Exposing the Big Game

Forget Hunters' Feeble Rationalizations and Trust Your Gut Feelings: Making Sport of Killing Is Not Healthy Human Behavior

Exposing the Big Game

Pandemic helps boost rhino population in Nepal

Pandemic helps boost rhino population in Nepal (msn.com)

John Bowden  2 hrs ago

Twin snowstorms to paste the Rockies and Northeast tonight into FridayChina Capable of ‘Substantially Subduing’ U.S. at Sea, State Media Boasts

The endangered rhino population in Nepal saw its numbers rebound in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic largely putting a halt to the world’s tourism industry.a rhinoceros standing in a body of water: A rhino in Nepal© Getty Images A rhino in Nepal

Officials with Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) told CNN that a manual count of the greater one-horned rhinos across Nepal’s four national parks counted 752 of the animals, the first time more than 650 have been seen in one survey since 2000.https://www.dianomi.com/smartads.epl?id=3533

The rise in population was attributed by the officials to a drop in tourism, which allowed the national park habitats to remain largely undisturbed. Other factors including government-run conservation projects were also credited with the rhino boom.

COVID-19 saw airline travel and tourism plunge to historically low levels as many countries instituted bans on nonessential travel.

“Chitwan [National Park] is a major habitat for rhinos in Nepal but we have translocated them to [other parks] to make an alternate population and [as a result] the population has increased in those parks, and in Chitwan as well,” said Haribhadra Acharya, an information officer with DNPWC, in a statement to CNN.

“Because the tourists were almost zero, the habits were not disturbed,” he continued.

While the good news was celebrated by conservationists in the country, Acharaya added that the size of the national parks would likely not increase meaning that officials would have to take steps to support the now higher population of rhinos.

“It is a challenge but we are managing the habitat intensively to support the higher density,” he told CNN.

Threat to Assam Rhinos as Fake Coronavirus Medicine Made from Rhino Horn Doing Rounds


Amid global alert over coronavirus, now a bigger threat looms large over the
rhino population of the world and especially of Assam.

Illegal wildlife traders are cashing in on fears over the coronavirus
outbreak by selling fake medicines containing rhino horn and other
endangered species parts, reports stated quoting an investigation.

Sellers in China and Laos are advertising a Chinese medicine product called
Angong Niuhuang Wan on WeChat, a messaging and social media app, according
to the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

The ‘cure’ on offer – images of which were posted with adverts – appears to
have been produced in North Korea and, unlike the Chinese version, states
that the ingredients include rhino horn and musk, the EIA was quoted as

Rhinos are critically endangered after steady declines in the global
population since the start of the 20th century. Hundreds are killed each
year, nearly all poached for their horn for Asian markets.

Buyers wrongly believe it has medicinal value, although it is made of the
same material as human nails and hair.

Environmentalists back in north-eastern India fear this may have an adverse
effect on the rhino population in the national parks of Assam.

Kaziranga and the other national parks are home for the largest population
of the famed one-horned rhinos.

These are already vulnerable falling prey to poachers every year.

Now that such claims are doing the rounds, the risk of poaching rhinos in
these national parks of Assam, particularly Kaziranga have increased

Palm Oil in Snack Foods Could Be Destroying the World’s “Orangutan Capital”

Picture a rhinoceros in the rainforest, add a herd of elephants, families of orangutans swinging through the treetops and tigers prowling the understory, and there is only one place in the world you could be.

Indonesia’s Leuser Ecosystem is one of Earth’s most ancient forest ecosystems, a laboratory of life’s potential where the alchemy of evolution has been allowed to experiment, uninterrupted for millennia. And the results are astounding. Green upon green, vines hanging from towering old-growth trees, moss growing on ferns growing on bromeliads… you get the picture.

It is the kind of place one imagines primeval nature to be wild, abundant, impenetrable.

With more than a century of proud conservation history responsible for its continued existence, the province of Aceh where the Leuser resides is, against all odds, a sparkling ecological jewel standing in stark contrast to the devastated landscape that surrounds it. Most of the rest of Sumatra — once known as Indonesia’s “Emerald Island” — and sadly much of the rest of lowland rainforests across Indonesia, too, have been exploited and denuded by wave after wave of scorched Earth, industry, colonial extraction and modern-day corrupt corporate greed. What has already been lost is incalculable, but here, in this special place, remains a rare opportunity to stop the cycle of destruction and protect a globally valuable treasure before it’s too late.

