Category Archives: Endangered Species

New Wildlife Forensic Sciences Program!

The Maples Center for Forensic Medicine, University of Florida College of Medicine has announced a new Graduate Certificate Program in Wildlife Forensic Sciences. This program is designed for wildlife conservation officers, fish and game officials, law enforcement officers, forensic investigators, and academic students in wildlife ecology and conservation, although anyone with an interest in these courses can take them.

On completion of the 9-credit certificate program, students will receive a University of Florida Certificate in Wildlife Forensic Sciences. This certificate program is open to appropriately qualified local, national, and international students.

And guess what? It’s my program! I’ve been busy getting the courses together for some time now. I’m very excited that registration is open and that the classes will begin in January… hopefully this is the beginning of some great things. This Thanksgiving, I’m happy for this new opportunity!

Stay tuned for updates.

Check out the program and register for courses here: http://wildlife.forensics.med.ufl.edu/

Happy World Elephant Day!

Photo by San Diego Zoo

In case you weren’t aware, today is the first ever World Elephant Day.

You can read about it here: http://worldelephantday.org/ – they have all kinds of information on the site.

We have a real problem. Demand for ivory has skyrocketed, and poaching is at an all-time high. I fear the extinction of elephants is imminent – so close, in fact, that I might see it happen in my lifetime.

I’ve posted a video below that brought me to tears this morning. It is graphic but is an honest portrayal of what recently happened in Cameroon – the slaughter of over 300 elephants for their tusks.

Please help me fight this battle. I’m not willing to lose these amazing animals to greed and apathy. Watch and spread the word.

http://youtu.be/PGznqCl3LVk

Pledging to Help

Photo courtesy of TRAFFIC

Alert: Another elephant post…

Some good, some bad. Recently, 10 African countries (Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Central Africa Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Rwanda and Sao Tome e Principe) signed a plan to “strengthen law enforcement and better combat poaching of elephants and other species at risk from illegal wildlife trade” (Seattlepi.com). These 10 countries make up the Central African Forest Commission, or COMIFAC.

COMIFAC leaders (photo courtesy of Conservation International)

Leaders from COMIFAC agreed to increase collaboration with law enforcement, customs, and the courts to combat poaching:

“The law enforcement action plan includes provisions to increase anti-poaching efforts in each of the countries and to enable joint-country patrols in some transborder areas. Ivory, often bound for Asia, is frequently smuggled across inland borders before reaching overseas exit points such as ports and airports. Under the plan, customs controls are also set to be bolstered at international transit hubs. To ensure that criminals engaging in illegal wildlife trade are arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law, COMIFAC countries plan to ramp up investigations and conduct more thorough prosecutions. Cases will also be monitored for corruption and action taken against anyone attempting to impede justice” (Seattlepi.com).

Previously I had posted on the devastating slaughter of over 200 elephants in Cameroon. With poaching at its highest in a decade, this agreement could not come at a better time. A UN-backed report reinforced what many studies have already shown – that the past three years have seen an extreme increase in elephant poaching with record seizures of ivory, and much more sophisticated efforts on the part of poachers.

“We need to enhance our collective efforts across range, transit and consumer states to reverse the current disturbing trends in elephant poaching and ivory smuggling,” the Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), John E. Scanlon, said in a news release on the report.

“While being essential, enforcement efforts to stop wildlife crime must not just result in seizures – they must result in prosecutions, convictions and strong penalties to stop the flow of contraband,” he added. “The whole ‘enforcement chain’ must work together.” (un.org)

Read the article here: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=42295&Cr=endangered+species&Cr1=

In my mind, it is not only enforcement that will make the difference, but education. However, changing people’s attitudes and beliefs about the value of ivory, the necessity of endangered animal parts for use in traditional medicine, or the excitement of owning an exotic pet will be a monumental task.

All I can do is spread the word, stay involved, and hope for the best.

Cameroon ranger with ivory (photo courtesy of WWF)

Protecting Our Oceans

Last Friday was World Oceans Day. I have always loved the ocean, and was fortunate enough to live at the beaches of southern Delaware a few years ago where I could surf, fish, and take my dog for a swim in the ocean and bay any time I wished. To me, the ocean is symbolic and awe-inspiring, capable of evoking unbridled happiness and intense fear. She commands constant respect; take her for granted for only a second and she will furiously slap you back into submission.

