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.

7 Tons, One Shot

Hank Konrad: hunter

http://www.methownet.com/grist/features/konrad_hunting.html

It’s not every day that you can walk into a local supermarket and find an African lion attacking a warthog right there by the checkout counters – unless you’re shopping at Hank’s Harvest Foods in Twisp.

The lion and warthog are among dozens of trophy animals from Africa, Canada and a smattering of other countries on display at the store, most of them sharing space with an assortment of merchandise stacked above the freezer cases.

“I ran out of room at home so I brought some of them down here for the kids to see,” explains Hank Konrad, store owner and passionate hunter.

Each animal has a story. For example, that male lion from Zambia that’s about to dine on the warthog was probably six or seven years old when he died. He had 19 females in his pride and is believed to have fathered three cycles of cubs, Konrad said. But after losing his pride and territory to another male, he was found wandering hungry and alone. He was so thin his ribs and spine stuck out, according to Jackson Konrad, Hank’s son, who was with him on the trip.

photoJudy and Hank Konrad pose with a greater kudu bull, a woodland antelope, taken for meat in Botswana last year while they were hunting in the Kalahari. Photo courtesy of Hank Konrad

“I tracked him for 12 days because I didn’t want to bait him,” Hank said. Finally, the lion came into the open. “He stopped and looked back.” It was the only moment Konrad had to take a shot and he didn’t hesitate.

The warthog is from Zimbabwe. “I shot him [on a different trip] so we could have dinner,” Konrad explained. The warthog skull that’s part of the exhibit is from the animal on display; the lion skull is not.

Both animals were restored to life-like prime by a taxidermist friend who lives outside Missoula, Mont. He’s worked on all the African animals for Konrad, who said he prefers poses and facial expressions that are as natural as possible – no snarls and added drama. He doesn’t discuss the business side of his passion, but Konrad said, “I’m not taking anything out of the store [to pay] for hunting.”

photoA male Himalayan Tahr, a wild goat with a lion-like mane, watches over grocery shoppers. Konrad shot it in New Zealand, where Tahr goats are hunted for meat. Photo by Karen West

And while he’s hunted many kinds of animals, Konrad said, “I’m not a scorekeeper kind of guy.” In fact, after about two dozen trips to Africa, elephants are the only animal he hunts there – unless “somebody wants something to eat.” Why? “Because it’s the biggest challenge… I’m not a killer. I’m a hunter.”

It takes absolute focus, he explained, to stand face-to-face with a charging bull elephant, knowing he wants to kill you and you want to drop him with a single shot to the brain so he dies instantly. Konrad said he’s never missed that shot. His elephant gun holds two .500 Nitro cartridges and the tracker who accompanies him also has a rifle – just in case.

One year he shot a bull that weighed 14,000 pounds. It was estimated to be about 70 years old, the upper end of an elephant’s lifespan. He only had one molar left in his mouth and couldn’t chew food properly, said Konrad, who started hunting as a child.

“I was born in the woods, outside Grangeville,” Idaho, into a family that raised some cattle, ran a small logging operation and worked as outfitters during elk hunting season, he said. His mother was a quarter Nez Perce and his dad a quarter Crow.

When he was in high school, Konrad recalled, “I used to get on the school bus every Friday with my rifle and my pack and nobody blinked an eye.” After school, he went to a ranch for target practice. “All the kids with pickups in the [school] parking lot had rifles in the rack,” he added. “Nobody shot anybody.”

He is a life member of Safari Club International, the Wild Sheep Foundation, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Mule Deer Foundation and the National Rifle Association. His three kids were trained in firearm safety and his six grandchildren will be, too. He said he opposes gun control.

He also said the United States government has gotten too big and is weakening the country. “We need to be self reliant again,” Konrad said. “We’ve taught our children that somebody else is responsible for everything. But that’s not the way it is.”

Self-reliance, by his definition, means taking care of your own – your kids, parents and the people in your own community — and not expecting the government to do it.

Konrad is legendary for quietly extending a generous helping hand in the community. “There’s nothing I won’t do for a working man but there’s nothing I’ll do for a man who won’t,” he said.

photoHank Konrad displays an 84-pound elephant tusk, one of the pair he has from his 2012 hunt in Botswana. Since the mid-1980s all elephant tusks being shipped from Africa are assigned a serial number to help track the ivory. Hunters must have permits and document their hunts with photographs. Konrad donates the hide and all meat to local villagers. Photo by Karen West

Hard work has been a hallmark of his life. He said his great-grandmother, Eva Cash, long ago told him: “All good things come to he who waits as long as he works like hell while he’s waiting.”

