The epidemic has led to renewed calls for an outright ban on the consumption of wild animals.
Seized pangolin scales at the Kwai Chung Customhouse Cargo Examination Compound in Kowloon, Hong Kong. Experts have suggested that consumption of bamboo rats or pangolins may have enabled the coronavirus to transfer to humans. Image: USAID Asia, CC BY-SA 3.0 By Wang Chen, Chinadialogue Feb. 10, 2020
There is growing pressure for fundamental reform of China’s policy on the trade in wild animals following the outbreak of a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which to date has infected over 31,000 and killed more than 600, with numbers rising.
The early cases of coronavirus were clustered around the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. Was the market’s trade in wild animals the source of the virus? One early study published 26 January in the Lancet suggested otherwise. Nonetheless, calls for a ban on the trade in wild animals have reached new highs.
On 26 January, the forestry, market supervision and agricultural authorities announced a nationwide ban on the trade in wild animals, including placing captive-breeding facilities under quarantine, for the duration of the epidemic. These have been described as the toughest restrictions ever enforced on China’s wild animal trade.
But the ban has a time limit. A similar crackdown was also seen 17 years ago during the SARS epidemic. With China now tackling another major virus outbreak, there is pressure for far-reaching policy changes.
Bushmeat and viruses
The latest research shows the genome of the new virus is 96% identical to a coronavirus found in bats, making them the most likely source – as was the case with SARS. It is not yet clear how the virus made its way into the human population. Zhong Nanshan, head of a National Health Commission expert panel and a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has suggested bamboo rats or badgers may have been an intermediate host.
Research published on 7 February by the South China Agricultural University claims that pangolins – one of the most trafficked mammals in Asia – could also be a link. There is as yet no definitive conclusion, but close contact between humans and an intermediate host would have allowed the virus to jump the species barrier.
A price list from the Huanan market, circulated online, shows that prior to its closure on 31 December, meat from animals such as the bamboo rat and civet cat were openly on sale. The civet cat is believed to have been the intermediate host in the SARS epidemic.
Bushmeat is an important part of the cuisine of the mountainous south-east of China. Consuming wild animal meat to improve health is also connected to traditional Chinese medicine. But this tradition has been taken to extremes, with beliefs that the meat of animals with certain characteristics, such as strength, will boost that characteristic in the consumer, and that the “wilder” an animal is the more health benefits it provides. Civet cats are the most prized of all.
As well as encouraging the hunting of wild animals, this demand has also led to some bushmeat species being farmed at scale and sold through established channels. A China Central Television programme on money-making has promoted bamboo rat farming more than once – most recently in June last year – saying that 500 grammes of bamboo rat meat, described as “popular online”, can sell for 80 Chinese yuan (US$11).
Farmers featured on the programme were earning up to 10 million yuan
(US$1.4 million) a year.
Popular internet celebrities, the Huanong Brothers, became famous for filming the process of farming – and eating – bamboo rats. They have a presence on all of China’s major streaming sites, tens of millions of fans nationwide and are seen as typical of the farming boom in Ganzhou, Jiangxi province. Many other underdeveloped areas are now hoping to enrich themselves through bamboo rat farming.
Wu Yu, a blogger for online magazine Elephant, writes that the definition of “wild animal” in Chinese legislation is fuzzy, covering all animals not traditionally considered poultry or livestock – even when, as with the bamboo rat, there is a mature farming sector. An outright ban on the trade in wild animals would harm the legitimate interests of those farmers, he said. “It’s hard to prove that these herbivores, raised in captivity, are more dangerous than poultry and pigs, which have already given rise to bird flu and swine flu.”
But Zhou Haixiang, a member of the Chinese National Committee for Man and the Biosphere, told China Dialogue that the majority of wild animals traded have been obtained illegally. He was also sceptical about farmed
animals: “Even if the farm is properly run, where did the animals originally come from? They’ve been domesticated, but aren’t they descended from animals caught in the wild? There’s still a risk of infection.”
Food & Agriculture
Chinese consumers ignore calls to eat less beef Read now ‘Reasonable use’
Zhou thinks there is huge money in the wildlife trade, but also “potential public health risks”. He argues the existing Wild Animals Protection Law and Protection Measures for Wild Land Animals leave too much room for the large-scale commercial use of wild animals.
Current regulations mean bamboo rats can be farmed once licences have been obtained.
The lessons from SARS did not dent appetites for bushmeat. Consumption bounced back less than a year after the 2003 epidemic, and in Guangdong grew into a “high-class” pursuit. Policymakers started to look for a balance between market demand and regulation, and in August 2003, the forestry authorities produced a list of 54 animals suitable for commercial breeding and farming, setting out qualifications for entry to the sector, a quota management system and a labelling system. The aim was to regularise the practice rather than ban it.
This was the first official recognition that wild animals could be farmed, and businesses making “reasonable use” of these animals started to grow legitimately. Once a farm had health certificates and breeding and business licences in place, they were free to operate.
But many of these farms are “laundering” wild-caught animals. Lü Zhi, a professor at Peking University’s School of Life Sciences, said that these farms “briefly place wild-caught animals in a licensed farm, before sending them to market”.
The debate between “protection” and “reasonable use” has been ongoing ever since the SARS epidemic. It reached a peak in 2015, when the process of revising the Wild Animals Protection Law started.
Unfortunately, “reasonable use” remained written into legislation, and more policies encouraging the sector appeared. A key document in 2018 called for China to “accelerate the growth of the farming and display of wild animals”, and the wild animal sector was linked with the promotion of rural economies. In 2019 the forestry authorities proposed increasing wild animal breeding capacity to boost market supply.
“Allowing for reasonable use is an error in the Wild Animals Protection Law’s approach,” said Zhou Haixiang. He points out that although wild animals have been bought and sold for decades, and even generate billions of yuan in income for some provinces and cities, this approach to protection does nothing for ecological balance and public health.
Revision providing opportunity
The coronavirus has strengthened calls for a complete ban on bushmeat, with universities, research institutes, independent political figures, NGOs and the media calling for the law to be changed. But there are different ideas on what that ban should look like. The current focus of debate is on how to protect the interests of those who are already operating legally.
Zhou thinks public health concerns mean all breeding, farming and trading of wild animals should be banned. This may lead to losses for some legitimate operations, but is nevertheless “essential” to stop illegal hunting.
“The industrial and commercial authorities, which oversee the market, don’t have the necessary specialist knowledge to distinguish captive-bred and wild-caught animals,” he argues.
Lü Zhi’s proposal leaves more room for manoeuvre. She thinks eating bushmeat is the most dangerous way to utilise wild animals, and it is also an unnecessary luxury. She suggests expanding a ban on the consumption of protected species to cover all wild animals, putting an end to the bushmeat trade.
