hunting

How collaboration is saving rhinos

Early last week I attended one of the most inspiring events that I’ve ever been to. It was the launch of Remembering Rhinos, a collaboration in book form of some of the world’s best wildlife photographers with the collective goal of raising much needed funds for rhino conservation. Not only is the book a stunning collection of breath-taking photos highlighting the five species of rhino in Africa and Asia, but it has so far to date raised £115,000 of which 100% is going directly into helping these prehistoric creatures in the areas where protection is needed the most.

The book

The book itself is the second in the series following last year’s Remembering Elephants. This ran on the same principle and has since raised £135,000 which has gone directly into elephant conservation in Kenya, Mali, Malawi, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe.

After seeing a poached elephant first hand, founder Margot Raggett decided to spring into action and really do something to help; not wanting to be someone who sees the destruction in the world and simply despairs about what to do before going back to her everyday life. After speaking out to photographer friends and getting in touch with some of the current leaders in the industry, she quickly found that everyone was willing to help when it came to an initiative to protect these creatures that are so terribly running out of time. All of the photos in the book were donated by the photographers, and the initial funding of the book printing was raised by a Kickstarter campaign back in February, meaning that 100% of the money spent on purchasing a copy of Remembering Rhinos goes straight into conserving them on the ground.

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Why do we need to protect rhinos?

Rhinos are in dire need of our help. We hear about their declining numbers but do we really know the full extent of the problem? There are currently five species of rhino left in the world, two in Africa and three in Asia, of which one of the species, the Javan rhino, have less than 60 individuals remaining.

The preposterous reason behind the slaughter of so many of these huge mammals is for their characteristic horn. Rhino horn is made out of keratin, which is the same substance that makes up our own human hair and nails. Yet there is a huge market for it in Asia, both for medicinal use, of which it has none, and for use as a status symbol.

There have been countless claims from these markets where there is demand that rhino horn can be used as a cure for everything from a hangover to cancer. Together with this, the rhino horn market has recently had a huge shift with the demand being more for use as a status symbol. Yes, people would gain a product that a precious animal has lost its life for to be used to brag to friends, in the form of carved bracelets and jewellery pieces, as well as ground down as an alternative to cocaine.

Poaching

Poaching has now got so bad that for one species, the northern white rhino, there are only three individuals left in the entire world, two females and a male, all of which are incapable of reproducing. Anti-poaching patrols work tirelessly to protect these animals, but it is simply not enough. There is not enough funding to sustain it, and purchase the technology needed to aid these heroes in protecting these wonderful animals. But that is where Remembering Rhinos is doing a terrific job.

Rhino horn trade

During the event, I was honoured to be in the presence of great conservationists who risk their lives to protect these precious creatures. But unfortunately, that also means learning about the horrendous rhino horn trade. I was absolutely astonished to learn about the prices that people in Asia would pay for something that is exactly the same as the nails on their own hands; $80,000/kg for a rhino horn bracelet, $50,000/kg for a slice of rhino horn, and $120,000/kg for a rhino horn wedding ring, to name just a few of the many preposterous items.

To legalise or not

There is currently debate occurring about whether to legalise the sale of rhino horn or not. The thinking behind this is that rhino horn, unlike ivory from elephant tusks, grows back. Rhino horn is not connected to a rhino’s skull, and if done properly, it does not cause much harm to the rhino to “trim” the horn just as we would do our nails and hair. So why not just legalise the sale of rhino horn to eliminate the illegal market and stop the killing of rhinos?

This is the argument of some people, but unfortunately it is highly flawed. In a perfect, imaginary world perhaps harvesting rhino horn would work, but sadly, not in our world. If rhino horn was sold legally for, $50,000/kg, poachers would sell it for $40,000. If rhino horn decreased to $40,000, the poachers would sell it for $25,000. At those prices, there is still an enormous profit to be made. We must also remember that the poachers on the ground are not the problem, and would do a lot of things to earn some money to feed their families; it is the heads of the poaching syndicates that are the cause of this market and the killing of the rhinos.

Together with this, well calculated figures have shown that “rhino farmers” who harvest rhino horn do not have nearly enough to sustain the market, meaning that poaching would still continue to fill the current demand. Added to this the fact that the same idea was thought about legalising the ivory market a while back, thinking that this will eliminate the killing of elephants as demand for ivory was met with stockpiles. They were incredibly wrong which had a disastrous effect on elephant populations.

