Mutilated orangutan bodies discovered near palm oil plantations captivated public attention throughout 2018 in Indonesian Borneo. One hundred and thirty bullets shot from close range riddled one orangutan carcass. Seventeen bullets were found in another decapitated orangutan. Conservation workers observed signs of torture in a third body discovered near a newly opened palm oil plantation.
A video of an orangutan battling a bulldozer clearing forest in Borneo for palm oil went viral in international media last year. Months later, Iceland banned an animated anti-palm-oil ad featuring a lost, orphaned orangutan finding her way into a human home. In 2019, Norway pressured Indonesia, the world’s largest producer and exporter of palm oil, to adopt more sustainable harvesting practices by reducing its palm oil imports from the country, but did not ban palm oil itself. With the exception of Norway, the world’s countries have remained either relatively quiet, or completely uninformed about, Indonesia’s growing environmental crisis and various animal rights violations.
Deforestation and habitat destruction are rampant in Southeast Asia, mainly due to palm oil production. The region alone produces 87 percent of the world’s palm oil, which can be found in snack foods. The 18 million hectares of palm oil plantations in Borneo have destroyed more than half of the island’s rainforests, leaving wildlife (and especially orangutans) vulnerable to abuse and death.
Indonesia’s forests face varied and complex pressures. A combination of palm oil production, hydroelectric project development and infrastructure development is driving habitat loss. To slow global deforestation rates, the United Nations in 2015 dedicated Goal 15 of its Sustainable Development Goals to “life on land.” National targets for conservation in Indonesia focus on increasing biodiversity and halting illegal wildlife trafficking by 2020. As we head into 2020, considerable work remains unfinished. One clause of Sustainable Development Goal 15 explicitly calls upon all countries to “take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity and, by 2020, protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature classified Bornean orangutans as critically endangered in 2016. Orangutans are still being hunted as intruders on palm oil plantations, despite protective regulations being in place since 1985. An estimated 104,700 orangutans survive in Borneo today, down from a population of 230,000 in 2007.
In the last 20 years, palm oil producers have slashed orangutan habitat in Indonesia and Malaysia by more than 80 percent. The toxic, hazardous phenomenon of transboundary haze — seasonal air pollution from burning forests in Indonesia and Malaysia that crosses international borders to affect up to six countries in Southeast Asia — is a result of slash-and-burn practices to clear plantations. In 2015, the World Bank Group reported smog levels over 1,000 on the Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) in Indonesian villages near the slashed-and-burned clearings. A PSI level ranging over 300 is considered hazardous for humans and animals.
Indonesia’s forests are being decimated for palm oil production at an alarming rate. The area of Indonesian forest burned by palm oil producers for clearing just in 2015 was more than 26 times the area of forest destroyed by all the California wildfires of November 2018.
A narrow strait separates Indonesia from Singapore, my home. Since the haze doesn’t respect international boundaries, schools and institutions in Singapore began distributing protective breathing masks in 2015. Throughout September and October of this year, the air pollution was so thick that simply going outside caused watering eyes and burning throats. With haze this suffocating in Singapore, I began to wonder what is happening across the water where the forests blaze. To find out why Indonesian forests continue to burn year after year and why an endangered species is still being killed, I embarked upon several months of investigative reporting to speak with Indonesian conservationists directly.
The Centre for Orangutan Protection (COP), based in Jakarta, Indonesia, works at the front lines, campaigning against habitat destruction in Borneo, rescuing and releasing orangutans, and actively protesting palm oil companies. One of Indonesia’s most dogged activist groups, COP hijacked the 2013 Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil in Medan, Sumatra, by barging in on the meeting dressed in orangutan costumes. In the 20 minutes that elapsed before the police removed the activists, they disrupted the conference and paraded around a banner urging onlookers to boycott the palm oil companies present at the meeting. Leading COP’s habitat campaign efforts is Paulinus Kristianto from Kalimantan, Borneo. Deforestation is a deeply personal issue for Kristianto, an Indigenous Dayak. Kristianto, a videographer by trade, documents what’s happening in Kalimantan to educate the Dayak people and the world.
The Dayaks share the forests with orangutans; the Dayak people well understand that their fates are intertwined. “When I see the Dayak tribes, my family, lose the forest, we can’t do anything. We try to fight and the companies send us to jail,” Kristianto told Truthout. “So, I must go to fight. It comes from my heart. I must prove to the people what’s happening is bad.”
The Dayaks are witnessing the end of their way of life. Indigenous cultures in Borneo are being threatened by the deadly trifecta of palm oil extraction, hydroelectric development and commercial logging. Kristianto embraces the danger and sacrifice that his videography and activism entail. On his journey as a conservationist, he recounts, “The first year, I said, these are my adventures; the second year, I said, this is my work; the third year, I said, this is my life. When you see the eyes of the orangutan, there’s no escaping.”
COP dispatched Kristianto to Central Kalimantan in 2015 to save animals endangered by the slash-and-burn fires blazing across palm oil plantations. Uncontrollable flames spread throughout Borneo, including to West Kalimantan where Kristianto lives. “My house was in the peat area. I was in Central Kalimantan trying to stop the fire but I couldn’t get to my home,” Kristianto told Truthout. “The same moment I was in the fire there, my grandfather called me to say, ‘Linus, your house is burning. But it’s okay; our family is okay. Don’t worry about it; I’ll stop the fire here.’ He told me we will build the house again. My battery died, and at night I finally went back into town and charged my phone — and there was a text from my mother saying that my grandfather died [in the fires], just two hours after calling me.”