In 1975, Konrad moved to Twisp with his wife, Judy, a native of Lewiston, Idaho, and his brother and his wife. They bought the ‘Buckingham Palace’ grocery store, which was located where the Confluence Gallery is today.

“I worked 15 hours a day, seven days a week,” Konrad said. “I took a half-day off when Stephanie was born.” Stephanie is the eldest of the Konrad’s three children. She’s living in Wyoming, although her son works at the store. So do the Konrad’s other two children – daughter, Carlan, and son, Jackson, who runs the meat shop. Judy Konrad works in the office. Hank’s Harvest Foods employs 54 people, making it one of the largest employers in the valley.

Over the years, Konrad has had several businesses in addition to the grocery store including an excavating company and a well-digging business. He’s also invested in real estate. The family lives on a 1,000 acre ranch put together over the years up Finley Canyon, where the kids can learn about life by roaming the hills, hunting, fishing in the lake and riding their ATVs where grandpa designates so they don’t “tear up the land.” And you can bet they know the stories of the animals in his trophy room.

Konrad said he likes to travel “but I want to go into the bush and meet the real people.” Judy accompanies him and does some hunting, although she also travels with a group of friends to tourist sites and countries he doesn’t care about. His first trip outside the United States was with the U.S. Army to Vietnam, where he spent part of three different years. There he befriended an “old Frenchman” who talked to him about the place.

His passion for Africa was ignited years later when he saw some films about hunting there. It looked challenging. But the appeal has many facets – the expanses of land, the quiet, “tracking in the African bush and meeting the indigenous people who live out there” for whom hunting “is a way of life.”

photoAbout two dozen white tail and mule deer trophies are on display above the freezer cases. Photo by Karen West

Konrad said he hunts on government lands that are equivalent to our Forest Service lands, where the herds are managed and park rangers set the quotas on the number of permits issued.

The Safari Club promotes hunting and conservation by taking care of the animal populations, he said. It also sponsors anti-poaching teams. “Africa, right now, would pretty much be without animals if it wasn’t for Safari Club International.”

“Hunting is a positive thing for all animals because it gives them a value and without it, they’re gone,” Konrad said. “The trophy fee for an elephant can feed a village for a year, plus they get the meat.”

If he gets an elephant permit this year, Hank and Judy Konrad will make what he expects to be their last elephant-hunting trip to Botswana in August. The permits for where he wants to go may be auctioned off to some very wealthy bidders, he said, which could change his plan. That would be a bittersweet decision for a man who has tracked elephants up to 60 miles through the African bush that so strongly calls to him.

3/4/2013

James Woods calls for ‘licensed hunting of poachers’ following Idaho game commissioner controversy

WARNING: Article contains graphic photo.

Oscar-nominated actor James Woods took to Twitter on Monday morning to denounce the practice of trophy hunting, presumably after learning of the controversy surrounding former Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner Blake Fischer.

“Honestly some things are just obvious, so please stop selling this nonsense that killing innocent wildlife helps conserve the species. It’s just bull—-,” posted Woods, alongside a link to an article concerning Fischer and his vacation in Africa, during which he claimed to have killed “a whole family of baboons.”

“Killing these glorious creatures is barbaric,” Woods added. “Just stop it.”

BIG-GAME HUNTER AND FORMER BEAUTY QUEEN BLASTED OVER HUNTING COMMENTS

Woods also responded to critics on Twitter who defended conservationists, saying that he was specifically referring to the practice of trophy hunting.

“I eat hamburgers. Somebody does the killing. I’m not going to get holier-than-thou about hunters. If you’re a carnivore, then somebody has to do the killing. But killing for a “trophy” is absurd. What I’d really like to see is the licensed hunting of poachers,” he tweeted.

Woods also called hunting exotic animals on regulated land “vile,” and suggested that sport hunters should hunt each other to create a more “level playing field.”

Woods’ posts came days after news of Fischer’s trip to Africa came to light, along with photos of the animals Fischer and his wife had shot in Namibia, which included a leopard and giraffe, among others.

“First day [my wife] wanted to watch me, and ‘get a feel’ of Africa,” Fischer reportedly recounted in an email to over 100 friends and co-workers following his trip, according to a public records request from the Boise’s KBOI and The Idaho Statesman. “So I shot a whole family of baboons.”