I’ll never forget the time that I was working in South Africa with an anti-poaching unit and they told me that even if a rhino has had its horn safely removed by its owner, this will not deter the poachers and they will kill the animal anyway. It takes a lot of effort to poach a rhino, sometimes trekking for many days, cutting fences and risking their lives unseen, whilst tracking a rhino day and night. If the poachers then finally get to the animal to find that all they have is a small stump of a horn, they will kill it regardless and hack out that stump, knowing that that small part will still earn them more money than they would ordinarily make in years.

How can you help?

It’s simple. Spread awareness. Share articles, images and videos that highlight the plight of our rhinos, how crucial it is to protect them and how important it is to educate people about the non-existent medicinal uses of rhino horn.

Chew your nails. Save a rhino.

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What the National Trust trail hunting vote really means

The motion to ban trail hunting on National Trust land was narrowly defeated at the organisation’s annual conference on Saturday, leading to members up and down the country threatening to cancel their memberships.

The outcome of Saturday’s vote at the National Trust’s Annual General Meeting came as a devastating shock to those who had campaigned tirelessly to ban so called trail hunting on the organisation’s land. The motion, which was tabled by Helen Beynon, a National Trust member, sought to halt the issuing of licences for trail hunting on trust land following countless reports across the country of breaches in animal welfare laws. Sadly, the National Trust advised its members to vote against this motion, choosing to buckle under the pressure of the hunting lobby and pro-bloodsport groups like the Countryside Alliance. In an incredibly close vote the motion actually received the most votes (28,629) verses those against the motion (27,525) but unfortunately was defeated after the inclusion of 3,460 proxy votes which were authorised to be used at the discretion of other members and trust’s board of trustees. The final result meant that the motion failed by just 299 votes, after the National Trust board itself used proxy votes to vote against the ban.

Speaking to the Guardian, Helen Beynon said: “I believe the only reason our motion has failed is because most National Trust members haven’t seen it with their own eyes. If they’d have seen what I’ve seen, then I have no doubt they would have voted with us.

“I was surprised that, despite all the evidence available to the trustees, and the fact that we were given no opportunity to respond to the terms of any new licence, they advised members to vote against our proposal. They have led people to believe that there is no problem. But there is a problem – hunts will now be able to continue their barbaric hobby on land which is meant to be protected for people and animals. It’s disgraceful, and the trust should be ashamed.

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Although many pro-hunting lobbyists claim that trail hunting is a harmless countryside activity, huge amounts of evidence shows that the contrary is actually true. Started in response to the hunting ban which came into effect in 2005, trail hunting has been shown time and time again to be nothing more than an arbitrary term for continued fox hunting to hide behind. In theory trail hunting is an evolution of drag hunting which involves placing real fox scents on a series of trails across a certain area for hounds to track. In reality this method results in the packs of dogs used on the hunt often intercepting the path of actual foxes – and this is no accident. Naturally this leads to foxes being killed by dogs, despite the ban, but is practically impossible to police under current laws as hunts claim that the deaths are accidental. Evidence produced as a result of undercover reports show that trail hunts up and down the country are breaking the law on a regular basis. In fact, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) state on their website: “IFAW hasn’t monitored every hunt but we suspect that most of those that we have monitored have indeed broken the law on several occasions. We did not always manage to persuade the police to investigate, even if we believed that there was enough evidence. We have not seen any evidence that supports the hypothesis that most hunts obey the law at all times.”

The fact is, trail hunting is nothing more than a guise for fox hunting to continue despite the ban which is supported by the vast majority of the country. Anyone that speaks out against hunting, however, is labelled a “townie” by pro-hunting groups and told to stay out of countryside affairs. Of course this dismissal of our opinions overlooks two crucial factors; firstly that many of us who oppose hunting either grew up in or live in the countryside; and secondly, regardless of where we may live, residents of the countryside are not the sole decision makers when it comes to hunting down and slaughtering local wildlife. Residents of towns and cities have every right to be outraged when groups are found to be circumventing the law and using illegal means to hunt and kill foxes, deer or any other animal. Just as we all share in the outrage when lions and rhinos are hunted for sport on the African plains – we don’t simply shrug our shoulders and accept that it’s none of our business; we fight it, we campaign against it and we don’t stop until something changes.

