Tag Archives: trade in endangered species

Kill Figures: Rhinos in National Parks

mutilated rhino. image from http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/horror-rhinos-mutilated-machete-chainsaw-2291630

In cold statistics the number of rhinos poached a day in South Africa has now reached three with 769 of these Big Five animals killed to… (Sept 2014).  That equates to 3.027 animals a day and the country’s (South Africa’s) internationally renowned Kruger National Park remains the preferred hunting ground for rhino poachers. Bordering on both Mozambique and Zimbabwe, the park, increased security and patrol activities notwithstanding, offers poachers fairly easy access and egress with their bounty. So far this year Kruger’s rhino population has been decimated by 489 – well over half the national loss.

Statistics released by the Department of Environmental Affairs this week show all nine of South Africa’s provinces, including mostly urban Gauteng, have now been hit by rhino poachers.  The latest kill figures come ahead of next week’s United States-South Africa: Border Surveillance Technology Co-operation Symposium at the CSIR International Convention Centre.  All eyes will be on retired SA Army general Johan Jooste, now Commanding Officer: Special Projects for SANParks based in Kruger. The title of his keynote address is “Turning the tide – borders, poaching, technology”…

US Ambassador to South Africa, Patrick Gaspard, is also carded as a speaker alongside senior representatives (unnamed at the time of publication) from Armscor; the CSIR’s Defence, Peace, Safety and Security section; SA Aerospace, Maritime and Defence Industries Association (AMD); the US Army Research Office and the US Corps of Engineers.

Excerpts from Kim Helfrich, Three rhinos shot every day in South Africa, Defence Web, Sept. 12, 2014

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Going Strong: the 10 billion dollar market for illegal wildlife

dead sea turtles on Chinese ship

At $10 billion a year, illegal wildlife makes up the world’s fifth-largest illicit market behind drugs, counterfeit products, trafficked people and smuggled oil. An intergovernmental conference in Geneva from July 7th-11th, 2014 revealed the special worries about ivory smuggling in Thailand, rhino-horn trafficking through Mozambique and trade in tiger parts across South and South-East Asia.

According to TRAFFIC, a lobby group, the street value of rhino horn is $60,000 per kilo—more than the price of gold. Gram for gram, bear-bile flakes or powder sell in Japan [slightly less] than cocaine in Asia. Booming demand from Asia’s growing middle classes is pushing some species close to extinction. As supply dwindles, prices rocket, which tempts criminal gangs to sink their claws in even further.

Elephant ivory is valued for aesthetic reasons. Demand for rhinoceros horns, the paws and bile of Asiatic black bears and sun bears, tiger bones and penises, and deer musk, is stimulated by the healing powers ascribed to them in traditional Chinese medicine. Rhino-horn shavings boiled in water are said to cool and to cure headaches; the brew is akin to fingernail clippings in water (both are mainly keratin, an indigestible protein). Bear bile does help with gallbladder and liver problems—but no more than the synthetic version of ursodeoxycholic acid, its main component.

In February 42 countries, including China and Japan, and the European Union signed a declaration against trade in illegal wildlife products. Chinese law punishes the purchase or consumption of endangered species with up to ten years in jail. But in May, when Philippine forces seized a Chinese vessel carrying sea turtles, giant clamshells and live sharks off the disputed Half Moon Shoal, China expressed outrage at the “provocative action”—not the illegal cargo.

The illegal trade in wild-animal products: Bitter pills, Economist, July 19, 2014, at 54

Poaching Rhinos and Elephants: Namibia

Bwabwata National Park , Namibia

The rising tide of elephant and rhino poaching in Africa is spreading to the sparsely-populated vastness of Namibia in the southeast of the continent, latest official figures show. Between 2005 and 2011 just two elephant were killed, while 121 have been killed in the past two and a half years, according to figures presented by the environment ministry.  And while no rhino were poached between 2005 and 2010, a total of 11 have been killed since then — rising from one in 2011 to four already this year.