But she also suggests reclassifying those animals already successfully bred in captivity and accustomed to their new environments as “special livestock”, to be regulated in a similar way to common poultry and farm animals. Both Lü Zhi and Zhou Haixiang think this distinction between wild animals and farmed animals should depend on whether a species can live and breed well in captivity, and if the risk of disease can be managed.
For Liu Kejun, a senior livestock specialist at the Guangxi Institute of Animal Farming who has been researching the breeding of bamboo rats for over 20 years, “farmed animals shouldn’t be a problem”. “Captive bamboo rats eat bamboo, sugar cane, elephant grass stalks and cassava stalks.
The farming process is very hygienic,” he said.
“As consumer awareness develops, we can expect the market for bushmeat to fall,” says Lü Zhi, but establishing a new category of farmed animals and gradually reducing available licences could give these farmers time to diversify and reduce losses.
Shortly after the 2003 SARS epidemic, 22 members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences called for a change to the law to halt the misuse of wild animals. Lü Zhi is more confident of success this time round: “This time it’s not just public opinion, the authorities are also keen. Things will change, we’ll just have to wait for the legislative process to conclude to see exactly how.”
A stash of bear paws was intercepted by the FSB at a border post with China
The Russian agents later found tiger paws and mammoth tusks in a garage
It is likely the bear paws were obtained after illegal slaughter of
By Will Stewart for MailOnline
Published: 15:15 GMT, 12 November 2019 | Updated: 15:16 GMT, 12 November
A grisly cargo of 240 bear paws which were allegedly on their way to China has been seized by Russian security services.
Two paws of an endangered Amur tiger and a pair of extinct woolly mammoth tusks were also found in the illegal cache.
The gruesome goods are believed to have been destined for China to be used in traditional medicines and food delicacies.
The bear paws intercepted at the Chinese border are from Himalayan – or black – bears endemic to the far east of Russia and it is likely they were obtained after the illegal slaughter of 60 animals.
Seized: A cargo of bear paws from 60 illegally slaughtered animals is seen after it was intercepted by Russian security agents
Seized: A cargo of bear paws from 60 illegally slaughtered animals is seen after it was intercepted by Russian security agents
Illegal: Two of the paws which were seized by Russia’s FSB security agency at a border post between Russia and China
Illegal: Two of the paws which were seized by Russia’s FSB security agency at a border post between Russia and China
‘Two Russian nationals and two foreigners have been detained,’ said a statement from the FSB security agency.
They face up to seven years in jail for smuggling tiger and bear parts as well as ivory out of Russia, said the security service.
A total of 44 bear paws and two Amur – or Siberian – tiger paws were seized from two ‘foreigners’ at the Kraskino border post which links China and the Primorsky region of Russia.
Later, 198 bear paws and two mammoth tusks were found in a garage at a house linked to the alleged smuggling ring.
Four sacks of unidentified animal body parts were also seized and will now be analysed.
Sergey Aramilev, director general of Amur Tiger Centre, said the tiger paws were from an animal that died earlier than this year.
The tigers are among the most threatened big cats on the planet.
‘This is clearly a crime,’ he said.
One of the paws in the collection of 240 bear paws, two paws of an endangered Amur tiger and a pair of extinct woolly mammoth tusks which were intercepted at the Chinese border
One of the paws in the collection of 240 bear paws, two paws of an endangered Amur tiger and a pair of extinct woolly mammoth tusks which were intercepted at the Chinese border The bear paws are from Himalayan – or black – bears endemic to the far east of Russia and it is likely they were obtained after the illegal slaughter of 60 animals
The bear paws are from Himalayan – or black – bears endemic to the far east of Russia and it is likely they were obtained after the illegal slaughter of 60 animals A stash of 198 bear paws and two mammoth tusks were found in a garage at a house linked to the alleged smuggling ring
A stash of 198 bear paws and two mammoth tusks were found in a garage at a house linked to the alleged smuggling ring
‘All the circumstances of the crime and all the chains in the criminal ring will be established during the investigation.
‘It is most important to establish where are the remaining parts of the tiger.’
He warned that only a ‘small part’ of a large trafficking operation of wild animal parts is curtailed by the authorities.
He also praised the FSB for the successful operation in busting one smuggling route.
Delicacies made with bear paws – such as soups and stews – can command prices of up to £750, it has been reported.
Bear as well as tiger paws are also turned into traditional medicines to supposedly strengthen the spleen and stomach.
They can be used to counter rheumatism, it is claimed.
Mammoth tusks are ground into powder and can be used for traditional medicines and cosmetics.
Antique dealers fail in high court bid to overturn world-leading blanket ban on
Tue 5 Nov 2019 17.45 GMT First published on Tue 5 Nov 2019 15.17 GMT
Antique dealers have failed in an attempt to overturn a total ban on ivory
trading being introduced by the government after the high court ruled the
legislation did not breach European law.
Conservation groups, who argued that any dilution of the ban would
revitalise illegal elephant poaching, welcomed the decision, which they said
would preserve the UK’s position as a world leader in the fight against the
Last month, a small number of antique dealers challenged the ban in the high
court, arguing that sales of “cultural heritage” objects had no impact on
the market for illegally plundered tusks.
The 2018 Ivory Act, which attracted cross-party support, has yet to come
into force. It criminalises trade in all ivory artefacts with a few artistic
exemptions. The prohibition was championed by the former environment
secretary Michael Gove, who pledged to introduce “one of the world’s
toughest bans on ivory sales to protect elephants for future generations”.
The high court claim was brought in the name of a newly formed company,
Friends of Antique Cultural Treasures (Fact), but funds were channelled via
the British Antique Dealers’ Association (Bada). The dealers also said the
ban undermined the European convention on human rights by interfering with
individuals’ property rights.
Responding to the judgment, Mary Rice, the chief executive of the
Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), said: “This is a victory for
common sense and one which maintains the UK’s position as a global leader
when it comes to fighting the illegal ivory trade.”
The EIA is part of a coalition of 11 conservation organisations that
supported the Ivory Act, arguing that any legal trade in ivory provides
cover for the illegal trade because it is difficult to distinguish between
antique and newly carved ivory. The UK is one of the world’s leading
exporters of antique ivory, particularly to China and Hong Kong.
The environment secretary, Theresa Villiers, said: “I welcome today’s ruling
by the high court which upholds the UK’s commitment to ban the ivory trade.
“We will move forward and make sure the ban comes into operation as soon as
possible to protect wildlife and the environment.”