A palm oil refinery
A Musim Mas palm oil facility on the edge of the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia.

The Leuser Ecosystem is considered the heart of Southeast Asia’s rainforest region, which, alongside the Amazon and the Congo Basin, is one of only three tropical forest regions on Earth. The beating heart of the Leuser is the lowland forests and peat swamps of the Singkil-Bengkung region. This area is part of the last remaining healthy peat swamp ecosystem in western Sumatra. This lush jungle contains some of the world’s richest levels of biological diversity.

The lowland peat forests of the Leuser Ecosystem deserve the highest levels of protection for multiple critical reasons. Dubbed the “orangutan capital of the world,” this region is home to the highest population densities of critically endangered orangutans anywhere. This includes a special, culturally distinct subpopulation of a few thousand individuals in the Singkil-Bengkung region, which demonstrate social structures and tool-using behaviors unique from all other orangutan populations. These forests are also home to some of the healthiest remaining breeding populations of highly imperiled Sumatran elephants, rhinos and tigers.

The health of the Leuser Ecosystem’s Singkil-Bengkung landscape is internationally significant because its deep, carbon-rich peatlands are among the most valuable and effective natural carbon sinks on Earth. Conversely, when drained, cleared and burned for conversion to palm oil plantations, this soil type is transformed into a carbon bomb that emits catastrophic levels of pollution into the atmosphere.

Hundreds of thousands of people rely on the area’s rich natural resources as the basis of their livelihoods. Downstream villages are already suffering severe, sometimes deadly threats from devastating floods, landslides, and the loss of subsistence resources like fish and forest products as a direct result of the rapid rates of deforestation caused by palm oil. Communities also continue to suffer due to the loss of access to their customary lands that have been taken over by palm oil companies, without their consent, and failures of the government to take decisive action to resolve conflicts and restore to communities the rights to their lands.

The Acehnese people have fought for over a century to protect the integrity of the Leuser Ecosystem’s extraordinary forests, and in the past decade the Leuser has become internationally famous for its intact expanses of verdant trees and its stunning wealth of imperiled wildlife species. But also over the past decade, more than 18,000 hectares of forests within the Singkil-Bengkung region have been cleared, leaving roughly 250,000 hectares of rainforests remaining — and this area decreases each and every year due to deforestation and the drainage of peatlands.

RAN conducted a series of undercover investigations in 2019 due to the alarming destruction of peat forests occurring within the lowland rainforests of the Leuser Ecosystem. The field research was conducted to determine if the forest clearance was being driven by major snack food brands, even though these brands had adopted policies years ago to end deforestation in their supply chains.

The results of the investigations are definitive. Palm oil is being grown illegally inside the nationally protected Rawa Singkil Wildlife Reserve, and it is being sold to mills that provide the palm oil used to manufacture snack foods sold across the world by Unilever, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Mondelēz, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Mars and Hershey.

These mills are located immediately next to areas of illegal encroachment into the Leuser Ecosystem and lack the necessary procedures to trace the location where the palm oil they sell is grown, a key requirement for complying with the No Deforestation, No Peatlands, No Exploitation policies to which all of these brands have publicly committed.

Progress has been made by some companies implementing their No Deforestation policies. Brands like Unilever and Nestlé, for example, have begun the process of increasing supply chain transparency by publishing the mills they source from, but they have not yet achieved traceability to the plantation level, so they remain unable to offer certainty as to exactly where the palm oil they consume was grown. The findings of these investigations clearly show that paper promises are not enough to keep the forests from falling.

The Leuser Ecosystem at large, and the Singkil-Bengkung region in particular, still offer a rare and fleeting opportunity to get it right and avoid the devastating mistakes made throughout so much of Indonesia in the past. It remains possible here to prevent the destruction of habitat that drives iconic wildlife species toward extinction, to avert the human suffering from inevitable floods and landslides caused by deforestation, and to end the reckless burning of carbon-filled peatlands contributing to the climate crisis.

