Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Activists petition Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to save elephants as poaching spirals out of control

Dear Uhuru, Poaching and killing of our wildlife is escalating at an alarming rate. Almost every week, we are losing rhinos and elephants in such a brutal manner for their horns and ivory, and sometimes their faces are hacked away even before they have died. Human brutality! The KWS is up against an ongoing battle to protect our wildlife and risking their lives in carrying out their duties against armed poachers. In the last week, certain elephants, in the Masai Mara, which had attracted world attention after being treated for gunshot wounds and having poisoned spearheads removed from their bodies by KWS Vets and Conservation Agencies, were again felled down, immediately they moved out of sight of those monitoring them. Not to mention, other pregnant, or otherwise elephants and rhinos killed elsewhere, and the family of 11 elephants massacred in Tsavo earlier this year. To note as well, the killing of numerous lions and other felines with many other animals, which are killed by various methods (including roadkills) and are not brought to the attention of the public. The blood bath of animals and humans must end. A passenger smuggling ivory through JKA was caught and sentenced to a mere fine of US $ 1 = per kilo of ivory! Our current laws are far too lenient. We need strong punitive laws in force to detract people from this wanton destruction of our National Heritage. Our country is being used as a gateway for ferrying wildlife trophies due to these outdated laws. People know that they can get off lightly. It is time to change the Risk Reward profile and end the poaching menace. This missive has been sent by Olga Levari Ercolano and has already been delivered. We need as many signatures of supporters of this cause. Please visit Kenyans For Wildlife on Facebook for more information. Source: Kenyans for Wildlife