The European commission is considering further restrictions on ivory trade
across the EU, based in part on the UK’s Ivory Act. Other countries, such as
Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, have introduced, or are considering,
John Stephenson, the chief executive of the campaign group Stop Ivory, said:
“Challenges to the new legislation fly in the face of British public
opinion, which increasingly puts the conservation of nature before profit.
We hope that’s the end of the matter and that the government can get on with
implementing the act, without further distractions.”
Conservationists estimate that 55 African elephants are poached every day,
which they say is an unsustainable rate of loss. David Cowdrey, the head of
policy and campaigns at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said: “We
are delighted to hear that the high court has rejected the antiques lobby’s
bid to overturn the Ivory Act. It is a fantastic day for elephants, and for
everyone that has fought so hard to make the UK’s ivory ban one of the
toughest in the world.”
Editor’s note: Since this story went to press, the Supreme Court of Canada has decided to take up Desautel’s case.
In the early morning hours of an October day in 2010, Rick and Linda Desautel left their hunting camp on traditional Sinixt lands near Vallican, British Columbia, and drove to the steep, thickly forested hills a few miles away. After the road faded to gravel, they turned left at a blue Valhalla Provincial Park sign, and continued to climb. At seven in the morning, Rick spotted a cow elk and a calf down a steep embankment, standing among the shrubs about 100 yards away. They rolled to a stop off the road and crept back toward the elk. Rick raised his Mauser 98 bolt-action rifle, aimed down the hill, and shot the elk.
Six years later, in a courtroom in Nelson, British Columbia, Desautel described his relationship to the area like this: “When I come up here, I’m walking with the ancestors.… It just runs chills up and down me that I can be where my ancestors were at one time, and do the things that they did.” Desautel, a member of the Arrow Lakes Band, descendants of the Sinixt, bent to work dressing the carcass: He pulled out the heart and liver, then quartered the meat.
Linda sweated up and down the hillside, a packboard heavy with a hundred pounds of elk strapped to her back, the climb slippery with frost. After loading up the truck, the two went back to camp to hang up the white cloth game bags, full of meat and spotted with blood. Then they drove until they had cell reception, called the game wardens and told them what they’d done.
The Canadian government had declared the Arrow Lakes Band “extinct” in 1956, after the death of the last known member in Canada. But just south of the U.S.-Canada border, Arrow Lakes Band members were alive and well on the Colville Reservation in Washington, where the Desautels live. The planning behind the hunt had been in the works for years — some would say decades — and it was a strategic attempt to force the Canadian government to recognize the Arrow Lakes Band’s right to hunt and, by extension, its tribal sovereignty.
To the Arrow Lakes Band, what Rick Desautel had done was a ceremonial hunt on land his ancestors had never ceded to the Canadian government. But to Canada, it was a crime.Although the charges eventually brought against Desautel were for hunting, at the heart of the case is something bigger — whether or not Canada will have to recognize the Arrow Lakes Band as a modern First Nation, acknowledging their right to hunt and use their traditional lands. If Desautel loses, it means the Lakes will remain, in the government’s eyes, “extinct.”
THE CONFEDERATED TRIBES OF THE COLVILLE RESERVATION are composed of the Arrow Lakes Band and 11 other tribes from the region, who share a 1.4 million-acre reservation in Washington state. To go forward with the hunt, the tribal council representing the 12 bands had to agree to support it, and the court case they knew would follow. For months leading up to the 2010 hunt, tribal officials spoke with their British Columbian counterparts and with wildlife biologists, explaining their plans. The Canadians continued to insist that Arrow Lakes Band people did not “presently exist” in the province. The tribal representatives, who had expected as much, responded that they were going ahead with the hunt regardless.
Afterward, prosecutors charged Rick Desautel with hunting without a license and hunting as a non-resident of Canada. (Linda Desautel was not charged.) He pled not guilty.
Desautel’s case is unique because the Lakes are, as far as they know, the only First Nation to receive an explicit declaration of “extinction.” But his case, if it succeeds, means that other tribes cut off by the U.S.-Canada border with Aboriginal ties to the land could make a First Nations claim, too, even if their members aren’t Canadian residents. And that would require Canada to consult with those nations if any activity or development could impact their traditional lands. The right to own, use and control ancestral lands is enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Canada announced its full support of the U.N. declaration in 2016, the same year Desautel’s case went to trial, as “Canada’s commitment to a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples.”
During the trial, Desautel and other Arrow Lakes Band members listened while experts debated their existence in Canada. The judge ruled in favor of Desautel on March 17, 2017. But the B.C. government has since appealed twice, most recently to the Supreme Court of Canada, which has yet to decide if it will hear the case. (Editor’s note: Since this story went to press, the Supreme Court of Canada has decided to take up Desautel’s case.) During his preliminary hearing, Desautel recalls, an interim court lawyer told him, “You’re going to go to the Supreme Court with this case, you know, but when you do get there, you’re going to be an old, old man.” Well, Desautel laughs now, at 67, “I’m starting to believe him.”
RICK DESAUTEL WAS ABOUT 10years old the winter he went on his first deer hunt. He’d been trapping small animals for years already, rambling the pine woods and grassy meadows around his grandmother’s house in Inchelium, on the Colville Reservation, with his brother Tony. They’d shoot ground squirrels and grouse with a .22-caliber Remington rifle and bring the meat home. But the deer hunt was something else — it was a rite of passage. “When that day comes, it’s mind-shaking,” Desautel said.
Since his dad had died when Rick was young, it was Tony who took him out, borrowing a .25-35 lever-action rifle from the neighbors. The pair pushed through seven inches of snow, up to a ridge about 15 miles from home, when two mule deer jumped out about a hundred yards away. Rick aimed for the buck, but he hit the doe instead, bringing her down. “When it’s your first deer, it’s distributed with the community. None of it is ever kept,” Desautel said. “Everything that you kill is gone; deer hide, deer head, deer hooves, deer meat.” But, he added, you get the honor, “and glory.”
As a former game warden for the Colville Tribes, Desautel is used to testifying in court in cases involving poachers or drug smugglers. As in his everyday life, he’s consistent and unflappable on the stand. He has a deep knowledge of Colville Reservation lands, and has spent most of his life outside: 23 years as a logcutter on top of a lifetime of trapping and hunting. He’s survived half a dozen falls through ice in the winter and getting caught in a beaver trap. In 2006, while still working as a game warden, he shot down a floatplane smuggling $2 million worth of drugs onto the reservation. As a wild animal damage control officer — his current title — part of his job involves removing wildlife, “whether it be bats in your attic, elk in your field, bear on your porch.” At the direction of the tribal council, Desautel also carries out ceremonial hunts for community events. And he’s hunted in Sinixt territory over the Canadian border since 1988.
