Inside the disturbing world of illegal wildlife trade

To expose criminals who traffic animals, Rachel Nuwer went undercover—even posing as a prostitute.

A recent report by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature showed that between 1970 and 2014 the vertebrate population declined by an average of 60 percent. While this was mostly due to habitat loss, the illegal trade in wildlife—whether rhino horn, tiger bone, or animals captured for the exotic pet market—poses a growing threat to many species’ survival. But as National Geographic contributor Rachel Love Nuwer writes in her new book Poached: Inside the Dark World of Wildlife Traffickingmany brave individuals and organizations are battling to expose the criminals—and save the animals.

Speaking from her apartment in Brooklyn, New York, Nuwer explained how superstitious beliefs in China and Southeast Asia are a driving force of the trade; how wildlife trafficking needs to be tackled by law enforcement, not conservationists; and how she disguised herself as a prostitute to go undercover at a tiger farm in Laos.

The global wildlife trafficking trade is worth an estimated $7 to $23 billion. Who runs it? Where are the hotspots? Who profits? What are the most affected animals?

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The most obviously affected animals are the big, charismatic megafauna, like rhinos, elephants, tigers, and even bears. In reality, though, we’re talking about millions of individual animals of thousands of species. It spans poaching for jewelry, pets, traditional medicines, trophies, or wild meat, which some cultures consider a luxury item. This is a global trade. However, much of the demand for illegal wildlife products is in Asia, especially in China and Vietnam. That’s predominantly because wealth in those places has been increasing over the past decades, so people who previously could not afford things like ivory jewelry or rhino horn carvings now can do so. There’s more demand than there is supply.

There’s a misconception, especially in the media, that there are these Pablo Escobar-like kingpins controlling everything. While there is some evidence that a few people like that do exist, much of this illegal trade is made up of disorganized, opportunistic criminals. The guy in Zimbabwe killing an elephant and running its tusks to the nearby village won’t know the guy in the town, who then sells those tusks to the corrupt airport official who, in turn, doesn’t know who exactly the tusks are going to in Malaysia or Hong Kong.

That’s one of the reasons that it’s so hard to tackle this thing. It’s not like you can just knock out a couple of big guys at the top and you’ve solved it. Even when you do make arrests of so-called kingpins, they’re oftentimes readily replaced by their colleagues.

Most of us could draw an elephant or a rhino. But fewer could say what a pangolin looks like. Introduce us to this shy animal and explain why it is so highly prized that it now faces possible extinction.

Pangolins are definitely my new favorite animal since writing this book. They are better known here in the U.S. and the U.K. as scaly anteaters, which is funny because they’re not that closely related to anteaters. They’re more closely related to cats and dogs. They look like walking pinecones with feet, or tiny, odd-looking dragons.

There are four species of pangolins in Asia and four in Africa. Unfortunately, because they look so strange, people tend to attribute magical or medicinal properties to them. Traditional societies all over the world have different uses for pangolins, especially their scales. The biggest source of demand is traditional Chinese medicine, a version of which is also practiced in Vietnam. Their scales are boiled, dried, then ground up into a powder and served to women who are having trouble lactating, for example. In Vietnam their meat is also considered a delicacy. You call up a wild meat restaurant in advance and then it will either be prepared for you, or its throat will be slit on the spot.

Tigers worldwide are also facing particularly vexing challenges. Give us a picture of the illegal trade and the ancient superstitions, often driven by male sexual insecurity, that fuel it. Is there enough being done to combat these primitive beliefs?

Definitely not! There are an estimated 4,000 tigers left in the wild today. There’s many more than that in captivity. When I say captivity, I mean in people’s backyards in the U.S. and elsewhere, which is a completely different issue­—and then on so-called tiger farms in China and Southeast Asia. The tigers are bred, then slaughtered for their bones, meat, fur, teeth, and claws. Particularly sought after are the penises and bones, which are soaked in an awful-tasting rice wine and served, usually to men. They’re supposed to imbue men with the prowess and sexual energy of the tiger.

The Chinese have been really good about making a show of shutting down the ivory trade recently, but other than that there’s nothing going on to combat the illegal wildlife trade. President Xi has been cutting back on corruption, which means closing wild meat restaurants. But there’s no re-education campaign to discourage tiger use. In fact, investigations by conservation groups show that government officials are some of the most common purchasers of tiger bone wine in China and other Asian countries. They have no intention of closing this down.

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WHY ELEPHANTS MAY GO EXTINCT IN YOUR LIFETIMENearly a hundred elephants are slaughtered each day in the wild, most for their ivory tusks. This killing of elephants by humans could wipe out the animals in the wild within a generation.

