Let’s say you’re a farmer and you discover an endangered red bellied tree sloth on your property tomorrow. What do you do? Well, you probably look left, look right, and if you don’t see anyone, you immediately run over it with your tractor and bury it in a hole before some government bureaucrat finds out it’s there and makes your life a living hell.
Of course, there’s a better alternative the government could pursue. It could encourage people to own and profit off of endangered species. That’s been happening in Texas, but a facet of the program may be about to come to an end.
This is the African savanna, Texas-style, where the hot climate and hilly terrain mimic parts of the world’s second-largest continent. The land — splayed with cedars, live oaks, low-lying blackbrush and the occasional prickly pear cactus — also is home to something far more exotic: three species of endangered African antelope.
Their very existence here depends on a tension between survival and death. To protect these species, ranchers here argue, we must kill them.
The antelope are magnificent: limber, with large, almost undulating horns, different on each species. There’s the scimitar-horned oryx, the addax and the dama gazelle, whose horns have a gentle, rising S-curve.
They’re nearly extinct in their native habitats of the African savanna. But because of an unusual exemption under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, these animals have thrived into the thousands by being hunted legally on sprawling ranches in the United States. In all, there are more than 5,000 such ranches in Texas, mostly in the south-central region known as Hill Country.
Alongside the antelope exist exotic animals of every stripe, including zebra, African bongos, kangaroo and regal rare Pere David’s deer, which are extinct in the wild.
…The Texas game ranches have the cachet of the wild, providing hunters with the experience, game and trophies of endangered and extinct-in-the-wild animals they want without leaving the United States. A successful trophy hunt can cost up to $15,000, depending on the beast.
…The exotic-ranch owners are in a furious fight with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — and animal rights groups — over having to get permits as of next Wednesday for the three endangered species of African antelope.
The ranchers argue, forcefully, that they’ve saved the antelope because they haven’t had to abide by the Endangered Species Act, which imposes paperwork and accounting requirements, since 2005, giving them the incentive to raise the animals for sport hunting.
Animal activists counter that conservation doesn’t mean raising an animal to kill it and put its head on the wall.
….The fact that the three antelope species went from a few dozen when they first arrived in Texas in the late 1970s to more than 17,000 in the organization’s 2010 census makes the conservation argument a “no-brainer,” said Seale, standing in front of a wall of mounted animal heads.
“They’re challenging animals to hunt,” said Nyle Maxwell, a West Texas rancher who has four car dealerships in the Austin area. “It provides us pleasure to hunt, meat we enjoy and a trophy on our wall.”
Maxwell was getting rid of his scimitar-horned oryx before next week’s permit deadline. Interviewed in late March, he was down to seven of the 12 he had on his ranch.
“If we don’t have an economic purpose, these animals are going to go away,” he said, adding that, “we very much enjoy the meat.”
The conservation argument doesn’t impress the ranchers’ nemesis: Friends of Animals.
“A Texas game ranch is not an ecosystem wherein animals are protected,” said Priscilla Feral, the president of Friends of Animals, which successfully sued the government to force the rule change on the African antelope. “They’re a commercial product.”
You know what other animal is a “commercial product?” Cows. What do you think the chances are that they’re going to go extinct any time soon? If Bald Eagles tasted like chicken, but had less calories, we’d have “Bald Eagle Freedom Burgers” on the menu at McDonald’s and you’d be buying their eggs at Piggly Wiggly.
You want to save any endangered species? Well, just remember that free enterprise works. Incentives also work. Let people find a way to profit off of a critter, get out of their way, and watch that endangered species make a comeback like Tim Tebow in the 4th quarter.
John Hawkins is a professional writer who runs Right Wing News and Linkiest. He’s also the co-owner of the The Looking Spoon. You can hear more from John Hawkins on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, G+, You Tube, & at PJ Media.