Rick and Linda Desautel live in a tidy log cabin on 40 acres of land, with a view of a meadow and Twin Lakes in the distance. In August, golden grasses shush in the breeze while sunflowers nod along the road. Linda grew up in Omak, three mountain passes to the west, just over the bridge from the reservation’s border. Now a school custodian, she’s also been a stay-at-home mom as well as a corrections officer. Together they’ve fostered fawns, hawks, eagles and other wildlife. People too; even after raising six kids, they’re always providing for more.
They’ve also been partners in resistance. In 1988, Arrow Lakes Band tribal members got word that the construction of a road near Vallican, B.C., in Sinixt territory, was going to affect Sinixt graves. A caravan of people went to Vallican to block the road; including the Desautels and their kids. In the end, the road was built and the graves relocated to a property called the Big House, which the Arrow Lakes Band bought as a home base in their ancestral territory. But had the Arrow Lakes Band been a recognized First Nation, the result may have been different.
That was the first time Desautel had the chance to talk with a whole community of Lakes people, standing together for a purpose. At the same time, he got to see the lands that generations before him had inhabited. “It infuriated me that people would desecrate graves and stuff like this here, and pick up their bones and move them,” Desautel said. “I said, ‘OK, I’m ready for it. I’ll head up there and see what I can do to stop this.’ And that’s what I did.”
INDIGENOUS PEOPLE HAVE LONGemployed hunting and fishing as a form of civil disobedience. It’s been a critical method for getting courts and governments to recognize tribal nations’ legal rights to land, water and wildlife — even freedom of religion. In the 1960s and 1970s, tribal members in the Pacific Northwest, from the Nisqually Tribe to the Yurok Tribe, were beaten and arrested for salmon fishing in defiance of state laws that violated their treaty rights. Their actions resulted in multiple victories in the U.S. Supreme Court, reaffirming their right to fish. And more recently, in 2014, Clayvin Herrera and several other Crow tribal members shot and killed three bull elk without a license off-reservation in the Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming. The state charged Herrera with poaching, but a Supreme Court decision in 2019 upheld the Crow Tribe’s rights to hunt on “unoccupied lands of the United States,” in accordance with its pre-statehood treaty with the federal government.
In Canada, important cases testing Indigenous rights include the 1990 decision in R v. Sparrow. In 1984, Ronald Sparrow, Musqueam, was arrested for deliberately using a fishing net twice as long as legally allowed. While lower courts found him guilty, the Supreme Court of Canada found that his ancestral right to fish was not extinguished by colonization and remained valid. “It’s definitely a very common tactic to use in Canada, which raises a lot of interesting questions about having to break the law to get certain (First Nations) rights recognized,” said Robert Hamilton, assistant professor of law at the University of Calgary.
“The vast majority of the province is not covered by any treaty, and so the First Nations there have not given up their rights to the land.”
Desautel is navigating the Canadian court system and the unique histories between Canadian federal and provincial governments and Indigenous nations. Early in Canada’s history, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, tribal nations on the eastern side of the continent signed treaties with the federal government. But as settlers pushed west, that stopped. As a result, First Nations in what is now British Columbia ceded almost no territory to Canadians. “The vast majority of the province is not covered by any treaty, and so the First Nations there have not given up their rights to the land,” said Mark Underhill, Desautel’s attorney. “We’ve been wrestling for an extraordinarily long time to deal with those rights in large part because for many, many decades, the governments of the day, both federal and provincial, simply pretended they didn’t exist — that there were no such rights.”
That began to change with First Nations land claims — when tribal nations pursue legal recognition of their right to land and resources — which set the stage for Desautel. A landmark case brought by Nisga’a Chief Frank Calder in 1973 was the first time that the Canadian courts recognized that unceded First Nation lands exist. Another big change came in 1982, when Canada’s Constitution was amended to explicitly protect Aboriginal rights. That, together with other early court cases, resulted in a modern-day treaty process as an alternative to costly court proceedings. More than 25 treaties between First Nations and the Canadian government have since been negotiated over territory, water and other resources, with more in progress. Many First Nations are not participating, however, instead calling for an overhaul of the process.
Michael Marchand, a former Colville tribal chairman and Lakes tribal member who helped plan Desautel’s hunt, said that the Arrow Lakes Band were concerned that, as other First Nations in B.C. began to make land claims through the courts or treaties, its own claims could get edged out. But before the band could officially assert its ownership over its ancestral lands, it had to re-establish its legal presence as a First Nation.
The core of Desautel’s defense was the evidence that the Sinixt people inhabited the valleys and riversides around the Upper and Lower Arrow Lakes before Canada’s government existed. He and his legal team also demonstrated that their lifeways persisted throughout colonization, as Arrow Lakes Band members, and that they never ceded their Aboriginal rights. It’s been shown in court through Sinixt sturgeon-nose canoes, a main source of transportation before the Columbia River was dammed. It’s been shown through their place-based language and family trees. It’s been shown through the stories of Sinixt culture persisting, despite tribal members being killed by settlers and pressured out of their land, or swept off to boarding schools. It’s also been shown through Canada’s own laws: An 1896 law passed by British Columbia, for example, made it illegal for non-resident Indians to hunt. That is proof, said Underhill, of how many Indigenous people cut off by the border were continuing their way of life despite colonization.
One of the difficulties of the case is how few living tribal elders can speak to that history, because so many from that time have died. Still, the words they left behind remain influential. Shelly Boyd, Arrow Lakes Band facilitator and tribal member, represents Lakes interests in Canada with community members and First Nations. She points to a series of letters that had a strong impact, written by Arrow Lakes members Alex and Baptiste Christian, her husband’s ancestors, and sent to Indian Affairs agents in 1909. The Christians requested that the agents reserve lands around Brilliant, British Columbia, for the Arrow Lakes tribal members. The areas contained graves and were their home prior to settlement. Instead, the agents sold them to someone else, and the bones were eventually churned up under settlers’ plows. “It was a really sad story,” Boyd said. But the mark that they left mattered. “They lived through a time where after all of their work and all of their sadness and all of their pain, they had to leave … but those letters that they wrote, they helped us win this case.”
Desautel is matter-of-fact about the lawsuit, as he is generally about doing what needs to be done. The actual elk hunt itself was routine, much like the hundred or so hunts that came before it. When he turned himself in to the game wardens, he knew they were just doing their jobs. “If I let (the charges) pass, it’s going to go on to the next generation,” Desautel said. “I’m gonna throw out an anchor now. I mean, if it doesn’t hold and I go dragging on through life, my daughter or my granddaughter can come along later on and say, ‘Look here, my grandfather was doing this here. He was up here. He was doing this.’ ”
If the Supreme Court decides to hear the case and rules against Desautel, it would be the final say — period. “If we lose, we’re out of the game, we’re extinct,” Boyd said. Though 10 years younger than Desautel, Boyd knows him from growing up in Inchelium, where their grandmothers were best friends. She sees, and feels herself, what the land means to him. “He is risking something he loves very much.”
