Tag Archives: CITES

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)

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.

 

 

An Iconic Species at Risk, Part I

(Photo courtesy of detlaphiltdic.blogspot.com)

Did you know that there are fewer than 3500 tigers remaining in the world? In 1900 there were 100,000 tigers across Asia. Many factors have contributed to their decimation, like increasing human/animal conflict and habitat loss, but most recently poaching is the main reason for their frighteningly scarce numbers. Can you imagine a world without them? Or without some of the other amazing creatures that share their home in Asia, like elephants? I would suggest you try to wrap your mind around that possibility, because it is a very real one. But there are efforts underway to stop the loss of tigers and other species, some that involve forensic science at its best.

A fantastic video about tiger poaching can be watched here: Hunt for the Tiger Slayers

If you don’t want to watch it (although I strongly suggest you do; it’s relatively short and very informative) I’ve summarized it below.

In 2010, researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) found themselves face to face with tiger poachers while they were setting up camera traps in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in Thailand. The poachers fled, but left behind them horrible destruction in the form of a tigress and her cubs, poisoned.   According to WCS, tigers are “poached for their skin, bone, teeth, and claws, and the slaughter of even one or two breeding females could have a terrible impact on the population; the poaching gangs can be so ruthless that they often kill elephants for their tusks, and then poison and leave behind the carcass for tigers to feed on”. Two very lucrative birds with one stone.

In this case, a composite sketch was developed by the Thai police. Anti-poaching efforts were increased in the form of 40 new rangers trained to combat the illegal wildlife trade. That summer there were several armed conflicts between the rangers and the poachers, eventually leading to the capture of the same poachers believed responsible for the deaths of the tigress and her cubs. Evidence in the form of photos found on the poachers’ confiscated cell phones shows them proudly displaying the tigers they had killed.

One of the cell phone images that convicted the poachers (photo courtesy of here-we-roar.org)

The poachers argued that the tigers in the photos were from unprotected areas, and thus could not be used to prosecute them. But when one of their cell phone pictures was compared to a photo of a tiger captured by WCS’s camera traps that had later been found dead, a match was confirmed.

“Tiger stripes are like fingerprints, and researchers used them to confirm a positive ID; charged with the deaths of four tigers, the two poachers face a lengthy time away, but unfortunately the demand remains,” (WCS, 2011).

While doing research for this post I also came across a great article on this issue; you can read it here:  http://missinterpreting.com/2011/10/17/smooth-criminals-the-sophisticated-tiger-trade/

In the article the writer lists several disheartening facts put forth by Mark Carwardine – a BBC Presenter, Zoologist, Conservationist, Wildlife Photographer and Writer:

  • Two tiger subspecies, the Bali and Javan tiger, are already extinct with a third subspecies – the Caspian tiger – yet to be confirmed. It has been claimed that the South China tiger may become extinct within the next decade.
  • The tiger population is dwindling because of hunting by poachers, being killed for clashing with human dwellers and forest workers and by having their habitats destroyed. 93% of the tiger’s habitat has disappeared in the last century.
  • Four tigers are killed every week and China is responsible for the most tiger poaching activity. Their trust in the medicinal effects of tiger teeth, skin and bones is based on ancient beliefs which are not backed up by scientific evidence. The Chinese also cash in on the billions of blood money yielded by the tiger trade to sell tiger body parts as food, clothes or souvenirs.
  • Tiger conservation is extremely complex because of the intricacies of the tiger trade and the lack of effective support from politicians and police forces. (Monica Sarkar, 2011)

If these facts don’t upset you, if the video above doesn’t bring tears to your eyes, if the thought of such iconic creatures as tigers disappearing forever doesn’t motivate you to some sort of action, then you are lucky. These issues keep me up at night. They keep me from blissful ignorance and a good night’s sleep. They make my head spin with thoughts on how to stop the destruction. I suggest you watch the video again (I’m even posting the link here so that you don’t have to scroll up: Hunt for the Tiger Slayers ) and let it sink in.

The tiger whose stripes matched those of the tiger in the poachers' cell phone pics (courtesy of http://www.wcs.org)

This is what I’m passionate about and what I hope to inspire others to be interested in as well. We can stop this, if we act now.

More on tigers and poaching to come…

 

Uphill Battle to Combat Poaching

Photo by Elizabeth Bennett

The article below was published on the Wildlife Conservation Society’s website. You can see it here: http://www.wcs.org/news-and-features-main/wanted-tougher-enforcement-of-wildlife-crime.aspx

I quoted it directly because I felt that trying to summarize it would be pointless.

“Poachers killed almost 230 rhinoceroses in South Africa between January and October of last year. Over the past decade, they’ve killed countless tigers, too, for trading rings that deal in wildlife skins and body parts. Today, fewer than 3,500 of these big cats remain in the wild.

These are just two of many examples WCS  (Wildlife Conservation Society) conservationist Elizabeth Bennett highlights in a recent paper. In the journal Oryx, Bennett addresses how organized crime has become more sophisticated in smuggling wildlife and wildlife products and adept at eluding authorities.

Previously secure wildlife populations are now under threat as poachers and smugglers step up their game. Some new tactics include using hidden compartments in shipping containers, rapidly changing trading routes, and switching to e-commerce, which makes their operating locations difficult to detect.

As advanced smuggling strategies hasten local extinctions of wildlife species, better law enforcement is needed immediately. Bennett suggests various strategies to counter organized wildlife crime activities. These include increasing numbers of highly trained and well-equipped enforcement staff at all points along the trade chain, using more sniffer dogs, conducting DNA tests to search for wildlife products, and employing smart-phone apps with species identification programs.” (Wildlife Conservation Society)

To read about some of the global programs that exist to combat poaching, follow this link:

http://www.wcs.org/conservation-challenges/natural-resource-use/hunting-and-wildlife-trade.aspx

There are also current news stories on the same page. Happy reading, and lets keep up the fight.