CITES experts have a leak on Zimbabwean elephant ivory strategy

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, Jan/Feb 1997:

The possibility of resumed ivory trading has meanwhile
demonstrably stimulated poaching, say Clark and David
Barritt, African director of the International Fund for Animal
Welfare. Barritt recently visited the scene of the September
massacre of 250 elephants near the Congolese border with
Gabon. “The poachers told the local inhabitants, whom they
hired, that it was all right to kill the elephants,” Barritt
explained to Inigo Gimore of the London Times, “because next
year the trade in ivory is going to be resumed legally.”
Indeed, the trade never stopped. “The preliminary
report of the CITES Panel of Experts,” FoA president Priscilla
Feral wrote on December 6 to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
chief of management authority Kenneth Stansell, “claims that
there is evidence that Zimbabwe has been engaged in large volume
commercial export of raw, worked, and semi-worked
ivory to eight countries, including the United States. Other
countries identified as having imported commercial volumes of
elephant ivory from Zimbabwe are Japan, China, Thailand,
Hong Kong, the Philippines, Indonesia, and South Africa.
FoA is alarmed,” Feral said, “especially in light of significant
U.S. assistance to Zimbabwe’s elephant conservation programs,
as well as in light of persistent Zimbabwean claims of being
able to exercise vigorous control over the ivory trade.”

Zimbabwe loses control
The CITES Panel of Experts preliminary report was
leaked to media through an unnamed British conservation
group during the last week of November. Details didn’t
become available until November 29, when London Times
Harare correspondent Jan Raath indicated with perhaps excessive
optimism that, “The findings [that control of the
Zimbabwean ivory traffic “appears to have broken down”] effectively demolish Zimbabwe’s hopes of winning a reversal
“of the ivory trading ban.”
Meanwhile, the Capetown Star, of South Africa, on
November 26 reported “the disclosure of a 35-million-rand
funding deficit for the Natal Parks Board and nearly four million
rand in fraud in its sister conservation body, the
Department of Nature Conservation,” indicating major mismanagement
in the conservation efforts of one of the more
influential South African client states––and in a separate article,
added that “In a move that is sending shock waves through
South Africa’s environmental community, the National Parks
Board has agreed to a request by chief executive Robbie
Robinson to take early retirement from April next year.”
This would take Robinson out of the strategy loop
just before the CITES meeting. According to the C a p e t o w n
Star, Robinson resigned following “a major difference of opinion”
with the Parks Board over “the commercial development
of the national park network. Robinson,” the Capetown Star
said, “wants the management of each park to have the power to
decide on commercial developments. The board wants a new
top executive officer based in Pretoria to make these decisions.”
Said Robinson, “I’ve always maintained there is a lot
to be gained [from developing tourism facilities in parks], but
there is a very, very fine line between this and killing the goose
who lays the golden eggs.”
The gist of the conflict is seen as a conflict of interest
between old-guard support of trophy hunting and ivory trading,
and younger concern with developing eco-tourism. Whether
Robinson’s exodus would strengthen or weaken the South
African position on elephants remains to be seen, but it is
known that members of the prospective ivory trading cartel
recently organized by representatives of Zimbabwe, Botswana,
and South Africa have been livid over Parks Board acceptance
of $2.5 million donated by IFAW for the acquisition of additional
elephant habitat, on condition that elephants never be
culled or hunted on land bought with IFAW money. The members
of the would-be ivory cartel joined sealing and whaling
interests at the October meeting of the International Union for
the Conservation of Nature and World Conservation Union to
keep IFAW from joining the 831-member body, for the second
Formed in 1948, IUCN/WCU includes representatives
of 133 nations and about 700 nongovernmental organizations,
most of them associated with “sustainable use” activities.
IFAW initially applied to join in 1994, but the IUCN/WCU
governing council rejected the application, 30-1. An appeal
this year was rejected by 77% of the government members and
66% of the nongovernmental members. One insider, no particular
fan of IFAW, called ANIMAL PEOPLE after the vote to
complain that the IFAW application hadn’t even been reviewed
on merit. “They just didn’t want anyone in the club who was
morally opposed to hunting and trapping and killing,” the delegate
said, on condition of anonymity in any published reference.
“It didn’t seem to matter to anyone whether IFAW was
or is doing legitimate conservation work or not. The prevailing
strategy is that lethal use is part of conservation strategy, and
by God, all members are going to accept lethal use or else, no
matter what other ideas they may have to do projects and fund
important work.”