When Kristianto finally reached his home, days later, there were only ashes where his wooden house once stood. He vowed to quit his conservation work to be with family, but his surviving family members and colleagues urged him to not let his grandfather’s death be in vain.
Kristianto continues campaigning against habitat destruction by palm oil plantations that encroach into the rainforest and investigating crimes against wildlife. According to Kristianto, “We’re just like firefighters. If there’s a problem, we go there. I don’t know much about the data of how many orangutans are in the forest. But if you ask me how many died there, I can tell you.”
Dayaks are committed to protecting their forests, and their own communities by extension. A misleading study claims that orangutan populations are in decline due to hunting by Dayaks. Supporters of palm oil production widely cite this dated survey, published in 2011 with the assistance of the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry, to justify their destructive activities. The survey, which observed kill rates by Dayaks to be higher than expected, does not align with Kristianto’s lived experiences. “In all my seven years of conservation work, I’ve never seen an orangutan killed because of hunting by Indigenous people,” he said. “Villagers are not causing the spike in orangutan mutilations and murders.” According to Kristianto, palm oil companies are killing the orangutans; their incentive is to protect their private, commercial property from “agricultural pests.”
Some palm oil companies place bounties on orangutans in an effort to minimize the damage that orangutans inflict on their crops. As plantations continue to encroach upon orangutan habitats and destroy their sources of wild fruits, the primates resort to eating palm oil fruit to survive. Over the last decade, companies have been offering payments of up to USD $100 to villagers and workers who bring back a severed orangutan foot, hand or head as evidence of a killing.
Indonesian law states that it is illegal to kill an endangered species like an orangutan; doing so could result in up to five years in jail and a fine of USD $7,400. Despite some arrests of individuals, the Indonesian legal system has never handed down a full sentence commensurate with the crime. Only one notable case of a Malaysian-owned palm oil company went to trial in 2013. The company was found guilty of paying two of its workers to kill orangutans. The plantation manager and the two workers were found guilty. Despite COP campaigning during the trial for a full sentencing, the manager and two workers all spent eight months in jail and were fined less than a third of the maximum fine stated by the 1990 Conservation of Biodiversity and Ecosystems Law.
Kristianto performed the autopsy of the orangutan who in 2018 was found with 130 bullets lodged in his body. He determined that the orangutan not only was shot at extremely close range, but also suffered in this wounded condition for three days before dying. Officials found the orangutan near PT Wana Sawit Subur Lestari’s newly opened plantation. Police convicted the perpetrator, but the punishment was a mere seven months in jail.
In 2018, the federal government of Indonesia issued a moratorium on the opening of new palm oil plantations. However, local governments that ignore the moratorium and continue to allow the establishment of new plantations face no consequences from the federal government. Palm oil companies that already hold local permits can still establish new plantations. Abetnego Tarigan, former executive director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment and a senior adviser to the Indonesian president, has a unique perspective on the government’s stake in palm oil. “The strategy to maintain the position of Indonesia in the palm oil sector is to improve productivity,” Tarigan told Truthout. “So the moratorium is actually a way to improve the palm oil sector by increasing productivity.” According to Tarigan, the federal government is encouraging palm oil producers to focus more on regenerative agricultural practices to expand production, rather than continuing to destroy virgin forest.
Tarigan agrees that the federal government’s moratorium on new plantations by itself is not enough to curb palm-oil-driven deforestation, and says that stricter reviews of palm oil development permits are crucially needed. “It’s public knowledge that many permits are released to bribery without the support of an environmental impact assessment or disaster risk,” he said.
According to the World Bank, the agriculture industry employs about 30 percent of the Indonesian workforce, with the palm oil and pulp-and-paper industries being key constituents of the sector. Palm oil surpassed oil and gas as the biggest component of Indonesia’s Gross Domestic Product in 2016. Even Kristianto, who has seen first-hand the devastation caused by palm oil, declares himself not to be anti-palm oil. “Palm oil is still needed in Kalimantan,” he says. “So many places are isolated, and palm oil companies build infrastructure.”
Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF) Director Jamartin Sihite pulls all threads of human development into the picture. “You cannot talk conservation with hungry people. Give people a way to find an alternative livelihood. It’s so complicated with poverty alleviation, rescue and release, monitoring and combating fires,” said Sihite.
In 2011, BOSF was unable to release a single rescued orangutan, as there was insufficient suitable, safe habitat available. Sihite told Truthout that after unsuccessfully lobbying the Indonesian federal government to protect more forest to facilitate the rescued orangutans’ release, BOSF approached local governments. BOSF and local governments in Kalimantan reached an agreement to permit the group to buy the licenses of logging companies (valid for 60 years) and pay property taxes for land suitable for orangutan release. The foundation now has 557 orangutans in rescue and rehabilitation centers around Kalimantan.