Regardless of the final outcome, Desautel will continue hunting in his ancestral lands in the years to come. If he loses, he shrugged, “They’re going to have to put handcuffs on me then.”
THE TRIAL PROGRESSED SPORADICALLY over four months. The early mornings and long days away from home wore Rick and Linda out, and court proceedings were often mind-numbingly boring; Linda joked that the prosecutors sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher. In essence, the prosecution argued that the Sinixt people voluntarily left their lands, moving south to become farmers and abandoning their traditional lifeways, thus giving up their rights as a First Nation.
About halfway through the trial, Dorothy Kennedy, a leading ethnographer who documented Sinixt histories in the ’70s and ’80s, took the stand as an expert witness for the government. Despite her past work for the tribe and her conversations with Arrow Lakes elders, Kennedy did not consider the Arrow Lakes Band a First Nation. Nor did she believe that the Sinixt experienced racism from settlers. Instead, she testified about “isolated incidents” of harassment that went “both ways” — because, she said, the Arrow Lakes were Americans in Canada, not because they were Indigenous. In the report she submitted to the court, she wrote that instead of “meekly fleeing settlement … they enthusiastically took up a different lifestyle south of the border.” To Desautel and his team, it felt like a betrayal.
“I grew up knowing I was declared extinct in Canada. As an 8-year-old girl, it’s like, what? Dinosaurs are extinct. It is still really inconvenient for us to exist.”
When Mark Underhill was hired by the Colville Tribe to take on Desautel’s case, multiple senior attorneys told him that they’d never win. But nearly four months after the trial finished, the judge found that Desautel was within his rights as an Aboriginal person to hunt within his ancestral territory. The courtroom, filled with Arrow Lakes tribal members and extended family, erupted in cheers and applause. So far, after two appeals, other judges have agreed with the first ruling. After the most recent one in March this year, from his office in Vancouver, B.C., Underhill called Rick and Linda on the phone at their home in Inchelium, and read the judge’s statement aloud on speakerphone. “(The judge) said some amazing things,” Linda said. “She made me cry.”
As long as the lower court ruling stands, the Canadian government now has a duty to consult with the Arrow Lakes Band concerning activities like logging and hydroelectric developments, or anything else that might impact their rights in the area. But there are also more intangible benefits of Desautel, as the decision has come to be known. “There’s some kind of indescribable freedom to it,” said Boyd. “I grew up knowing I was declared extinct in Canada. As an 8-year-old girl, it’s like, what? Dinosaurs are extinct. It is still really inconvenient for us to exist.”
DESAUTEL AND THE ARROW LAKES BANDare still waiting to hear if Canada’s Supreme Court will take up the case; they could know by the end of this year. Despite the resolute language of the past three judges, the Desautels aren’t assuming they’ll win. “(We’ve) never felt totally confident,” Linda said. “You’re dealing with the government. I don’t care who you are and what country you’re in. Never feel confident of your government, especially Native people. We know.” Still — Rick wants them to take up the case, to have Canada’s highest court affirm his rights.
If the Supreme Court declines to hear the case, it ends in Desautel’s favor. But if the court takes it up, the case could drag on for another year or longer. Already, as Arrow Lakes Band facilitator, Boyd’s sights are set on what comes next for the tribe. They’ve reintroduced salmon to the upper Columbia River for the first time in almost 80 years and resumed canoe journeys using their traditional sturgeon-nosed canoes. Next, they’re planning to re-establish the Sinixt language, Nsyilxcen, in their territory. And every fall, Desautel will continue to cross the northern border to hunt.
“You’re dealing with the government. I don’t care who you are and what country you’re in. Never feel confident of your government, especially Native people. We know.”
The hillside in British Columbia where Desautel shot the cow elk is overgrown now, nine years later — 20-foot-tall white pine, tamarack and western hemlock trees crowd out the view of Slocan Valley below.In late September, not far from there, he explored the steep draws and thick forests of Sinixt lands for signs of elk. Scouting for game with Desautel, the place comes alive even without any wildlife in sight. Faint prints of a bear cub crossing a road. Scat of a bigger bear from the morning, bright with berries. Torn tree bark from where an elk rubbed its antlers two weeks before. Alder saplings stripped of their leaves, a snack for a meandering moose. After a life lived outside, Desautel can read the forest’s early autumn activity like a book he’s paged through a hundred times before.
Desautel doesn’t usually hunt until later in October, when the days are colder. For now, he’s exploring — glassing the countryside with his binoculars, occasionally bugling for elk, searching for a spot that “looks elk-y.” As he hiked back down to his red Toyota Tacoma, the shoulder-high fireweed released its seed tufts like a cloudburst, swirling in his wake. As he drove north, cresting over Strawberry Summit, Desautel looked out at the expanse before him. “This country is so vast,” he said with a note of pride. “I’ve only checked out 1% of 1%, and I’ve got hunting rights as far as the eye can see.”
A mother black bear was illegally shot in a Keremeos vineyard between the evening of Sept. 30 and the morning of Oct. 1. Authorities are seeking any information related to this event, and B.C. Wildlife Federation is offering a reward of up to $2,000 for info that leads to a conviction. (Photo from Unsplash)
B.C. Wildlife Federation offers up to $2,000 reward for info leading to a conviction
Authorities are seeking the public’s help following the recent shooting of a black bear in a Keremeos vineyard.
According to Conservation Officer (CO) Clayton DeBruin, the sow is believed to have been shot between the evening of Sept. 30 and the morning of Oct. 1. He could not confirm whether the bear was shot in the vineyard, located on the 700 block of Bypass Road in Keremeos, or shot in another location and dumped there as the investigation is ongoing.
“She was a black bear, a light-coloured phased one, that was known to us and known to the community for many months since living in this area. She was shot and killed and basically left to waste,” said DeBruin. “She had two cubs this year and they’re roughly seven or eight months old now.”
DeBruin said there is “no open season for mother bears or a bear in its company, or bears under 2 years of age” and with the sow’s death, the likelihood of the cubs surviving the winter on their own is greatly reduced. This would equal a charge of hunting wildlife out of season.
“Bear cubs normally spend about 18 months with mom, so the likelihood of their survival is not as good as if they’d have their mom to show them where to find food throughout the seasons of the year and how to choose an appropriate den site through the winter,” said DeBruin. “They may survive but it’s obviously not ideal.”