What happened
With all that going on, someone also circa November
25 “leaked” the information about the Disney plans that ANIMAL
PEOPLE had reported 11 months earlier, which were
never any secret in the first place. FoA Pacific Northwest representative
Ben White faxed it to Clark, who responded that
same day with skepticism that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service “would permit the importation of CITES Appendix I
animals for the primarily commercial purpose of stocking a
commercial theme park. This would appear to be unacceptable
under CITES regulations. Further,” Clark said, “I find it hard
to believe that the people at Disney would either risk the international
censure and bad publicity which likely would develop
from such an escapade, or actually stock wild-caught animals
in a theme park. Wild-caught animals,” Clark asserted, “particularly
adult wild-born African elephants, often do not adjust
well to captivity. They frequently display behavioral dysfunctions
which are obvious to anyone seeing them.”
On November 26, meanwhile, with the CITES and
Capetown Star disclosures already heating up the wires,
International Wildlife Coalition president Daniel Morast
announced that, “An international coalition of animal welfare,
wildlife protection and conservation organizations have learned
that the Walt Disney Co. has initiated a plan to capture 15 to 18
each of African elephants, hippos, and rhinos, all from the
country of South Africa, and import them into Florida. Certain
conservation and humane organizations have attended Disney
meetings and have spoken to Disney officials by phone. They
confirm that Disney has already launched a plan to obtain wild
elephants, hippos, and rhinos…Within the past few days, those
officials just completed a scouting trip to South Africa.”
What Barongi and other Disney officials were actually
doing was trying to figure out whether what they understood
to be the urgent need to save elephants and hippos from lethal
culling offset the difficulties of trying to import them, instead
of getting animals from other U.S. institutions, where neither
African elephants nor hippos are in short supply. The major
factor weighing in favor of importing elephants from South
Africa was the prospect of obtaining some with breeding potential.
African elephants, unlike their Asian cousins, have a very
poor record of breeding in capitvity, having produced just 13
calves here ever, according to Barongi––and many of those
have died in infancy, typically from lack of inherited immunity
to common viruses. A common strain of human herpes infection,
for instance, perhaps carried by a sneeze, wind-blown
litter, or a tossed peanut, recently killed baby African elephants
in Oakland, California, and Florida.
While Clark told Barongi, after Barongi called Clark
at ANIMAL PEOPLE’s suggestion that they ought to talk
directly instead of running into avoidable conflict based on second-hand
information, is that, “If we see a notice in the
Federal Register that Disney, a commercial enterprise, wants
to import CITES Appendix I elephants, from a country with a
reservation against CITES at that, for public display at a facility
which charges admission fees, it would be a clear infraction
of CITES, and we would protest to the U.S. CITES
Management Authority. I added,” Clark wrote in summary,
“that at least a dozen other governments would also protest,”
particularly those included in the FoA program to equip African
anti-poaching patrols.
Simba, Nala, hyenas
The Disney’s Wild Animal Kingdom legal advice did
not agree with Clark’s interpretation. In fact, limited numbers
of CITES Appendix I wild-caught animals are routinely imported
from South Africa to U.S. zoos under conservation and propagation
permits. Even as discussion of the prospective elephant
deal continued, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado
Springs received a young male African lion from the Kapama
Game Reserve, and the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago
announced the imminent arrival of another, a prospective mate
for a young female received last January and another yet to be
selected. The lions are part of an American Zoo Associationcoordinated
Species Survival Plan, currently including just 34
lions who are considered eligible to breed, among 30 member
institutions. The remainder of the 258 African lions in AZAaccredited
zoos are either known to be inbred; of unknown
genetic background; too old to breed; or have been neutered.
Developing a diversified African lion bloodline in
captivity, now, is an AZA priority because of the recent rapid
depletion by disease of the wild stock at both Kruger and
Serengeti National Park in Tanazania––two of the last remaining
large habitats for wild lions.
“A sizeable population of the lions at Kruger are FIVpositive,”
reports veterinarian Jonathan Taylor, of Onderstpoort,
South Africa. “Whether this is clinically significant in
the short lifespan of a wild lion is unknown. Probably a more
pressing problem,” he opined, “is that some of the lions in the
southern end of the park have been diagnosed with tuberculosis,
probably infected by Cape buffalo, infected in turn by cattle.”