Deputy Environment Minister Pohamba Shifeta told AFP that the government is worried by the trend and is working with law enforcement agencies to tackle the problem. “We don’t want the numbers to escalate further,” Shifeta said.  “There is a high probability that attention will shift to Namibia as we have recently experienced.”

Across the border in South Africa, rhino poaching has reached crisis levels, with more than 290 killed already this year.  Most of the poaching in Namibia has taken place in protected areas, such as the Bwabwata National Park in the northeast, where 13 elephant were killed in 2012, the environment ministry report said.

“The immediate requirement is to control the emerging commercial ivory poaching in the northeast part of the country and to prevent the westwards spread of rhino and elephant poaching into the Etosha National Park and beyond,” Shifeta told a meeting of police officers and rangers.  Namibia has 79 conservation areas covering more than 100,000 square kilometres and inhabited by some 300,000 people.

Several poachers have been arrested in recent years, with the latest suspects being two Asian men who were held in March this year allegedly in possession of rhino horn worth around $230,000 (167,000 euros). Asia is a major market for rhino horn, where it is believed to have medicinal value, and for elephant ivory.

Namibia caught in net of elephant, rhino poaching, Agence France Presse, May 13, 2014.

Operation Rhino: dead rhinos despite arrests

rhino-kruger-park

“While we are still losing animals (latest statistics show Kruger has lost 381 rhinos to date this year) the new strategy is bearing fruit,” SANParks [South Africa] acting head of communications, Reynold Thakhuli, said.  The two dozen arrests bring to 73 the number of rhino poaching related arrests in the park this year…Nationally, 191 suspects have been arrested in connection with rhino poaching so far this year.

He also pointed to a better relationship with Mozambique following an official visit there by Environment Affairs Minister Edna Molewa. “Some arrests have been made inside Mozambique in terms of the hot pursuit concept now that there is more understanding of the problem not only Kruger and SANParks, but also South Africa and the region, faces from rhino poachers,” Thakhuli added.

The hot pursuit strategy was presented to SANParks management at the beginning of last month after Molewa’s visit to Mozambique by Major General (ret) Johan Jooste, Officer Commanding Special Projects in Kruger. It makes provision for rangers, soldiers and other government agencies to track suspected poachers across the border without fear of reprisal.Bearing out Thakhuli’s “still losing animals” statement, the national rhino herd now is 618 less than it was on January 1, 2013…with 15 weeks left in 2013 the 668 all-time high looks sure to be overtaken.The current weekly loss of rhino stands close to 17 animals. If poaching continues at the same kill levels the year-end death toll could surpass the thousand mark.

The South African defence sector is a contributor to the ongoing anti-rhino poaching effort via the SA Air Force, SA Army and the defence industry.Land-based elements are deployed primarily on border protection duties and assisted by SAAF helicopters for Operation Corona but also regularly assist rangers, police and other government agencies in anti-poaching operations.Denel Dynamics has made a Seeker UAV available, manned by trained personnel, to help with tracking poaching suspects. A Seabird Seeker reconnaissance aircraft donated by the Paramount Group adds more eyes in the sky to the ongoing Operation Rhino.

Excerpt, Kim Helfrich, Increased rhino poaching related arrests attributed to more militaristic approach, defenceWeb, Sept. 6, 2013

Drones and the Rhino: the militarization of conservation

Gated Rainforests: the militarization of conservation

Epulu_River_Ituri

The  Epulu  village  in the Democratic Republic of Congo is situated inside a nature reserve in the Ituri rainforest, an area covering 5,000 square miles that is supposed to be off limits to hunters and gold prospectors. A militia, led by a former elephant poacher called Paul Sadala, has terrorised communities inside the reserve since 2012, employing methods brutal even by the grisly standards of this part of the world.

“The attacks were absolutely terrifying,” said Justin Oganda, a representative of the residents of Epulu who remain displaced in Mambasa, about 50 miles away. By the end of that day in June, the militiamen had murdered, raped, burned people alive and even eaten the flesh and heart of one of their victims. “To have killed so many people, to burn them alive, the cannibalism … Mentally they cannot be normal,” Oganda added.

