Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Botswana's Okavango Delta accorded UNESCO World Heritage status

The Okavango Delta in Botswana has been listed by UNESCO as the 1,000th World Heritage Site. This inland delta, which is situated in the northwest of the country and fed by the the Okavango River (that originates over 800 miles away in the highlands of Angola), is the largest of its type in the world and is comprised of permanent marshlands and seasonally flooded plains. The River Okavango is at its fullest during the dry season, due to rainfall and floodwater from the Angolan Highlands, and overflows into these plains. This attracts animals from miles around, making it one of Africa’s greatest concentrations of wildlife. It is home to populations of some of the most threatened large mammals in the world, including the cheetah, white and black rhinoceros, elephant, the wild dog and the lion. It harbours 24 species of globally-threatened birds. “The Okavango Delta has long been considered one of the biggest gaps on the World Heritage list and IUCN is proud to have been able to provide support to this nomination,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN Director General. We congratulate Botswana’s authorities on their extraordinary commitment to make this historic listing a reality.” “The Okavango Delta has been a conservation priority for more than 30 years and we are delighted that it has finally gained the prestigious status it deserves,” says Tim Badman, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme. Its ecological and biological importance as well as its exceptional natural beauty make it a prime example of what World Heritage stands for.” UNESCO works to the identify, protect and preserve cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. Source: Wildlife Extra, (UK)

68 elephants killed as armies loot elephant brains, genitals and ivory in DRC park

African Parks has intensified its anti-poaching efforts in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to counter the poaching onslaught that has beset Garamba National Park in the past two months. A total of 68 elephants have been poached since mid-April, representing about 4 per cent of the total population. In mid-May, African Parks reported that 33 elephants had been killed in the five weeks prior, indicating a concerted attack on the park’s elephant population. Despite intensified anti-poaching efforts since then, the total has risen to 68 elephants in the past two months, at least nine of which were shot from a helicopter. On one occasion hand grenades were used against the Park’s rangers by Sudanese poachers. For the first time the brains of elephants have also been removed, together with tusks and genitals. African Parks’ investigations have revealed that the poaching is emanating from four different sources: Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgents, armed groups from South Sudan, unidentified poachers operating from a helicopter, and renegade members of the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC). In the past few weeks Garamba’s anti-poaching teams have exchanged fire with several of these groups and five poachers have been killed. “The situation is extremely serious,” said Garamba park manager Jean-Marc Froment. “The Park is under attack on all fronts.” Froment said that much of the poaching was being conducted by a new wave of LRA insurgents emanating from the thickly forested Azande Domaine de Chasse (hunting zone) to the west of the park. Unlike previous encounters with the LRA, in which their weapons were old and ammunition limited, these groups have brand new weapons and ample supplies of ammunition. The second threat comes from South Sudanese poachers, some of them wearing military uniforms, entering the Park from the north-east. “In one encounter, hand-grenades were used against our anti-poaching team in an exchange of fire that last 45 minutes,” said Froment. The third threat is from poachers using an unidentified helicopter. Nine of the recently poached elephants had bullet wounds to the top of their heads and backs and had been shot with military precision. In two recent attacks by helicopter, the tusks were removed with chainsaws and the brains and genitals were also targeted. These attacks are similar to a military-style helicopter attack two years ago that left 23 elephants dead in Garamba. The escalated counter-poaching measures being rolled out by African Parks and ICCN include: Collaboration with the regional military task force, which is being supported by The United States Africa Command. The establishment of forward operating bases at strategic points in the park and the manning of choke points to close down known poaching access routes. The immediate construction of new roads, bridges and pontoon crossings across the park in order to facilitate the broader deployment of anti-poaching teams. The extension of the park’s airstrip network and the intensification of aerial surveillance by the park’s two aircraft. Bullet-proof reinforcement of trucks used to transport the anti-poaching teams as well as the park’s aircraft. The extension of the current limited communications network throughout the park. Last year, in anticipation of an escalation in poaching, African Parks invested heavily in anti-poaching equipment, communications systems, training and informer networks at Garamba, as well as training a specialised Rapid Response Unit to respond swiftly to severe poaching threats. “The current poaching crisis at Garamba, involving the use of heavy weapons and hand grenades against the park’s anti-poaching teams, now necessities an even more intensive anti-poaching effort,” said African Parks CEO Peter Fearnhead, who is also urgently seeking a helicopter for the rapid deployment of anti-poaching units in and around the park. “This surge of poaching is unparalleled in the eight years that we have managed Garamba alongside ICCN,” said Fearnhead. “Garamba contains the largest remaining elephant population across this entire region of Africa and has therefore become a major poaching target. We do not underestimate the danger facing our rangers on the ground, but we are also determined to take whatever measure we need to protect our elephants.” Source: Wildlife Extra