You visited a tiger farm in the Golden Triangle Economic Zone, in Laos, disguised as a prostitute. Tell us about that story and whether farms could be a solution to tiger trafficking.

[Laughs] I was quite nervous about visiting this place. It’s supposed to be a hotbed of crime, drugs, prostitution and yes, illegal wildlife trade. I had spoken with a woman named Debbie Banks, an excellent wildlife investigator working at the Environmental Investigation Agency in London, and she told me the only people who go there who are not Chinese, Vietnamese, or Thai are Russian or Ukrainian prostitutes, or else backpackers. I thought, okay, the former sounds a little bit more fun and I own some scanty clothes anyway, so I’ll go with that. I brought a friend and my husband from New York because I was nervous about going by myself. We wore ridiculous clothes and nobody seemed to notice or care about us, which was great. We could browse through these shops and look at huge quantities of ivory, rhino horn, and tiger products openly for sale, and we dropped by the Kings Romans casino where ivory and rhino horn were also openly displayed. We visited the tiger farm on the premises, where I was told clients can essentially go to shop for what animal they want to have for dinner at one of the on-site restaurants. This was an especially difficult experience for me; there were tigers pacing in small cages yowling mournfully, and a number of bears that were clearly suffering from cage-induced mania.

There’s definitely a constituency of people, especially in China and South Asian countries, who argue for what is called “sustainable use of wildlife products,” whether that’s selling ivory or raising tigers and rhinos for their body parts. But tiger farms have been closely linked with laundering of tigers illegally caught in the wild, then passed off as products. So tiger farms pose a critical threat to wild tigers. That’s not even to touch on the humane animal advocacy side of things. These animals live miserable lives.

It is estimated that 144,000 elephants were killed between 2007 and 2014 for their ivory, a drop in the overall population of 30 percent in just seven years. You attended an ivory burn in Kenya. Set the scene for us and explain the thinking behind this idea. Does it lower trafficking?

The first huge ivory burn took place in 1989. It was organized in Kenya by the paleontologist Richard Leaky. His idea was to create a spectacle that the world could not ignore. And it worked. A few months later it led to nations voting to give elephants the highest degree of international protection, which effectively banned commercial trade of ivory, which was an amazing accomplishment!

Whether the burns lower trafficking is not proven. But it’s not the primary goal of ivory burns; it’s an awareness-raising method to spread the word about the illegal wildlife trade. Another important purpose is to simply get the ivory out of circulation because a lot of the storehouses, particularly in developing countries, are notorious for leaking ivory and rhino horn out. You have 50 tons of ivory that you seize from some criminal and then a few weeks or months later that 50 tons has been reduced to 25, because of corruption. The big message is that ivory should never be traded. It has no purpose at all except for elephant tusks on elephants.

One of the many inspiring activists you met is a British woman named Jill Robinson. Tell us about her and the appalling trade in bear bile.

Jill is amazing. She was living in Hong Kong doing work on cats and dogs, when someone mentioned to her a bear farm for this bear bile trade, and her interest was piqued. She took a tour to a bear farm in mainland China and left the tour group at one point because she heard noises in the basement. She crept down these stairs to a dark room where she found cages and cages of bears in horrific condition, with open wounds. Jill had this moment of connection and wound up dedicating her life to ending bear farming for bile. Her organization, Animals Asia, has saved hundreds of bears from these farms and brought them to rehabilitation sites.

The thing about bear bile is that it’s one of the few traditional Chinese medicines that is efficacious. However, the active component, ursodeoxycholic acid, can be synthesized in a lab so you do not need bears to be put in these awful situations or kept in captivity. The problem is, users in China and Vietnam want this to be a wild, free animal, so they think they are absorbing the essence of this pure, strong thing.

At a conference in London earlier this month, it was suggested that the best way to curb wildlife trafficking, like the drugs trade, was to follow the money not, as is usual, the animal. What’s your view on this? Is enough being done to intercept these illicit funds?

That’s a great point! Definitely not enough is being done because virtually nothing is being done in terms of investigating the financial crime side of things. The problem with the illegal wildlife trade is that it’s so often seen as something in the purview of conservationists, biologists or ecologists. But that’s like giving botanists the job of tackling the cocaine and heroin trade. We need to get criminal experts involved, including money-laundering experts, because a lot of times the punishments that go with breaking wildlife laws are really weak. It’s a $100 fine for trafficking a rhino horn that might be worth $30,000! Money laundering laws would be much stronger. So I think crime is where we should be focusing. We need criminal experts, not wildlife experts, and we need to treat this like any other type of crime, not something special just because it involves wildlife.