The international attention resulting from the release of this latest report has helped to pressure the brands to respond and take further action, but the high stakes and urgent threats to the Singkil-Bengkung demand more bold, decisive action to ensure that the area receives permanent protection.

Tell General Mills, Kellogg’s, Nestlé, Mondelēz, Mars, Hershey, Unilever and PepsiCo to cut ties to illegally produced conflict palm oil and stop the deforestation in the Leuser Ecosystem.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Botswana rhinos face total wipe-out as poachers run amok


BySouthern Times —

Nov29,2019 — Mpho Tebele

Gaborone – Rhino poaching has become rampant in Botswana as six endangered
black and white rhinos were killed by poachers in the Okavango Delta in a
short period of less than two months between October and November.

According to the latest information reaching The Southern Times, the
Southern African nation poaching epidemic has escalated as the latest
figures have surged from nine in April to 15 rhinos killed this year.

This was confirmed by the rhino coordinator at the Department of Wildlife,
Dr Mmadi Reuben. “Since the last time we issued a statement in October about
the increasing number of rhinos killed by suspected poachers, we have
recorded at least six incidents of rhino poaching which brings the number of
rhinos killed since April from nine to 15,” he said.

He said they were monitoring rhino movements through darting and tagging

“If we were not monitoring their movements, we would not have known about
these incidents,” he said.

He said going forward, there was a need to adopt a solution that was

Reuben said there was a need to sensitise communities living along the delta
so that they could report suspicious people in their localities to law
enforcement agencies.
“We also have to intensify monitoring of these animals so that they are all
accounted for,” he said. He said in the past, Botswana did not have large
numbers of rhinos and following relocation of rhinos from her neighbours,
this could have triggered a surge in poaching of the endangered species.

“The private partnership that we have also needs to be intensified. The
value these animals have in diversifying the economy cannot be
underestimated. Those who have these species should ensure that they are
protected and not decimated,” he said.

Reports indicate that poaching is escalating in the region, driven by demand
for rhino horn in Asian countries, and authorities are overwhelmed.

Botswana is home to just under 400 rhinos, according to Rhino Conservation
Botswana, most of which roam the grassy plains of the northern Okavango

In collaboration with government, Rhinos Without Borders and Wilderness
Safaris, Rhino Conservation Botswana recently completed a large operation to
dart and tag previously untagged wild rhinos in the Okavango Delta.

The team darted rhinos and fitted each rhino with a tracking device, taking
body measurements and a DNA sample, as well as clipping ear notches onto the
rhinos ears which serve as easy to identify unique identification marks.

Last month, the Ministry of Tourism raised alarm that a rhino was killed on
2 October, following a recorded poaching incident on 27 September in the
core rhino range in the Okavango Delta.

According to a statement issued by the ministry, the poaching incident at
the time brought the number of rhinoceros poached this financial year alone
from 1 April 2019 up to now to nine, an unprecedented number.

The ministry expressed concern that the increased poaching of rhinos was
deeply worrying in a country that has over the last few years received
rhinos in an effort to safeguard and revive rhino populations.

“Botswana does not have many wild rhinos, our population is relatively
small,” said Reuben at the time.
“We have been losing about a rhino a month to poaching; losing two in one
week is unacceptable. If the poaching continues at this rate there will be
no rhinos in Botswana in a year or two, especially the black rhino, a
critically endangered species.”
The ministry said this would be a huge loss for the country with a strict
and strong anti-poaching policy, which the government had committed immense

Michigan man receives permission to import body of rare black rhino he paid $400K to hunt

A 4-year-old Female black Rhino, runs (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim)


A 4-year-old Female black Rhino, runs (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim)


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.”

Proposal to open up rhino horn trade rejected Countries voted against eSwatini and Namibia’s proposals to loosen restrictions on the trade in live rhinos and rhino parts.



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.


Scientists successfully transfer first test tube rhino embryo in hopes of saving the species

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.

  • Scientists chose to test the IVF transfer on southern white rhinos, a closely related sub-species whose numbers have stabilized in the wild.

“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.

Najin and Fatu, the only two remaining female northern white rhinos, graze together on March 20, 2018 at the ol-Pejeta conservancy in Nanyuki, Kenya.TONY KARUMBA / AFP/GETTY

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.