DeBruin said he couldn’t speak to whether the sow was causing problems in the community such as rummaging through garbage, but did note that the cubs are not dependent on human food or waste in terms of diet. He said conservation officers in the area are currently trying to trap the cubs in order to relocate them to a rescue facility for the winter, but so far have been unsuccessful.
“Because they are at-risk, ideally they could be caught and sent to an orphaned bear rearing facility where they would be held throughout the winter and fed to the appropriate weight, then released into the wild in the spring,” said DeBruin. “We have a rehab facility in the North Interior that is willing to take them. We are actively trying to trap them, however, because they are not food-conditioned or garbage-conditioned, they are much harder to capture in a trap than a bear that is used to walking into human habituated areas, seeking out smelly food. These are just normal bears, so we’re still waiting to capture them since they’ve been sighted in the area after the mother was brought to our attention.”
Because the authorities were not contacted in time, DeBruin said they were unable to salvage any of the meat from the mother bear, adding a charge of failure to retrieve game under the Wildlife Act. These offences are ticket-able, but he said depending on the circumstance, the B.C. Conservation Officer Service can take the individual to court to request a higher fine.
The B.C. Wildlife Federation offers up to a $2,000 reward for any information leading to the conviction of these types of offences. DeBruin said the best way to reach out is to call the Report All Poacher and Polluters line at 1-877-952-7277, and that individuals can choose to remain anonymous.
“We’re hopeful we will track down those responsible. The Bypass Road is a well-travelled road and it’s likely that somebody may have been travelling by at the time of the offence and may have seen something or noticed something out of place, like a vehicle or person,” said DeBruin. “Or maybe they noticed the mother bear lying in the vineyard and can give us additional information on that. Any little tip can help us.”
Southern African nations are threatening to quit the global wildlife trade regulator after it refused to relax restrictions on trade in ivory and rhino horn and imposed a near total ban on zoos taking African elephants captured in the wild.
Ties soured during this week’s meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Geneva after numerous proposals from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional bloc were rejected.
Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe – home to the world’s largest elephant population – asked for the right to sell ivory acquired through natural deaths, confiscations and culling.
The demand was rejected by a majority of 101 votes.
The CITES treaty, created more than four decades ago, regulates trade in some 36 000 species of plants and animals and provides mechanisms to help crack down on illegal trade and sanction countries that break the rules.
But members of the 16-nation SADC bloc accuse it of turning a blind eye to Africa’s problems.
“The result has been failure to adopt progressive, equitable, inclusive and science-based conservation strategies,” Tanzanian Environment Minister George Simbachawene told the Geneva meeting.
“Time has come to seriously reconsider whether there are any meaningful benefits from our membership to CITES,” he said.
Past sell-by date
The ministers accused the regulatory body of bowing to animal rights groups and unreasonably prohibiting the trade of African wildlife and products rather than regulating it fairly.
“A great disappointment, shocking outcomes,” said Botswana’s Environment Minister Onkokame Kitso Mokaila.
“I think CITES has long passed its sell-by date,” he said, adding SADC needs “something else… that speaks to the issues of today.”
No member has permanently quit the Convention since it was adopted in 1963.
The United Arab Emirates withdrew in 1988 but rejoined in 1990.
The largely aid-dependent SADC region hosts the lion’s share of Africa’s wildlife.
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa blasted the decision not to relax ivory laws saying the money – estimated to have a combined value of $600 million – could fund conservation projects.
‘Divide and rule Africa’
“They bar us from killing our animals for selling ivory, but they want us to protect them from being poached,” he protested.
Namibian Environment Minister Pohamba Shifeta said CITES was “increasingly becoming a forum dominated by non-state players with the agenda to divide and rule African states.”
“We are reconsidering our stay in CITES,” Shifeta said, suggesting regional and national talks could take place this year.
CITES’ refusal to overturn the international ban on ivory trade was, however, welcomed by conservationists.
Wildlife NGO Born Free’s head of policy, Mark Jones, told AFP that lifting it would have “seriously undermined” existing conservation efforts.
Poaching has decimated the world elephant population, which slumped in Africa from several million at the turn of the 19th century to around 400,000 in 2015.
Jones said devastated and vulnerable elephant populations would face “increased risk from poachers and traffickers who would not hesitate to use legal markets to launder illegal ivory into trade”.
He urged SADC countries to continue their membership and work with the international community to find solutions for species threatened by trade and trafficking.
Competition for resources is fierce, as growing human and wildlife populations increasingly encroach on each other’s space.
Zimbabwean Parks spokesman Tinashe Farawo told AFP 15 people had died in animal attacks during the first eight months of this year.
More than 200 people were killed in the past five years, he said. Crops have also been destroyed.
“Our people must benefit, this is a resource we think we can monetise, Farawo said.
“That’s why we have been saying we believe that the elephants must pay for their upkeep.”
Botswana’s environment minister Mokaila said detractors need to consider that rural communities were being affected by increasing wildlife numbers, climate change, water shortages and loss of land fertility.
“It’s not just about talking about elephants or rhino, it’s about talking about economies in Southern Africa,” he said.
“We cannot be emotional about it. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and think that the problem will solve itself by saying stop trade,” said Mokaila.
At the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
(CITES) in Geneva, 46-member countries voted to restrict trade in live elephants from Zimbabwe and Botswana to conservation programs or to secure areas in the elephants’ natural range — except in cases of temporary, emergency transfers. This would shut down the pipeline for elephants to be sold into captivity to foreign countries.
However, this debate is not over. At a CITES plenary meeting scheduled for Tuesday, the issue may be reopened for discussion, triggering a second vote. Shamefully, the United States voted against the ban the first time and will likely do so again if the parties call for a second vote.
Similarly, the European Union spoke against the ban and may seek to overturn it. The 28-nation bloc, which has significant voting power, was prevented from casting votes earlier because not all members were credentialed at the time. Since then, delegates have faced intense lobbying pressure from China, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and zoo associations trying to flip the vote.
Elephants are social and emotional creatures that form strong family bonds and suffer tremendously in captivity, both physically and psychologically. Elephants often face horrific abuse during the capture process. Footage of wild-caught baby elephants, newly snatched from their mothers, shows them being beaten and kicked as they await export from Zimbabwe. From a helicopter, captors shoot tranquilizer darts at the young elephants, and then maneuver the chopper to drive away the rest of the herd. Some elephants die while waiting to be shipped, in transit or upon arrival at their destination.
Elephants who do survive the long journey have been observed living in dark, barren cells in holding facilities and zoos — in contrast to roaming the vast African wilderness with family groups and larger clans.
Moreover, the export of live wild elephants serves no credible conservation purpose and has been condemned by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the 31 African countries that belong to the African Elephant Coalition, and by many prominent elephant biologists.