For those orangutans fortunate enough to be rescued from habitat destruction and protected from hunters, the journey back to the forest is not guaranteed. The Wildlife Rescue Centre (WRC) in Yogyakarta (also referred to as Jogja), Java, Indonesia, supports the COP’s program to rehabilitate and release orangutans. The WRC cares for orangutans, macaques, sun bears, gibbons, eagles, monkeys, cassowaries and many more animals rescued from illegal trade or poaching.
Habitat conservation does not always lead to rescued animals’ full rehabilitation and release, however. Many of WRC’s orangutans and other animals are too old to be released back into the wild and must remain in captivity as permanent residents.
For rehabilitated animals, habitat for release is scarce. “Right now, it’s hard to find a habitat to release the animals,” said Ignatius Prasetyadi, volunteer coordinator for the WRC. “For example, most of the national parks [in Indonesia] are already full of eagles, and eagles are territorial, so we almost can’t release more [rescued animals]. The forests are overfilled and conservation centers are at maximum capacity. The solution isn’t to make more cages, but to build enclosures, sanctuaries and mini-forests.”
Sihite, the BOSF director, is motivated to get orangutans back into the trees, climbing in their natural environment. “You go to rehabilitation centers and see the big orangutans who have already spent 15 years in the cage. You see their eyes. They look empty. No hope; it’s like a loss of soul. I work so hard, not for the baby eyes, but to get these orangutans out of the cage,” said Sihite.
If these orangutans are not killed by bounty hunters, they still provide lucrative sources of income for wildlife poachers. Many of the orangutans in rehabilitation have traumatic former lives as pets or in circuses. The gruesome 2003 case of Pony, who was kept as a sex slave on a palm oil plantation, demonstrates how long these abuses have been going on.
While the global public is becoming more aware of deforestation and the illegal wildlife trade, the sophistication of wildlife poachers’ methods is also increasing. WRC Jogja Director Rosalia Setiawati is well aware of the tricks that illegal traders use, including systems of ringtone codes and burner phones, to stay one step ahead of law enforcement. Until the global demand for palm oil and exotic animals is extinguished, any real progress toward wildlife conservation goals will likely continue to be nullified by the work of poachers.
Deforestation endangers orangutans; it also affects other animal and plant species that don’t receive much or any media attention. “If you lose orangutans, you lose the 40 types of plants that are grown through their digestive systems,” Setiawati said. Sihite agrees, calling orangutans “the gardeners of the forest.”
Every day spent steadfastly boycotting palm oil is a day in which 25 orangutans worldwide are still killed due to habitat destruction. Large manufacturing companies, whether compelled by government policies or not, must eradicate unsustainable sources of palm oil from their supply chains in order to save the orangutans. All countries that import palm oil need to ban the ubiquitous commodity as a first step to rehabilitate damaged forests, conserve wildlife and put an end to orangutan killings.
More than a decade ago in the U.K., Friends of the Earth campaigned against palm oil for a year. Activists protested outside storefronts to pressure Tesco and other major retailers to develop a framework for certifying sustainable palm oil production as such. Creating this distinction in the marketplace is another first step toward raising consumer awareness about the hazards of non-regenerative palm oil production.
Kristianto would be more than happy to put himself out of a job if palm oil companies radically alter their production practices to prioritize wildlife conservation. “Conservation is not about how much we rescue the orangutans,” he said. “It’s about how much people care about them. Conservation is successful when you don’t have to rescue them anymore.”
The imperative to save the orangutans presents a predicament for Indonesia’s government, which is attempting to balance frenetic economic development with a dire need for species and habitat conservation. Partnerships among government entities, industry participants and conservation groups are essential to saving the orangutan, Indonesia’s national gem, along with the hundreds of other animal and plant species endangered by habitat loss.
Sihite offered this analogy about the urgent need for cooperation: “Everybody has their own part to play. Nobody is bigger than the other,” he begins. “But sometimes it’s not about resources, it’s about the willingness. We work together like an orchestra. How can you say the violin is better than the piano? The piano is more expensive than the violin, but in the orchestra, all have the same role to play in order to make a symphony nice to hear.”
But what if the piano is not playing its part? Orangutans have yet to benefit from the harmony of a concerted, nationwide conservation effort to protect their rapidly dwindling species.
Who knew orcas were so playful, so full of affection, so constantly touching one another?
New footage taken by drone as well as underwater stunned researchers who spent two days with the southern resident orca J pod off the British Columbia coast, including with the newest baby, and more time with northern resident killer whales in B.C.’s Johnstone Strait. The footage taken during three weeks in August and early September was filmed in collaboration with the Hakai Institute, a science research nonprofit.
“It took our breath away,” said Andrew Trites, professor at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries Department of Zoology and director of the Marine Mammal Research Unit at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Trites is co-lead researcher on a study that over five years is taking a close look at resident killer whales and their prey.
The drone footage was gathered non-invasively, with the camera hundreds of feet above the whales, who did not seem to even know it was there, Trites said. Combined with underwater microphones, tracking devices used to follow adult chinook, and underwater footage, a spectacular new look into orcas and their day-to-day life in the wild is emerging.
The big standout so far is just how much the orcas touch one another, something not as visible from a boat.
“We like to think we are hardened research scientists, but it tugged at our heart strings,” Trites said, “Especially the mum and calf.”