As ever with Congo, it is not just a simple tale of victims and villains. Sadala, who goes by the nom de guerre Morgan, and his “Mai Mai Morgan” gunmen are thought to have powerful supporters in the security forces who enable their lucrative illegal trade in ivory and smuggled gold. Some local people with an eye on the gold in the ground beneath their feet tacitly support Morgan, who improbably also likes to be called Chuck Norris. “There is complicity between [Morgan] and certain elements within the army,” said Jefferson Abdallah Pene Mbaka, the MP for Mambasa. “With the support of certain army authorities [Mai Mai Morgan] have increased their poaching activities. The sale of ivory is organised by these figures in the army.” Many people in the region believe soldiers have orders not to arrest Morgan.

Morgan’s principal targets are those who operate and police the Unesco-recognised world heritage site known as the Okapi wildlife reserve, or by its French acronym, RFO. The laws of the reserve forbid the hunting of endangered species, especially elephants and okapi, and the exploitation of its gold reserves….The suspicion is that at least some of Morgan’s booty winds up 280 miles south-west of Epulu, in the hands of the Congolese army. At the end of 2012 the United Nations group of experts on Congo issued a report that accused Congolese general Jean Claude Kifwa in the provincial capital, Kisangani, of giving “arms, ammunition, uniforms and communication equipment to Mai Mai Morgan in exchange for ivory”….

Despite the brutality of the attacks, many reserve dwellers express sympathy for Morgan, with some even confessing to outright support for him. “I am behind Morgan,” said an 18-year-old in a small village not far from Epulu who refused to give his name. “Because Morgan is here the rangers cannot patrol and we are free to dig for gold. But I wouldn’t support him if he came here and burned our homes.”  Most people, however, have a more nuanced position, saying that although revolted by his methods, they support his stated desire to see the size of the reserve reduced and more rights given to locals to hunt and dig.  “The forest is where we find what we need to survive,” said Matope Mapilanga, the leader of a Pygmy community on the edge of the reserve. “[The park authorities] have cut our land, there is now a part we cannot access. It has worsened in the last few years, since the RFO got bigger. We would prefer that the people of the RFO weren’t in our forest. We feel like the big non-governmental organisations and the rangers have privileged the animals over the people.”

The conservationists remain unconvinced, though. “The people who say they support Morgan are just those people who want to dig gold and exploit timber,” said Robert Mwinyihali, the project leader for Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) work in the Ituri rainforest. WCS has given financial backing to the park rangers and the Congolese Wildlife Authority’s work in the reserve. “There are laws in Congo about the exploitation of resources,” said Mwinyihali. “These people can either respect those laws, or they can ignore them and commit criminal acts.”  WCS and GIC’s support for the park rangers has led to accusations that they are partly responsible for the militarisation of the conflict. However, Mwinyihali said the biggest problem was the absence of effective intervention by the Congolese state, which meant NGOs and the park rangers had had to fulfil roles that should be the government’s responsibility: for example, bringing in armed guards to track Morgan. Bernard Iyomi Iyatshi, the director of park rangers, complained about a lack of government funds for his anti-poaching operations.

Mwinyihali also accused the Congolese government of doing little to reconcile the park authorities and local communities. As mutual resentment and misunderstanding grows, Morgan and other armed groups are able to exploit the toxic atmosphere and continue their poaching, digging and savage attacks.  “There are no job opportunities created by government investment here,” said Mwinyihali. “This has led to this crisis, where people have no option but to want to dig for gold. This leads to the conflict with the park authorities, and then it is only a small step to people taking up arms and joining militias.”  Despite being a member of the ruling party, Mbaka is an outspoken critic of the government’s policy, or lack of it, in the region. “Swaths of the park are inaccessible, there’s just no infrastructure,” he said. “It’s an absolute scandal, there’s potentially so much wealth here. It also means it is difficult to track and stop men like Morgan.”  Even if Morgan is caught, people fear that his powerful backers in the army will find another militia to continue poaching and stealing gold…

About 70% per cent of the ivory from slaughtered African elephants goes to China, another of the countries warned by Cites. The price of ivory has rocketed. Cites reported that the price more than doubled between 2004 and 2010, from about $300 to $700 (£198 to £462) a kilogramme. An Associated Press investigation in 2010 claimed ivory was being sold in China for $1,800 a kilogramme.