Yet, since 2012, Zimbabwe has captured and exported more than 100 baby elephants to Chinese zoos and entertainment venues. Very young elephants are pursued due to their small size, which makes them easier to transport. Recently, we learned that Zimbabwe has begun targeting infants as young as eight months old. Such captures have far-reaching consequences, damaging individuals, families, larger social groups, and ecological health.
Some countries, zoos and zoo associations mistakenly believe that this proposal would prevent zoos from sending their legally acquired elephants to other zoos, circuses or sanctuaries in other countries.
This is simply not true. The proposal would not apply retroactively, which means that if an elephant was imported legally in the past, that animal could be exported legally in the future.
By voting against this proposal, the United States is disregarding the growing public opposition to this cruel practice, which harms elephant welfare and fails to promote elephant conservation.
We urge U.S. delegates not to seek to overturn the decision. If the proposed ban is reopened for a vote this week, the United States should throw its weight behind this proposal or — at the very least — abstain from voting.
A “yes” vote would reflect the position held by a majority of U.S.
citizens, African elephant range states and leading elephant experts.
Without U.S. leadership on this issue, elephant calves from Zimbabwe and Botswana may continue to be stolen from the wild and conscripted into a lifetime of captivity
Johanna Hamburger is a wildlife attorney for the Washington, D.C.-based Animal Welfare Institute who is attending CITES this week.
, June 2019.
Illicit wildlife products for sale at the Myoma Market in Mongla, June 2019.
Weak implementation of the law and strong demand in neighboring China are fueling the illicit trade of endangered wildlife in Myanmar’s Shan State, according to shop owners in the regional town of Mongla, despite claims by local authorities that the practice has been stamped out.
Shan State’s Special Region 4, where the border town of Mongla is located, is under the administration of the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA)—an ethnic army chaired by former Chinese national Sai Lin, who migrated to the area in the 1960s after being sent to China’s Yunnan province during the Cultural Revolution.
The NDAA was formed in 1989 after splitting with the Communist Party of Burma and on June 30 that same year marked the 30th anniversary of the group’s truce with Myanmar’s government with a ceremony at which Sai Lin pledged to preserve “eternal peace” in the region.
But peace has come at a cost. In exchange for a ceasefire with the NDAA, Myanmar’s government in essence granted Sai Lin a free hand and allowed him to build an empire of lawlessness propped up initially on the cultivation and sale of opium, and later on gambling revenues when the region became “opium free” in 1997.
Gambling is illegal in China, and casinos and other forms of entertainment in Mongla have drawn patrons from across the border who also seek out endangered wildlife products for their purported medicinal properties in local markets that operate largely unregulated, as authorities look the other way in exchange for bribes, despite claims by officials that the illegal trade has been eradicated.
During a press conference held at the conclusion of the June 30 anniversary event, Khan Maung, a spokesperson for the Information Office in Mongla, said that local residents have long hunted wild animals—including muntjac or “barking deer,” sambar, and Indian boar for food, and acknowledged that they had learned they could profit by selling their meat at area markets.
“At some point, the hill people wanted to earn money, so they brought [the animals] to the market,” he said.
“However, the global community objected to the practice, so we prohibited it and no one does it anymore.”
While muntjacs and the Indian boar are not considered endangered, sambar—a large deer with three-tined antlers—are categorized as “vulnerable” by the Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
But vendors at the Myoma Market in Mongla told RFA’s Myanmar Service that not only does the sale of muntjacs, Indian boar, and sambar continue, but a large variety of other, mostly endangered animals are also on offer to customers at the right price.
The vendors, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity, said authorities had declared a ban on the sale of wild animals 10 days prior to the June 30 anniversary event, which hosted dignitaries from across Myanmar, but that the trade had flourished prior to the decree.
“They won’t let us sell them until the end of the ceremony,” one vendor said ahead of the event.
“We have many to display, but they have stopped us [from doing so] for the moment … I have [ivory] tusks, as well as traditional medicines and other things, if you want them. I even have live animals.”
The vendor said he also had access to tiger parts and various reptiles, including tortoises with their shells.
“Everything is fine here—we have all kinds of animals, it’s just that we’re currently closed [due to the temporary ban],” he said.
In another market in the Nampan region of Mongla, an RFA reporter saw skins, claws, and horns from various endangered animals for sale, including from the critically endangered pangolin, all with prices listed in Chinese yuan.
A hunter from Magway region said he used to be able to kill various animals in the jungle around Special Region 4 to sell to vendors in the area, but that quarry had become scarce due to high demand.
“For internal organs from smaller animals, vendors will pay 200-300 yuan (U.S. $28-42),” he said.
“We sell them to [intermediaries], who might sell them to China, or distribute them to restaurants in Mongla.”
When asked about the claims made by vendors, Jay Gaung, a representative of Mongla’s Department of Justice, told RFA that the hunting and sale of endangered animals is not tolerated in the region.
“We don’t allow people to shoot wild animals—we confiscate their arms and give them prison terms,” he said.
But when pressed to provide details of relevant legal action against wildlife traders, he acknowledged that authorities “haven’t put anyone in jail,” adding that “we are currently educating [offenders].”
And when asked whether the illegal trade of endangered wildlife persists in the region, Jay Gaung answered, “not lately—this kind of thing took place in the past.”
RFA’s investigation of the endangered wildlife trade in Mongla came after Myanmar’s National Hluttaw, or parliament, approved a motion in December last year calling on the government to take “serious action”
against wildlife trafficking.
Myanmar’s Wildlife Protection and Protected Areas Law of 1994 was revised and enacted in May 2018, and the unlawful killing of animals is now punishable by up to seven years in prison and a 50,000 kyat (U.S.
But Mongla’s distance from the central government means that local authorities are less inclined to ensure those laws are implemented, particularly given how lucrative the illicit animal trade is because of Chinese demand.
On Dec. 31, 2017, China, the world’s largest ivory market, banned all domestic ivory sales.
But in October last year, conservation group Save the Elephants said the ban had done little to stop the “prolific growth” in trade in Mongla, where it said there had been a 60 percent growth in new ivory items seen for sale over the previous three years.
Reported and translated by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
Berlin — Scientists in Europe said Tuesday they’ve successfully transferred a test tube rhino embryo back into a female whose eggs were fertilized in vitro, as part of an effort to save another nearly extinct subspecies of the giant horned mammal. The procedure was performed last month on a southern white rhino at Chorzow zoo in Poland, said Thomas Hildebrandt of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin.
Hildebrandt is part of BioRescue, an international team of scientists and conservationists trying to use IVF to save the rare northern white rhino.
Only two northern white rhinos — both females — are left. The last male northern white rhino, named Sudan, died in March 2018. Scientists had preserved frozen sperm samples from several males that they now hope to use to revive the species.