There are bright spots in this story. Tell us about the Zakouma National Park in Chad, and what you think the future holds for trafficked animals.

The Zakouma National Park in Chad had an elephant population of around 4,000, one of the biggest herds in Central Africa, but in less than a decade that population fell to around 450. It was being absolutely hammered by Janjaweed poachers riding down from Sudan for this killing spree and taking the ivory back to sell. Everybody had resigned themselves to saying goodbye to those elephants. However, a spectacular non-profit organization called African Parks negotiated with the President of Chad to take over the park. Thanks to their efforts, poaching is virtually at zero, and the elephant population is once again growing. They’re even having new babies, which is huge!

There are other people who are giving it their all to save their countries’ wildlife. Thai Van Nguyen, the founder of Save Vietnam’s Wildlife, is a great example. He’s Vietnamese, his organization is entirely run by Vietnamese and he is the only person in Vietnam equipped to rehabilitate pangolins rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. Thai brings them back to his facility, rehabilitates them, and when they’re strong enough he and his colleagues take the pangolins to secret locations and release them.

People like Thai are buying time for the rest of us as we get our acts together and decide this is something we want to stop. And that animals are worth saving.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Nearly 90 elephants slaughtered near wildlife sanctuary in Africa, tusks taken by poachers

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/09/04/elephants-killed-wildlife-sanctuary-africa-poachers/1188864002/

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An aerial survey discovered bodies of 87 slaughtered elephants near a wildlife sanctuary in Botswana, Africa.

Many of the dead elephants were ripped of their tusks, and left with mutilated skulls — a sign of poaching.

Wildlife conservation organization Elephants Without Borders found the “alarming”rate of dead elephants while flying an aerial census supported by the Botswana government.

“People did warn us of an impending poaching problem and we thought we were prepared for it,” Mike Chase, director and founder, said in a statement.

The country recently disarmed its anti-poaching unit under president Mokgweetsi Masisi.

Chase told the BBC this is the largest incident of elephant poaching he’s ever seen or read about in Africa. The carcasses were found near the the Okavango Delta wildlife sanctuary, a popular tourist destination.

Poachers killed many of the elephants within the last few weeks, according to a poaching incident report obtained by NPR. Three white rhinoceroses were also killed in the same area over the past three months, according to the report.

Botswana is home to the world’s largest elephant populations and has been praised for its protection of elephants in the past.

More: Elephants rarely get cancer thanks to ‘zombie gene,’ study finds

The 2016 Great Elephant Census, which reported more than 130,000 elephants in Botswana, also revealed African savanna elephant populations were declining by 30 percent in 15 of the 18 Africa countries surveyed. A map from that report showed Botswana’s elephant population was in stable condition as neighboring Angola, Zimbabwe, and a small area of Zambia saw decreasing populations.

But, that trend could be changing, as Chase told the BBC “poachers are now turning their guns to Botswana.”

More: How the power of music brought peace to this elephant

Tiger family feared WIPED OUT by poachers in the world’s oldest rainforest

https://www.express.co.uk/news/nature/986697/Tiger-family-feared-wiped-out-by-poachers-in-the-worlds-oldest-rainforest

THE gruesome remains of a tiger family wiped out by animal traffickers are being displayed to highlight the threats faced by the vanishing big cats.

tiger skins

The haul is estimated to be worth £100,000 on the blackmarket (Image: TRAFFIC)

Wildlife crime-busters say the tiger skins, along with a clouded leopard pelt, bear claws and goat horns, were seized during a raid close to one of the Far East’s most famous national parks.

The haul is estimated to be worth £100,000 on the blackmarket.

Malaysian wildlife department officials displayed the dozens of protected animal body parts as they gave details of an operation that saw six Vietnamese nationals arrested near Taman Negara.

At nearly 130 million years old, Taman Negara is the world’s oldest living rainforest and is home to vital proportion of Malaysia’s 250-340 remaining tigers.

Datuk Hashim, director general of the Malaysia’s wildlife and national parks department, said: “From the size of the skins it seems like this was one family of tigers.

“We estimate around three tigers were killed. We will be checking against camera trap photos of tigers in the area to see if these skins came from animals in the area.”

In total, 61 animal parts were seized during the raid on a property 30 minutes’ drive from the park.

Besides two tiger skins, there were 10 smaller pieces of tiger skin, a clouded leopard skin, seven bear teeth, 20 bear claws, four horns from serow, an antelope-like goat, several serow tails, 12 wild boar teeth, python skin and 85lb of meat.

