The WWF’s anti-poaching campaign ads – striking a balance

In a time when  nations are competing for every small resource that falls within their borders, the world economy is sluggish at best and the lure of a capital fortune is seemingly greater than ever before, the World Wildlife Fund mission to prevent the further extinction of animals appears a tough one. In light of the above mentioned circumstances, how do you stop the seemingly relentless slaughter of a variety of endangered animal species?

Anti-poaching squads seem most vulnerable in the areas they are most needed. They are often underarmed, underfunded and pushed towards the lower-priority area of many governments’ agendas, particularly in poorer Third World nations. Yet the biggest monster seems the insatiable hunger for the artefacts, bones, tusks, skins, horns or meat of wild animals.

The idea has been mooted before, and the WWF has for sometime been trying to  target  the destinations of wildlife products. It’s well-known ad campaign has sought to do just this. Wisely, instead of employing the graphic imagery of elephant and animal slaughter available the internet to shock people into taking notice, the WWF has done a good job of contextualising the animal cost of the wild animal trade. They use images that anthropomorphise animals, giving them the characteristics of humans. Posters, such as the one below, link the animal coat to a live animal. This sends a message that conveys hope of the animal’s survival  rather than desolation of knowing it is already dead without being distasteful.

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Above: An innovative WWF anti-poaching campaign. (Picture courtesy of WWF)

Hardliners may ask how this campaign hopes gain attention. Why not a disturbing image of full-bodied pangolin in a bowl of soup (a delicacy in some Far Eastern cultures)? Or images of headless rhinos and elephants or bloodied tiger coats are so highly effective in shocking audiences that they are more likely to make individuals become vegetarian than take notice of the problem at hand.

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Above: Another TRAFFIC/WWF collaboration that does more to educate people about the nature of rhino poaching than shocking audiences. (Picture courtesy of WWF)

What proponents of this kind of awareness campaign disregard is that many people do not see animals in human terms. Violent images of dead rhinos seek to induce a feeling of guilt in every person who comes across the image, even if the person has never seen a rhino, bought a horn or even a seen illegal rhino horn dealing happen. Individuals rarely feel guilty for the death of an animal, even if they killed the animal. The violent images are translated into a accusation, which every human who feels they are being portrayed as “wrong” resents. Thus violent imagery has the opposite affect of it initial intentions: it pushes potential interested parities away. Additionally its effectiveness can be questioned because people are become very desensitised to violent imagery as a result of its accessible presence in everyday media.

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Above: Yoa Ming’s trip to Northern Kenya was a watershed moment in East-West cooperation in fighting the illegal trade of rhino and elephant products. (Picture courtesy of WildAid)

In contrast, the WWF ads try to connect humans to animals by showing how complicity in the wildlife trade results in an animal death. In China, the name for ivory translates as teeth, and logically many members of Chinese society who were unaware of the nature of the ivory trade assumed that whichever creature “grew the harvested” teeth would be able to grow them back. Such cultural misunderstandings emerged when the WWF and WildAid began using Chinese basketball player Yoa Ming to front their anti-poaching campaigns.

Ming’s visit to Kenya was an important step in reducing animosity many African conservationists feel towards China, who they see as the root of the their troubles. It will take more such innovative anti-poaching campaigns, at the same time reducing alarmist and unhelpful media coverage to assist endangered animals survival.

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This is quite a depressing topic. I’ve not even included another 5 candidates that are now extinct. The five animals are perhaps the best known to go extinct in the last thirteen years.

1. Baiji, or Chinese River Dolphin – Yellow River – 2006

Causes:

Reported in Douglas Adam’s book, Last Chance to See, these unusual dolphins have been a victim of China’s rapid industrialisation and economic growth. Its main habitat, the Yellow River, is also a water highway for ships, fishermen and a carrier of waste. Unfortunately the pollution, physical interference of watercraft and underwater sonar distortion that disorientated the dolphins added up to too much disturbance for this uniquely adapted Chinese creature to survive. 

baiji://listverse.com/2009/07/25/10-recently-extinct-animals/

2. Western Black Rhino – West Africa – last remaining specimens died between 2000-2006

Causes:

One of five Black Rhino sub-species that used to live in Africa, the Western Black Rhino was a victim of poaching that was neither punished or monitored. Like all rhinos, its horn was highly prized for alleged medicinal properties. The former number is unknown, no animals were kept in captivity and it is believed, but not confirmed, that the last individual was killed in 2011.