Monday, April 22, 2013

Private game sanctuary poisons rhino horns to counter poaching

Toxic infusions are the latest weapon to counter the thriving industry of rhino poaching in the big game areas adjoining South Africa's Kruger Park. Consumers of the powdered horn in Asia risk becoming seriously ill from ingesting a so-called "medicinal product" which is now contaminated with a non-lethal chemical package. The 49,500 hectare Sabi Sand Wildtuin has launched the country's first large-scale operation to toxify the horns of its rhinos, together with an indelible pink dye which exposes the illegal contraband on airport scanners worldwide. Many world famous safari properties on the border of the Kruger National Park are engaged in a costly struggle against relentless rhino poaching. The Sabi Sand Wildtuin Association of property owners this year will spend R6.5m on security operations to intercept and head off the incursions - a budget allocation which has tripled since 2008, when the crisis first came to the fore. These defensive strategies, undertaken with the police and SA National Parks (SANParks), are facing heavily armed and highly motivated gangs. The poachers themselves, the starting point of the criminal traffic inside and around the Kruger Park, receive a mere fraction of the R2-2.5m value of each horn from the syndicates that plan the raids and export the material. Yet the size of their pay-offs in the neighbouring low-income communities is ample enough to keep the poachers safe from being identified. Intelligence is a prime asset in the escalating conflict. For this reason the numbers of rhino located in the area are kept confidential, as are the numbers lost to date. The national statistics are harrowing enough to the future of wildlife conservation and game tourism. The first spike in the incidence of rhino poaching was in 2008, when 88 animals were lost. This year more than double that number have been butchered in only the first three months. The Sabi Sand Wildtuin Association's game-changing toxification campaign is as much about sending a message to the illegal trade worldwide as it is about rendering the rhino horns inside its perimeter both worthless and hazardous as traditional medicine. Andrew Parker, 41, CEO of the SSWA, says that compromising the product is the most effective deterrent to the illegal market. "Sabi Sand is leading this programme because we are located at the epicentre of the problem at the southern end of the Kruger Park, which suffers up to 70% of the rhino killings. Poaching syndicates are here in large numbers and we are vulnerable as a western buffer between them and the Kruger Park." Up to 2,000 people are employed in the Sabi Sand reserve, mostly local residents. Information about planned anti-poaching operations becomes common knowledge very quickly outside the perimeter fences. The intelligence is worth tip-off money. Poacher gangs can then blend into the community and enjoy unquestioned access in and out of the Sabi Sand area along the shared local roads. "We are sending a message through the supply chain that rhino horn from Sabi Sand will endanger the health of anyone who uses it as a medicine," says Parker. "It also raises the stakes against agents smuggling it through airports. When their market dries up we expect the balance of risk against reward will swing back in favour of our own conservation operations." Those operations are essentially defensive, counter-measures based on the surveillance of the daily movement of game and its natural predators. Poachers infiltrating the reserve are spotted and tracked as a matter of course and the information is fed into the communications network shared by the Big Five game lodges and the rest of the Association's 42 members. The decision to launch the rhino horn infusions was agreed unanimously by the association's members in February, says Parker, as the poaching threat became aggressive and adroit enough to match the reserve's combined ranger-watch. "To date, interventions have focused on bringing additional manpower into the field to counter the problem," he says. "This has proved effective in terms of arrests but not in stemming the rising body count of rhinos. "There is a limitless recruiting pool of poachers inside and outside our borders, and they enjoy a tactical advantage against the counter-measures we've employed so far. They dictate the time, the place and the scale of their engagements and they hide in plain sight amongst local communities." The Sabi Sand properties are making a direct contribution to the national economy of R500m a year, says Andrew Parker, who has a Masters in Ecology and has worked in the SanParks business development unit in Pretoria. "I've been in conservation for my entire career," he says. "Overcoming this present scourge is a fight in which we must prevail. Our strongest available response against poaching is to cripple the business of illegal rhino horn trading before it sabotages our own existing businesses." The rewards for the poachers are rising as the costs for conservation agencies are similarly rising. The balance of their value chain must be reversed at its source. Huge security costs "Security costs are increasing. At Sabi Sand alone we are spending R6.5m on security this year which is 50% of our annual budget for the care and maintenance of the game and the infrastructure of roads, and communications. Against that expenditure the poachers are not restricted by any rules and how they respond to our policing them. We encounter incursions of poachers across our boundaries from the south, west and north." 100 rhinos treated Inserting a toxin into the horns of rhinos is a process which has been used on 100-plus animals in the past 18 months, pioneered by veterinary surgeon Dr Charles van Niekerk at the Rhino and Lion reserve at Kromdraai north-west of Johannesburg. The results have proved to be non-harmful to the rhinos, cost-effective, and an immediate and long-lasting solution for private game reserves which are seen as easy targets for poachers. Quick procedure The only possible danger to rhinos having their horns infused is the stress caused by being immobilised. For this reason, says Andrew Parker, the Sabi Sand treatments are performed outside the hottest part of the day, and the up to 2 ton animals are brought round as quickly as possible. The toxin-dye injections are administered into the horn's inert (painless) keratin by compressed air. The Rhino Rescue Project's Lorinda Hern explained to the authoritative conservation magazine Scientific American in 2011 that the toxin is a compound of parasiticides which are used to control ticks on farm animals like horses, cattle and sheep. It is also ox-pecker friendly. While the treatment is for the benefit and improved health of the animals, she said, it is toxic to humans. Symptoms of ingesting the drug cocktail - in powdered rhino horn, for example - would include nausea and vomiting. Says Andrew Parker: "We are not aiming to kill the consumers, no matter what we think of them. We want to kill the illegal trade which is preying on our herds. Once the poachers discover that rhino horn from Sabi Sand has no value they will move on. Once the risk/reward balance changes, making incursions against our own very experienced security counter measures will no longer be worth the risk." The SSWA has considerable support for its latest initiative. Devaluing the rhino horns is only one of three phases of its strategy to protect and conserve the Sabi Sand wildlife in the long term. Winning the war means building up and motivating a highly-skilled staff on the ground; developing an excellent intelligence network; and winning the hearts and minds of surrounding communities by involving them more and more in the business of the tourism industry. To this end the Sabi Sand owners' association has joined forces with powerful bodies in the public and private sectors. One is SANParks' Working For Wildlife programme, led by Professor Guy Preston, a government-driven initiative which aims to provide funding to recruit and employ additional manpower. The private-public partnership has been piloted on the Sabi Sand and it continues to fund the recruitment, training and employment of 25 previously unemployed local youth as field rangers. A second initiative is titled Game Reserve United. It combines the field reportage from all the game reserves west of Kruger Park from Phalaborwa to White River. Says Parker: "The earlier poachers are located, the better we can beat them to their targets. Equipment like radar and drones would be most effective in this but they are too expensive for our budget. Good old fashioned intelligence remains our best weapon. "The reserves are putting money into a pot under the auspices of the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa. This will fund reliable intelligence gathering amongst the local communities. Since the stakes are becoming so high in the illegal rhino horn trade informants are now playing both sides in order to cash in. We have to compete against these payoffs in order to identify suspects and the targets of their next raids." By running two forms of deterrent against the lucrative trade the Sabi Sand Wildtuin Association aims to seize the advantage against the poaching cartels in its own area and notify everyone supporting their activities from Mpumalanga to Maputo, from Vietnam to China, that we've moved their market's goalposts. "The media in South Africa and globally maintain a close watch on the shrinking herds of our rhino. The same platform can expose exactly what the poachers are up against from now on. They've had an easy ride so far, running a vast and brutal, hugely profitable trade under the noses of government authorities between here and Asia. Now we are forcing them to answer to their consumers about what they are passing off as medicine." Andrew Parker, CEO Sabi Sand Wildtuin Association Johannesburg, April 2013

