Tag Archives: Wildlife Forensics

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.

Check Your State’s Humane Law Ranking

Photo courtesy of the UK Human Rights Blog

 

Today the Humane Society released a report detailing all 50 states’ animal laws in 2011, as they relate to “issues ranging from animal fighting to farm animals to wildlife to companion animals”. When you click the link below it will bring you to an interactive map. Hover over any state to see a brief synopsis and whether or not it increased or decreased in its rank in 2011.

I am very disappointed in my own state’s ranking, and would have thought it to be higher than it actually is. And something I already knew from working in the field that I do: it is one of the only states with no felony penalties for first-time cruelty violations. This fact is sad and discouraging, given the horrendous nature of some of the animal crimes I’ve seen. But laws can change.

Take a look and see how your state ranks:

http://www.humanesociety.org/about/state/humane_state_ranking_2011.html

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…

 

The Many Faces of Criminology

If you’re like me, and many of you at least share some of my interests since you’re reading this thing, you love to learn. I’m obsessed with learning everything. It’s just a part of my personality. If I go hiking in the mountains and find a flower I’ve never seen before, I want to know what it is. I’ll scour books and the internet until I find it and then I’ll read everything I can about it.

Most of the time this is fun and I enjoy this about myself. Other times it’s frustrating. Why can’t I just take a walk and enjoy my surroundings without having to know EVERYTHING about EVERYTHING, and being annoyed that I know so little?? And just because I read all this information doesn’t mean I retain it. *SIGH*

In any case, I did a random internet search the other day on the topic of criminology, or the study of crime. I respect the fields of criminal justice and criminology, but don’t have a burning desire to study them individually except in terms of forensics. I felt this was a bit unfair, so I wanted to see what I may be missing. Little did I know how broad a topic criminology is. Even though I’ve taken so many courses that involved “criminology” on some level or another I wasn’t aware that there were so many different branches and types. Everyone knows the big ones like white/blue collar crime and organized crime, but there’s also corporate crime, political crime, public order crime, state-corporate crime (get a glimpse of them all on Wikipedia)… pick a word and put “crime” behind it and you’ve got a new -0logy. Then there’s all the various “schools” of criminal theory, and their histories… it’s enough to make my head hurt. But the one that interested me the most was environmental criminology.

When you hear the term “environment”, if you’re like me again, you’re thinking THE environment, earth, Mother Nature, etc. I was excited! But environmental criminology can refer to many things; the whys and hows of crimes that are committed in certain areas, like urban vs. rural, or it can involve crime mapping or “spatial distributions of targets and offenders in a variety of settings and the way in which the location of a crime interacts with other dimensions to produce a criminal event” (NCJRS). The science even has its own Facebook page, which states that it “focuses on criminal patterns within particular built environments and analyzes the impacts of these external variables on people’s cognitive behavior. It forms a part of the Positivist School in that it applies the scientific method to examine the society that causes crime.” Hmmm…. or zzzzzzzzzzzzz…? Interesting, but only to a point. If this is exciting for you, please pardon my yawn.

But turns out there is something referred to as Conservation Criminology, which is getting more attention of late and goes hand in hand with wildlife forensics. Michigan State University is even offering a certificate program in this field, and their page states: “Conservation criminology, the interdisciplinary study of environmental crimes and/or risks, is a newly emerging area of scholarship conducted in collaboration with faculty, students and researchers from MSU and across the globe.  Conservation criminology synergizes the fields of criminology and criminal justice, conservation and natural resource management, decision-analysis and forensic science to examine environmental crimes, harms and/or risks.” That’s more like it! I’m not so much interested in the study of crime for crime’s sake. But I am interested in it when it relates to what I automatically think of as the environment or nature or wildlife. Their page goes on to say: “The program is designed to promote the deconstruction of key environmental risks using multiple scales (e.g., individual, corporate, international) and to use a diverse set of disciplinary theories, methods and tools to explore and explain environmental risks, including regulation, enforcement and broader strategies to achieve compliance (e.g., education, risk communication, etc).” Very cool.

Years ago I worked in the field doing wetland delineations and Phase I site assessments, which involved evaluating parcels of land for environmental concerns, hazards and contaminants. I didn’t realize it then, but I guess I was involved in a type of conservation crime evaluation with those land investigations. Hmmm. Curious how life can come full circle.

It’s crazy how one science can have so many branches, and also how something that on the surface may appear boring, may in fact relate to something you’re deeply interested in if you dig deep enough! I have more research to do…

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.