Wire snares were also found during the operation.

The suspects are like likely to face charges of illegal possession of protected wildlife and using illegal snares.

Animal parts

In total, 61 animal parts were seized during the raid (Image: TRAFFIC)

Tiger offences carry mandatory prison sentences.

Malaysia is cracking down on the use of snares to capture wild animals, having seized more than 560 of the deadly devices in recent months.

A study by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, shows Malaysian enforcement agencies have seized the parts equivalent to 103 poached tigers since 2000.

More recently, the wildlife department recovered two dead big cats in 2016 and also rescued a third from a snare.

TRAFFIC say this latest operation is not the first case of Vietnamese nationals being caught in Malaysia with tiger parts.

Last year, wildlife department officials stopped a suspect with 17 pieces of tiger claw and eight tiger teeth.

Two years ago eight Vietnamese nationals were arrested during a series of raids that seized hundreds of wildlife parts, including tiger skins, pangolin scales and hornbill casques.

Kanitha Krishnasamy, acting regional director for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia, said: “This is a significant seizure and we congratulate Perhilitan (the wildlife department) on their successful investigations, but this loss is heartbreaking for Malaysia’s wild tigers.

“We urge the federal government to act with urgency and support ongoing efforts to keep Malaysia’s national symbol, as well as the national parks where they roam, free from poachers,” she said.

As few as five tigers still roam free in Vietnam yet there is heavy demand for tiger bones to make traditional medicines.

Wine made from tiger cubs and body parts is also popular as well as skins and claws which are highly prized as jewellery.

Booming black market for deadly snakes and exotic turtles puts animals in peril

By Sammy Fretwell The State (Columbia, S.C.) Jul 31, 2018 Updated 4 hrs ago (0)
Exotic animals
An Asian Box Turtle peers from its enclosure at the Turtle Survival Center. The South Carolina preserve protects some of the world’s most endangered turtles.

Tracy Glantz / The State

COLUMBIA, S.C. —The death of Freddie “Snakeman” Herman was unsettling enough for criminal investigators when they arrived at his ramshackle mobile home on a steamy morning last summer.

Herman’s body lay on the ground, lifeless from gunshot wounds. Flies swarmed in the yard, leaving little doubt Herman had been dead for hours.

But as they surveyed the murder scene in Chesterfield County, investigators learned that Herman was more than the victim of a domestic homicide. He was an international wildlife dealer they knew nothing about in a state where black market animal sales are quietly growing.

Snakes writhed in Herman’s trailer and turtles splashed in backyard holding ponds, apparently awaiting shipment. On Herman’s computer, state natural resources investigators found electronic messages with mysterious wildlife brokers, as well as $76,000 in an account that they believe was filled with the proceeds of animal sales.

The discovery provided a new window into South Carolina’s illicit and loosely regulated wildlife trade, a shadowy but lucrative industry that is imperiling native species, threatening to spread disease and attracting crooks to the Palmetto State.

And it’s all happening in a state with limited ability to deal with the problem.

Wild animals, particularly reptiles, are being cruelly packaged in tiny cartons and shipped overseas, many dying en route because they have no food or water. Other animals collected for sale in South Carolina are beginning to dwindle in their native environments, which could upset the balance of nature in swamps and woodlands across the state.

Reptiles, including dangerous snakes and rare turtles, often sought as food or exotic pets, are the major concern. But state investigators also are worried about the sale of disease-carrying hogs and deer, rare fish, and black bear parts such as gallbladders and paws.

“It’s significant,” state wildlife agency spokesman Robert McCullough said of the illegal and loosely regulated wildlife trade. “There is enough going on out there to cause us concern.”

Some dealers are trading native wildlife without getting caught because the state lacks officers. In Herman’s case, state investigators say they were stunned to learn the extent of his operation in Chesterfield County.

Other dealers are legally selling animals, such as highly venomous snakes, that could not be easily sold in other states with stricter wildlife laws.

A recent South Carolina Department of Natural Resources report said the agency is seeing an increase in people from other states bringing reptiles to South Carolina, then exporting them, because of the state’s limited wildlife laws. The agency also is seeing evidence that more people are trapping turtles and other reptiles for resale to other states, the report said.

It’s a significant enough issue that the DNR has assigned a handful of undercover agents to investigate illicit wildlife trading, even as state policymakers consider ways to strengthen minimal wildlife laws and provide more staff members to catch rogue animal dealers.