The World Society for the Protection of Animals is
meanwhile vaccinating 10,000 dogs against distemper and
rabies in the vicinity of Serengeti. Explains WSPA international
projects director John Walsh, “More than 1,000 lions in the
Serengeti have died from canine distemper since 1993.
Another outbreak of disease could devastate wildlife populations.
It could also endanger human health. If rabies were to
spread to the Serengeti, the results could be catastrophic.”
As a prophylactic measure, Walsh indicated,
“Workers in new tourist lodges are being forced to move out of
the park to government-built housing.” The idea is not so much
to get people out as it is to keep dogs out, who tend to follow
the people whether or not they are encouraged to do so.
Elaborated a WSPA release, “Researchers Sara
Cleveland from the Institute of Zoology in London and Craig
Packer from the University of Minnesota have pinpointed the
source of the epidemic to dogs living in villages on the western
edge of the park. The two conclude that dogs pass the disease
to hyenas who then act as the primary carriers because they
travel long distances and mix with other predators at kills.”
But though Disney executives thought getting a
CITES permit would neither be difficult nor likely
to have negative precedential effects on CITES,
and felt equally sure that an anti-Disney campaign
by animal rights groups would fail against the
likelihood that any elephants and/or hippos
imported might otherwise be shot, Barongi, Walt
Disney Attractions president Judson Green, and
Disney director of governmental relations and
conservation initiatives Jane Adams on December
16 decided against importing any.
The reason, Barongi and Adams
explained to ANIMAL PEOPLE soon afterward,
was simply that South Africa, because of the
IFAW deal and other international considerations,
had decided on or about November 11 against
doing any lethal culling of either species for the
forseeable future. Disney didn’t want to import
the animals if there wasn’t a need.
Disney and your mama
While eager to avoid conflict with the
animal rights movement if possible, Disney
wasn’t afraid of it in part because Walt Disney
Studios could claim to have created it––and as the
enduring and growing popularity of Disney projects
attests, few organizations have a better sense
of the public pulse.
“I have learned from the animal world,”
Walt Disney himself said, crediting nature study
for his success, “and what anyone will learn who
studies it is a renewed sense of kindship with the
earth and all its inhabitants.”
Walt Disney and his nephew Roy were
especially proud of creating perhaps the first
nature films made expressly for children in their
Oscar-winning “True Life Adventures” series,
made in the 1950s but still distributed.
Even by current standards, “True Life
Adventures” is generally good stuff. Yet Disney
Studios may never live down the W h i t e
Wilderness episode, a scene of which popularized
the myth that lemmings, when overpopulated,
rush off cliffs to drown themselves in the
sea. The scene may be the most notorious instance
of abusive nature-faking in documentary film history,
and to Disney Studios’ credit, discovery of
the problems resulted in much more stringent
scrutiny of footage from independent producers.
Filmed in 1956, the scene really showed
not lemmings but Canadian voles––and since neither
Arctic lemmings nor Canadian voles really
commit mass suicide, the producer instead tossed
the voles over a waterfall. They were then
retrieved and chased or tossed again and again, to
give the impression of great numbers, until they
drowned. Disney bought the footage in good faith
in 1958, then withdrew White Wilderness f r o m
circulation for many years after the truth leaked
out. It was apparently re-released circa 1993 simply
because after generations of staff came and
went, the Disney corporate memory lost track of
the background––still so vivid in the memory of
animal advocates, however, that W h i t e
W i l d e r n e s s was mentioned in the first ARFF
attacks on the African elephant deal.
As important as “True Life Adventures”
was in extending American nature appreciation,
Disney animated musicals have had even greater
influence, directly exposing and addressing most
of the major topics on the animal rights agenda
often years or even decades before anyone else.
Name a campaign, any campaign, and chances
are Disney did it first.
The impact of the original 1 0 1
D a l m a t i a n s animated feature is a case in point.
First released in movie theatres in 1959, when
U.S. retail fur sales were soaring and pet theft had
yet to attract much notice, it quickly became the
most popular cartoon of all time. Fur sales skidded
after it appeared, not to recover for 20 years.
The late Dodie Smith, author of the 1934 book
101 Dalmatians, modeled Cruella DeVil on her
friend Joyce Kennedy, but rumor has it that
Disney remodeled her after the then-fur-loving
tobacco heiress Doris Duke––who was reputedly
so eager to shake the image that she gave up fur
some years later, and bequeathed $1 million to
PETA, expressly for use in anti-fur campaigns.
