There could hardly be a more volatile mix of television interviewees than hunters on one side and, on the other, Friends of Animals, who won the case to defend those animals under the Endangered Species Act. They came together for “Sixty Minutes” in late January…
On Sunday, January 29th, CBS’s number-one news show “60 Minutes” interviewed me for a segment entitled “Hunting Animals to Save Them?” The three-segment hour attracted 11.2 million viewers.
In this unprecedented look into hunting, Lara Logan asked how Friends of Animals came to defend North African antelopes from being killed by trophy seekers on Texas hunting ranches, and how we won a new federal rule that stops the hunting of these antelopes, effective April 5th.
Friends of Animals, with the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Denver, sued the federal government to list scimitar-horned oryx, dama gazelles and addax, natives of the African deserts, under the Endangered Species Act. All were virtually extinct in their homelands well before September 2005, when the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service listed all three species as endangered. The agency noted hunting as one of the activities that pressed them to the brink.
Simultaneously, however, the FWS published an exception to the listing, which authorized killing and continued exploitation of these animals on hunting ranches, where their heads fetch $3,500 - $10,000. Breeding, trading and stalking them on fenced estates is a billion-dollar business in Texas.
Friends of Animals and Wild Earth Guardians, in 2009, challenged the hunting ranch loophole. A federal judge found for the advocates and against the government’s attempt to solidify the ranchers’ blanket exemption that would deny the protection of the Endangered Species Act to North African antelopes on U.S. soil.
The FWS dragged its hunter-clasped feet in implementing court-ordered protections for the antelope. But finally, more than a decade of work resulted in a new rule, published in the U.S. Federal Register, to prevent harming or killing the animals.
CBS also interviewed the ranch owners, hunters and safari-zoo proprietors who call themselves conservationists. One of them has a ranch I toured. All were keen to exploit the rarity of these animals, the grace of their heads and strikingly beautiful horns – and greenwash the whole business. Not interviewed, of course, were the animals caught up in this stomach-churning saga of bloodlust and betrayal. A scimitar-horned oryx can kill a lion with one of those long, curved horns; but when taken out of Africa, the oryx is completely dependent on human care and control.
When asked by Lara Logan if it were better to have these antelopes exist in Texas on ranches if they can’t live free in Africa, I explained that they belong in Africa; that Friends of Animals initiated and supports a steadily increasing oryx population in Senegal; that dozens of gazelles and 175 oryx thrive on thousands of acres within protected reserves. I said being bred for the degrading and violent purpose of being killed to be turned into a wall ornament is no bargain.
It felt odd to fly to Texas – where I work part-time at Primarily Primates, our San Antonio refuge – just hours after the “60 Minutes” segment. We were inundated with blog, Facebook, Twitter and e-mail complaints from stalkers furious over our court victory, and the glimpse of reality, televised to millions, that the self-styled conservationists on Texas ranches only care about these animals as targets to blast away.
Our members, in contrast, have been complimentary over the exposure. I’ve received high-fives from strangers in airports and parking lots. Most viewers I’ve heard from thought “60 Minutes” gave hunters the bulk of time, but that our aired comments were well and firmly presented.
When the show was in its final stage of production last December, I’d been in Senegal, where we aim to raise $55,000 to expand the oryx and gazelle habitat. We’d like to see their space in the Ferlo region of Senegal grow to another 1,235 acres.
Reintroducing or fostering the propagation of animals “in the wild” in the Sahel is problematic, as so much land in northern Senegal is saturated with goat and cow grazing – and antelopes shouldn’t have to compete with animal agribusiness for grasses and water. We suffer with that government-directed misery in the United States, where cattle ranchers dominate public lands and cause the demise of free-roaming horses and burros, wolves and other wildlife. A global human vegetarian culture would be a boon! Meanwhile, we’ll concentrate on separating ranchers from Senegal’s reserves, while increasing and protecting grassland habitat from grazing and human use.
Please contribute to this unique project with a donation for antelopes in Senegal. We’re committed to ensuring these animals continue to recover their footing and freedom in their own protected habitat. We need you now as much as ever, for the Safari Club has filed a lawsuit intended to overturn our win.