The National Trust have demonstrated leading up to this vote that they are a pro-hunting organisation. Despite overwhelming evidence clearly showing the cruelty inflicted upon British wildlife and the dogs used in the hunts, the National Trust advised their members – many of whom were unaware of the true nature of trail hunting – to vote against the motion to ban hunting on their land. As the largest landowner in the UK, the National Trust had it within their power to put a stop to the majority of trail hunts taking place across the country, instead they chose to back the pro-hunting fraternity and will no doubt continue to do so. In the end, rather than allowing the decision of the members to dictate whether or not trail hunting should be banned on their land, the National Trust board used the desperate measure of voting against the ban themselves using proxy votes they were authorised to use at their discretion. This is what decided the final result of the vote, and confirmed once and for all to many thousands of National Trust members that the organisation, rather than remaining impartial, is actually in favour of continued hunting.

So what’s next? As The League Against Cruel Sports said in response to the result, this is “a massive step backward for justice and a shot in the arm for cruelty”, yet this is the result that the National Trust board itself wanted. As members we should be under no illusion as to what sort of organisation we are paying money to be affiliated with. No longer can the National Trust pretend to be concerned with protecting the countryside and wildlife conservation, so long as the blood money they receive from organised hunts and pro-hunting donors continues to affect how they run their organisation.

For many this vote spells the end of their membership to the National Trust. What sort of effect this will have remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: the National Trust have shown their hand, and thousands of members will never see them in the same light again.

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Anti hunting march 2017: A nation united in compassion

On Monday the 29th of May, activists, campaigners and concerned citizens from all over the country gathered in London with a shared objective. In response to the recent release of the Conservative manifesto, in which a free vote on hunting with hounds was promised, over two thousand people marched on Downing Street to make their voices heard. The message was loud and the message was clear: there is no place for fox hunting, or any other form of hunting with hounds, in a modern, progressive Britain.

Protesters with banners: keep the hunting ban

As someone who strongly opposes cruelty to animals I travelled to London specifically to take part in this event, and to lend my voice to the cause. Although just over two thousand of us were in attendance, we marched with the backing of millions. At least 84% of the country’s citizens support the ban on hunting with hounds, with a recent poll putting this figure at 90%. In a country divided on so many issues, and reeling from a referendum that literally divided the population in half, one thing is clear: the nation stands together on fox hunting.

Anti hunting protesters leaving Cavendish Square

The absolute opposition our nation has to repealing the ban was not only apparent by the turnout for the demonstration itself, but the response of the public who watched the procession; significant numbers of whom cheered and clapped as the protesters passed them by.

Anti hunting protesters in London centre

Animal lives should never be used as political weaponry, but in this instance they have been and the people are not happy. At the risk of alienating the 70% of Tory voters who support the hunting ban, Theresa May has gambled her election campaign on appeasing the pro-hunting lobbyists. In employing this self-serving tactic May has declared war on animal rights, and those who fight to protect them.

The Labour Party slogan throughout this campaign has been “For the many, not the few”. I find this especially poignant as I reflect on the possibility of Theresa May heading a government which seeks to overrule the will of the many, simply to please the very few. Thanks to Theresa May, a vote for the Conservatives is now a vote to repeal the ban on hunting foxes, hares and deer with hounds; it is a vote to continue a wildly unsuccessful badger culling campaign; and it is a vote to continue the UK ivory trade, something David Cameron had previously promised to ban. For those who consider animal rights a critical part of our society’s moral code, Theresa May’s manifesto has made the Tories impossible to vote for.

As a nation we proudly assert our place on the world stage as a society of animal lovers. We regard with contempt events such as Yulin dog meat festival, and the annual whale slaughter in the Faroe islands. We’re far from perfect in this country, and as a vegan I know we have a long way to go when it comes to animal rights. But Monday’s event served to remind me that when we Brits see cruelty we oppose it, and we act on it.

On Monday we delivered a message, but on June 8th we have the opportunity to deliver an even more powerful one; one that changes the shape of British politics and shows future candidates that even at our most divided, on protecting our wildlife we are united.

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