Activists Gear up to Fight Seal and Elephant Culls
JOHANNESBURG Animal rights groups have begun fresh public campaigns timed for the start of the annual seal hunt off the coast of Canada this week and suggestions that South Africa may kill elephants for population control.
Rights campaigners believe barbaric portrayals on film and still pictures of hunters clubbing fluffy, big-eyed seal pups or emotive images of elephants set alongside boycotts and public stunts will rally public opinion against such practices.
Canada said last week it would allow hunters to kill 320,000 young seals on the ice floes off its Atlantic coast from Tuesday and earlier this month a South African official told Reuters that national parks were leaning towards an elephant cull.
Anti-hunt activists held protests earlier this month in 50 cities around the world. Groups like the Humane Society International (HSI) said they would press ahead with calls for a boycott of Canadian seafood.
"We are joining in a specific boycott of Canadian seafood products, focusing on snow crabs, and starting on Tuesday, the day the first seal is killed," HSI vice-president John Grandy told Reuters by phone from the eastern Canadian province of Prince Edward Island.
Big beasts strike a chord with the public, making them the perfect "poster animals" for conservationists who have branded Canada and South Africa as outposts of wildlife tyranny.
"The things that seem to attract the layman the most is the big animals. I think people... connect to them," said Chris Hails, the Global programmes director for WWF International.
Ottawa says the seal hunt helps ensure the health of what it describes as a booming seal population. It insists the activity is humane, but animal rights groups say many seals are skinned alive and die in agony.
For many fishermen in Newfoundland, struggling in the wake of the collapse of the cod fishery over a decade ago, sealing is one of their few sources of income.
Critics have questioned the science behind the hunt.
"The Atlantic seal hunt management plan is based on bad science, incorrect assumptions and flawed modelling," said Mhairi Dunlop of Greenpeace.
Elephants under Pressure
In South Africa, national park authorities say the burgeoning elephant population in the flag-ship Kruger National Park has made culling a necessity. The park has an estimated 12,000 ponderous pachyderms, well above the estimated "carrying capacity" of around 7,000.
Animal rights activists are horrified at the prospect of a return to culling elephants, which involves the herding and shooting of entire family groups.
"We signed an agreement to give South African National Parks more than a million dollars in the mid-1990s and we did it on the strength and the integrity of their management programme which did not involve elephant culling," said HSI's Grandy.
"If there is a return to culling not only will we not provide them with any more money but we will urge our members and supporters not to visit South Africa," he said.
All the so-called "iconic" species of animals tend to be big, bright and warm-blooded -- but the image that humans have of them does not always fit with the reality.
Elephants are intelligent and caring creatures. But if they are confined to an enclosed area they can be hugely destructive, laying waste to vegetation, trees, fences, buildings and eating themselves and other animals out of house and home.
Animal rights group WWF uses the panda as its trademark symbol, a cute and cuddly bear with black and white markings.
"It actually is solitary, ill-tempered, and aggressive, but never mind ... Mere facts cannot compete with perception," natural history writer Stephen Budiansky writes in his book "The Covenant of the Wild."