Wildlife traffickers get involved in the business because of the world’s insatiable demand for animals and the profits dealers can make when they sell wildlife. In a single year, some dealers have reportedly made
$100,000 selling turtles, snakes and other reptiles.

Unlike in many states, it’s legal in South Carolina to buy a venomous cobra at a wildlife show or collect hundreds of turtles for potential sale to pet traders in Asia. It’s legal to buy a camel or porcupine at an animal auction with relatively few restrictions. And it’s legal for a handful of people to harvest rare baby eels, which can fetch $2,000 per pound in Asia.

Chad Welch, an investigator with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said South Carolina’s lack of wildlife trading laws sometimes encourages illicit importing of wildlife into Georgia, where restrictions on reptile sales are stronger.

“It’s easier to acquire wild animals when you can take a couple of hours’ drive to South Carolina, buy them and bring them right back,” he said.

Recently, a Florida man with a criminal record received permission from Georgia authorities to import 220 highly venomous snakes from Africa through the Atlanta airport — if he agreed to ship them to South Carolina within 24 hours after they landed. The shipment, coming from a contact in North Ghana, included spitting cobras and Gaboon vipers, toxic snakes popular in the reptile trade. The man planned to sell them here.

In another recently publicized case, a major player in an international turtle-trafficking scheme pleaded guilty in federal court to wildlife charges after admitting he was shipping and receiving highly endangered turtles from his home in South Carolina. State authorities say loopholes in state wildlife laws made it easier for him to operate out of his house in Holly Hill.

According to an internal Department of Natural Resources report, South Carolina is one of five states with few or no laws regulating the ownership and sale of reptiles. The report says wildlife traders are slippery, well-connected and hard to catch.

“Many of the exporters operate in multiple states,” says the DNR report.
“They will set up multiple residences or change residences often in states with lax reptile laws. They have a network of collectors who collect with or for them to fulfill orders. They communicate better than we do.”

According to the DNR’s internal report, the Herman investigation revealed new ways that wildlife traders communicate and how they are paid for selling animals on the black market.

The DNR, for instance, says Herman was using an internet chatroom for video game enthusiasts to communicate with a wildlife buyer.
Correspondence found on Herman’s computer shows that he was discussing the price of reptiles and how they could be exported to Europe.

“In Germany and France, they pay $800 to $1,200 per pair,” the chatroom note said. In the five months prior to his death, Herman received at least 11 Western Union payments from Hong Kong totaling $19,000, according to information the DNR obtained through the investigation. The agency said he was known at a Florence mailing center for regularly shipping packages filled with small animals.

A DNR informant, who asked not be named because he deals with wildlife traffickers, said he routinely gets text messages from Asian buyers seeking turtles.

In a string of texts obtained by The State newspaper, a buyer said he wanted 10 turtles shipped through Chicago, where he had friends. The potential buyer at one point suggested having the turtles shipped through Massachusetts and Florida, but the informant said “No, lol, they will put you in jail” in the Sunshine State, according to the string of texts.

Weak state laws in South Carolina encourage the growth of illegal dealing by making it easier for people to amass large numbers of animals for sale on the black market.

That’s particularly true with reptiles. While the state restricts the export of many types of turtles, the law doesn’t restrict people from owning as many of those species as they want, said Will Dillman, an agency reptile biologist and assistant wildlife chief.

Some out-of-state turtle trappers bring their catch to South Carolina and keep animals here until they can resell them to other countries — a practice called “turtle laundering.” Turtles are important to the environment because they spread seeds that lead to plant growth and make dens that can be used by other animals. They also are vital to keeping ponds clean because they scavenge for dead fish and other animals in the water.

Many of the wildlife cases made in South Carolina are brought by the federal government, which has more consistent and stricter laws than states do. But federal prosecutors have more than their share of cases that take a higher priority than wildlife crimes.

Some counties and cities in South Carolina, including the city of Columbia and Richland County, have exotic pet laws that limit venomous snake ownership and sales. But others do not. That allows wildlife shows to set up shop in counties like Lexington and sell venomous reptiles.

“We have a patchwork of different state laws on some species,” said Iris Ho, a senior wildlife policy specialist with the Humane Society International. “Something could be protected in one state, but not in another, like South Carolina.”

Law enforcement authorities have said some restrictions are needed because drug dealers sometimes also trade in wildlife. In some cases, when officers show up for a drug bust, they have run into dangerous reptiles, authorities say.

Some legitimate wildlife dealers say they could support stricter state oversight of some types of wildlife dealing to weed out the shady businesses that give their industry a bad name.