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3. Pyrenean Ibex – Iberian Penninsula – 2000

Causes:

The ibex is an unusual case of extinction. In addition poaching, it is believed the species could not compete for food sources with domesticated animals in the Pyrenees. There were slim hopes of reviving the species when researchers cloned in 2009, but it the specimen died due to ling defects.

Spanish_ibexhttp://blogs.scientificamerican.com/media/inline/blog/Image/Spanish_ibex.jpg

4. Hawaiian Crow – Hawaiian Islands – 2002

Causes:

Introduced avian diseases, the urbanisation and natural habitat reduction in Hawaii decimated this crow’s population.

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5. Spix Macaw (Little Blue Macaw) – Northern Brazil – 2000

Causes:

This macaw, whose relative the Blue Macaw is the main subject of the 2011 Hollywood animation Rio, has suffered mainly due to deforestation of the Brazilian jungles. Trapping and poaching, as well as being targeting by invasive species such as black rats, contributed to the Spix Macaw’s demise.

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http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/photos/10-animals-presumed-extinct-in-the-last-decade/spixs-macaw

Top 5 animals to become extinct in the last decade

Conservation parks: wastelands or legitimately protected areas?

South Africa’s Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa recently declared the South Atlantic Oceans of Prince Edward Island and Marion Island would become Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

These become South Africa’s and Africa’s first MPAs. Prince Edward and Marion were previously best known for an alleged Vela nuclear test conducted in 1979 by the Israeli and South African military. The incident was never proven. This declaration is a landmark for South Africa’s oceanic conservation. The islands form part of the 180,000km2 MPA, which is the combined size of Swaziland, the Free State and Lesotho.

The islands once hosted a settlement that shipwrecked crews, sealers and guano hunters used as a temporary base. The introduction and rapid reproduction of cats on the islands midway through the 20th century had devastating consequences for native bird species. Researchers eliminated the cats during the 1990s and today the island acts as a research station for the local bird, ocean and plant life such as albatrosses, penguins, killer whales and Patagonian toothfish stocks. Unsustainable fishing practices affect the islands fauna and resulted in significant economic and ecological losses to South Africa.

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The islands are uninhabited today, hence the ease of making it a MPA. Yet just declaring uninhabited land a conservation area is not necessary a step forward in dealing with human-wildlife conflict. This is because most conflict occurs where animals are in some kind of competition for a particular resource – in most cases this is living space.

Two examples stand out. Namibia’s Dorob National Park, the world’s first conservation area that stretched a nation’s entire coastline was declared in 2011. At the same time, massive uranium finds occurred within the boundaries of the new park. Subsequent development around uranium mining in the coastal towns Swakopmund and Walvis Bay has put pressure on local wildlife and plants. There is also concern some desert landscapes will become destroyed, unusable or uninhabitable. Additionally, the growth of commercial interest in the towns has led to mooted construction of a chemical plant; also, the much-publicised environmental damage caused by the filming of Mad Max on the desert’s fragile gravel plains have undermined the parks existence as a conservation area.

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Above: A chameleon, while a small and relatively common animal, plays an important role in fragile ecosystems such as the Namib Desert. This one just avoided getting squashed by one of Mad Max‘s outlandish vehicles. Source: http://mongabay-images.s3.amazonaws.com/13/0411namib-chameleon.jpg

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Above: The vehicle tracks have scarred the the gravel plains and can take decades to disappear. Source: Namibian Sun

But it is definitely a stride in the direction. Bikini Atoll is a World Heritage site – a destroyed remnant of the dawn and decay of the nuclear age. It forms part of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean and endured 23 American controlled nuclear explosions during the Cold War cowboy-days of weapons testing. Today, almost 70 years after the first native people from Bikini Atoll were relocated so safer areas outside the blast and radioactivity range, the islands are still uninhabitable for lengthy periods due to the radioactive poisoning of the plants, animals and land. The explosions permanently destroyed coral reefs, obliterated the islands and radioactivity spread to neighbouring inhabited islands, leading to pregnancy miscarriages for women and increased levels of cancer among people. Islands such as Bikini Atoll were far from civilisation and thus places where irreparable environmental damaged caused by the enormous blasts could be forgotten and ignored.

