Monthly Archives: December 2011

The Sparkle of a New Year

 

She came into the clinic last Tuesday – a sad, emaciated, tiny black pit bull puppy, no older than six months. Her owner said that she had gotten her hind leg caught in a fence recently, and thought it might heal on its own. Clearly it had not. It was gangrenous and rotten, skin sloughing off and smelling like death. The humane officers were told about the dog, and decided to cite the owner for lack of vet care. Just another form of abuse. He had no choice but to surrender the dog to us.

Her name was Sparkle. I have no idea if that was the name she came in with or the name the girls gave her when she was signed over – the first time I saw her she was being prepped for surgery… the entire leg needed to be removed. When I opened her cage door, her skinny little tail beat out a steady beat on the metal walls and she shyly hobbled over to me, head down, eyes hopeful, despite the obvious pain she must have been in. I squeezed that little dog for all it was worth, rubbed her head, fluffed her blankets; I knew no one else wanted to go near her because of how bad that rotten limb smelled. But I didn’t care. And it was probably the only kindness she had ever known.

She looked so tiny and frail on the operating table. I thought about what an awful life she had most likely had, and the senselessness of it all. I wondered about the cruelty and dismissive actions of people who consider it a right and not a privilege to own a pet. I also thought about what a great life she could have when the pain was over and she learned to hop around on three legs. A dog so young and so resilient should have no trouble adapting, and would no doubt make some good, kind person very happy. And she almost made it.

The surgery was practically over. Only a few stitches remained. But her little heart just couldn’t take it. I swallowed the huge lump in my throat and coughed back tears as I forced breaths of pure oxygen into her lungs and the surgeon frantically tried CPR, pleading with her not to give up. But the heart monitor wailed its steady, horrible, monotone announcement. I looked at the surgeon and she at me, both not willing to accept it. Sparkle held on strong throughout the entire procedure. We still don’t know what happened.

When I turned off the lights in the surgery ward that night I glanced at Sparkle’s empty cage. And grabbed the little stuffed monkey toy that she had in there with her. I wanted to somehow keep her with me. So the monkey sits on my dashboard now as a reminder.

My only consolation? That Sparkle’s horrible owner will be prosecuted. I can only hope that the hugs and pets and love she briefly got from me gave her some happiness.

For 2012, I wish for no more sad endings. No more pain, torture, neglect, or suffering at the hands of humans. No more ignorance, no more cruelty, no more insensitivity. This New Year, I want to imagine a world where animals are respected, admired, protected, and cared for. In my mind all this is possible. Will you help me make 2012 a better year? For them? For all the Sparkles out there?

“The fact that man knows right from wrong proves his intellectual superiority to the other creatures; but the fact that he can do wrong proves his moral inferiority to any creature that cannot.” – Mark Twain

Happy New Year to all of my readers. May all of your wishes for the new year come true.

Shine on from the Heavens, Sparkle.

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: https://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 II

Tiger photo via camera trap (courtesty of National Geographic)

On December 2 I posted about tiger poaching and Wildlife Conservation Society’s efforts to combat this alarming trade. National Geographic Magazine’s December issue has an amazing article about tigers and their fragile status on this planet.

You can read the article here: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/12/tigers/alexander-text

Some of the highlights of the article:

  • The tiger population is estimated at around 4,000 animals, scattered throughout Asia’s 13 “tiger countries”, although many experts believe that their numbers are actually far lower.
  • Some reserves, established to protect tigers, have seen a complete loss of all of their tigers; one 300 mile preserve in India lost every single one of its tigers to professional gangs.
  • Relocation efforts have proven somewhat unsuccessful, as tigers typically range over a hundred miles, and nearly a third of India’s tigers live outside tiger reserves.
  • Conservation efforts have largely failed the species, with millions of donated dollars and “vociferously expressed concern for tigers” achieving only “the demise of half the already imperiled population” since the 1980’s.
  • There have been successful attempts to bring back the population: take Huai Kha Khaeng, a 1,073-square-mile wildlife sanctuary (wrote about this place in my December 2nd article) where 2 decades ago there were only 20 tigers and now there are “an estimated 60 in the sanctuary alone and roughly 100 in the rest of the Western Forest Complex, which has six times the area”; the success is due to improved forest health and rise in prey, dedicated monitoring by well-equipped and well-trained patrols, and extreme pride and desire to protect a national treasure.
  •  Tigers are resilient by nature: they “are not finicky about diet or habitat, or dependent on a particular ecosystem; they have been found in Bhutan above 13,000 feet, an altitude overlapping the domain of the snow leopard, and in the saltwater mangrove swamps of Bangladesh where they have learned to swim and supplement their diets with marine life; they reproduce well if given the chance; an average female can rear some six to eight cubs over her 10-12 year lifespan”.

I hope that you will read the entire article – it’s worth your time and the photos are beautiful.

Courtesy of National Geographic

Another hopeful conservation effort is being started by INTERPOL, the international and intergovernmental criminal investigative organization, which has an environmental crimes division. Called Project Predator, it “unites the efforts of police, customs and wildlife officials in the 13 countries in Asia where wild tigers can still be found” and involves “the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the World Bank, the Smithsonian Institution and INTERPOL”.

There is an article on the project here: http://www.interpol.int/en/News-and-media/News-media-releases/2011/PR092, although it is somewhat vague about how the project will work.

Efforts to save tigers are underway. Are we too late? That remains to be seen. As field biologist George B. Schaller puts it, “The great cats represent the ultimate test of our willingness to share this planet with other species; we must act now to offer them a bright and secure future, if for no other reason than they are among the most wonderful expressions of life on Earth”.

 

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…