“There are a lot of weird people importing stuff they ain’t supposed to be importing,” wildlife dealer Jonathan McMillan said during a break in a June 9 Repticon wildlife show at the Greenville Shrine Club. “They’re out catching things just to catch them and they are shipping stuff out that is not supposed to be shipped out of the country. There are a couple of bad apples.”

South Carolina’s issues with wildlife trafficking are a piece of a global problem that generates up to $20 billion in sales annually, according to the Humane Society International. Everything from elephant tusks to turtle meat can be found on the international black market.

Reptiles are the biggest wildlife commodity being moved illegally in the Southeast, largely because the area has such a rich diversity of the animals — and many of them, like turtles, are easy to catch, experts say.

Depending on the species, a single turtle can fetch upwards of $10,000 on the black market in Asia. Rattlesnakes from South Carolina can easily sell for $200 in places like New York, where collectors seek exotic animals, according to the S.C. DNR.

That translates to a nice income for some traders. In one case, a Holly Hill man with an extensive criminal record from wildlife trading earned more than $100,000 one year, according to a neighbor and law enforcement authorities.

Even people not involved in illegal wildlife trafficking say it’s common knowledge that selling reptiles is lucrative.

“It’s something everybody knows you can make good money on,” said Daniel Bibby, an Orangeburg County resident who lives next door to Steven Baker, a wildlife trader with a history of violations.

Some species that once were nearly worthless have soared to thousands of dollars apiece, only to fall again once the thrill of owning that species has waned, said Jordan Gray, a spokesman for the Turtle Survival Alliance, an international reptile protection group headquartered in Charleston.

“The way turtles and tortoises go, it’s almost like clothing purchases for a season,” Gray said. “You see these fads.”

Black bear parts, such as skins, gallbladders and paws, also are highly sought after in some Asian countries for traditional medicines or as souvenirs. A bear gallbladder will reportedly sell for up to $3,000 in China, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In South Carolina, where bear hunting is legal, the DNR recently ticketed men in North Augusta and Spartanburg for trying to deal other bear parts.

In one of the cases, a suspect was trying to sell a bear skin, with the claws attached, for about $1,800, a law enforcement source said. After he was ticketed, the man suspected of trying to sell the bear skin said “‘Thanks,’ then three days later, he had posted it up for sale again,”
the law enforcement source told The State.

The other bear case included the sale of skulls, claws and other parts, which were offered for sale for about $10,500, according to the DNR.

Illegally harvesting baby eels for sale to Asia landed three South Carolina men in hot water two years ago after federal investigators discovered they had trafficked more than $740,000 worth of the eels. All three pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act, a federal law that governs illegal wildlife trafficking. South Carolina grants 10 permits for people to harvest the little eels, making any other harvest illegal.

While South Carolina law offers few limits on the sale of dangerous snakes and many types of reptiles, the state does have stronger laws to control the trade in other species, such as wild hogs and deer, according to the DNR. The Legislature also recently banned the ownership and sale of big exotic cats, such as African lions and American cougars, as well as chimpanzees and non-native bears.

But it’s not hard to break state laws and get away with it because of limited state resources, DNR spokesman McCullough said.

Trucks filled with hogs sometimes sneak across the state line because South Carolina doesn’t have enough wildlife officers to stop the movement, McCullough and DNR big game coordinator Charles Ruth said. The pigs are usually headed to hunting preserves to give shooters a better chance at bagging a hog. Unfortunately, some of the pigs escape and are adding to the state’s wild hog problem, according to the DNR.

The agency needs more than 300 officers, but today has 265, McCullough said. Its special investigative unit has six agents who also investigate wildlife crimes aside from illegal trading.

Sometimes, the DNR does catch people trying to bring in hogs. Last fall, the agency arrested a Georgia man for illegally importing 10 wild pigs to Edgefield County. He was found guilty in magistrate’s court in December, records show.

The illegal and loosely regulated wildlife trade affects South Carolina both in what is being brought here, and what is being shipped to overseas markets.

Among the native animals in peril are box turtles and spotted turtles — rare reptiles with fragile populations that scientists say are harder to find today than in years past.

Turtles are being shipped to China and other Asian countries, where many native reptiles have disappeared, to be used as pets or food. Scientists are particularly worried about what appear to be dwindling turtle populations in an area between Orangeburg and Walterboro, where many people busted for wildlife crimes operate.