But the world’s oceans are rapidly being depleted of the species that make them what they are. Poachers are snatching coral, rays, and aquatic species of all kinds at an unsustainable rate. Perhaps the worst are the shark poachers, who typically catch sharks, cut off their dorsal fins, and toss them carelessly back into the ocean to die. One Washington Post article states that  “reef sharks in the Pacific have declined more than 90 percent in recent decades”.

Recently, several shark poachers were caught off the coast of Indonesia among a group of islands known as Raja Ampat, a marine protected area (MPA) and a place I have long wanted to visit – it may be one of the most beautiful areas on earth.

Raja Ampat – Indonesia (Photo by Scuba-Libre-Bali.com)

Part of the Bird’s Head Seascape, it is an area that naturally boasts sea turtle nesting, colorful coral, shark and ray breeding grounds, and a multitude of species not seen anywhere else. It is protected by proud, trained villagers working on patrols with local police dedicated to maintaining it’s diversity. A Conservation International (CI) article says:

“Despite its global importance, the area was previously a hotbed of illegal activities such as dynamite fishing and shark finning from outside fishermen. However, in 2006 the local Kawe tribal leaders decided enough was enough. With support from CI, they declared a 155,000-hectare (383,000-acre) MPA in a bottom-up process that included a declaration both by the Papuan traditional Adat council as well as the Raja Ampat government. This was eventually followed by a national declaration affording it the highest level of protection for any MPA in Papua. The Kawe communities took it one step further, declaring over 97.5 percent of the MPA as a “no-take zone” through a traditional Papuan sasi declaration, meaning that no fishing of any kind is allowed within this area. With this declaration they made the Kawe MPA into the single largest no-take zone in all of the Coral Triangle, a region stretching from Indonesia to the Philippines and the Solomon Islands. In addition, in 2011 the area was additionally protected under the Raja Ampat shark sanctuary decree, which forbids any shark and ray fishing anywhere in Raja Ampat,” (http://blog.conservation.org/2012/05/shark-poachers-chased-down-by-indonesian-communities-police/).

Poachers with their catch. (Photo courtesy of Conservation International)

Unfortunately, as is the case everywhere, some choose to disregard the regulations. In this poaching case, seven boats of fishermen were rounded up for illegal fishing after they tried to evade capture. Long lines and air compressors, gear commonly used in shark fishing, were found on board their vessels. Sharks, still alive but bleeding after being hacked apart, were struggling and dying on the boats. Piles of shark fins, sea cucumbers, and rays were confiscated, and the estimated price of the catch and the gear amounted to approximately 1.5 billion rupiah (about US$ 160,000). The Washington Post states that “sharks are used to make shark’s fin soup, a Chinese delicacy, and sea cucumbers are sought by Japanese diners“. This Post article also has a link to an interesting article about shark’s fin soup.

Shark fins. (Photo courtesy of Conservation International)

The most frustrating thing about this case is that there was not enough man-power to physically capture and prosecute the poachers – it was night and law enforcement had only one boat. Although an official arrest was made and they were ordered to report for processing the next morning, the poachers fled. The government has pledged to pursue them.

The illegal fishermen. (Photo courtesy of Conservation International)

On a positive note, this shows the willingness of local governments to protect their natural resources from poachers. But in the world’s most remote areas, enforcement of the laws may be difficult if not impossible, due to scarce resources and a lack of personnel. However, it CAN happen… check out this article about Mexico’s Cabo Pulmo National Park at the tip of the Baja Peninsula  – in just 10 years, the amount of fish in the area has increased more than 460 PERCENT! This amazing feat was achieved solely by strict enforcement of protection laws by locals, and has resulted in not only an incredible recovery of what was once a depleted natural resource area, but in a revenue-generating eco-tourism boom! The article also has a beautiful one minute underwater video of the HOARDES of fish that thrive in the area.

I celebrated World Oceans Day by concentrating on the positive victories. Eliminating poaching CAN be done. Let’s learn from this example and keep pushing. Our oceans depend on it.

Trying Everything

Photo by animalcsi

In my last post I wrote about the most recent devastating poaching event in Cameroon, in which hundreds of elephants were gunned down by poachers for their ivory. Efforts to stop the slaughter in countries all across Africa are underway but the problems are numerous and include rangers being out-manned and out-gunned by armies of poachers who arrive on horseback with advanced weaponry and an almost complete lack of government funding for anti-poaching efforts. But I have to celebrate even the small efforts, and the short video below from the New Zealand Herald demonstrates one of the ways Kenya is battling back by attaching radio collars to elephants. This will enable the wildlife officials to track them and know better how to direct the on-the-ground teams deployed to fight the poachers.