Friday, April 19, 2013

2000 pangolins discovered on Chinese fishing boat aground in the Philipines

April 2013. A Chinese fishing vessel, the 48-metre long F/N Min Long Yu that ran aground on the Philippines World Heritage Tubbataha Reefs on 8 April 2013, was found to be carrying several hundred boxes of pangolins. Having run aground in the World Heritage Tubbataha Reefs Natural Marine Park. park rangers and the Philippine Coast Guard searched the vessel and found about 400 boxes containing illegally-traded pangolins (scaly anteaters). Each box was estimated to contain from five to six dressed and rolled-up pangolins, which means the vessel was carrying as many as 2000 of the toothless, insect-eating creatures. Resembling sloth-like olive lizards, pangolins are scaly mammals which range throughout Asia and Africa. Eight species exist - all threatened by habitat loss plus the illegal trade for their meat and unique scales, which are used for both traditional medicine and the curio trade. The World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines (WWF-Philippines) strongly condemns this latest act of wildlife trafficking. WWF-Philippines Vice-chair and CEO Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan, said "It is bad enough that these fishermen have illegally entered our seas, navigated without boat papers and crashed recklessly into a national marine park and World Heritage Site. It is simply deplorable that they appear to be posing as fishermen to trade in illegal wildlife. Should the carcasses turn out to be Philippine pangolins (Manis culionensis), we can be sure they were being smuggled out of Palawan. In which case, the full force of the Philippine Wildlife Act should be applied." As the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora bad (CITES) prohibits trade in Asian pangolin species, WWF-Philippines calls on the government to fully prosecute the Chinese poachers for violating both national and international wildlife trade laws. The Illegal Wildlife Trade The latest seizure of pangolins from the F/N Min Long Yu comes right as the WWF global network is scaling up its campaign to combat the illegal wildlife trade, which now comprises the fourth largest illegal global trade after narcotics, counterfeiting of products and currency, and human trafficking. The illegal wildlife trade, estimated to yield at least $19 Billion per year, has become a lucrative business for criminal syndicates because the risk involved is low compared with other crimes. Poaching syndicates flourish because there are presently no effective deterrents to the trade. High-level traders and kingpins are rarely arrested, prosecuted, and convicted for their crimes. Today, pangolins are widely hunted and traded for their alleged medicinal properties. They are among the most commonly encountered mammals in Asia's wildlife trade and alarming numbers have been seized throughout East and Southeast Asia in recent years. WWF-Philippines encourages the public not to patronize products that may have come from species that are illegally traded. Concludes Tan, "When the buying stops, the killing will, too."