Fischer, who resigned Monday following a request from Idaho Governor Butch Otter, had initially defended his actions, saying nothing he did was “illegal,” “unethical” or “immoral.” He also said he had paid a trophy fee to hunt certain species.

OKLAHOMA MAN FACES CHARGES FOR SHOOTING DEER HOURS BEFORE SEASON STARTED

Still, his actions were met with criticism from former fish and game officials in Idaho who saw the email, with two calling for his resignation and another requesting an apology for what they called unsportsmanlike hunting practices — especially in regards to the family of baboons.

“I’m sure what you did was legal, however, legal does not make it right,” said Frank Trevey, a former Idaho fish and game warden, to Fischer after seeing the email.

Gov. Butch Otter had also reportedly asked for Fischer to resign earlier in the day, the Statesman reported, saying “every member of my administration is expected to exercise good judgment. Commissioner Fischer did not.”

Fischer apologized to Idaho’s hunters and anglers in a resignation letter obtained by the paper.

“I recently made some poor judgments that resulted in sharing photos of a hunt in which I did not display an appropriate level of sportsmanship and respect for the animals I harvested,” he said, in part.

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Fischer was slated to serve a second term as a fish and game commissioner for Idaho, The Washington Post reported.

Fox News’ Edmund DeMarche contributed to this article.

“I didn’t do anything [currently] illegal.”

“I didn’t do anything illegal.”  

That was the feeble excuse made by Blake Fischer, the Idaho Fish & Game commissioner who—like so many others before him—posed grinning and gloating in one morbid photo after another with the animals he’d mindlessly murdered.

How many leopards must be reduced to props for these tweaked sportsmen’s arrogant pleasures, before the laws protecting them are brought into at least the 20th century?

He might not have done anything “illegal,” but impaling to death with arrows and posing alongside an entire family of freshly-killed baboons breaks a lot of taboos, besides being in excessively poor taste for a supposed wildlife official.

And although his actions may not currently be “illegal,” who could really blame someone for doing something in response that was?

 

Psychopathic killers should not be placed in charge of threatened, endangered, or other wild animal species. Please call for Blake Fischer to be relieved of his position by contacting the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at 208-334-3700 or posting a comment on the department’s Facebook page.

Eight critically endangered black rhinos die after drinking saltier water than they were used to when they were moved to a new reserve in Kenya

  • Tragic loss of endangered black rhinos thought to be caused by salt poisoning
  • Operation aimed to boost species population, but eight of 14 died in transit
  • Translocation of endangered animals is risky and involves putting them to sleep
  • Conservationists in Kenya demand responsibility be taken after sad news broke
  • Death toll is ‘unprecedented’ in more than a decade of such animal transfers

Eight out of 14 critically endangered black rhinos died after being moved to a new reserve in southern Kenya, wildlife officials admitted on Friday.

The Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife said salt poisoning may have caused the rhinos to perish as they struggled to adapt to saltier water in their new home.

It has suspended the ongoing move of other rhinos with the surviving ones being closely monitored.

Eight critically endangered rhinos died of suspected salt poisoning while being moved from Nairobi and Lake Nakuru in Kenya

Eight critically endangered rhinos died of suspected salt poisoning while being moved from Nairobi and Lake Nakuru in Kenya

The black rhinos were being translocated to Tsavo East National Park in the hope of boosting species population

The black rhinos were being translocated to Tsavo East National Park in the hope of boosting species population

The relocation of endangered animals involves putting them to sleep for the journey and then reviving them in a process which carries risks.

But the loss of more than half of them is highly unusual.

Prominent Kenyan conservationist Paula Kahumbu said officials must take responsibility and should have explained what went wrong sooner.

‘Rhinos have died, we have to say it openly when it happens, not a week later or a month later,’ she said.

‘Something must have gone wrong, and we want to know what it is.’

It was hoped moving rhinos to the newly created Tsavo East National Park from Nairobi would boost the population there, AP reported.

The wildlife ministry said ‘disciplinary action will definitely be taken’ if an investigation into the deaths indicates negligence by agency staff.

14 black rhinos were moved in all.

The death toll while moving from the capital to a national park hundreds of kilometres away has been labelled ‘unprecedented’ by the government.

‘Moving rhinos is complicated, akin to moving gold bullion, it requires extremely careful planning and security due to the value of these rare animals,’ Kahumbu added.

‘Rhino translocations also have major welfare considerations and I dread to think of the suffering that these poor animals endured before they died.’