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.

Cheetahs and rhinos are not trophies

Cheetahs and black rhinos are among the most iconic of wild animals. Unfortunately, their rarity makes them an attractive target for trophy hunters.

Two American trophy hunters traveled to Namibia just to kill a cheetah and a black rhino. They have applied for permits with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to import these gruesome trophies back to the United States where they can show them off.

The killing of these rare and majestic animals for fun and bragging rights is appalling and harms the survival of the species.

The USFWS has a public comment period open until May 28. Let your voice be heard.Urge the agency to protect these endangered animals by rejecting the import applications.  

The Namibian government has failed to effectively clamp down on poaching.

Since both cheetahs and the black rhinos are listed as Endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, the law mandates that the USFWS cannot approve the import of hunting trophies unless such actions enhance the survival of the species. This gives us time to tell the agency that trophy hunting harms species’ survival and that wildlife trophies have no place in the U.S. or anywhere in the world.

We only have a limited time to speak out for these magnificent animals.Please tell the USFWS to reject these trophy import applications today.

Thank you for caring about animals.


Kitty Block
Humane Society International

At least 28 hippos found dead in Ethiopia’s national park

By Aanu Adeoye, CNN
a dog swimming in the water: Hippos swimming in Namibia's Kwando River.© Michaela Urban/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images Hippos swimming in Namibia’s Kwando River.
The bodies of at least 28 hippopotamuses have been found in Ethiopia’s national park in the southwest of the country, local media reported Monday.

The semi-aquatic mammals died in the Gibe Sheleko National Park, a part of the Gibe River, local broadcaster FANA said.

Behirwa Mega, head of the park told FANA that the animals died between April 14 and 21 and that the cause of their deaths is presently unknown.

The Gibe Sheleko National Park, was only established in 2011, is reportedly home to about 200 hippos and covers approximately 36,000 square kilometers in land area.

Although the cause of death of the hippos remains unclear, the animals are described as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN).

The IUCN estimates the global population of hippos is between 115,000 and 130,000 and that their conservation should be a “priority” in countries where they exist.

Hippo populations are threatened by poaching, disease, loss of habitat, deforestation, and pollution, according to experts.

They are hunted by poachers who export their long canine teeth from African countries to places such as Hong Kong and the United States where they serve as substitutes for elephant tusks, says the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

More than 200 hippos were killed in a massive anthrax outbreak at Namibia’s Bwabwata National Park in 2017.

And the hippo population in Africa will face a significant reduction when a scheduled culling of the animals in Zambia begin in May despite objections from animal rights groups.

The cull will happen in the Luangwa River Valley in Zambia’s Eastern province, the Department of National Parks & Wildlife said in February.


[Unfortunately] No, Kenya is not introducing the death penalty for wildlife poachers

Articles shared tens of thousands of times online have reported that Kenya is planning to introduce the death penalty for convicted wildlife poachers. The articles quote Tourism Minister Najib Balala, who is supposed to have made the announcement during a meeting held on May 10, 2018. However, Balala was not at that meeting, and told AFP there was no such plan. Capital punishment is in theory permitted in Kenya, but the country has an effective ban on carrying out death sentences. No death row prisoner has been executed since 1987.

Kenya, like several other African countries, has seen its elephant and rhino populations decimated by illegal poaching to feed a booming international trade in tusks and horns. Elephant ivory is often carved into ornaments or jewellery and rhino horns are used in traditional Asian medicine, with China representing the biggest market for such goods.

The articles about the supposed death penalty plan began appearing online in May 2018, shortly after the meeting during which Balala was reported to have made the announcement.

Animal poaching is a highly emotive subject, and some articles reporting the announcement have racked up more than 100,000 shares each.

One post published by South African site News360, which we’ve archived here, has been shared online 123,000 times, according to data from social media monitoring site CrowdTangle. Another, published on the website of Joseph Mercola — a controversial alternative medicine practitioner in the United States — has been shared more than 100,000 times. A quick Google search reveals that the death penalty claim has been repeated on a large number of websites.

Existing penalties against convicted poachers have “not been deterrence enough to curb poaching,” the articles quote Balala as saying.