“These drones are opening up avenues of their lives we have never seen before,” Trites said. “The same way we hug our kids and hug our friends, touch furthers those bonds. That’s the power of touch, and here we have killer whales reminding us of that — who would have thought?”
J pod’s new baby whale, J56, also was seen near the mouth of the Fraser River toting a salmon around in her mouth for two days, even though she is only 3 months old and entirely feeding on her mother’s milk. Is she teething? Or learning how to how to act like a grown-up killer whale?
The core question the investigators are exploring is whether southern residents can get enough chinook salmon — their preferred prey — to eat in the Salish Sea. Data could help answer the question of why for the past three years the southern residents have not been coming back as usual to their core foraging areas in San Juan Island and B.C.
The southern residents also are thinner on average than the northern residents and have been steadily declining in population, to just 73 animals, while northern residents have been slowly growing in population to more than 300. Like the southern residents, the northerns eat only fish, preferable chinook, but their core habitat while far smaller has more abundant fish runs, and cleaner, quieter water.
By observing both populations and their prey, researchers hope to compare their foraging conditions and hunting behaviors and learn whether it is more difficult for the southern residents to capture prey. “One of the conclusions is, yes, there is a food problem,” Trites said. “But we have to be able to answer that with not just an impression or belief, but with data.”
To learn more about the presence, abundance and quality of the orcas’ prey, co-lead Scott Hinch, director of the Pacific Salmon Ecology and Conservation Lab at the University of British Columbia, is capturing and tagging chinook, probing where the big fish are, and examining nutritional quality of the fish.
“We are putting all these pieces together to see what is going on,” Trites said.
The $1 million project is part of the federally funded Whale Science for Tomorrow initiative by the Canadian government, with additional funding and support from other sources.
By Alaa Elassar, CNN
Updated 4:30 PM ET, Sat October 19, 2019
Thousands of wild turtles were being captured and sold illegally in Florida.
(CNN)Two men have been charged for poaching thousands of Florida turtles and
selling them illegally, according to the
<https://myfwc.com/news/all-news/turtle-traffic/> Florida Fish and Wildlife
The “charges represent the state’s largest seizure of turtles in recent
history,” the FWC said in a statement on Friday.
More than 4,000 turtles comprising a range of native species were illegally
captured and sold over six months, the commission said. The turtles were
worth $200,000 on the black market.
“The illegal trade of turtles is having a global impact on many turtle
species and our ecosystems,” said Eric Sutton, the FWC’s executive director.
Two suspects have been charged for smuggling thousands of turtles and
selling them illegally.
After receiving a tip in February 2018, the FWC launched an undercover
investigation where they discovered a ring of traffickers who were selling
wild turtles to reptile dealers and distributors.
The suspects had taken so many turtles from targeted habitats that
populations were depleted, the commission said.
“Wild turtle populations cannot sustain the level of harvest that took place
here,” said Brooke Talley, the FWC’s reptile and amphibian conservation
coordinator. “This will likely have consequences for the entire ecosystem
and is a detriment for our citizens and future generations.”
Investigators served a search warrant on August 12, during which they found
hundreds of turtles and the skull and shell of a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle,
most endangered species of sea turtles.
The skull and shell of a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, the most endangered
species of sea turtles, was found in possession of the suspects.
The suspects sold the turtles for cash and marijuana products, the
commission said. Both suspects face a variety of poaching-related charges.
While the turtles were sold in Florida, they were sold to buyers who shipped
them overseas, specifically in Asia where they were bought as pets.
Depending upon the species, the commission said the poached turtles sold
wholesale for up to $300 each and retailed for as much as $10,000 each in
“Over 600 turtles were returned to the wild, two dozen were quarantined and
released at a later date, and a handful were retained by a captive wildlife
licensee since they were not native to the area,” the commission said.
“We commend our law enforcement’s work to address the crisis of illegal
wildlife trafficking,” said Sutton.
CNN’s Melissa Alonso contributed to this report.
Mark Romanski, division chief for natural resources at Isle Royale, said at
this point the Park Service doesn’t have many answers.
Written By: Evan James Carter / Detroit News | Oct 6th 2019 – 1pm.
A wolf from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is released on Isle Royale in
September 2019. The island now has 17 wolves, up from two a year ago. Photo
courtesy National Park Service.
ISLE ROYALE – One year into its effort to reestablish the wolf population on
Isle Royale, the National Park Service and its partners have a problem: Some
of the new wolves died and nobody knows why.
Since the Park Service began its relocation efforts in September 2018, 19
wolves have been transplanted from Minnesota, Ontario, Canada and Michigan’s
Upper Peninsula. Three of the wolves have died, the most recent on Sept. 15.
Another wolf left the island for mainland Ontario on an ice bridge in
The number of wolves on the archipelago in Lake Superior is now 17: nine
males and eight females. Before the repopulation efforts began in fall 2018,
there were only two island-born wolves left roaming the island.
As the Park Service follows the progress of the newly relocated wolves, it
is also trying to ensure more wolves don’t die so soon after being
transported to the island.
Mark Romanski, division chief for natural resources at Isle Royale, said at
this point the Park Service doesn’t have many answers.
When dealing with wild animals, Romanski said it’s not unexpected that some
will die after being transported because the process of capturing and
relocating the animals can be stressful for them.
