Commentary: why we’re fighting to protect one African black rhino

Efforts to help individual animals—whether it be their rescue, rehabilitation, or in this case, preventing  the killing of a single black rhino—is a critical part of how we, together, will save all wild animals from poaching, human-wildlife conflict and loss of habitat.

“There is a biological reason for this hunt, and it’s based on a fundamental premise of modern wildlife management: Populations matter; individuals don’t.”

Ben Carter, executive director of the Dallas Safari Club, issued this statement in an attempt to justify the auctioning of a license to kill a single black rhino in Namibia.

We here at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) categorically reject this “killing them to save them” philosophy. It certainly does not represent our view of “modern wildlife management.”

Such thinking is, we believe, anachronistic and neglects to take into consideration what scientists studying animal behavior in the wild have learned over years of research: that single animals are the building blocks of their societies.

Remove one, especially an older individual, and there will be ripples of consequence through offspring, families, bond groups and clans. Individuals of a variety of species do indeed play a vital role in the overall health of a population.

As an animal welfare organization, IFAW is committed to rescuing individual animals from suffering—whether it be as large as an elephant calf that has been orphaned by poaching or disaster or as small as a pygmy possum displaced because of bushfires in Australia.

Given how much expense it takes to rescue some of the individuals within the megafauna populations we work with, I am sometimes asked if preserving habitat or other protection initiatives would be better targets for our funding and capital resources.

Here at IFAW, we do not see these two types of opportunities to help these creatures as mutually exclusive.

And people may not realize; IFAW does both.

Recently, three Australian environmental scientists claimed that environmental, conservation, and animal welfare organizations are spending their time and resources monitoring population decline and not “taking the necessary action to save [individual animals]”.  Their aptly titled report, "Counting the Books While the Library Burns” makes for a clever analogy; however they clearly have holes in their research, as there are plenty of organizations taking action to save individual animals.

And IFAW is one of them.

In June 2004, a number of rhino calves were rescued from raging floods in Kaziranga National Park by the Assam Forest Department. They were admitted to the IFAW- Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) run Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC), where they were hand-raised and rehabilitated.

After their rehabilitation was completed in 2007, some were released into Manas National Park not far away. Last year, three females reintroduced to the wild gave birth to calves, empirical evidence that rehabilitated animals can thrive, and are thriving in the wild.

Do three rhinos, not much different than the rhino that will ultimately die in Namibia, matter?

We know they do.

As I write this, a dramatic elephant relocation is happening in Cote d’Ivoire.

After 18 months’ worth of preparation, an expert team is tranquilising and moving a group of about 10 forest elephants from a region where they have been repeatedly clashing with the rural communities to an area where they can live in peace and flourish.

Do 10 elephants matter?

We know they do.

We would not be true to our mission if we ignored this ross misstatement of “modern wildlife management”   philosophy as it pertains to animal welfare.

Efforts to help individual animals—whether it be their rescue, rehabilitation, or in this case, preventing  the killing of a single black rhino—is a critical part of how we, together, will save all wild animals from poaching, human-wildlife conflict and loss of habitat.

Does that rhino, wherever in Namibia it may be, matter?

We know it does.

--AD

IFAW’s record of our work to help both individual animals and the populations they belong to around the world speaks for itself.

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Experts

Azzedine Downes,Executive Vice President for International Operations, VP of P
President and Chief Executive Officer
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Isabel McCrea, Regional Director, Oceania
Regional Director, Oceania
Jeffrey Flocken, Regional Director, North America
Regional Director, North America
Kelvin Alie, Programme Director, Wildlife Trade
Programme Director, Wildlife Trade
Peter Pueschel, Director, International Environmental Agreements
Director, International Environmental Agreements
Campaigner, Germany
Campaigner, Germany
Tania McCrea-Steele, Campaigns and Enforcement Manager, IFAW UK
Campaigns and Enforcement Manager, IFAW UK
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Regional Director, South Asia