It’s been an odd couple of weeks if you’re a birder with a welfare bent.
Firstly, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), an organisation I’ve always supported (if perhaps somewhat too uncritically), seems to have shot themselves in the foot by apparently sourcing licences to remove/shoot wild, native birds to protect their zoo specimens. The response from the press-office when this news was released by Captive Animals’ Protection Society (CAPS) sounded, in my opinion, hurried and weak. It talked about SSSIs and the ‘need’ to cull to protect other bird species – an argument that the shooting industry uses when leveraging their contacts at Natural England for licences to remove Buzzards or gulls near pheasant shoots. How long, I wonder, before shooting organisations start trying to align themselves with conservation organisations and quote the WWT response to justify their own self-serving arguments?
In fairness to WWT (and I desperately want to be fair because the organsation does do some fantastic conservation work) they say that “We don’t use the majority of our licences because scaring and other tactics almost always work instead.” Perhaps it is time though for a radical re-think about whether presenting pinioned ducks and flamingoes in a zoo setting is the best way to educate people about the dire threats facing the world’s wetlands?
As an aside, try and find the press-release linked to above on WWT’s website using their site’s ‘search’ button or trying to drill down using their ‘Conservation’ category. I couldn’t. I had to use a link that WWT tweeted. Is it just me or is it rather well-hidden away? That wouldn’t be in case some ‘innocent’ member of the public found the story, surely?
Anyway, enough of WWT. Secondly, and I admit less surprisingly, this week Viva! (a wonderful welfare organisation that has a knack of getting to the nub of an issue) nailed ‘birder’s favourite’ optics supplier, Swarovski Optik (SO). In a blistering media release (copied below with permission) Viva! highlighted SO’s corporate sponsorship of the vile National Rifle Association (NRA) and the equally loathsome Safari Club International (SCI).
For anyone who doesn’t already know, the NRA is a collective of very powerful mainly North American gun lobbyists who insist that everyone should have a gun, because if everyone else has a gun and you don’t you can’t defend yourself – a perverse piece of logic designed to sell as many guns as possible while making it ever more likely that a lunatic with a gun will shoot you (or you will accidentally shoot a family member or the postman).
SCI, yet another hunting organisation that ludicrously claims to have conservation at it’s stony heart, was set up by a trophy hunter, still specialises in trophy hunting, awards its members with chocolate lollipops for killing as much wildlife as possible (trophys of some sort, anyway), and as Humane Society International explains “seems to believe that threatened and endangered species receive far too much protection and, in a twisted bit of logic, they believe they can conserve animals by killing them”.
Odd partners for an organisation that is a BirdLife Species Champion (for Sociable Lapwing) and funds conservation projects around the world?
Actually, as birders everywhere know (but tend to turn a blind eye to because their optics are so damn good) SO make most of their money in the US from selling rifle scopes to the sort of over-excited jocks that make videos of themselves slaughtering wildlife around the globe (they even employ people who travel overseas and whoop to camera when they help ‘cull’ introduced animals originally let loose by hunters who love to slaughter animals etc etc). They also own a hunting reserve near their Austrian factory and take both their binoculars and rifle scopes to trade fairs around the world (though funnily enough not to the British Birdfair where they sell their green credentials very hard).
Hence the news was perhaps less surprising that SO are not quite what they present themselves to be here in the UK – where apparently birders equipment is worth more in sales to them than the stuff they flog to the types who see wildlife as live targets.
Yet, it is somehow shocking to realise that while SO is generously financing conservation with one hand it is sponsoring the NRA and SCI with the other. That’s more than a contrast, that’s a span wider than the Grand Canyon they’re happily bridging at the moment. I don’t suppose it’s actually possible to work out how many endangered animals have been protected by a Swarovski Optik grant only to be shot via a Swarovski Optik rifle scope, but if they’re sponsoring such extreme hunting groups it may well be a lot.
Particularly as until as recently as June this year SO were apparently (as Viva! says) associated with a particularly disgusting trophy hunting outfit in South Africa – Uitkyk Safaris (if you’ve ever wondered how nauseating a photo gallery of smug ‘hunters’ posing with dead animals can actually be, wonder no more: http://www.uitkykhunting.co.za/huntinginfo.php). Curiously, Swarovski Optik no longer appear to have anything to do with this appalling business as their logo no longer features on the website, but here’s a screengrab (provided by Viva!) to prove that it’s a very recent change of heart (or ‘backpedalling in the face of criticism’ perhaps?).
