Late last month, the world went crazy when it came to light that Cecil the lion was shot by American dentist Walter Palmer. Cecil was the popular black-maned lion at Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. Palmer’s guide lured Cecil outside of Hwange’s protective borders and onto a neighbouring farm where Palmer first shot Cecil with a crossbow before finishing him with a rifle. Both the farmer and the guide have been charged by Zimbabwean officials for hunting lions without required permits. Palmer fled to the United States where he has been the subject of public ridicule (see: “Zimbabwe’s ‘iconic’ lion killed by hunter,” BBC, July 27, 2015).
Protected animals are at significant risk due to poaching in Zimbabwe. Palmer apparently paid $56,000 for the pleasure of killing a lion – big money in Zimbabwe, one of Africa’s poorest nations (see: “Lion-killing dentist planned to take down anelephant next,” New York Post, July 31, 2015).
Yet, hunting lions and other large mammals isn’t illegal in Zimbabwe or elsewhere. Although permits to kill animals are sold by the government, Cecil's illegal slaughter is illustrative of how quotas are often exceeded despite the law.
The risks to lions, elephants, rhinos and other endangered species from poaching are exacerbated by climate change, which threatens the economic stability of poorer nations. Human development and a changing climate are also directly responsible for a loss of wildlife habitat. We are in the midst of a sixth great extinction event – one which rivals the mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
“Elephants are a keystone species,” says Anne Belanger, Sudbury’s organizer for the International March for Elephants and Rhinos, taking place at Memorial Park on Saturday, October 3rd. “Elephants help assure the health of tropical rainforests by dispersing seeds. This in turn affects the global climate. There are no boundaries with climate change.”
Wildlife habitat loss due to drought is nothing new to Africa, where the frontiers of expanding deserts have been on the march for centuries. However, human-made global warming has been exacerbating desertification, and Africa is seeing more rich savannah lands quickly give way to arid sand dunes.
Desertification has been a particular problem in Africa’s Sahel region, home to shrinking Lake Chad – a large inland sea that provides fresh water to an estimated 68 million people. Overgrazing, inefficient water use by humans, and climate change have been the primary culprits blamed for Lake Chad’s loss of volume – estimated to be about 95% between 1963 and 1998 (see: "Lake Chad," Wikipedia). The shrinking lake has been a disaster for local economies and for the wildlife within the lake's ecosystem.
The international community has committed to reversing the sixth great extinction event through treaty agreements including the United Nation's Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention to Combat Desertification. However, Canada pulled out of the UN's desertification Convention a few years ago, becoming the world’s only nation to have reneged on its treaty obligation to tackle droughts from a changing climate (see: “UN calls Harper government’s decision to pull out of anti-droughttreaty ‘regrettable’,” the National Post, March 29, 2013).
Here in Northern Ontario, our own threatened and endangered species, such as the woodland caribou, continue to be placed at risk. Changes made to the Endangered Species Act in 2013 now permit industry to destroy the habitat of threatened species in the name of economic development (see: “Ontario Has Given Up On Endangered Species,” Anna Baggio, Wildlands League, the Huffington Post, January 23, 2015). A recent decision by Ontario's Divisional Court, brought on by a challenge made by environmental organizations on behalf of endangered species, upheld Ontario's habitat-destroying regulations (see: “Statement on Divisional Court on Ontario’sEndangered Species Act,” Wildlands League, May 29, 2015).
More must be done to protect biodiversity and the habitats of threatened and endangered species. Yet we continue to push wildlife to the edge of extinction. Within the next decade, elephants and rhinos may cease to exist everywhere outside of zoos. While we acknowledge that more must be done to protect at-risk species, Ontario and Canada are clearly failing to demonstrate the leadership that the world needs right now – before it becomes too late.
(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)
Originally published in the Sudbury Star as "Only leadership can reverse great extinction" in print and online as "Sudbury column: Reversing the great extinction" - Saturday, August 29, 2015.