“We know there are people out there collecting,” former DNR biologist Bennett said. “But there’s not always a way to enforce things, to check up on these people. If you happen to catch one occasionally, that’s fine.”

http://www.sentinelsource.com/hub/petsanimals/animal_news/booming-black-market-for-deadly-snakes-and-exotic-turtles-puts/article_4cfedc07-7e51-543f-a947-a23a98ccef72.html

Ranger trying to save rhinos shot, killed by poachers

https://www.sfgate.com/world/article/Poachers-kill-ranger-rhinos-Kruger-South-Africa-13092039.php

Published FILE - A South African ranger searches from a helicopter for a poacher on the run in Kruger National Park, South Africa. Photo: James Oatway/Sunday Times/Getty Images / 2014 Gallo Images (PTY) LTD

A game ranger was killed in a shootout Thursday with rhino poachers he had been trailing, South African National Parks officials said.

The 34-year-old ranger was a member of a unit that had been tracking a gang of poachers with dogs in the Kruger National Park, according to multiple reports. When the rangers confronted the gang, the poachers opened fire.

In the exchange of gunfire, the ranger was shot in the upper body while still in his vehicle.

RELATED: Rhino poachers eaten alive by lions

First aid was administered and a doctor flown in, but although he was stabilized at the the scene, the ranger died en route to a hospital, Kruger National Park spokesperson Ike Phaahla told News24.

The poachers got away, but  they apparently were unable to kill any animals as there were no carcasses in the vicinity, the South African reported.

A police investigation is underway.

New Study Reveals There Maybe Twice as Many Gorillas Than Previously Thought A new study in the journal ‘Science Advances’ says there may be almost 361,900 in western Africa, up from earlier estimates of 150,000-250,000. According to The Guardian, despite the results from the decade-long survey, gorillas remain a critically endangered species. The population of gorillas across Africa have declined as a result of disease, deforestation and poaching. Gorillas reach maturity after 11 or 12 years and only give birth every four years, meaning it will take time for the population to rebuild. Prof. Fiona Maisels, from the Wildlife Conservation Society, to The Guardian

Media: Wibbitz

The ranger’s identity was withheld pending notification of kin.

MORE: Only the poacher’s head was left

“We have lost a patriot who died on duty protecting South African assets and who was well trained to defend himself, hence our shock on learning of this incident,” parks CEO Fundisile Mketeni said. “We will draw strength from his contribution to the anti-poaching campaign and as his colleagues, we are going to continue where he left off in honor of his memory.”

Endangered black rhinos die in Kenya reserve

A male black rhinoceros in a crate about to be transferred at Nairobi National Park, 26 June 2018Image copyrightAFP
Image captionEstimates suggest there are fewer than 5,500 black rhinos in the world

Eight endangered black rhinos have died while being transported to a new wildlife reserve in Kenya.

They died after drinking water with high concentrations of salt, the Kenyan government says.

The animals were among 14 black rhinos being transported from Nairobi National Park to the country’s biggest national park, Tsavo East.

Estimates suggest there are fewer than 5,500 black rhinos in the world, all of them in Africa and some 750 in Kenya.

Kenya Wildlife Service vets believe the more the animals drank, the thirstier they became, which quickly lead to salt poisoning, although an independent investigation has been launched to confirm the cause of death.

Kenyan conservationist Paula Kahumbu told AFP news agency: “Something must have gone wrong, and we want to know what it is.”

The relocation of endangered animals involves sedating them for the journey and reviving them on arrival. The process is known as translocation.

The WWF conservation agency, which runs the programme with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), described the process as “extremely challenging” in a statement released to Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper.

“Black rhinos are under enormous threat, so efforts to try and better protect them, such as translocation, are crucial for future generations,” i said.

Rhinos are often moved when their populations outgrow their surroundings. In the case of critically endangered black rhinos, the moves can establish new breeding habitats to boost numbers.

Nine rhinos were killed in Kenya last year, according to KWS, and in March, the world’s last surviving male northern white rhino died after months of poor health.

Top five hunting violations committed by Hoosiers

INDIANAPOLIS — With deer hunting season well underway in the state, Indiana Department of Natural Resources is reminding hunters to use their heads and follow the law when out in the woods.

To kick off firearms deer-hunting season Saturday, DNR re-shared a popular video recorded a few years ago that details some of the most common hunter violations and why they are important to follow.

Top 5 Hunting Violations According to DNR:

  1. Hunting/Tracking a deer from a vehicle
  2. Hunting on someone else’s private property
  3. Not wearing hunter orange
  4. Over-bagging and breaking the one buck rule
  5. Over-bagging any animal / killing more than the per-person limit

This laws are being carefully watched this year after an error in the law passed by the legislative session initially banned the use of rifles on state and federal property.