The 1991 release of the home video version also
closely preceded a sharp dip in fur sales, which
had just began to level off after a dizzying plunge.
The original 101 Dalmatians had further
impact via the Disney depiction of the brutal but
inept Dalmatian thieves Horace and Jasper. The
first nationally distributed exposes of pet theft
appeared a few months later. A furor over the
theft of dogs for use in biomedical research built
until 1966, when the Laboratory Animal
Protection Act finally cleared Congress, and
became forerunner of the Animal Welfare Act.
Horace and Jasper had meanwhile become the
stereotypical pet thieves, shown much the same
way but for regional variations in truck style and
accent in other accounts of pet theft right up to the
recent video release Homeward Bound II.
Hunters reserve their furor for B a m b i ,
which has had such an impact at least on their own
psyches that 43 years after first release, it still
rates frequent reference in the opinion columns of
any publication serving hunters––typically, in
accusing non-hunters of “Bambi-loving.”
If not distracted by B a m b i, hunters
might be equally apoplectic about Beauty and the
Beast, in which the hunter Gaston, who pursues
Beauty (Belle), is a drunken braggart, liar, bully,
coward, careless with his weapons, and stinks. A
less well known animated feature, The Fox and
the Hound, is if anything even less flattering;
Gaston, though inordinately vain about it, is at
least superficially physically attractive.
One can easily recognize antecedents of
current opposition to circuses in Dumbo (1951), a
blunt expose of traveling-show manners, mores,
attitudes, and animal-handling. Though the story
seems to take place somewhere between 1925 and
1941, only the use of trains instead of trucks and
of course the implausibility of an elephant flying
separate many of the scenes from current events.
The Little Mermaid series less directly
attacked animal abuses, but may have had a part
in boosting empathy with marine life, by encouraging
a generation of children, girls especially, to
think of undersea creatures as warm, wonderful,
and magical. The attributes of Ariel, the Little
Mermaid herself, are perhaps by transference now
widely identified with dolphins, and where 30
years ago the number of people who even thought
about saving dolphins could probably have all fit
into a hot tub, dolphins are today an icon species
on a level with cats, dogs, and horses.
Disney script writers even hinted toward
animal rights philosophy in The Jungle Book,
loosely adapted from Rudyard Kipling’s book of
the same title. With the civil rights movement in
the news and animal rights movement founder
Henry Spira in Mississippi as a newspaper
reporter covering it, The Jungle Book f a r c i c a l l y
attacked racism through the metaphor of what is
now called “speciesism”––without letting slip any
hint of intent to do more than spin a wild yarn.
Bambi was a buck
Disney did all this not by way of sedition,
but in honest pursuit of a buck, earned by
affirming the attitudes and values that generations
of parents recognized as those they wanted their
children to absorb. And that’s what really scares
the animal users-and-abusers: the success of a
Disney film attacking a particular form of cruelty
means, bluntly, that the cruelty in question is
already incompatible with mainstream values, and
will be ended when enough people realize it. It
isn’t a matter of radical activists having to convince
the public that something accepted should
become unacceptable; rather, it’s a matter of
something being so unacceptable that exposure
alone generates outrage.
Because Disney is fundamentally concerned
with affirming mainstream values, Disney
films can jar animal rights sensibilities even as
they advance key messages. In today’s context,
for instance, the Dalmatian-loving Roger and
Anita could be accused of negligence in not neutering
Pongo and Purdy b e f o r e Purdy gives birth
to 15 puppies. They could also be accused of animal-collecting,
for refusing to adopt puppies out
and then taking in 84 more. Cartoon Anita, in
response to the fur-swathed Cruella DeVil’s condescencion,
even allows––perhaps just being
polite––that she might like a fur coat herself,
though “there are so many other things” she would
prefer first. Furriers have understandably made
little of it.
In another noteworthy conundrum for
doctrinaire animal rights activists, Julie Andrews
wins a horse race as the title character M a r y
P o p p i n s (1964), albeit on a wooden merry-goround
horse, but along the way conducts possibly
the first fox hunt sabotage on film record, three
years before Rex Harrison endorsed a hunt sab
carried out by skunks in the role of Dr. Dolittle
(20th Century Fox, 1967). If recent huge IFAW
donations to British Liberal political candidates
succeed in achieving a national ban on fox hunting,
Disney could claim a piece of the credit, but
won’t, because the only recognition the company
has ever claimed was at the box office, where
sales confirm public approval.

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