Excerpt, Pete Jones, Gold and poaching bring murder and misery to Congolese wildlife reserve, Guardian, Mar. 31, 2013

The Illegal Trade in Endangered Species and the Chinese Demand

Philippine authorities have seized large shipments of anteater and turtle parts in a sign that the illegal trade in the endangered animals is booming, officials said Wednesday (Jan. 4, 2012).  Fifty-eight pounds (26.5 kilograms) of Philippine pangolin, or anteater, about to be smuggled to Manila as goat meat was confiscated Wednesday at the Puerto Princesa city airport in southwestern Palawan province, said Alex Marcaida, an environment official.  On Monday, 209 pounds (95 kilograms) of pangolin scales and 200 pounds (90.5 kilograms) of scutes from endangered hawksbill and green turtles were seized at the same airport, he said. That shipment, which had a market value of nearly 1 million pesos ($23,000), was declared as dried fish.

Pangolin is a Chinese delicacy. Its scales are used in Chinese traditional medicine.  Turtle scutes — the plates that cover the shells — are used to decorate guitars and other products.  Marcaida said it’s possible traders are increasingly turning their attention to Palawan, home to many exotic wildlife, for pangolin meat because the animal’s population has been vanishing in other parts of Southeast Asia due to hunting and deforestation.   The International Union of Conservation of Nature said rising demand for pangolins, mostly from mainland China, and lax laws are wiping out the unique toothless anteaters from their forest habitat in Southeast Asia.  The animals are protected by laws in many Asian nations, and an international ban on their trade has been in effect since 2002. But these measures have had little impact on the illicit trade, the IUCN said.

The IUCN lists the Philippine pangolin, which is endemic to Palawan, as close to becoming a threatened species.  But Marcaida, who is from the government’s Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, said the Philippines considers the mammal a threatened species because of the continuing illegal trade.  He said the strict monitoring of trading in live pangolin may have prompted traders to try to smuggle them as meat and scales. A kilogram (2.2 pounds) of pangolin scales sells for 5,000 pesos ($114).  The same traders may be behind the two shipments, Marcaida said, adding that no arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing.  The shipper of Wednesday’s haul left the cargo with an airport porter, while Monday’s shipment, which was bound for central Cebu city, went through a courier company, he said.

By TERESA CEROJANO, Philippines seizes meat of endangered anteaters,Associated Press,Jan. 4, 2012

Decimation of Endangered Species: the Rhino

Sumatra rhino. image from wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Malaysian wildlife authorities said Monday (Dec. 26, 2011) the capture of a young female Borneo Sumatran rhino had given them a last chance to save the highly endangered species from extinction. The female rhino, aged between 10 and 12 years old, was caught on December 18 and is being kept in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Sabah on the Malaysian area of Borneo island where it is hoped it will breed with a lone captive male.

The female rhino, which has been named Puntung, was caught in a joint operation by the Borneo Rhino Alliance and the Sabah Wildlife Department. “This is now the very last chance to save this species, one of the most ancient forms of mammal,” Laurentius Ambu, director of the Sabah Wildlife Department, said in a statement. Puntung had been specifically targeted since early 2010 as the mate for a 20-year-old, lone male rhino named Tam, who was rescued from an oil palm plantation in August 2008.

Previous attempts in the 1980s and 1990s to breed Borneo Sumatran rhinos failed… The breeding programme is important because it is estimated only between 30 and 50 of the Borneo sub-species of the Sumatran rhinos are known to remain in the wild in Borneo — a vast island shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.  Only 150 to 300 Sumatran rhinos are known to exist in the wild, making it one of the world’s most endangered species, with only small groups left on Indonesia’s Sumatra island, the north of Borneo and peninsular Malaysia.

Capture of rare Sumatran rhino gives hope for species, Agence France Presse, Dec. 26, 2011