“And although we do everything we can to quickly handle the animal and get
them out to the island, of course, each animal is different,” Romanski said,
“and so they handle stress differently or maybe their capture event was
different or different combinations of circumstances.”
The Park Service has now changed its procedures so that the time between the
capture of a wolf and its release on the island is less than 24 hours,
instead of 36-48 hours when the effort began, Romanski said.
Dean Beyer, Wildlife Research Biologist with the Michigan Department of
Natural Resources, helps capture wolves that would make good candidates for
Beyer said that wildlife capture and relocation is something that scientists
can’t totally control and that death is sometimes part of the process. He
said it is important to minimize risk for animals when they’re captured and
handled by members of the DNR.
“We do everything we can do on the front end,” Beyer said. “So we develop
capture plans and all the people involved in the work have gone through
extensive training in terms of how to capture and handle animals and how to
chemically immobilize them.”
He also said that all the DNR’s plans are reviewed by wildlife
One possible factor in the deaths may be a phenomenon called capture
myopathy, a complex physiological process that involves high levels of
stress resulting in damage to muscle tissues. The breakdown in the muscles
can release toxins in the bloodstream which may result in shock, or damage
to organs such as the kidneys.
Michelle Verant, a veterinarian for the National Park Service stationed out
of Fort Collins, was tasked with monitoring the wolves while they were
transported to Isle Royale.
She said that there wasn’t evidence of capture myopathy in the first wolf
that was tested by the Park Service, but said that doesn’t necessarily rule
“And then this final wolf, thankfully we were able to collect that carcass
pretty quickly and it is currently at the National Wildlife Health Center
getting a full necropsy,” Verant said. “And we may get some evidence there
to suggest whether capture myopathy was involved.”
Here’s what the National Park Service knows about the death of three wolves
transported to Isle Royale:
The first wolf, a male from northeast Minnesota, died in October 2018, about
one month after being transported to the island. The Park Service wasn’t
able to retrieve the carcass until a week after the wolf died because it
didn’t have personnel on the island.
The carcass of the wolf was sent to the National Wildlife Health Center in
Madison, Wis., where they performed a necropsy. The lab determined the wolf
died of pneumonia, but the Park Service doesn’t know how the wolf contracted
The second wolf, a male from mainland Ontario, likely died in early April
2019, after being transported to Isle Royale in late February. The Park
Service wasn’t able to retrieve the carcass from the swamp it was in until
May, at which point the carcass was too far decomposed to send in for
Romanski said there wasn’t external evidence of the wolf getting into some
kind of fight, though the Park Service doesn’t ultimately know what happened
The third wolf, a female from the Upper Peninsula, likely died on Sept. 15
when a mortality signal was sent from its collar. It had been moved to the
island on Sept. 13 and was recovered by Park Service staff on Sept. 17.
The carcass was submitted to the National Wildlife Health Center for
necropsy Sept. 24.
A group seeking voter approval to reintroduce gray wolves in Colorado says it has collected around 168,000 signatures to get the question put on the ballot.
That number is more than the 124,000 signatures needed to make the ballot, a spokesman for the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, the primary backer of the initiative, told The Center Square. The group is aiming for 30,000 more signatures before it needs to submit them to the Secretary of State’s Office for verification by mid-December.
The Colorado Restore Gray Wolf Population Initiative would require the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission (CPW) to create and execute a plan to restore gray wolf populations on designated lands west of the continental divide.
“When we succeed in safely restoring wolves to their home in Western Colorado, we will have closed the missing link and restored the gray wolf’s historical range from the High Arctic to Mexico,” RMWAF says on its website.
If passed, implementing the initiative would cost (CPW) over $344,000 in fiscal year 2021-22 and over $467,000 in fiscal year 2022-23, according to a legislative fiscal impact statement.
The Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, a parallel group to the action fund that educates on wolf restoration in the state, is backed by the Sierra Club Colorado, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Endangered Species Coalition, among other environmental groups.
The Stop the Wolf Coalition, which is made up of several farming, livestock and hunting groups, opposes the initiative, citing potential damage to livestock and wildlife, diseases, and overcrowding in the state.
“Forced wolf introduction is not only a disastrous idea that will impact our wildlife, livestock and Colorado’s growing population,but it’s also not fair to the wolves,” the coalition’s website says.
“A forced introduction of wolves to Colorado would cost untold amounts of taxpayer dollars, redirect already limited wildlife management resources and would have a significant negative economic impact to the state,” said Blake Henning, chief conservation officer for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. “In Colorado, you are dealing with about a third of the land mass of the Northern Rockies’ states but almost double the human population. A forced reintroduction would trigger the potential for real issues in the state.”
A Shelby Township man who paid $400,000 to hunt rare black rhino Namibian national park in May 2018 will be allowed to import the rhino’s body, according to the Associated Press.
The Trump administration announced this week that it will issue a permit to the trophy hunter — identified as Chris D. Peyerk of Shelby Township — to import the skin, skull and horns of the rhino. Peyerk Applied for the permit through the Fish and Wildlife Service to import animals protected under the Endangered Species Act.
He did not respond to AP efforts to reach him by phone.
The rhinos are considered extremely endangered with approximately 5,500 remaining in the wild. Nearly half of those are located in Namibia. Under law, five male black rhinos a year are permitted to be killed by hunters who pay for the right to hunt them.