Screengrab from 13 June 2013, copyright Viva!
It’s a disheartening business. I suspect if I looked harder I might discover that all (or at least most of) the major optics companies are as hypocritical, though to be fair to the rest it’s only SO’s logo that appears on both the NRA and SCI’s websites (Carl Zeiss, as used by tv celebrity Simon King, ‘only’ sponsors the SCI).
So what to do with this information?
Swarovski Optik won’t stop sponsoring gun nuts because that’s where their money comes from. And conservation always needs funding. Is it right for conservation to accept money from what seems patently to be a pro-hunting business though? While I have no direct knowledge of any conditions attached on sponsorship deals, I would suggest that SO benefits financially by having their logo on eg the BirdLife International website and other credible conservation organisations. The value of that ‘green cred’ will have been analysed by SO’s accountants, and they won’t be losing on the deal. I would guess most birders/conservationists would disagree with me strongly for even suggesting that SO be told where to stick its cash, but knowing what I know now I have to say that I wouldn’t want to be associated with them.
And the truth is that like many birders and conservationists I know I have associated closely with Swaro. Swaro bins are highly desirable (if unbelievably expensive) items, and in the past I’ve lauded their optics, written articles on their conservation work, and even been their guest on a new binocular launch in Spain.
Right now, though, I am as disappointed in them as I am in myself. I shouldn’t have pushed to the back of my mind something I should have acknowledged (or at the least looked into more deeply – and again kudos to Viva! for treading where us birders should perhaps have stamped first). I should have known better, but I know better now. This isn’t a genie I can shove back in the bottle. Perhaps others can (and actually I’ve been really surprised at the response of other birders who read the same info that I did yet have more or less shrugged their shoulders and claimed that’s the nature of the beast and that all optics companies are the same) but this is a bit like going veggie for me: once I accepted what’s being done to animals on such an industrial scale there’s really no going back…
So back to that last but one point: are all optics companies the same? I tweeted that I would love to hear from a manufacturer that doesn’t also sponsor extreme hunting organisations – so far nothing, but there has to be one surely? Another thought is that wouldn’t it be a great coup for the RSPB to make sure their Viking optics are somewhat more ‘ethically’ sourced (yes, of course, there are other ethical issues like mining rare metals and factories built on what was once world-class wetlands etc, but can us birders who want to at least buy our optics from a company that doesn’t sponsor the NRA and bloody trophy hunters!).
Like I said, an odd couple of weeks. Throw in the fact that the aforementioned RSPB are changing the name of their in-house ‘Birds’ magazine to ‘Nature’s Home’ and you might just start to think that actually no-one gives a t*ss what us birders think (though as a final thought I’d throw in a blatant plug for the League against Cruel Sports who most certainly do – and will do so increasingly over the coming year).
Or maybe, if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s all more a case of we get what we deserve…
Viva! Media Release 30th July 2013
Swarovski’s Blood Stones
Behind the celebrity glitz of Austria’s luxury cut lead glass (‘crystal’) giant lies a sickening secret – one of their subsidiaries (Swarovski Optik) support the sale of wild animals for you to slaughter for fun and they have a royal warrant too…
Baboons cost €200 apiece, a giraffe will set you back €2,200 and a lioness comes in at €4,600. But the most-prized prey of all – a fully-maned, adult lion – will sting you for as much as €14,300 (3). Swarovski Optik has allowed its name to be associated with a ‘safari’ company that offers a shopping list of 41 different wild animals for you to slaughter – so long as you have the dosh.
Another subsidiary of Swarovski has franchised boutiques which sell crystal (glass) jewellery in Britain’s High Streets, and they are gem of choice for celebrities such Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian, JLo and The Saturdays. What they don’t shout so loudly about is their sister business, Swarovski Optik, which makes rifle-scopes for hunting. (1) It also sponsors the controversial pro-gun lobby in the United States (2) and has links to ‘shopping list’ safaris in Africa, where animals can be purchased by Western trophy hunters and shot for ‘sport’. (3) To help them do it, the company produces a ‘safari expert’ rifle-scope designed for this very purpose.