Click here for the video: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/video/news/video.cfm?c_id=1501138&gal_cid=1501138&gallery_id=125030

I also came across an interesting article describing a unique method to deter elephants from crop-raiding by using chili pepper mixed with engine oil to coat fences. Not only do elephants face an uncertain future due to poaching, but they are also often the subject of farmers’ anger when they steal crops; the conflicts often end in the death of either the farmer or the elephant. This chili pepper method has gained in popularity as a deterrent, along with using bees. But as elephants are extremely adaptable and will eventually adjust to the techniques or find ways around them, new ideas are constantly needed. Read the article on the chili pepper fences below:

http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB10001424052702303815404577333780433251036-lMyQjAxMTAyMDEwNjExNDYyWj.html?mod=wsj_share_email

As an aside, this week I am attending the veterinary forensics conference put on by the International Veterinary Forensic Science Association (IVFSA). It is my third IVFSA event and I have enjoyed all of them and I will be posting updates as to the goings-on down here in beautiful Miami!

Here’s the view from my hotel room:

Massacre

I’ve been reluctant to post on this topic – I’m not at all sure why – other than perhaps I knew that writing about it would make it somehow “real” to me and I just can’t stomach this.

But the truth is, it IS real. Since January, differing accounts have reported that anywhere from 200-400 elephants have been slaughtered for their tusks in Bouba Njdija National Park in Cameroon: http://news.mongabay.com/2012/0314-russo_elephants_cameroon.html. According to a New York Daily News article, “Northern Cameroon’s elephant population represents 80 percent of the total population of savanna elephants in all of Central Africa” and now it is estimated that HALF of the elephants in the area have been killedhttp://articles.nydailynews.com/2012-03-15/news/31198608_1_ivory-sales-tons-of-illegal-ivory-tusks.

This is ONE park in ONE country. The numbers don’t include the increase in poaching seen in other areas across Africa.

An amazingly virulent demand for ivory in China is to blame for the slaughter. Most of the ivory is smuggled into China and Thailand via increasingly sophisticated methods, including using unsuspected routes and even placing secret compartments on the undersides of ships. Poachers arrive on horseback from Sudan and Chad, having already wiped out the elephant populations in Chad. An increasing number of Chinese middlemen moving to Africa are aiding the crisis. Another article describes an additional reason: “In 2008, the ban on ivory sales was lifted to allow for the trade of 108 tons of ivory stocks from Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe to China and Japan. The sell-off did dispense with old stocks but it also boosted demand – and worryingly provided an ideal cover for illicit ivory sales” (http://news.sky.com/home/world-news/article/16192133).

Photo courtesy of AFP

So what is being done to fight the killing? Cameroon dispatched troops to combat and track the poachers. And Interpol is carrying out an anti-poaching effort called Operation Worthy, “aimed at stifling the increasing demand in illegal elephant ivory”, and it has seen some success: “several dozen people have been arrested and the agents have recovered what they describe as “significant” amounts of illegal wildlife products – including more than 250kg of raw ivory but also lion and leopard pelts, python and crocodile skins and live birds; the operation has been co-ordinated by Interpol’s Environmental Crime Programme and funded by the International Fund for Animal Welfare”, (http://news.sky.com/home/world-news/article/16192133). In the Congo, bloodhounds are being used to track poachers with mixed success rates, but at least it shows a willingness to try new techniques. Read about it here: http://worldnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/03/05/10582934-bloodhounds-used-to-sniff-out-people-killing-elephants-for-ivory.

But the sad fact is that the troops sent to protect elephants and other wildlife (including rhinos that are killed for their horns) often find themselves unprepared for poachers who have extensive networks and high-powered weapons, and often end up losing their own lives. The Cameroon troops are losing the battle.

And now a wildfire is burning out of control on Kenya’s highest mountain, Mt. Kenya: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/elephants-wildlife-flee-as-fire-spreads-across-wooded-slopes-of-mount-kenya/2012/03/19/gIQArKojMS_story.html and wildlife (elephants included) are fleeing the flames. It is believed that this was intentionally started by poachers as a distraction.

