zimbabwean blogger Alex Magaisa claims that there is “a huge amount of corruption and skullduggery” in Zimbabwe’s hunting industry, and warns that there will be “more Cecils in future.” The enormous prices hunters pay tempt operators to give clients what they want, and fund the bribes needed to get it. When hunting quotas are based on the industry’s bottom line, and the rules that exist are ignored, trophy hunting becomes little more than organized, legalized poaching, and the hunters’ targets little more than contraband.

African lions have been in serious decline for years. Numbering an estimated 75,800 in 1980, a combination of human population growth, habitat loss, disease and hunting pressure has reduced their number to no more than 32,000 today (and possibly a good deal less). It is a decline that has gone largely unrecognized. A 2011 petition to list the African lion under the U.S. Endangered Species Act – a listing that would require the United States to prohibit trophy imports unless they can be shown to benefit conservation – still awaits action.

The revulsion at Cecil’s death may have been, in part, because he was an animal with a name. I hope, nonetheless, that it leads countries like the United States, the biggest importer of lion trophies, to take a closer, and tougher, look at “sustainable” wildlife management, and to clamp down on trophy imports that threaten the survival of Cecil’s nameless kin. If they do, perhaps Cecil will not have died entirely in vain.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Reference List for "Butterflies"

My new book Butterflies, with photographs by Thomas Marent, is now in the hands of the designers.  It should be available from Firefly Books this fall.

In writing Butterflies I consulted over 400 original scientific papers.  There was no room to list these in the book, but anyone interested can download the Reference List here.   Perhaps it will whet your appetite for the book itself!

Monday, December 15, 2014

GrrlScientist Names Hummingbirds One of the Best Bird Books of 2014

Dr. Devorah Bennu, otherwise known as Devorah the Ornithologist, has published (for the first time) a list of the best bird books of the year on her well-known and widely-read Guardian blog GrrlScientist.  I'm very pleased that Hummingbirds is one of the eleven books on her list.  If you read her post, you will see that I am in very good company!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Humminngbirds released - Butterflies on the way!

Hummingbirds is now available on Amazon, and should be in bookstores soon.  In fact readers in North America have a good chance of seeing a copy before I do - I'm writing this from Kuching, Malaysia, where Eileen and I are dealing with a family health crisis.

A highlight of Hummingbirds - and it takes something for a mere author to admit this! - is the portfolio of magnificent photographs by the best hummingbird photographers in the business, Michael and Patricia Fogden.  I'm now working on what is sure to be another beautifully-illustrated book - Butterflies, this time showcasing a gallery of photographs from around the world by Swiss photographer Thomas Marent, for release in 2015.  As I did for Hummingbirds, I am combing the latest scientific literature for new discoveries, insights and - increasingly in these days of global warming and habitat destruction - warnings.  I'll post the full list of references here.

Meanwhile, enjoy Hummingbirds!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

From Elephants to Hummingbirds

I have just finished correcting the page proofs for my latest book, on a subject as different from elephants and rhinoceroses as it is possible to imagine: hummingbirds, the smallest and most extraordinary of birds. 

As I say in my introduction: "There are many books about hummingbirds, and I wanted to make this one a bit different.  Rather than turn out yet another general natural history of the hummingbird family, I have made the theme of this book the things that make these extraordinary creatures unique among birds. To do that, I have focused on the most recent scientific research into their relationships, their lives and their chances for survival.  Much of this information has not, to my knowledge, appeared in any book for the general reader."

If that doesn't excite you, let me add that the book is filled with a beautiful hummingbird photographs by the acknowledged masters of the art, Michael and Patricia Fogden. 

Hummingbirds is already available for pre-order on Amazon and other sites.  For those of a scholarly bent, I will be posting the full list of references I consulted for the book on this site (as soon as I figure out how!).

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Ivory, Horn and Blood a Silver Nautilus Award Winner!

Ivory, Horn and Blood has been named as a 2014 Nautilus Silver Winner in the Category of Journalism/Investigative Reporting.  The Nautilus Book Awards, according to their website, represent "Better Books for a Better World." "Now in its 15th year, this unique book award program continues to gain prestige with authors and publishers around the world as it seeks, honors, awards and promotes print books that inspire and connect our lives as individuals, communities and global citizens."

 Ivory, Horn and Blood has also received an Honorable Mention for General Non-Fiction in the 2014 Green Book Festival.