Uitkyk Safaris in South Africa says it is ‘proudly associated’ with Swarovski Optik (whose logo appears on its website) and allows hunters to compile a ‘shopping list’ of 41 different types of animal to kill. Swarovski Optik’s website says: “Safari hunting in Africa is pure adventure. It places particular demands on hunters and their equipment, not least because larger calibers are used and long ranges need to be covered.” (1)
This same company – who also make binoculars for bird and other wildlife watching – without so much as a glimmer of embarrassment, says: “The appreciation of nature is an essential part of its company philosophy and is reflected commendably in its environment-friendly production and its long-term commitment to selected nature conservation projects.” (4) While publicly claiming to support big cat conservation in Botswana and Kenya, it actively encourages their destruction in South Africa. “Rank hypocrisy’ is the only phrase to describe it,” says Viva!
Sickeningly, Uitkyk claims that hunting lions with them “is as close to the real thing as you can get!” Which means it is not the real thing but an enclosed area. This is canned lion hunting where lions are reared specifically to be shot.
As well as being proudly associated with killing lions, Swarovski Optik are long-standing corporate sponsors of Safari Club International, whose motto includes the words: “The leader in protecting the freedom to hunt.” (5) Swarovski Optik are listed as “a loyal sponsor of NRA (National Rifle Association) Hunter Services Programs” – the self-described “number-one hunters’ organization in America”.
Animal charity Viva! has recently highlighted Nikon’s ‘schizophrenic’ approach to wildlife – selling the idea of conservation to its camera enthusiasts whilst courting and sponsoring hunters and encouraging them to use its rifle-scopes.
Justin Kerswell, Viva! campaigns manager, says: “Looking at Swarovski’s promotional materials and visiting one of their many stores across the country, you would have no idea that another subsidiary of the same parent company promotes violent blood sports and has links to the pro-gun lobby in the US. Behind Swarovski’s glitter lies something much darker.
“It is especially shocking that Swarovski Optik seem happy to be associated with trophy hunting in Africa, where you can choose from a shopping list of wild animals, and then plays the conservation card. If it had any genuine belief in conservation it would end its support for slaughtering penned lions.”
For more information on this media release please contact Justin Kerswell on 0117 944 1000 or email email@example.com
Notes to the editor
Swarovski Crystal and Swarovski Optik are subsidiary companies of the main multi-billion dollar Swarovski AG brand.
(1) Swarovski Optik produces the Z6i 1-6×24 EE L (Safari expert) riflescope for safari hunting in Africa. http://www.swarovskioptik.com/hunting/safari-c200802;pgid=3A5I6_G0Kk1SR0EsSskswgIU00008ylUD5Rd;sid=HGM0wVC-AXY0wQEQCO8h8Tm0hLz3vqlOut3NMfYA5ZOSfw==
(2) Swarovski Optik sponsoring NRA Outdoors hunting June 2013: http://www.ammoland.com/2013/06/swarovski-optik-north-america-optics-sponsor-for-nra-outdoors-long-range-huntingshooting-school/#axzz2W6lzGk5X
“Swarovski Optik is a loyal sponsor of NRA Hunter Services Programs. Check out what’s new at Swaorvski!” https://www.facebook.com/nrahuntingshow/posts/197204510385888
(3) The website for Uitkyk Safaris (http://www.uitkykhunting.co.za/), in South Africa, carries a Swarovski Optik logo and says: “Uitkyk Safaris, proudly associated with Swarovski Optik”. Uitkyk Safaris offer a shopping list of animals available to hunt from lions to giraffes to ostriches: http://www.uitkykhunting.co.za/pricelistpackages.php
(4) In 2011, Swarovski Optiks (who also make binoculars for wildlife watching) lent their financial support to Great Plains Conservation efforts in Botswana and Kenya, who promote conservation tourism: “The Big Cats Initiative is an emergency fund established by Dereck and Beverly Joubert with National Geographic to highlight and find solutions to the very worrying declines in big cats over the past few decades. All big cats are at their lowest number in their history.” http://www.greatplainsconservation.com/bushbuzz/?p=2674
(5) Swarovski Optik is a corporate sponsor of Safari Club International. http://member.scifirstforhunters.org/static/Corporate-Sponsor/