Let me ask you a couple of questions.
1. Would you prefer a species of animal to go extinct naturally or preserve it through effective conservation programs which require periodic culling of the population?
2. Would you rather die slowly of starvation, which would take weeks, or to die quickly from a bullet?
The reason I ask is that an animal rights group has filed a lawsuit against exotic animal ranchers in Texas that have been raising exotic animals, including some rare and endangered species, for both conservation and hunting. If the animal activists, Friends of Animals, succeed in their lawsuit, then in all likelihood, three species of African antelopes will most likely go extinct by starvation.
In 2005, ranchers received an exemption from the Endangered Species Act, which would allow them to raise rare and endangered animals on their ranches and to periodically allow a limited number of them to be hunted. The ranchers used the exemption to raise some rare and endangered species with the hopes of helping to save them from extinction.
The ranchers chose three rare and endangered species of African antelope (addax, dama gazelle and the scimitar-horned oryx) because of environmental similarities between the African and Texas plains. In the past six years, the antelope have adapted well to the Texas habitat and have been thriving. One of the main goals of the ranchers is to be able to take these three antelope species and re-introduce them back into their native habitat in Africa.
One of the problems is that many people do not realize how much it costs ranchers to raise any kind of livestock on a ranch. They also don’t realize that any given section of land can only support a given number of animals. This is known as carrying capacity and is used worldwide to manage livestock and wildlife.
For example, if a ranch can only feed 2,000 animals without any adverse effects, that is the ranch’s carrying capacity. But what happens once the population actually reaches that number and they continue to breed? Say they have a 10% birth survival rate. That would mean that the next year the ranch will have 2,200 animals in an area that will only feed 2,000. What happens? Perhaps that next year, all 2,200 survive, but they are thinner and not as healthy as before. Then winter hits. A number of them were not able to put on the necessary fat for winter and they begin to succumb to disease and starvation and die. However, it’s not just the 200 extra animals that die off, but generally one half to two thirds of the herd will die off. I’ve seen this happen first hand with deer herds and believe me, it’s not a pretty sight to see a group of starving animals. You can see the agony in their eyes. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather die quickly by being shot with a bullet than dying slowly and agonizingly over weeks in the winter cold.
The fraction of the herd that manages to survive is still weakened and susceptible to disease and predation. In a couple of years the population will recover, but it generally is never as healthy and robust as the earlier group of animals. Massive die offs also limit the amount of genetic variability in the population which often makes them less adaptive to any environmental or climate changes that may come their way.
The range land also takes a heavy toll when it is over grazed. Sometimes it can recover, but generally only if all grazing is halted or drastically limited for a few years. I’ve seen some instances where the land never fully recovers and the carrying capacity drops to perhaps 1,500 animals, which means the rancher just had his livelihood take a 25% permanent drop. How many of you can afford to do that?
Therefore, ranchers the world over, have to cull their herds every year to help to maintain a healthy population of animals and a healthy range to graze them on. In the case of cattle or sheep, the extra animals are sent to slaughter houses and sold to us consumers for our nightly meals. In the case of the rare and endangered, the rancher only has a limited number of options of culling their herds. They can either be hunted and the funds used to help maintain the herd or they can be sold off, but who wants to buy them knowing they will soon be faced with the same problem. It takes a great deal of money and international coordination to re-introduce them back into their native lands, which is what the ranchers are working towards, but what do they do in the meantime?
At the moment, the ranchers only have one viable means of keeping a healthy number of animals; raising enough money to continue to manage them by hunting. They sell permits to hunters who want the thrill of hunting one of these exotic animals. In turn, the ranchers use the money from the permits to keep the animals properly managed, healthy and to prepare some of them for return to their homeland.
Friends of Animals sued to stop the hunting of the rare and endangered antelope and won their case. Even though the ranchers have appealed the decision, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has announced a new regulation on the matter which is scheduled to go into effect on April 4. The new policy will treat the three rare and endangered antelope species the same as any other captive bred endangered species in the US. This means that if the ranchers want to do anything that is prohibited by the Endangered Species Act, such as culling out the herd (hunting them), they will need to apply for a special permit or other authorization from the USFWS.
The ranchers in return have filed suit against the USFWS for changing the regulations before their appeal of the case can be heard. They also say that the permit process is too slow as it seems to be taking six months or longer, and that is if everything on the seven page permit application is accurately filled out (no missing periods or capital letters, etc).
Another complaint the ranchers have with the permit application process is that the applications have all of their personal information, name, address, phone, e-mail, etc. on them and they are made public record. This means that every crazy and lunatic animal rights activist can get their personal information and target them with whatever wacko actions they want. Some of the ranchers are quite concerned over this as some animal rights activists in the past have taken drastic and destructive actions against those they deem as enemies.
The ranchers say that if they can’t get the lawsuit overturned or obtain their permits in a timely manner, then they will find themselves in a dilemma as they will not be able to afford to properly care for the antelope any longer. Nature will take its toll on the antelope and all other wildlife, native and exotic, on the ranches. It will also put an end to the breeding and re-introduction programs, which most experts say will lead to the eventual extinction of the three antelope species.
It seems that Friends of Animals would rather see these three beautiful antelope species go extinct rather than allowing Texas ranchers to use a tried and true conservation technique to help insure their survival. To any logically thinking person, you would think this is the opposite of what the animal rights people would want. However, I’ve had dealings with many of them in the past who seemed incapable of thinking logically or at least taking the time to study and learn proper wildlife management. And before any of you lay the same charge against me, I do have a college degree in wildlife and fisheries biology from a well-known university.