In many of the articles, it’s unclear when or where Balala was supposed to have made his announcement, but the News360 article linked to a similar report from Britain’s Independent news website, dated May 13, 2018.

Screenshot taken on April 11, 2019 of Britain’s Independent news website carrying the ‘death penalty for poachers’ story

That article, in turn, attributed the comments to China’s Xinhua news agency, which published a report from Kenya’s Laikipia County on May 11, 2018, carrying the remarks from Balala.

According to Xinhua, Balala made the comments “during the official launch of the northern white rhino commemorative stamps at Ol Pejeta Conservancy located in Laikipia County on the slopes of Mount Kenya”.

Screenshot taken on April 11, 2019 of the ‘death penalty for poachers’ story on Xinhua’s website

That event was organised by the Postal Corporation of Kenya. However, a post on the organisation’s Facebook Page revealed that Balala was not at the event and was represented by Patrick Omondi, a former director of research monitoring and strategic initiative at the ministry of tourism.

Screenshot taken on April 10, 2019 of a Facebook post by the Postal Corporation of Kenya

Omondi, who is now the biodiversity director at the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), told AFP that he had read out a statement on behalf of the minister at the event in Laikipia, and there had been no mention of the death penalty.

“That is misinformation,” Omondi said. “I was the one reading the minister’s statement at the meeting and I can tell you nothing I spoke on behalf of the minister was related to the death penalty for poachers.”

He added: “I think in that meeting one of the local leaders casually said that poachers should be killed but nothing official came from the ministry.”

We asked Omondi if he still had a copy of the speech, but he no longer had access to it.

“It was a long time ago when I was in the minister’s office and since then I have been transferred to KWS. The secretaries at the office have also not been able to get the speech,”  he said.

We have asked the ministry if they can provide a copy of the speech, but they have yet to respond to AFP’s request.

But there is no record of any official statement from the Kenyan government announcing a move to introduce the death penalty for convicted poachers.

The Independent, at the time of publication last year, said they had reached out to Kenyan authorities for confirmation of the policy change. The website updated its article on Friday noting AFP’s fact-check and saying they had contacted Kenyan authorities again.

Kenya has no plans to introduce the death penalty for poachers

The KWS biodiversity director added that there was no plan to introduce the death penalty in Kenya as a punishment for poachers.

On March 31, 2018, during the funeral of the world’s last male northern white rhino, Balala had warned poachers they would face stiffer punishments — but made no mention of the death penalty.

“We are going to change our laws, Anybody who is caught with ivory or killing wildlife will be jailed for life. That is what we want to do,” he said. You can see him making the comments in this video:

The tourism minister has been advocating for stiffer punishments for poachers and in a phone interview with AFP on April 11, 2019, he said the current penalties were not proportionate to the damage caused by poachers.

“I have been pushing for harsher punishment because what we currently have does not add up at all. A kilo of ivory costs about $60,000 and the fine for a poacher who caught many kilos of ivory is only about $199,000. If you compare this, it seems to be a mere slap on the wrist,” he said.

“But this does not mean death penalty — that, I assure you, was taken out of context. We can have the fines increased, longer jail terms and ensure that the poachers do not easily get away by paying fines.”

Balala added that though poaching seems to be on the decline in Kenya,  campaigns to close down legal markets in Asia and elsewhere needed to be more vigorous.

Poachers convicted of the most serious offences in Kenya can in fact already be handed a life sentence under the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act of 2013.

The law sets out the punishments for various convictions, ranging from a minimum fine of one million shillings ($9,909) and/or five years in prison for those dealing in tusks, horns and other “trophies”, to up to 20 million shillings in fines and life behind bars for “endangered or threatened species”.

Kenya’s penal code allows for capital punishment, but in December 2017 the Supreme Court ruled that the mandatory issuing of the death sentence for crimes such as murder, treason and armed robbery was unconstitutional.

In practical terms, there is an effective ban on the death penalty in Kenya: no one has been executed since 1987, and in 2009 the then president Mwai Kibaki commuted the sentences of all those on death row to life imprisonment.

EDIT This post was updated after publication on April 12, 2019 after The Independent 
updated their story.