A New Era in Politics Means New Threats to Wildlife
In 2004, Casey Anderson founded The Montana Grizzly Encounter. The sanctuary intertwines with Yellowstone National Park and is home to more than 500 grizzly and black bears. Casey Anderson, who has worked with grizzlies for over 20 years, is well known for the unique relationships he’s built with some of the junior and cub bears at the encounter. He spends the majority of his time tracking the behavior of the bears, attending to cubs, and taking care of Brutus, a seven-year old grizzly who Anderson has been tending to since he was a few weeks old. In a GoPro film, Anderson stated “...it's about this being that we share the planet with that is emotional, it’s intelligent, it’s way more than I think anybody really thinks it is...why would you want to kill it?” He also mentions that the land around Yellowstone is not necessarily protected, which puts grizzlies at risk. “Just like any population of grizzly bear in the world right now, it’s just getting squeezed by development,” he says. If development continues, and the grizzlies are not taken into consideration, the bears will eventually be pushed closer to humans. As a result, bears will be at a higher risk for habitat destruction and are more likely to get killed.
Grizzlies aren't the only ones on the chopping block. Since well before Trump’s election, he has displayed his own fabricated version of concern for wildlife. In fact, his more recent decisions have given proof to the idea that Trump is more concerned with appeasing upper class trophy hunters and wealthy businessmen making bank off environmentally hazardous industries. Trump has even stated in the past that he believes global warming is a hoax.
On December 6, 2017 Donald Trump appointed Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This decision led to national outrage, considering Pruitt has previously expressed his disinterest in many environmentally-conscious organizations. Based on direct documents from the US Court of Appeals, Pruitt has sued the EPA 14 times. These challenges include the Clean Water Rule, limits on mercury, and the Cross State Air Pollution Rule. Since Trump’s decision, Pruitt has considered pulling funds from multiple organizations.
On February 5th, Pruitt visited a mining company in Nevada and praised the men for their hard work. In an interview with The New Yorker, William Ruckelshaus, the EPA’s first administrator, stated, “My principal concern is that Pruitt and the people he’s hired to work with him don’t fundamentally agree with the mission of the agency. They seem more concerned about costs associated with regulations.” When Trump announced that he would be cutting EPA funding that month, Pruitt seemed rather content with the decision and did not release any statements regarding Trump's decisions after the public announcement.
This is one of many possible problems on the horizon for protected land and animals. According to a 2015 National Land Trust Census, the United States has 56 Million acres of conservational land. Joshua Tree Park and Yellowstone National Park are two examples of land that are in danger of losing funds due to decisions made by the Trump administration.
Joshua Tree Park is currently the only national park to have its funding cut. However, if the EPA decides to make more cuts to other national parks’ budgets, it could lead to the endangerment of many species that live there. For example, Yellowstone National Park is home to two types of bears. By cutting funds or taking large plots of land, grizzly bears are at a higher risk of being hunted during the season. In Montana, hunting season starts in September and ends in December. Due to the popularity of hunting season in the West, there has been a steady decline of grizzly bears in Montana.
In 2011, images of Trumps son standing proudly by an elephant he hunted and killed while in Africa surfaced on the internet. In response to the harsh criticism that followed, Trump Jr. responded to a user on Twitter stating “I can assure you it was not wasteful the villagers were so happy for the meat which they don't often get to eat. Very grateful.”
After more images were released of him holding a dead leopard and water buffalo, Donald Trump came to his son’s defense, saying, “Old story, one of which I publicly disapproved. My sons love hunting, I don’t.” On March 1, 2018, the Trump administration declared that Americans can now ship back elephant parts as trophies through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which was previously banned by the Obama administration. This repeal is effective in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Zambia and also includes the hunting of lions and bontebok. The repeal seems to contradict Trump's previous support of Obama's trophy ban.
Between the repeal of the trophy ban and the cut in funding, sanctuary keepers should expect to see a significant increase in wildlife being brought in for care in the future. According to the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, a wildlife sanctuary is a network of land and water for the conservation, management, and restoration of fish, wildlife, plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans. These sanctuaries can be found anywhere from India to New Zealand to Kenya to Mexico. There are about 183 sanctuaries in the United States. Two active sanctuaries include The Montana Grizzly Encounter and The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.
Located in Hohenwald, The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee is a safe haven for retired performance elephants that need specialized one-on-one care. According to its website, the sanctuary only carries female elephants and “does not support increasing the number of captive elephants.” Generally, animals that are placed in captivity have a small chance of survival if they are released back into the wild. This is also the issue that comes with placing animals in zoos.
After being cared for and spoon-fed for years on end, the animals begin to lose their basic instincts and become conditioned to respond to humans instead. The sanctuary is responsible for the care of 10 elephants with Asian and African backgrounds. Since it was founded in 1995 by Carol Buckley and Scott Blais, the sanctuary has taken in a total of 27 elephants. Although the sanctuary is closed to the public, they do have an educational center in downtown Hohenwald. Those who are curious about the elephants can also visit their website and watch livestreams of the elephants.
There's no denying that Pruitt's decisions will affect wildlife in America. However, many people fail to recognize the negative impact that derives from those decisions on a global scale. For example, the lift on the trophy ban may influence hunters to go to African countries, which could lead to a decline in their wildlife as well. Hunters will have better access to the "Big Five" game, the hardest and most sought-after animals in Africa. The Big Five consists of elephants, lions, leopards, cape buffalos, and rhinoceroses.
Kevin Richardson, a.k.a. "The Lion Whisperer," founded the Kevin Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary in Broederstroom, South Africa. Like Casey Anderson, Richardson is known for having unique relationships with lions. In his GoPro short film Lions - The New Endangered Species? Richardson states, “We don’t need clever humans coming in and telling the animals how to do what they know how to do naturally. Giving back habitat and restoring habitat…that would be utopia.”