In transit from two separate locations, eight out of 14 of the endangered black rhinos died while moving to Tsavo East National Park

In transit from two separate locations, eight out of 14 of the endangered black rhinos died while moving to Tsavo East National Park

There are an estimated 5,500 black rhinos in the world, a figure that has rebounded from just 350 that existed when the species was on the brink of extinction in 1983

There are an estimated 5,500 black rhinos in the world, a figure that has rebounded from just 350 that existed when the species was on the brink of extinction in 1983

In May, six black rhinos were moved from South Africa to Chad, restoring the species to the country in north-central Africa nearly half a century after it was wiped out there.

Kenya transported 149 rhinos between 2005 and 2017 with eight deaths, the wildlife ministry said.

Save the Rhinos estimates there are fewer than 5,500 black rhinos in the world, all of them in Africa.

Kenya’s black rhino population stands at 750, according to the Worldwide Fund for Nature.

According to KWS figures, nine rhinos were killed in Kenya last year.

In May, three more were shot dead inside a specially-protected sanctuary in northern Kenya and their horns removed, while in March the last male northern white rhino on earth, an elderly bull named Sudan, was put down by Kenyan vets after falling ill.

The black was on the brink of extinction after a dramatic 98 percent decline in population from 20,000 in 1970 to about 350 in 1983, says WWF.

The decline was caused by escalating illegal poaching for illegal markets in the Middle East and Asia.

Black rhinos are considered critically endangered but its population has rebounded, although the species remains threatened due to poaching and habitat loss.

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

Dozens of elephants killed in Botswana

Baby elephants are seen in the photo: Baby elephants, orphaned by poachers, are now being cared for at a new sanctuary in Botswana© Elephants Without Borders Baby elephants, orphaned by poachers, are now being cared for at a new sanctuary in Botswana

of nearly 90 elephants have been found near a famous wildlife sanctuary in Botswana, conservationists say.

Elephants Without Borders, which is conducting an aerial survey, said the scale of poaching deaths is the largest seen in Africa.

The spike coincides with Botswana’s anti-poaching unit being disarmed.

Botswana has the world’s largest elephant population, but poachers have been breaching its border.

The scientist carrying out the extensive wildlife survey said many of the 87 dead elephants were killed for their tusks just weeks ago – and that five white rhinos have been poached in three months.

“I’m shocked, I’m completely astounded. The scale of elephant poaching is by far the largest I’ve seen or read about anywhere in Africa to date,” said Dr Mike Chase from Elephants Without Borders.

“When I compare this to figures and data from the Great Elephant Census, which I conducted in 2015, we are recording double the number of fresh poached elephants than anywhere else in Africa.”

That census estimated a third of Africa’s elephants had been killed in the last decade and 60% of Tanzania’s elephants had been lost in five years.

Botswana has had a reputation for an unforgiving approach to poachers and had largely escaped the elephant losses seen elsewhere.

Despite a lack of fences on the international border, data from tracking collars showed elephants retreating from Angola, Namibia and Zambia and deciding to stay within the boundaries of Botswana where it was thought to be safe.

Incidents of poaching in the country were rare because of armed and well-managed anti-poaching units.

With 130,000 elephants, Botswana has been described as their last sanctuary in Africa as poaching for ivory continues to wipe out herds across the rest of the continent.

The first sign that was changing came two years ago when the BBC flew with Mr Chase close to the Namibian border and he discovered a string of elephant carcasses with their tusks removed for the first time.

But these latest killings have been found deep into Botswana – close to the protected Okavango Delta wildlife sanctuary, which attracts tourists from around the world.

“People did warn us of an impending poaching problem and we thought we were prepared for it,” said Mr Chase, who pointed to the disarmament of the country’s anti-poaching unit as a cause.

“The poachers are now turning their guns to Botswana. We have the world’s largest elephant population and it’s open season for poachers.

“Clearly we need to be doing more to stop the scale of what we are recording on our survey.”

Botswana’s 2018 Wildlife Aerial Survey is only half-way through and conservationists fear the final figure of poached elephants will be a lot higher.

The survey area is split into sections, or transepts, and the plane flies back and forth like a lawnmower cutting the grass – turning at each end to ensure nothing is missed.

“Fresh carcasses” are those lost within the last three months, but many of those recorded had been killed within the last few weeks.

Conservationists fear the scale of this new poaching problem is being ignored as it is bad for the country’s reputation.