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Above: The explosion of a hydrogen bomb on Bikini Atoll. The paradisiacal foreground contrasts markedly from the destruction waiting when the dust settles. Source: National Geographic 

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Above: Bikini Atoll today – with a massive crater in the middle of the lagoon, along with radioactive waters. Source: www.nuclearclaimstribunal.com

Another example that has emerged recently is the USA’s federal approval to allow uranium mining to go ahead under 10 kilometres from the Grand Canyon National Park in 2014. This is despite a ban on new hard rock mining imposed by the Obama Administration during 2013. Conservationists as well as Native American groups have filed lawsuits against the Canadian uranium mining company. Many old uranium mines are scattered in the vicinity and were abandoned after the end of the Cold War during the 1990s as the the price for uranium plummeted. In the last 5 years however, the uranium industry is booming again and has led to many companies reopening mines. It appears that this particularly harmful form of mining will threaten a member of the 7 Wonders of the Natural World in terms of radioactivity poisoning.

While the declaration of the MPA on the Prince Edward Islands looks good on South Africa’s conservation credits, a similar government-endorsed declaration in areas where humans and nature have a vested interest would be much more meaningful. Declaring land uninhabited by either animals or humans is reminiscent of the San and Khoi people being forced to live in the unproductive desert regions of the Kalahari by late 19th century colonists. Governments thus need to consider the needs of the endangered fauna and flora when choosing potential conservation areas if their intentions are really to maintain and protect natural biodiversity.

Mixing Frankenstein

Ligers. Zonkeys. Zebroid. Beefaloes. Leopons. Camas. Grolar bear.

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Above: The enormous liger, a product of a lion and a tigress is a true beast. But look at those stubby legs!

Ever heard of any of these mythical creatures? Perhaps in somechildren’s picture book, where the villain is an evil mixture of two most feared creatures in the world?

Probably not there – but you have heard of them. Because they exist in reality.

Humans have been mixing and matching wild animals ever centuries. The most common hybrid is the infertile mule – a mix between a horse and donkey. Also various breeds of cattle from different continents have been bred together to create hardier and more adaptable cows, or indeed for whatever purpose the buyer wants them to be. German settlers on the arid plains of modern day Namibia were at as to how to keep their purebred horses alive in the harsh environment, so they tried breeding them with hardier zebras. The result was an animal that could live longer and happily eat the local vegetation, but had none of the pulling power or endurance the Germans expected from their horses.

More interesting mixes have occurred. Perhaps the most famous example is the lion and tiger hybrid – the liger. This is an enormous beast in a true sense of the word. It is an unbelievably big cat. But it looks all wrong – the coat is shaggy, the legs are short and I just wonder how long that poor back and feet can hold up that immense head body. Probably not long is what I reckon.

Another scary combo is grolar bear – the result of grizzly bear and a polar bear. As if either species was enough to strike fear into anyone armed with less than a high calibre rifle who saw the animal, this mix has the size of polar bear and the long claws and teeth of grizzly. And worse still this hybrid, unlike most others has been found occur naturally in the far northern reaches of Canada.

Then there is the leopard lion, or leopon mix. Now this is something worth looking at – two of Africa’s most iconic predators under the same set of spots. It even looks quite good with its half-mane and spots!

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Above: The zorse. A beautiful mix of a horse and a zebra. Despite the golden stripes and unusualness of the animal, the zorse cannot reproduce and will thus remain a freak of nature.

Wolf dogs we’ve all heard of before. Even those husky dogs look more like wolves than dogs. So what about wolphins? Yes. Not kidding. A bottlenosed dolphin mixed with a false killer whale. Maybe it’s cheating a bit because they are both actually dolphins and live in the ocean unlike lions and tigers, which would never have come into contact with each other without the intervention of man.

While it’s true that some of the above mentioned hybrids, and these by no encompass all of them, occur in the natural world, is right fine for people to create artificial freaks of the natural world. It seems a bit like playing at Frankenstein – at the end of the day, when we have gotten over they intrigue over what our technology can do to great beasts of nature, what are we hoping to achieve? The hybrid animals are helpless – they cannot procreate, they look ridiculous and they are misfits.

What’s the next project for hybrid animals? Perhaps an elephant bred with a giraffe or a dog bred with a cat? Should we continue mixing and matching animals for our pleasure? Because at the moment we are leaving the animals with little choice but play a role in our circus.