“Legal, well-regulated hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation,” said Laury Parramore, spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service.
For many years federal regulators denied hunters the rights to bring the body back to the U.S., however as population have increased, the regulations have scaled back. Still, animal rights organizations have been critical of permits allowing for the animals to be brought back to the U.S.
“We urge our federal government to end this pay-to-slay scheme that delivers critically endangered rhino trophies to wealthy Americans while dealing a devastating blow to rhino conservation,” said Kitty Block, the head of the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International. “While we cannot turn back the clock to save this animal, the administration can stop the U.S. from further contributing to the demise of this species by refusing future import permits of black rhino trophies.”
4 MINUTE READ
BY RACHEL FOBAR
PUBLISHED AUGUST 25, 2019
GENEVACountries have voted against decreasing protections for southern white rhinos at the 18th Conference of the Parties for CITES, the wildlife trade treaty, underway in Geneva, Switzerland. International trade in rhino parts has been banned since 1977, but at this year’s conference, eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) and Namibia proposed loosening restrictions for their respective countries. The vote still needs to be finalized at the plenary session at the end, when all appendix change proposals passed in committee are officially adopted.
“I was encouraged and relieved to see parties resoundingly reject the proposal calling for legal international trade in rhino horn,” says Taylor Tench, a wildlife policy analyst for the Environmental Investigation Agency. “Rhino populations remain under immense pressure from poaching and illegal trade, and legalizing trade in rhino horn would have been disastrous for the world’s remaining rhino populations….Now is simply not the time to weaken protections for rhinos.”
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Other countries, including Kenya and Nigeria, worry that legalizing the trade would undermine the survival Africa’s wild rhinos.
“Humankind can do without rhino horn,” said a representative from Kenya during the debate. “It is not medicine.”
Thought to be extinct in the late 1800s, the southern white rhino is classified today as near threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which determines the conservation status of species. There are about 18,000 in protected areas and private game reserves today, almost all in South Africa, according to the IUCN. Black rhinos, which are smaller and have a hooked rather than square lip, are classified as critically endangered, with only about 5,000 remaining. They’re found mostly in Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, and Kenya.
In 2005, eSwatini allowed the noncommercial trade in live rhinos and hunting trophies but not rhino horn. The country put forward a failed proposal to open the commercial rhino horn trade at the last CITES Conference of the Parties, in 2016. eSwatini’s white rhino population reached 90 in 2015, but following one of the country’s worst droughts in recent history, it had fallen to just 66 by December 2017. This year, the country re-upped a proposal to allow for commercial trade in their rhinos, including horn and parts. In a 25-102 vote by secret ballot, this measure was defeated.
Meanwhile, Namibia proposed that CITES downlist its southern white rhinos from Appendix I to Appendix II, with an annotation allowing for trade in live rhinos and export of hunting trophies. Though this move would technically weaken protections, conservationists said it wouldn’t have any significant implications in practice, since Namibia is already allowed noncommercial trade in live rhinos and hunting trophies under the Appendix I listing.
In the proposal, Namibia argued that its population no longer warrants the highest protection under CITES and that the restriction preventing export for “primarily commercial purposes” has held the country back from generating revenue for conservation. From 2008 to 2018, Namibia exported 27 white rhinos to Angola, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Africa. Namibia’s proposal anticipates creating “access to a far larger market for white rhinos,” especially with its primary trading partner South Africa. The country has nearly a thousand rhinos, and according to the CITES secretariat, the population is “increasing.”
“We are deeply concerned that unjustified trade restriction on the Namibian white rhino population, if not removed, will only deprive Namibia of their required resources to manage its populations effectively,” said a representative from Namibia during the debate.
Nonetheless, says Tench of the EIA, Namibia’s rhinos are at risk from poaching, which has intensified since 2014. The proposal was narrowly rejected in a 39-82 vote.
Hundreds of rhinos are poached every year—an average of about three a day, according to Tench—mostly for their horns. Made of keratin (the same protein that makes up our hair and fingernails), rhino horn is often used as a cure-all in traditional medicine in China, Vietnam, and elsewhere in Asia. Because southern white rhinos are more abundant and live in more open habitat, they’ve borne the brunt of the poaching, Tench says. (Go inside the deadly rhino horn trade.)
eSwatini says it has nearly 730 pounds of stockpiled rhino horn, with a commercial value of $9.9 million. Funds from sales of that rhino horn, it contends in its proposal, would have helped conservation efforts.
“Money is at the very core of the matter,” said a representative from eSwatini during the debate. “If the finance is not available to protect them, rhinos will continue to die.”
Opening the commercial rhino horn trade could have had disastrous implications, Tench says. It could have spawned a parallel illegal market, stimulated new demand for rhino horn, increased poaching, and created an enforcement burden for officials, who would have been tasked with the impossible responsibility of distinguishing legal from illegal rhino horn. “It ultimately could just kick off a new wave of demand that would be met by increased poaching. And eSwatini—it’s not the country that even could hope to supply rhino horn internationally.
They have 66 rhinos.”
What’s more, the trade in rhino horn is illegal in China and Vietnam, where demand for rhino horn exists, leading conservationists to ask:
Who would have engaged eSwatini in the rhino horn trade?