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

African lion heads for extinction

Forget about the rhino for a moment and spare a thought for the lions. When the rhino poaching problem subsides in five to 10 years, wild lions will be gone. The continent's lion population has shrunk by 75% in the past two decades, according to wildlife experts. They are currently "vulnerable" on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's list of threatened species. In west and central Africa lions are classified as "endangered". "The facts are these lions are declining at such a pace. We will have nothing left in a few years," conservation group Walking for Lions (WFL) founder Marcus Roodbol says. "Have we ever thought what we will do when we realise the last lion has been shot or poisoned? What will we do when we sit in the African bush and not hear the lion roar?" Trophy hunting, human encroachment, poaching, lion poisoning, and human/lion conflict have become a grave concern, prompting educational and awareness campaigns to save the king of the jungle. In Asia, lion bones have become a popular commodity for healing and traditional purposes. "This is a huge concern as the market is increasing for lion bones... to make lion soup or lion wine. It's properties were believed... to provide medicinal remedies, which is medically unfounded," says Roodbol. The expanding agricultural sector has led to lions confining themselves to isolated areas, increasing their risk of extinction. "We as humans have this ideal image that we can reintroduce lions back into the wild once they are gone. What makes us think this? If we cannot even save the last remaining wild lions and support the local communities living with these animals, what makes us think we can do it later?" Wildlife photographer and conservationist Christina Bush says the most urgent threat to lions today is widespread use of pesticides and poison by farmers in retaliation for the loss of livestock. "Every year more lions die as they are forced to make room for Africa's growth. In Botswana alone over 100 lions are killed each year in an attempt to protect livestock." In South Africa around 1 500 lions are killed each year in the name of trophy hunting, she says. "By killing the dominant male in the pride... hunters set off a chain reaction of instinctive behaviours in which the subsequent dominant male kills all the offspring of the previous dominant male lion. It is estimated that six to eight feline deaths results from each dominant male that is shot." A lot more needs to be done to prevent the species' extinction. "Wild African lions are at risk of extinction by the year 2020 unless drastic measures are taken to save them," she warns. WFL in South Africa has taken up the plight to help preserve wild lions. Roodbol and several others will embark on a 500 km walk from Namibia's capital Windhoek to Ghanzi in Botswana over two months starting May 1. Their aim is to educate people, including farmers and schoolchildren, along the way about the importance of lion conservation. The group will walk 30 km per day and film the campaign to promote global awareness through social networking sites. Students from the University of Botswana and Cheetah Conservation Botswana are expected to join the march for a few days. Topics such as poaching, canned hunting, the illegal lion bone and fur trade, lion consumption, lion mitigation methods, and volunteering will be discussed. "We would like to create global awareness and give people something to think about when it comes to various aspects of lion conservation," he says. If enough money is raised through the walk, it will be used to help communities living with lions to ensure their survival. "Through the years of working with wild lions and hand-raised lions we finally came to our senses that if we as a younger generation do not start working on the future of our wildlife, our children will not experience the beauty of Africa," Roodbol says. According to Panthera, a wildcat conservation group, lions have vanished from over 80% percent of their historic range and are extinct in 26 countries. Only seven countries, Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe are believed to each contain more than 1 000 lions. On its website, Panthera says lions are increasingly coming into closer contact with humans as their habitat is converted for human use. Kenya alone loses around 100 wild lions every year due to human contact. Experts believe there will be no more wild lions left in Kenya by 2030. Panthera says there is a scarcity of wild prey due to over-hunting by humans. When wild prey are over-hunted, lions are forced to feed on livestock. This drives further conflict with humans in which the lion ultimately loses. Beverly and Derreck Joubert, National Geographic explorers based in Botswana, say there will be environmental havoc if lions go extinct. "They are the most vital centre point in many ecosystems. If we lose them we can anticipate eventual collapse of whole environments, right down to the water systems, as prey shifts or migrations stop, and species overgraze and destroy the integrity of important vegetation, especially along rivers." It could also hurt the economic systems of people who rely on tourism to survive. "Many come to Africa to see the big cats in the wild. Losing that could devastate areas where this tourism is the sole source of income," the pair believes. "Saving the lions from extinction is a cause that not enough people know about. Lions are incredibly powerful cats, but even they need help from those who care about preserving wildlife for the future." Source: Timeslive (SA)

Tanzanian under siege from buffalo poachers

Moshi — THE population of buffaloes in the northern and western areas of the Serengeti National Park has dropped by 80 per cent due to poaching, the Tanzania National Park (TANAPA) Outreach Programme Manager, Mr Ahmed Mbugi, reveals. According to him, buffaloes have declined from 70,000 to 40,000 while the elephant population has decreased from 2,500 to 500 and that of rhino has dropped from 1,000 to less than 20 animals. "The decline in population of buffaloes, elephants and rhinos is due to intensive poaching perpetrated by local communities for subsistence and commercial purposes," Mr Mbugi noted. The programme manager revealed that law enforcement alone was not sufficient to secure park resources but effective option was to involve stakeholders rather than fence and fine. Mr Mbugi said that to curb poaching, the Community Conservation Services concept was hatched during a scientific conference held in Seronera in 1985 which focused on involvement of communities living adjacent to national parks from village to the district levels. He said the initiative started in 1988 as a pilot project under the 'Neighbours as Partners,' supported by the African Wildlife Foundation, adding that the area involved Ololosokwan, Soitsambu and Oloipiri villages located on the eastern borders of Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro District. Mr Mbugi said the programme objectives include to improve relationship between individual parks and the local communities as well as to ensure that the interests of TANAPA were represented at all levels. The programme was also intended to facilitate information dissemination to villagers living adjacent to the national parks and finally facilitate the planned benefit sharing to targeted communities, he said. According to the manager, from 2003/2004 to 2012/2013, TANAPA has disbursed 5,411,737,134/- to execute community projects and has also managed to reduce park people conflicts. The programme has also promoted environmental conservation and to a small extent facilitated income generating activities. Source:

Kenyan conservationists push for stricter anti-poaching laws

Nairobi — With a spike in the number of elephants killed for their tusks since the beginning of the year, Kenyan conservation advocates are calling on politicians to make laws much stricter to deter poaching. Without enforcement of such laws, illegal trade in ivory and other animal parts could harm the environment, as well as ruin the country's economically vital tourism industry, they say. Kenya lost 74 elephants to poaching from January to March this year, according to Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) spokesperson Paul Mbugua. In all of 2012, poachers killed 384 elephants, up from 289 in 2011. High prices for wildlife products on the black market are encouraging even more people to engage in poaching, said director of the National Environment and Management Authority Geoffrey Wahungu. Elephant tusks and teeth are used for making jewellery, carvings, sculptures, piano keys, enamel plates and billiard balls. "Apart from just being used to show affluence and exoticism, people crave those wildlife products, for instance rhino horns, to cure health conditions associated with reproductive [health] and others use it as an aphrodisiac," he told Sabahi. If Kenya does not find long term solutions to stop poaching, the country's ecological system will be compromised, he said. "The animals being killed, such as the elephants and rhinos, are large mammals and they clear bushes to maintain Savannah landscapes where other animals stay," he said. He urged all Kenyans to take responsibility and report to the authorities any activity related to poaching. Earlier this month, KWS announced it was mobilising an additional 1,000 park rangers to combat poaching and protect the country's dwindling population of 35,000 elephants. Nonetheless, poachers continue their illegal activities unchecked because fines and prison sentences for convicted poachers are lenient under the current laws, Mbugua said. As a result, even when KWS officers arrest ivory smugglers and big game poachers, lax penalties under the Wildlife (Conservation and Management) Act of 1976 make it easy for violators to drift back into criminal activity, he said. "Sentences and fines provided for by the Act are now very low considering the current value of money," Mbugua told Sabahi. "The highest fine for wildlife crime under the Act is 65,000 shillings ($775). Most offenders get away with fines as low as 2,000 shillings ($24)." "This explains why we have, time and time again, arrested people who are out on bond and who have gone back to commit the same offences," he said. Under the Wildlife Act of 1976, ivory smuggling and poaching are considered petty offences or misdemeanours. However, because these illicit activities are so lucrative, they should be treated as economic crimes, which carry heftier penalties, Mbunga said. A bill pending in parliament proposes that violators face fines of more than 50 million shillings ($596,000) and sentences of more than 20 years in prison. "We want wildlife crimes to be regarded as economic crimes just like corruption, fraud and bribery," he said. "Poachers are people stealing from the public, as wildlife is a national resource. They deserve to be dealt with just like the corrupt." The threat posed by poachers to the country's wild elephant and rhinoceros herds has become part of the political platform of President Uhuru Kenyatta. "Poaching and destruction of our environment has no future in this country," he said during his inaugural speech April 9th. "The responsibility to protect our environment belongs not just to the government but to each and every one of us." Kenyatta's words give Kenya's anti-poaching movement a much-needed political boost, according to Mombasa and Coast Tourism Association chairman Mohammed Hersi. "The other reason why poaching has been going on unabated is because there was no commitment from top government officials in the fight, and that statement from the president gives this effort an impetus," he told Sabahi. Apart from applying stringent measures against poachers, the government should form a task force to assist authorities in investigating and prosecuting poaching cases, Hersi said. "We fear that poaching will deplete our wildlife," he said, adding that tourism makes up 12% of the Kenyan economy. "What this means is that we are kissing goodbye to tourism." Wildlife tourism is the biggest draw for Kenya's tourism industry, and other sectors such as the beach and cultural tourism revolve around it, Hersi said. "Almost all tourists who come to Kenya come for wildlife safaris, and after that they choose to relax on our Kenyan beaches, which means that if we lose our wildlife, then we better forget tourism as well," he said. "Elephants and other wildlife are worth more alive than they are dead," Hersi said. Source: Sabahi Online (Washington DC)

Vietnamese poacher nabbed with 30 kg of ivory ornaments

Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) officers at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport have seized thirty three kilogrammes of ivory ornaments worth over six million shillings from a Vietnamese national who was transiting through Kenya to Bangkok, Thailand. Thirty nine year old Nguyen Viet Truong who was traveling aboard a Kenya Airways flight KQ542 from Cotonou, Benin was arrested after a check by KRA Customs Surveillance and Targeting team noticed suspicious cargo in his two suitcases. Scanners revealed images of what was suspected to be ivory ornaments. When the suitcases were opened in the presence of KRA, police, Kenya Airways security and Kenya Airports Authority officials, 488 bangles painted various colors and weighing 33.6 kgs were discovered packaged in boxes labeled as flower vases were discovered. The Vietnamese national who had been scheduled to fly out of the country on the same day aboard KQ 886 flight was handed over to the police and is scheduled to appear in court to be charged with being in illegal possession of game trophies. He is among the many foreigners and Kenyans who have been arrested and arraigned in court to be charged with either illegal possession of game trophies or poaching. Source: The Star, Nairobi