Monday, June 9, 2014

US court upholds trophy hunting ban in Zim, Tanzania.

A United States federal judge on Friday threw out a motion by Safari Club International seeking the lifting of a moratorium on the importation of sport-hunted African elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Tanzania in 2014. Safari Club International had sued, claiming the moratorium harmed the recreational, conservationist, and economic interests of its members. In a 12 page decision, US district judge for Columbia district Amy Berman Jackson rejected pleas by the Club for a preliminary injunction that would lift the moratorium imposed by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). FWS is a federal government agency with the US Department of the Interior dedicated to the management of fish, wildlife and natural habitats. On April 4, 2014, FWS announced the suspension on imports of sport-hunted African elephant trophies taken in Tanzania and Zimbabwe lasting through 2014. In taking the decision, FWS cited what it called a “significant decline” in the elephant population, and “questionable management practices, a lack of effective law enforcement and weak governance” that has led to “uncontrolled poaching” in the two countries. Jackson said that the plaintiff overstated the impact of the suspensions, adding that the agency did not prohibit anyone from hunting African elephants in Zimbabwe or Tanzania or anywhere else. “It did not bar plaintiff or its members from organising elephant hunts or earning income by providing services to hunting enthusiasts; and it did not restrict anyone’s ability to support the conservation of elephants. These facts and, indeed, the declarations supplied by plaintiff’s own members, defeat plaintiff’s claim of irreparable harm. “The record includes declarations from two hunters who began elephant hunts before April 4, 2014, shot and killed elephants after that date, but were prevented from importing their trophies, such as the hides and tusks, because of the suspensions,” Jackson recounted. Safari Club further trumpeted claims, according to Jackson, that “other members with hunts planned for later in the year have not yet decided whether to cancel their trips or not.” Jackson said this wasn’t sufficient to support a preliminary injunction. “Notwithstanding the ‘great emotional significance’ of an elephant trophy, hunters may still engage in the core recreational activity of hunting. So while the ‘full enjoyment of the hunt’ may be diminished, it has not been eliminated,” Jackson reasoned, adding that “it is worth noting that a hunter must successfully shoot an elephant in order to garner a trophy worth importing.” She said the court appreciated that there may well be some loss of revenue if US hunters with a particular interest in elephants change their plans. “But because the import suspensions do not completely prohibit US hunters from hunting African elephants in Zimbabwe or Tanzania, the Court finds that the economic harm arising from cancellations are not the direct result of the FWS import suspensions but rather of the hunters’ independent decisions to cancel their hunts. “ . . . the Court finds that the economic harm alleged by plaintiff does not rise to the level of the irreparable harm needed to support extraordinary injunctive relief. For the reasons stated above, plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction is denied,” Jackson ruled. Safari Club International is an international organisation composed of hunters with more than 500 000 members dedicated to the freedom to hunt and promotion wildlife conversation. SOURCE: The Zimbabwe Mail