“This is the first positive proof that the entire procedure we’ve developed in theory can be successful,” Hildebrandt told reporters in Berlin.
But time is running out.
The BioRescue team is waiting for permission from the Kenyan government to harvest eggs from the last two surviving female northern white rhinos, a mother and daughter called Najin and Fatu.
They are unable to bear offspring themselves, so once the embryos are fertilized in the lab they would be implanted in a southern white rhino surrogate mother.
Kenya’s ambassador in Germany, Joseph Magutt, said his country supports the effort, but didn’t say how long it would take to clear the paperwork.
Hildebrandt cautioned that while ultrasound tests show the embryo transferred at Chorzow zoo has grown, it’s smaller than expected and it remains to be seen whether it will implant in the mother’s uterine lining and result in a pregnancy.
The German government announced Tuesday that it is supporting the project with $4.6 million in funding.
In the meantime, others in the BioRescue team are working on ways to turn preserved skin cells from deceased rhinos into eggs or sperm, a procedure that’s so far only been performed with mice.
Rhinos have long been under pressure from poachers because of their horns, and several sub-species are at risk of extinction. Conservationists say rhinos are important for the survival of many other species because of the role they play in landscaping their native habitat.
Earlier this week, five eastern black rhinos were transported from European zoos to Rwanda’s Akagera National Park to help increase the genetic diversity of the rhino population there.
More broadly, a recent United Nations report warned that a million species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades, largely because of human activity.
Having birds around is something most Canadians take for granted. Spring, especially, is full of bird songs as the migrants return and mating season’s singing rituals commence. However, in some parts of the world, these songs are being silenced by the illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade.
Black-winged starlings are in high demand in Indonesia, and as a result, very few are left. Enforcement efforts in the bird markets are needed to end the trade in these Critically Endangered birds. Photo: Chris R. Shepherd / Monitor
Globally, the illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth between US$7 billion and US$23 billion annually. While its clandestine nature makes accurate valuation impossible, it is considered the fourth most lucrative global crime after drugs, humans, and arms. It is recognized as a major threat to biodiversity, often acting in concert with habitat loss and hunting, compounded by unchecked demand, weak legislation, lax enforcement, public indifference, and widespread corruption—and it is pushing a multitude of birds towards imminent extinction.
At current rates of over-harvesting and habitat conversion, it is estimated that one-third of Southeast Asia’s bird species will be extinct by 2100, with at least 50% representing global extinctions. Of the approximately 850 species of bird native to Southeast Asia, more than 50 are assessed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Bird markets are found in most towns and cities throughout Indonesia, with thousands of birds being openly traded daily. Photo: Jordi Janssen / Monitor
Birds are traded for meat, for their parts used in traditional medicines, and as cagebirds. Among the birds in trade are the songbirds. Desired for their remarkable singing abilities, colourful plumage, and increasing rarity, Southeast Asian songbirds are trapped in the millions from the wild and traded on both a national and international scale.
Despite many species being afforded legal protection by national laws and regulatory policies in some countries, enforcement efforts are often lacking, allowing the songbird trade to continue unhindered. Enforcement takes a backseat, often because the authorities lack the necessary knowledge and awareness. Although sellers are often found to be aware of the illegality of their actions, they are not deterred by any threat of prosecution.
The fascination with songbirds is deeply ingrained in various Asian cultures and involves hundreds of species. Throughout the region, particularly in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore, songbird competitions, where birds are judged on their singing abilities, are highly popular. Songbirds, especially rare species or those extraordinarily attractive, are also frequently kept as status symbols.
Indonesia is at the centre of this conservation crisis, having more species of songbirds threatened by illegal and unsustainable trade than any other country. Already, many endemic species have been pushed to the edge, with only a mere handful of individuals left in existence, such as the Black-winged myna Acridotheresmelanopterus, the Javan green magpie Cissathalassina, the Rufous-fronted laughing thrush Garrulaxrufifrons, and the Niashill myna Gracularobusta. Some species, such as the Javan pied starling Sturnus jalla, are believed extinct in the wild and remain only in the hands of collectors and traders.
Javan Green Magpies, like this one photographed in a conservation breeding program in Indonesia, are all but extinct in the wild thanks to the illegal bird trade. Photo: Chris R. Shepherd / Monitor
In 2015, the Southeast Asian Songbird Crisis Summit was heldin Singapore, gathering experts to address the crisis with utmost urgency. The summit saw the formation of the Southeast Asian Songbird Working Group, which would devise a Southeast Asian songbird action plan. In 2016, the Conservation Strategy for Southeast Asian Songbirds in Tradewas launched, which included a list of high priority species and necessary actions to stave off their extinction—some of these numbered fewer than 100 individuals. In 2017, the IUCN SSC Asian Songbird Trade Specialist Group (ASTSG) was formed to further elevate efforts. Made up of experts from conservation organizations, academia, zoological institutions, and enforcement agencies,it is tasked with conducting research on the taxonomy and wild populations, monitoring trade, lobbying for enhanced protection and effective enforcement, establishing and expanding ex situ assurance and breeding colonies, and developing education and community outreach. In early 2019, the ASTSG met for the first time since its formation to identify immediate priorities for the more than 40 species listed as priority species that will likely vanish if actions are not taken.
Birds, like these White-rumped Munias, are crammed into cages for sale in the bird markets. Mortality rates are extremely high in conditions like these, further fueling the demand for more wild-caught birds. Credit: Jordi Janssen, Monitor
The Monitor Conservation Research Society (Monitor), established in 2017, has joined this effort to protect songbirds from extinction. Through its Asian songbird programme, Monitor aims to put the Southeast Asian Songbird Conservation Action Plan into motion by concentrating on trade, legislation and enforcement. By continuing extensive research in key countries within Southeast Asia, Monitor seeks to gather much needed trade data—the lack of evidence and information is the greatest obstacle to legally protecting these species. Finally, to ultimately eliminate or significantly reduce the illegal and unsustainable trade in songbirds, government buy-in in the countries in question is essential. Monitor and partners will use evidence obtained through research on the trade to assist and lobby governments in key countries to increase their enforcement efforts, improve existing laws and policies and provide effective protective measures to commercially traded species. Through these efforts, it is hoped the songs of all Southeast Asia’s songbird species will be heard in the wilds forever.
Dr. Chris R. Shepherd is a vice-chair of the IUCN SSC Asian Songbird Trade Specialist Group and is the executive director of the Monitor Conservation Research Society (Monitor). Having worked on wildlife trade issues for more than 25 years, Dr. Shepherd focuses largely on lesser known species and species groups threatened by trade, such as the songbirds.