The scandal in wake of the accident suffered by the King of Spain while hunting elephants in Africa, has generated a series of criticisms from activists and international organisations, which promote animal rights. _
Javier E. Núñez Calderón
And with good reason too, for as the news broke, public opinion assumed the King had been engaged in illegal activity since elephants are now a species in danger of extinction.
Since the old days, according to Wikipedia, these mammals have been targeted for the trade of their tusks, which are used as raw material for the production of items and pieces of equipment, such as piano keys and billiard balls.
However, in the 19th century they were linked to hunting as a sport, an activity favoured by elite North Americans and Europeans. The activity put the species in danger in the 1980s after it was discovered that the African elephant population had decreased by a half.
Since then the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has intervened, which seeks to preserve and protect African and Asian elephants- the only two species of the more than 350 that there was at one time in the world.
However, in spite of calls from WWF for the world to be aware of the need to protect the species, some sectors of the public ask: why in today’s world is the legal hunting of elephants and illicit trade of ivory tolerated?
It’s simply because hunting and the trade of any product derived from this animal is allowed only in four countries: Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
For example, in the first and second appendices of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife (CITES), it is clear that the authorisation of hunting elephants for recreation purposes is allowed in areas where their population is stable and where strict compliancy plans are developed for the conservation of the specie in order to avoid its extinction.
In Botswana’s case, CITES states: “The hunting of elephants is a good source of revenue for wildlife areas managed by the community… it is important to note that the quota is too small to have any effect on the population which currently grows at a rate of approximately 5% annually.”
Due to this, some companies offer safaris to observe or hunt animals, amongst them leopards, giraffes, buffaloes, rhinoceroses and, of course, elephants.
For example, the company John Sharp Safaris offers a 12 day elephant hunting expedition for the price of 65 million US dollars, which includes the licence to kill animals. [65 million dollares es demasiado, no?]
From victims to killers
Another company called Safaribwana, campaigners for elephant hunting, state that the existence of the mammal at times represents a threat for the community and for the animals themselves in the surrounding environment:
They are constantly eating, they rest during the heat of the day and if restricted to stay in certain areas they wreck their own habitat, often destroying hundreds of trees just to reach a few leaves from a branch. Their impact can destroy the habitat of other species- thus creating a serious dilemma for conservation.”
This statement coincides with that of Spanish writer and also hunting lover, Alberto Vázquez Figueroa who is quoted in the Spanish daily newspaper El Mundo as saying: “An elephant consumes the food and water of 20 animals. If you only protect it, you are putting many species in danger.
Unfortunately, in spite of its beauty and magnificence, the elephant at times poses a threat for Africa’s weakest.”
Organisations against the hunting of elephants as a recreational activity consider responses such as these to be cynical, because they justify an activity which devalues and puts the conservation of the species at risk.
Not long ago, a blogger, referring to the opinion of those who consider legal hunting to be a source of income for the conservation of the ecosystem, jokingly wrote: “It’s an interesting paradox: the legal hunting of elephants could also help to preserve them.”
But the king of Spain has not been the only target of criticism from advocates of animal rights, but also the WWFheadquarters in Spain. Oddly enough the monarch is the honorary president of the charity in the Iberian country.
THe WWF has stayed away from giving any explanation about what happened with the King. However, a spokesman for the charity in Germany, Roland Gramling, according to the German website DW,said that: “The WWF only tolerates elephant hunting in strict circumstances, and does not benefit from the profits.”
On its behalf, in a recent article the charity Animal Equality criticised the opinion of Luis Suárez, head of the WWF species conservation programme in Spain, who said: “The legal hunting of elephants is somewhat different to their slaughtering and illegal trade, as the latter activities are associated with (according to Suárez), the destruction of the environment, and they are therefore activities constantly condemned by the WWF.”
For Animal Equality, statements such as these highlight the differences “between ecological or self-determined organisations, ‘defenders of nature’ – (referring to the WWF) and organisations which defend animal rights.”
Animal Equality’s biggest criticism of the WWF is that it simultaneously condemns the illegal hunting of animals, yet also tolerates it when it concerns recreational activity, since the stance contradicts their work in the conservation of the species.
“The fact that an act of animal exploitation is legal and generates economical benefits does not make it fair or acceptable. For an elephant, there is no difference between being killed for the ‘illegal’ trade of the ivory of their tusks, or to satisfy a monarch’s thirst to shoot.” the organisation concluded.
(Translated by Emma O’Toole)