Neither China nor Vietnam has declared any intention to legalize the trade, although China flirted with the idea last October, when the government announced that tiger bone and rhino horn could be used legally in medical research or for traditional medicine. Soon after, a senior official announced that China was postponing lifting the ban on rhino and tiger parts, pending further study.
“The suggestion that there’s value in the rhino horn that eSwatini has is kind of false anyway, because they’re projecting that based on a black-market value and an assumption that those legal markets would open up again,” says Matt Collis, director of international policy at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, an animal welfare and conservation nonprofit that does works to prevent rhino poaching.
Collis says it’s unclear what Namibia hoped to achieve with its proposal—since under current regulations, noncommercial trade in live rhinos and trophies is already allowed in the country.
So, he says, this could have been a first step toward liberalizing trade in the future, because the proposal would have moved Namibia’s rhinos to Appendix II.
“It’s not necessarily clear what the motivation is, unless it’s for something for the longer term,” Collis says.
Going forward, Collis says conservationists need to help countries who bear the burden of protecting these species find another way to fund their efforts. “It does need a concerted effort from the international community to offer alternative ways of financing,” he says.
The Trump administration’s recent announcement of rule changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) will blow a hole through protections that have been crucial to preventing extinctions and to helping the recovery of many threatened species. The changes, announced by the Interior Department’s, Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service, will take effect in September.
About 1,600 plant and animal species in the U.S. are listed under the ESA. It’s been estimated the ESA has prevented 227 species from going extinct. It has a 99 percent success ratio, meaning only 10 species ever listed have gone extinct. According to a recent study, 77 percent of once-endangered marine mammals and sea turtles protected by the ESA are now recovering. Without the ESA, it is very likely many iconic as well as many lesser-known species would have disappeared forever. Among others, the ESA is believed to have saved the bald eagle, the monk seal, the leatherback sea turtle, the grizzly bear, the gray wolf, the California condor, the snowy plover, and humpback and gray whales. It is also protecting plant, insect and other species that are vital parts of natural ecosystems.
These changes to the ESA will damage the act’s ability to protect species in a number of ways.
First, a blanket rule automatically extending endangered species protections to newly designated threatened species has been torpedoed. Only threatened species that have special rules set up for them will now receive the greater protections given to endangered species. States could now open hunting or trapping seasons or allow other means that kill off threatened species. Noah Greenwald, endangered species director of the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), told Truthout that there is currently a backlog of around 500 species before the FWS under consideration for threatened status. As a result of the changes he said, “Threatened species really won’t have any protections at all” making threatened status an “almost meaningless designation.”
The new rules change the establishment of critical habitat that is crucial for the survival of threatened species.
If a species is impacted by climate change but not primarily by habitat destruction, the new rules won’t designate critical habitat, even though climate change-threatened species need more habitat protection, not less, Greenwald said. “The rules also make it harder to designate unoccupied habitat. So both of these things are very bad for climate change-impacted species because there’s a decent chance they’ll have to move.”
Unoccupied habitat is habitat not yet occupied by the species but that would be beneficial to a species and could help it survive if a species were forced to move, by say, climate change. Scientists have already documented the migration of species northward and to new habitats as a result of climate change, so the need for critical habitat designations isn’t just theoretical.
Greenwald pointed up the example of the wolverine. Only about 300 wolverines are estimated to be left in the wild in the U.S. They are dwindling, particularly as a result of climate disruption lessening mountain snowfall. Wolverines are currently up for a listing decision and are likely to be given threatened status but no designated physical habitat under the new rules. Greenwald says wolverines are affected by winter sports and things like ski resort development because they rely on spring snowfall at high elevations for denning. But since it’s hard to predict exactly how various habitats will be impacted by climate change, the animals are unlikely to be given critical habitat designation now by the FWS rule changes.
Environmental groups are also condemning the ESA changes because they remove language requiring that decisions on protecting species be based solely on science “without reference to possible economic or other impacts of determination.” The new rules allow economic calculations to be made in considering protection of species. This could open the door to weighing those costs against protecting a species. For instance, when deciding whether protecting a certain species threatened by logging of old growth forest is outweighed by the economic benefit of logging. FWS Assistant Director Gary Frazer insisted science would remain the sole basis of determining protections, but the whole attempt to weaken the ESA for many years (mainly by Republicans) has always sought to open the door to overrule protecting species in favor of big capitalist business interests like logging and fossil fuel extraction.
Trump officials are trying to cover over their true intentions by speaking of “updating” or even “improving” the Act. Interior Department head David Bernhardt, a longtime ESA opponent and advocate for coal and oil interests, now claims to just make the ESA more “clear and efficient” to “ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal — recovery of our rarest species.”
Jacob Malcom of Defenders of Wildlife doesn’t buy it. “They’re going to make these arguments because that’s the only way they’re going to have any traction in trying to defend them, but they’re simply not true,” he told Truthout.
Greenwald concurs. “They say they’re going to rely on the best scientific information in making their decisions but what’s the point of doing the economic analysis?” he told Truthout. Greenwald said these changes will also create pressure by large monied interests to list species as threatened instead of endangered, because they will get less habitat protection. Republicans in Congress like John Barrasso,who have conducted a years-long attempt to undermine and do away with ESA protections, also see these changes as a “good start” and a gateway to even more drastic gutting of the Act, while claiming to “update” and “strengthen” it.