Friday, June 6, 2014

Shock as 117 elephant carcasses are found in Kenyan game reserve

Narok, KENYA: Scientists who have been carrying wildlife census in Maasai Mara Game Reserve have stumbled on 117 fresh and old elephant carcasses. The elephants, whose tusks were missing, may have been killed by poachers or the local community in human-wildlife conflicts. Last month, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) acting Director General William Kiprono said elephant population in the Mara was declining at an alarming rate and called on residents to help security agencies reverse the trend. A senior scientist, who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media on the issue, said the distribution of elephants in the expansive reserve was not even, adding that most herds had relocated. The week-long exercise was funded by Word Wide for Nature to the tune of Sh3 million. The exercise in Serengeti National Park is still going on due to the vastness of the park. CENSUS RESULTS Narok KWS Senior Warden William Sang said the results of the census that also targets all other wildlife species except rhinos will be announced soon in Soronera in the Serengeti. Tanzania National Park officials, where a similar exercise is being carried out, said the census targets elephants and buffaloes. The exercise is being funded by various animal protection groups. “Apart from poaching and human-wildlife conflict, we suspect that some herds of elephants have moved to Loita and Mau forests because of the dry spell in Mara,” said the scientist, who added they would soon conduct a special census for rhinos. The census was also to find out wildlife distribution and movements. The scientists said they came across a large number of livestock in wildlife rangelands, adding that the encroachment may see some animals disappear. ends

Two suspected poachers arrested for murder of one of Zambia's best game rangers

LUSAKA- Two men have been arrested in connection with the killing of Dexter Chilunda, the head of law enforcement at Liuwa Plain National Park in Zambia. Dexter was shot by suspected poachers while investigating gunshots heard by park rangers on 23 May 2014. The men were apprehended on 1 June in the town of Lukulu, 35km from the park. Their court appearance date has not yet been set. The arrests resulted from the work of the Zambian police, the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) and five Liuwa Plain law enforcement officers, following leads by supportive local communities who were devastated by his death. Chilunda was an experienced ranger and law enforcement officer with more than 20 years’ experience. At the time of his death he was on secondment to Liuwa Plain National Park from ZAWA. He was buried on 26 May in Kaomo, which is 250km from Liuwa. He leaves a wife and seven children. “The combined efforts of the Zambian police, ZAWA and the Liuwa Plain law enforcement unit that resulted in the arrests are to be commended,” said Peter Fearnhead, CEO of African Parks, which runs the Liuwa Plain NP. “In addition, we are appreciative of the overwhelming support from local communities who assisted the investigating team. The arrests send a strong warning message to poachers about the consequences of their activities.” SOURCE: Wildlife Extra

Chinese ivory dealer gets 70 months in prison for smuggling 30 rhino horns from US

A notorious Chinese rhino horn trafficker, Zhifei Li, has been sentenced to 70 months in a US prison for his role in trafficking 30 rhinoceros horns and numerous other rhino and elephant ivory artifacts from the US to China. The sentence is one of the longest ever handed out in the US for wildlife crime. Zhifei Li, who owns an antique business in Shandong, China, called Overseas Treasure Finding, admitted he was the “boss” of three antique dealers in the US, each of whom he paid to obtain wildlife items and smuggle them to him via Hong Kong. His arrest in January 2013 happened when he was caught purchasing two endangered black rhinoceros horns from an undercover US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) agent during “Operation Crash”. This was a US nationwide effort led by the USFWS and the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute those involved in the illegal wildlife trade. “Li was the ringleader of a criminal enterprise that spanned the globe and profited from an illegal trade that is pushing endangered animals toward extinction,” said Sam Hirsch, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division. “As this case clearly demonstrates, rhino trafficking is increasingly organised, well financed, and a threat to the rule of law. The United States is resolved to bring wildlife traffickers to justice.” All species of rhinoceros are protected under United States legislation and commercial trade in rhinoceros horn is also not permitted under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). USFWS Director Dan Ashe said: “The sentence handed down today serves notice to other organised trafficking and poaching rings that their crimes will not go unpunished. We will relentlessly work across the US government and with the international law enforcement community to destroy these networks, while strengthening protections for rhinos in the wild and reducing demand for horn in consumer countries.” SOURCE: wildlife Extra, UK