A recent segment on 60 Minutes put a spotlight on an interesting philosophical battle going on between two groups of people supposedly working for the same cause, the conservation of endangered species. The battle is over exotic animals and the battleground is in Texas. On the one side we have 5000 cattle ranchers raising endangered and exotic species. This group, represented by Charly Seale, executive director of the Exotic Wildlife Association of Texas, has been successful at increasing some exotic herds to the point where they are no longer endangered. In the opposite corner, but on the same side of the street supposedly, is the “Friends of Animals”, an international animal rights organization led by Priscilla Feral.
What the argument and seven-year legal battle is about is how these animals are being used by the ranchers. Here is the back story.
Three species of African antelopes were in extreme danger of extinction in their own indigenous countries in Africa. Concerned American ranchers, at their own expense, offered to set aside grazing lands from their own property to try to save these species. They got breeding stock from American zoos, the last safe habitat for these rare animals, and hoped for the best. These ranchers just liked the look of a springbok or African Giselle mingling with their herds of Black Angus.
Long story short, the animals thrived. In fact, some of the animals closest to extinction have come back from the brink in spectacular fashion. They’ve done so well the ranchers have figured out a commercial use for these rare animals. Without these ranchers help the world may have lost some of the most beautiful animals on the planet to extinction in their own home countries. So where is the controversy you ask? Since the goal of conserving many endangered species from extinction has been a resounding success, why would an international animal rights organization be suing the pants off the ranchers doing the conserving?
Well it turns out the problem rests with the word conservation. Over the years the ranchers realized there was a commercial value to raising endangered animals; sport hunting. Rich trophy hunters from all over the globe formally made treks to the African Safari to bag one of these rare animals… until the supply ran out. Now they take their trips and money to Texas. The money they spend, up to $50,000 for a water buffalo, goes to the ranchers who raise these animals and pays for their upkeep and protection. Raising stock for sale is what ranchers do. Instead of raising a cow worth $1000, they are now raising animals worth tens of thousands of dollars. Sounds like kudos go to the ranchers and American capitalism is in good working order!
Not so fast. Remember Priscilla Feral from the international animal rights organization? Her idea of conservation of a species does not include the harvesting of a single one of them. In spite of the fact that these animals may have gone extinct already were not for the intervention of Texas ranchers, she feels using them for sport is wrong; morally, ethically, and legally wrong. The ranchers limit the amount of permits they sell to hunters to 10% of the herds for each of their exotic species, so as to assure a continuing growth in the herd population They use the money they raise for a good cause, rescuing nearly extinct animals from the dustbin of history, but apparently using an animal for a trophy is simply unacceptable regardless of the good it does.
So should American ranchers be allowed to raise exotic animals for profit to preserve a species which would probably go extinct without their intervention? The American government seems to think so. The US Fish and Wildlife Service, a branch of the Department of the Interior, states that “Hunting… provides an economic incentive… for ranchers to continue to breed these species.” Further, they state that “…hunting…reduces the threat of the species’ extinction.”
Nevertheless, it would appear the people suing the ranchers would rather a species go extinct than to see them being used like the cattle they are. They expect the ranchers to discontinue the very program which supports the whole conservation effort rather than to permit the harvesting of a few animals for the good of the herds. The sad part is they may be successful. Absent a reason for breeding these animals, ranchers will most certainly turn to other ways to earn their living. It is too bad that such an action will inevitable put these animals back on the road to extinction.