“This requires urgent and immediate action by the Botswana government,” said Mr Chase.

“Botswana has always been at the forefront of conservation and it will require political will.

“Our new president must uphold Botswana’s legacy and tackle this problem quickly. Tourism is vitally important for our economy, jobs, as well as our international reputation which is at stake here as being a safe stronghold for elephants.”

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.

Licence to kill: Animal lovers fuming over hunting permits for Cape baboons

09 July 2018 – 15:39BY CLAIRE KEETON
The killing of baboons has sparked growing outrage among residents in Cape Town.

The killing of baboons has sparked growing outrage among residents in Cape Town. 
Image: Gallo Images/Foto24/Taryn Carr

Animal lovers and rights activists are up in arms over hunting permits granting permission to shoot two baboons a day.

The permits were issued to two wine farms in Constantia in Cape Town in October 2017.

The killing of baboons – seven of them to date – has sparked growing outrage among residents in Cape Town after it was revealed by the local Constantiaberg Bulletin newspaper.

The Bulletin reported that baboons were being shot at their sleeping sites and that some had been forced to flee into residential areas‚ where they were injured‚ shot or attacked by dogs.

Distressed Capetonians have started an online petition‚ circulated on Facebook‚ to “demand the end of the horrific baboon cull in Cape Town”.

Asked about the licences to kill baboons‚ which are valid until October‚ Cape Nature Conservation communications manager Marietjie Engelbrecht said on Monday: “A condition of the permit is that each hunt is reported and registered within 24 hours in order to monitor numbers. Daily hunts are not a practical occurrence.”

Engelbrecht said they approved the hunting permits “as a last resort to mitigate human-wildlife conflict”.

“The applicants were able to prove that they have implemented multiple non-lethal mitigation measures over a number of years to try to prevent the continued damage to vineyards and infrastructure without success‚ and have experienced extensive losses‚” she said.

However‚ the secrecy around the permits was on Monday called into question by Jenni Trethowan‚ founder of the Baboon Matters Trust.

Trethowan said the Baboon Technical Team‚ which oversees baboon management on the Cape Peninsula‚ should have gone public about the shooting of baboons if all the justifications were there.

“I’m appalled at the lack of transparency‚” she said. “We heard a lot of chatter on social groups about baboons being killed but this was the first time it has been confirmed.

“Cape Nature Conservation‚ which issued the permits‚ is on the team – as well as the city of Cape Town‚ conservation authorities and researchers. They must have known about it‚” said Trethowan.

According to Engelbrecht‚ “All members of the team were present [when they discussed permits]. I can’t tell you why the information didn’t filter down.”

Buitenverwachting owner Lars Maack told the Bulletin he had applied for a hunting licence as a last resort when electric fences and paintball guns failed to keep the baboons away from their crops and dogs‚ and staff felt threatened.

Klein Constantia vineyard manager Craig Harris told the paper that they had tried monitors with paintball guns and a “virtual fence” experiment‚ which had failed to keep the baboons away.

Hout Bay resident Patrick Semple said: “I don’t understand how wealthy farmers next to a national park can justify killing animals from the national park because they are coming over to eat grapes. Surely they can make another plan?”

Birth control for Tokai baboons could be a non-lethal way to manage the growing numbers in Tokai troops‚ suggested scientist Esme Beamish from UCT’s Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa.

Beamish‚ who studies population dynamics on the peninsula‚ said the Tokai troops had shown the strongest growth of all managed troops‚ with their numbers increasing from 115 in one troop in 2006 to over 250 in four troops in 2017.

“The growth in the Tokai troops is a concern to baboon management. For this reason they would be the first candidates for a reproductive control programme‚” said Beamish.

“The fire and removal of pines from the area was good for baboon welfare and conservation in that it reduced some of the artificial sleeping sites and human-derived food resources [pine nuts].”

Beamish said removing specific raiding baboons‚ as practised by the City of Cape Town‚ could be more beneficial than culling baboons in general.

The broader issue of human-wildlife conflict had been triggered by baboons being “isolated to diminishing areas of natural vegetation as a result of urban-agricultural development‚” she said.

“The City of Cape Town’s baboon management programme has successfully reduced baboon-human conflict in residential areas by keeping baboons out of ‘town’ and in the natural vegetation 98% of the time.

“This is measured by reduced injury or death to baboons as a result of attacks by humans‚” said Beamish‚ adding that the programme did not extend to agricultural land‚ which fell under Cape Nature.