Facing criticism for the rule changes, Trump officials have simply doubled down on their assault on species, denying endangered protections to six more species on August 14.
CBD, Earthjustice and the attorneys general of California and Massachusetts have announced they will go to court to stop the rule changes.
The assault on the ESA happens at a moment of global mass extinction and climate crises. It will further that crisis unless prevented.
“When we’re seeing this kind of crisis … we should be strengthening laws we know are effective at saving species,” Malcom told Truthout. “Instead, the Trump administration is doing the opposite. They are weakening the rules, making it easier for harm to happen to these species and ultimately to drive species closer to extinction.”
In May, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) reported that up to 1 million species are threatened with extinction. The report said “nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history — and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely.”
According to the report, three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66 percent of the marine environment have now been significantly altered by human actions, and land-based habitats have fallen by 20 percent. Approximately 40 percent of amphibian species, 33 percent of reef-forming corals and a third of all marine mammals are threatened. Scientists have also been finding evidence of a collapse of insects in certain places, leading to fears of an apocalypse at the base of the food chain.
About one-fourth of the global land area is “traditionally owned, managed, used or occupied by Indigenous Peoples.” And areas with large concentrations of Indigenous Peoples and many of the world’s poorest people are now “projected to experience significant negative effects from global changes in climate, biodiversity, ecosystem functions and nature’s contributions to people.” IPBES Chair Robert Watson said, “We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”
The gutting of the ESA happens against a backdrop of other human-caused catastrophes that has been escalating with shocking rapidity and scope, this summer especially.
This July ranked as the hottest month ever recorded. An intense heat wave scorched the northern hemisphere, causing between 12 and 24 billion tons of Greenland’s ice to melt in a single day. Scientists said the melt was reaching levels climate models hadn’t predicted until 2070. In the Arctic, extremely hot temperatures and resulting drought set off massive wildfires that are visible from space. In vast regions of Siberia, the smoke got so bad that, mixed with dark clouds, it caused the sun to “disappear,” as also happened last summer. Now residents talk about this as the sun “going off.” Waters are so warm in some Alaskan rivers that salmon are literally being killed off.
The increased warming of the Arctic is causing a feedback loop releasing even more greenhouse gases by melting frozen permafrost. “Arctic permafrost isn’t thawing gradually, as scientists once predicted,” reports National Geographic. “Geologically speaking, it’s thawing almost overnight.”
If fossil fuel burning isn’t dramatically altered, in a few decades, emissions of carbon and methane from melting permafrost will contribute as much to greenhouse emissions as that of China, currently the world’s largest emitter. Meanwhile, in the Bering Sea, warming ocean waters are triggering ecological disaster, killing off seabirds, seals, walruses and whales at rates not seen before. Rick Thoman, a scientist with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, said at a public forum in Nome, Alaska, “We’re not approaching the cliff. We’ve fallen off it.”
Given the cataclysm already engulfing the globe, emergency measures are needed to address the crisis.
Nothing like this is occurring, and in the U.S., Trump is instead barreling ahead in ways that will further destroy species and ecosystems to increase profitability for capitalism with what could rightfully be called life-destroying criminality.
A report in Scientific American details how the Trump administration is “torpedoing climate science.” Another report reveals that after meeting with Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Trump personally intervened with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to force a withdrawal of opposition to the proposed Pebble Gold and Copper Mine that will likely devastate the habitat of the world’s richest and most pristine remaining salmon run, in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Trump’s Interior Department is also being exposed for suppressing science in an environmental assessment of drilling plans in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain. Government scientists warning of the likely damage to caribou, polar bears and Native communities are being disregarded.
And on another front, Trump’s EPA has continued to refuse to stop the use of dangerous pesticides that are killing endangered plants and animals, including important pollinators. In the case of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which has been shown to cause neurological and developmental damage to humans and animals, the EPA reversed a ban on its use even though the agency knew it could jeopardize the existence of almost 1,400 endangered plants and animals.
In July, Trump gave a speech on what he claimed were the great achievements of his government on the environment, including how under him, the U.S. has the world’s cleanest air and water. However, as Brett Hartl, government affairs director of the Center for Biological Diversity told Truthout, “Since he’s been elected, the air has gotten dirtier, the water has gotten dirtier, the amount of enforcement of our environmental laws has dropped off a cliff so polluters are getting away with much more, and they’re cutting the science and the staff to do the basic research to monitor the air and water.”
The CBD has filed 151 lawsuits to date challenging the Trump administration’s moves that would cause damage to the environment, species and people. The scope of the CBD lawsuits is remarkable, and reviewing them is an excellent way to take in the awful reality of what the regime is attempting to do and the legal attempts to stop this. Hartl said that a number of the lawsuits and legal actions filed by CBD and others have met with success; for instance, blocking Trump moves to open up Arctic waters for drilling, stopping the Keystone XL Pipeline for a time, stopping construction of an open-pit copper mine in Arizona, and winning protected status for a number of species.
The Trump regime is not only a threat to endangered species, but to all species — including our own. Preventing mass extinction and addressing the climate crisis is a global imperative, and time is short.