A very informative article on China’s ivory demand can be found on NPR’s site: http://www.npr.org/2012/03/02/147756651/looking-for-elephant-ivory-try-china. It is my belief that elephant slaughter will not stop or even slow down until the demand diminishes.

It is indescribably sad that this is the reality, and that it is very likely that we may see the end of elephants on this planet. Sooner rather than later.

2011 – A Bad Year for Elephants

Photo courtesy of elephant-facts.com

Back in July I posted about the elephant poaching crisis and some of the positive things that were happening to combat it: http://animalcsi.com/2011/07/19/some-small-successes-for-a-jumbo-problem/ . Unfortunately the year is not ending on such a high note.

Recently there have been a large number of articles and news stories about the rapid decline of elephant populations due to poaching. In fact, according to an article in the UK Daily Mail, 2011 has been the worst year for elephants since ivory sales were banned in 1989, with 2500 estimated to have been slaughtered.

The same article goes on to say that a record number of illegal ivory shipments were seized as well: “A record 13 large hauls were seized this year – consisting of an estimated 23,676 kilograms of the desirable product; it is a dramatic rise from 2010, when just six major seizures took place, of tusks weighing just under 10,000kg, and the worryingly high number does not even include the ivory that is being smuggled over borders secretly” (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2079791/Worst-year-elephants-ivory-trade-banned-large-scale-tusk-smuggling-hits-record-high.html?ITO=1490).

Just this month saw the largest ivory seizure ever recorded: 15 tonnes in a port near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. From Wildlife Extra News: “Prior to this the largest seizure was of around 6.5 tonnes in Singapore in 2002. If we estimate the tusks of an African elephant weigh 30 kilos each, this haul represents the death of 250 elephants! The shipment originated in Mombasa, Kenya, and was hidden inside containers marked as ‘sandstone-made handicraft’. Authorities in Malaysia have valued the shipment at approximately £15 million” (http://www.wildlifeextra.com/go/news/ivory-smuggling011.html#cr).

Is this worth their lives? (Photo courtesy of dailymail.co.uk)

TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, has said that the gangs responsible are increasingly sophisticated and well-funded, and are changing their preferred method of shipment to sea rather than air. Their routes are changing as well, to avoid detection. The majority of shipments are bound for Asia, but “once inside Asia, the documentation accompanying an onward shipment is changed to make it appear as a local re-export, helping to conceal its origin from Africa” (http://www.traffic.org/home/2011/12/29/2011-annus-horribilis-for-african-elephants-says-traffic.html).

An article on the website allAfrica.com states that in Uganda elephants are being poached even inside national parks: “The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) [showed] that the numbers of elephants killed in parks since the year began have more than tripled. According to UWA, 33 elephants have been killed at Murchison Falls National Game Park in the last seven years, of which 25 have been killed this year”. The entire article can be read here: http://allafrica.com/stories/201112050626.html. And this is only ONE PARK!!

Malaysia ivory seizure (photo courtesy of dailymail.co.uk)

As lucrative as the drug trade, poaching for ivory brings in big bucks. The allAfrica.com article states that a “kilogramme of ivory on international market goes for between $1,500 (about Shs3.8 million) $4,000 (about Shs10.2 million) and a pair of tusks from a mature elephant can weigh about 40 kliogrammes” (http://allafrica.com/stories/201112050626.html).

The Wildlife Conservation Society (an organization I am proud to support) has posted a short, interesting and informative video about the issue with suggestions on what you can do to help:

http://www.wcs.org/multimedia/videos/blood-ivory.aspx

  • DON’T BUY IVORY OR ANYTHING YOU EVEN THINK MIGHT BE IVORY!
  • Donate to the Wildlife Conservation Society or other organizations like them who are working within the countries hardest hit to establish stronger patrols.
  • Educate yourself and others! Talk about this! Spread the word! The more people who know about this massive issue the better.

Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s Elephant expert, states, “As most large-scale ivory seizures fail to result in any arrests, I fear the criminals are winning.”

I so desperately want him to be wrong. I can’t imagine a world without elephants. Someday I hope to be out there studying them. Like Dr. Liz Bennett states in the video, even if you never see an elephant in the wild, the fact that they are out there makes the world a better place. Please join me in this fight. I want to see 2012 be a positive year for the elephants, and for all of us.