BOOKS: True scary elephant tales

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, Jan/Feb 1995:

Animals In Peril: How “Sustainable Use” Is
Wiping Out The World’s Wildlife, by John A.
Hoyt, Avery Publishing Group (distributed by Humane
Society International, 2100 L St., Washington, DC
20037), 257 pages, $10.95 paperback.
Everything You Should Know About
Elephants, by The Performing Animal Welfare
Society (POB 849, Galt, CA 95632), 32 pages,
paperback, donation requested.
Time was when the only scary elephant tales
involved Winnie the Pooh’s heffalumps and the moonshine
nightmares of Timothy Mouse and Dumbo. That was before
“sustainable use” theory ran amok across Africa, helping
stoke the poaching boom of the 1980s, while abuse of captive
elephants came to light with sickening frequency.

John Hoyt and colleagues at the Humane Society of
the U.S./Humane Society International hastily assembled
Animals In Peril in response to the efforts of Zimbabwe and
South Africa to convince the Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species to reopen the traffic in elephant
and rhino parts at the November 1994 CITES triennial meet-
ing. The haste shows in occasional redundancy––but the fac-
tual support is all in order and footnoted, while the writing is
quite lucid enough to hold the attention of anyone who really
cares what “sustainable development” means in practice.
Most particularly, Animals In Peril is a thorough
rebuttal to Raymond Bonner, whose 1993 book At The Hand
Of Man: Peril and Hope For Africa’s Wildlife remains a
best-seller among the hook-and-bullet crowd, the wise-use
wiseguys, and the ivory tower economists, who insist that
the best away to save species is to auction off the privilege of
blowing them away, thereby giving them “value.”
Ironically, At The Hand Of Man appeared in time to irrevoca-
bly compromise Bonner’s journalistic integrity just as he was
vindicated for having reported the massacre of 800 Indian
peasants––mostly women and children––a decade earlier in El
Salvador. The U.S. State Department as energetically denied
the massacre and the role of U.S.-trained security forces in
conducting it as Bonner himself denies the role of trophy
hunters and the legal ivory traffic in creating the market and
the cover for the illegal ivory hunting that had by 1989
brought elephants to the verge of extinction in more than half
the African nations where they once lived. In each instance,
bone piles mutely tell a different story.
Whether Animals In Peril appeared in time to influ-
ence CITES is an open question. While Hoyt and staff vigor-
ously promoted it to delegates and the media at the meeting,
few had time to read and digest it before the elephant and
rhino proposals came to the floor. If it had been absorbed and
understood, chances are the delegates would not have in
effect traded holding the line on elephants for the presumably
limited resumption of the rhino parts traffic, exclusive of
horns. Elephants were spared only through through energetic
lobbying by Friends of Animals, via the many small nations
which have received FoA help in fighting poachers.
Yet Animals In Peril will remain valuable for years
to come in combatting the “sustainable use” myth, which
continues to dominate the policies of the World Bank, the
World Wildlife Fund, the African Wildlife Foundation, the
National Wildlife Federation, and the Nature Conservancy,
as well as the conservation strategies favored by both the
Clinton administration and the Republican leadership of the
House and the Senate. Naming names, Hoyt traces the infla-
tion of elephant population estimates by cash-hungry African
governments; the diversion to general funds and private pock-
ets of income raised purportedly for conservation through the
legal sale of elephant parts; the corruption of poorly paid
wildlife management by hunters, legal and illegal, who know
how to pass a bribe; and most damning to “sustainable use”
theory, the vicious spiral of escalating prices paid for wildlife
products encouraging ever more poaching and corruption as
the species of origin become scarcer.
Game theory and circuses
As the success of the CITES ban on ivory sales
imposed in 1989 demonstrates, the only way to stop the
killing short of extinguishing a species whose remains are in
demand is to drive the prices back down. The only way to do
that is to stop the selling: where some selling is legal, cover
exists for illegal activity. Further, while governments in their
collectivity may have some economic motivation to preserve a
profitable species, individuals both in government and out
tend to have a stronger motive to get what they can, any way
they can, before others exhaust the resource.
“Sustainable use” advocates are not going to yield
their pretext for profiteering and bloodlust easily. On
December 8, just a month after CITES convened, the
London-based Institute of Economic Affairs attacked the deci-
sion to continue elephant protection by reciting once again
that, “The most effective way to increase the support of local
people for wildlife protection is to make it worth their while in
economic terms.” The free market think-tank ignored, as
usual, the weight of evidence that live elephants seen by
tourists are worth far more to Africans, collectively, than ele-
phants killed for tusks to the private gain of a few individuals.
The Nobel Prize for economics was meanwhile
awarded to a pioneer of game theory. Not to be confused with
anything having directly to do with wild game, game theory
is essentially the study of collectively self-defeating economic
behavior––such as hunting elephants to extinction––as the
product of individually rational decisions. When game theory
is better understood by planners, the strategy of non-con-
sumptive use Hoyt advocates may be recognized as the only
form of “sustainable use” conducive to species conservation.
One hopes there will be some elephants left, and
some suitable habitat. In the interim, preservation of the cap-
tive gene pool may prove essential to the survival of both
African and Asian elephants: artificial insemination from
frozen sperm and embryo transplants could enable the North
American population to assist African and Asian survivors in
recovery, if and when the demands for ivory and farmland
subside to where recovery is possible.
Unfortunately, as Everything You Should Know
About Elephants points out, good captive situations for ele-
phants are few, while physical abuse is common. PAWS
doubts that elephants can be managed humanely in any kind
of working situation, including most exhibition settings. Yet
the cost of maintaining captive elephants runs so high that
preserving the North American population largely depends
upon the elephants’ ability to earn their keep. Elephant care
at accredited zoos is gradually improving, though not as
quickly as it might. Although circus elephant care is also
improving, according to veterans of the industry, this is not
as evident, partly because stressed circus elephants continue
to go berserk at the rate of about one per year. Circuses that
would like to claim a role in elephant conservation had better
take this handbook as a warning, as growing numbers of
activists are using it to identify and protest against mistreat-
ment that is often painfully obvious. An enlightened response
would be for the traditionally insular circus community to
form a self-policing body with a high set of standards and a
staff of humane inspectors authorized and trained to work
with local humane societies and the USDA to bring charges in
cases of abusive or negligent conduct. Abusive trainers must
be pensioned off––and abuse itself must be better recognized
by people within the industry. If circuses cannot be persuad-
ed to conduct themselves according to generally accepted
humane principles, they too could be facing extinction, pos-
sibly to the detriment of hundreds of captive elephants who
have literally nowhere else to go.
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