“Fortress conservation” – Saving “Big Boy”

There is a rhino, a bull White rhino around 10 years old, on a game/rhino farm somewhere in South Africa. The rhino’s nickname is ‘Big Boy’ and he’s in his prime.

Big Boy’s actual location is unknown to outsiders, to ensure his whereabouts in his current environment remains as safe from human harm as possible – no one wants to risk anything that could potentially scupper Big Boy’s hopes of rescue. Big Boy’s owner/famer is perhaps under pressure to gain back some return from his dwindling rhino stock, losing too much stock to the merciless scourge of poachers – regardless, it seems it’s time to move on the remaining ‘stock,’ including Big Boy.

For $15,000, Big Boy can be purchased and taken into the relative safety of an Intensive Protection Zone Alternatively, Big Boy (like many White rhino in South Africa and Swaziland) could perhaps be ‘legally’ sold as a hunting trophy, or exported. Under South Africa’s (and Swaziland’s) CITES Appendix I exemption, White rhino trophy hunting and live specimen exports of White rhino populations is ‘legal.’

Is Big Boy’s dichotomy blackmail of those that believe every rhino is precious and that the hunter’s ‘pay to kill’ model and claimed conservation is unethical and immoral? When Big Boy is saved, which other rhino will be wheeled out in his place for a hunter to kill? As that debate rumbles on, the clock is ticking – there is a limited window of opportunity to raise the necessary funds to save ‘Big Boy’ from potential execution (for cash) by a hunter’s bullet(s), or another fate perhaps.

We have seen in the past, animals from the vulnerable, or endangered species list offered for sale as either a ‘legal’ hunting trophy, or to anyone who has authority approval to take that same target animal –  hopefully, into a safe custody to live, breath and contribute directly to species’ survival for the rest of its natural life.

The argument that the hunter pays enough to contribute to species’ survival when the hunter “sacrifices one, to save the many” is the common mantra hunting advocates proclaim. Of course the hunter could just give the money for conservation and not kill……..but either way, the argument is that the hunters’ approach is morally/ethically unacceptable when applied to our own species (for poverty reduction for example), so why should it be acceptable when applied to any other species? It’s not.

Fortress Conservation

There is a ‘movement’ (perhaps that’s not the right word) pushing towards a concept of “fortress conservation.” SanWild Sanctuary has its own “fortress” proposals underway in Limpopo – taking precious species into well prepared habitat, exclusively for the use and protection of that precious wildlife. No invasive human interaction is proposed; these will not morph into income generating tourist attractions disguised as ‘conservation,’ or habitat ‘saved’ by hunters, but the same habitat’s inhabitants regularly “harvested” in the name of ‘conservation.’ No, these will be fortresses in every sense, heavily fenced areas with enhanced technology (such as motion detectors on the outer perimeter) to prevent any merciless poachers’ intrusion, guarded to ensure the wildlife within is as safe as possible from unnatural, human exploitation.

This is not some new government or authority strategy, but primarily a private/NGO initiative, but one that is perhaps gaining a wider groundswell of social uplift. There’s potential for international Development Funding and corporate donor backing, with the prospect of a wider social commitment to such “Fortress Conservation” initiatives. This concept was also raised at the ‘Cecil Summit’ (Panthera and WildCRU), 7 September. The United Kingdom Development Fund Minister, Rory Stewart MP participated in the summit and the hypothetical discussion to preserve exclusively for wildlife some 1.2m sq.km (estimated) of current land ‘set-aside’ (parks, hunting concessions presumably etc.).

However, it’s not clear how Panthera’s and WildCRU’s tacit support of ‘hunting as a tool for conservation’ could be balanced by any conservation ‘fortress’ funded by tax-payers’ input, based on some overwhelming wave of a newfound social conscience that wants to conserve vulnerable and endangered species in a massive, scaled-up, fortified, land-based ‘Noah’s Ark.’ How could the hunters’ be ‘entertained’ within such a ‘fortress’ and the notion that the hunters’ corruption and blood-lust will not pollute the ethics of any such international, tax-payer funded preserve?

Any “fortress conservation” is a potential worthwhile ‘banker’ option in case the forces still pushing wildlife utilisation as some kind of panacea does not succeed (this panacea is a delusion the multitude do not seem to share).

CITES’ motivation/purpose is in maintaining trade in endangered species, trying at the same time to justify how it thinks sustainability can also be balanced with that overriding trade imperative – CITES is not a conservation body, it never has been. This ‘balance’ has clearly not worked for ivory trading and projected elephant population stability; can the continued “harvesting” of lions ‘approved’ by CITES reclaim the species’ survival prospects in the wild when the lion bone trade is perhaps set to explode as a bonanza for poachers and the ‘legal’ beneficiaries of such wildlife utilisation theory? I doubt it.

A very comprehensive report was submitted to CoP17, entitled “African and Asian Rhinoceroses – Status, Conservation and Trade – A report from the IUCN Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC) African and Asian Rhino Specialist Groups and TRAFFIC to the CITES Secretariat pursuant to Resolution Conf. 9.14 (Rev. CoP15).” It gives much analysis (where data is available) of the rhino-trade, poaching, hunting and ‘pseudo-hunting’ (where the ‘hunt’ is orchestrated to gain access to rhino horn for onward, illicit use) that has happened up to this point.