READ | Deer hunters CAN use rifles on state and federal property this year

The Department of Natural Resources issued an emergency state rule allowing hunters to use rifles during the 2017-18 season until they are able to update the law next year.

Three Hunting Guides Arraigned in Nome

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Eric Gorski.

HUNTING GUIDE BRIAN LEE SIMPSON, 56, was arraigned in the Nome courthouse on Monday. Simpson was charged with five misdemeanor violations of Alaska hunting laws, including illegal guiding on private land.

Last Friday, two of Simpson’s employees were also arraigned. Tyler Weyiouanna, 25,  was charged with aiding in the violation of hunting regulations and using a motor vehicle to harass game. Matthew Iyatunguk, 23, was charged with one count of harassing game.

The charges were initially filed in Alaska District Court on August 17th. Simpson has hired his own attorney, while Weyiouanna and Iyatunguk will be represented by public defenders appointed by the court. All three men are set to appear at the courthouse in Nome on November 9th.

Image at top: Brown bear. Photo via Flickr / Creative Commons, courtesy of Eric Gorski.

South Dakota man sentenced on state, federal hunting charges

https://wtop.com/animals-pets/2018/06/south-dakota-man-sentenced-on-state-federal-hunting-charges/

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota man accused of illegally baiting a mountain lion with dead deer has been sentenced on state and federal charges.

The Rapid City Journal reports 21-year-old Mason Hamm of Rapid City recently pleaded guilty in federal court to hunting with an unregistered firearm and was sentenced to eight months in prison. He admitted killing a mountain lion in January 2016 using a rifle with a silencer that wasn’t registered to him on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives database.

Hamm also was sentenced to serve four days in jail on state hunting misdemeanors to which he pleaded guilty.

Hamm’s hunting companion, William Colson VI of Rapid City, was sentenced in February to probation, banned from hunting for nine years and fined $11,000.

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This story has been corrected to show that the silencer was not registered to Hamm on the ATF database, not that the silencer was not registered with the agency.

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Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press

Hunter charged with federal crimes for allegedly leading illegal elephant hunts

A South African man is facing federal charges for his role in allegedly helping a Colorado hunter illegally kill endangered elephants in Zimbabwe and offering similar services to an undercover federal agent, according to an indictment unsealed Monday in Denver.

Professional hunter Hanno van Rensburg, 44, of South Africa is facing charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and violations of the Lacey Act and Endangered Species Act, which prohibit the hunting and trade of threatened animals, including the African elephant, according to the indictment filed by the U.S. Attorney in Colorado. A warrant has been issued for van Rensburg’s arrest.

Federal prosecutors allege that in 2015, van Rensburg was paid $39,195 to help a Colorado hunter shoot an elephant outside of Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou National Park. Van Rensburg and the Colorado hunter — who is not named in the indictment — tracked the wounded animal inside the park, the indictment states.

Van Rensburg and the Colorado hunter, according to the indictment, “agreed to pay and paid a bribe to the game scouts of between $5,000 and $8,000 so that they could shoot elephants other than the one that was first shot and wounded and kill an elephant inside Gonarezhou National Park, in violation of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wild Life Act.”

The indictment alleges that to export the elephant’s ivory, Van Rensburg conspired to tell Zimbabwean authorities that his client, the hunter from Colorado, was actually from South Africa.

“To conceal this contrivance, van Rensburg quizzed Colorado hunter on the layout of his house so that Colorado hunter could convincingly answer such questions and successfully represent himself as a South African resident,” according to the indictment.

Federal authorities also allege van Rensburg attempted to sell a similar illegal elephant hunting trip to an undercover agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. According to the indictment, in 2017 van Rensburg told the agent to bring around $9,000 dollars on the trip for “extras,” as in bribes.

Hunters are required to buy “tags” if they want to hunt an elephant in Zimbabwe, and van Rensburg allegedly reassured the agent that a limited number of tags was not a problem.

“But you know about Zimbabwe, how it works,” van Rensburg allegedly told the agent, according to the indictment. “If they need another tag, they get another tag. You know, that’s the negative part of it. The system is so corrupt. If they need to get it, they will get it. If the client pays the money they will find another tag. I am straightforward with you. Corruption is the rule in Africa.”

Van Rensburg did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but one of his former clients is coming to his defense.

Charlie Loan, a hunter who is unrelated to the current case, said the indictment comes as a surprise. Loan said he was part of a small group that hired Van Rensburg and his guides for a 10-day South African hunting safari in 2012.

“One of the things that we were all really impressed by was the fact that they put a lot of emphasis on conservation,” Loan told ABC News. “Conservation was key in his mind, and that went through his entire staff.”