Posts Tagged With: trafficking

The History of Rhino Poaching

To think an animal’s body part is worth its weight in gold is mind-blowing to say the least. So how did this lucrative practice begin? Who decided a rhinoceros horn is the key to solving all ailments?

17th century rhino horn cups

17th century Chinese cups carved from rhino horn

In Greek mythology, rhino horns were said to possess the ability to purify water. The Persians from the 5th century BC used carved vessels from horn to detect poisoned liquids. This belief stuck and existed well into the 18th and 19th centuries among European royalty.

Between  100 BC and 200 AD during the Ming and Ching dynasties, the Chinese thought the same. They used the horn in carvings of plates, bowls and cups. The cups being especially prized to detect alkaloid poisoning, something that was treacherously common at the time.

dagger

Traditional Yemen dagger

Reports of Yemens’ use of the horn dates back to the 8th century. Although their fondness of horn is preferred in decorative use as opposed to medicinal. It is fashioned into ceremonial dagger handles known as jambiyas . This is a status symbol for young men. It epitomizes manhood. The quality of the horn was important because it possesses a translucent quality, that only improves with age.

The use of the horn for medicinal purposes was recorded as early as 1597, in the Chinese “Pen Ts’ao Kang Mu”.  In it there are mentions such as “the best horn is from a freshly killed male” and “pregnant women should not take horn as it will kill the foetus”. It also lists the many uses of horn ranging from stopping nightmares and curing possessions to curing headaches and dissolving phlegm.

rhino horn medicine

Chinese “medicine” made from horn

In earlier time it was not just the horn, but also blood, and urine used for medicine. This was a commonality of the Chinese, Burmese, Thai, and Nepalis.

In the early 1980s, it was even used as an aphrodisiac by the people of India. This myth probably stems from the fact that breeding pairs stay together for two to three days, and sometimes even weeks. Mating takes place several times a day and lasts for an hour or more at a time.

rhinos mating 2The earliest reports of horn trade (in addition to tortoise shell and ivory) were reported as leaving ancient East Africa for Arabia in 50 AD.

Throughout the history of trade, various countries have been involved: Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Yemen, China, Hong Kong, Sumatra, Singapore, Thailand, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa are the most prominent. Various efforts have been made in these countries to legalize and/or ban the trade as well.

What is the most interesting point in the history of the horn trade is that during times horn could be legally traded, illegal trade still flourished.

Thirty species of rhino once roamed the planet. Now  thousands of years later, there remain just five. Human greed, consumption and ignorance have cost the rhino. They are teetering on the brink of extinction. Will history teach us nothing?

rhino cave painting

Chauvet cave, France- rhino cave painting dating back 30,000 BP (before present time recordings).

Information obtained from TRAFFIC and Richard Ellis: Poaching for Traditional Chinese Medicine

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Legal Trade: Is it worth the gamble?

It seems time to address the idea of legal horn trade again.  We understand the desire to try almost anything to save our rhinos. But it is our opinion that entertaining legal trade is not one of them.  There are far more reasons why legalizing rhino horn is a BAD idea.

#1 The number of rhinos left does NOT support the extreme demand for horn.

#2 We KNOW by flooding the market with something, it does not alleviate the demand, but on the contrary, increases it. Case and point-bears and tigers. China’s “farming” of them, has only expanded the market, in addition to leaving the animals in horrible health, with shortened lives (see The Legal Trade Myths: Debunked by Annamiticus)

#3 Members of CITES would need to approve the measure, which they have all spoken up on with a definite NO, including China.

not a chance

#4  Not all animals are easily farmed. Rhinos succumb to conditions in close quarters with one another, in which they are unaffected by in the wild. In addition, it is a costly endeavor, both for veterinary and security costs. Most individuals would not even be able to achieve this. (see: The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions)

#5 Certain Asian communities ONLY want wild rhino horn. The mindset is that it is more valued because it is harder to come by. Therefore farmed horn will be meaningless to them.

#6 Corruption is rampant not only in South Africa, but in so much having to do with rhino horn. IF trade were legalized, WHO is trusted to police the system? Even during the time ivory was allowed legally in a one-off sale, there was corruption and selling of illegal ivory. (see AWF Ivory)

#7 Asian attitudes on horn are changing, more awareness is taking hold. By making horn legal for a short time then pulling it back off the market, it stands to confuse consumers, re-fuel current demand, as well as possibly reaching a larger market because of the legality.

Hanoi airport

One-off sales have not worked before, there is no evidence to show it would work now. In fact, the opposite is true. If we are serious about stopping poaching, we must stop the demand. It must be loud, clear and forceful that trade and demand are NOT options.

At the very least the idea of legal trade is an enormous risk. It is an action where there is no turning back, and if the worst case scenarios are realized, the rhinos would be gone forever.

rhino crash running

 

 

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The Rape and Pillage of Africa’s Wildlife

The Chinese are welcomed into parts of Africa with increasing regularity to “work” and “aid” Africans with economic gains. With the intent of modernizing infrastructures (roads and railways), or to mine minerals or to offer government incentives, they have become integrated into at least 24 countries across the dark continent over the last five years.

chinese investment in africa 2010

A delicate and controversial marriage to say the least, as they seemingly covet Africa’s jobs, land and minerals.

One thing that cannot be denied is the boldness with which they have exploited Africa’s wildlife. According to Born Free USA,  “Chinese illicit ivory traffickers in particular have been arrested across nearly every single African range state, and operate at nearly every point along the ivory supply chain.”

Tanzania – In a report from the Environmental Investigation Agency, interviews with poachers claim they have sold ivory to members of the Chinese Embassy. It also links a surge in the Tanzanian ivory market during an official visit from a Chinese naval task force and even claims that members of President Xi Jinping’s entourage smuggled ivory out of Tanzania on the presidential plane during his visit in March 2013.

 Republic of Congo – Asian migrant laborers are involved in the logging industry here (70-75% of which is illegal), and are in direct contact with elephants and other area wildlife. It has been suspected their presence has been responsible for increased poaching.

congolese worker watched by chinese foreman

Congolese worker being watched by Chinese foreman. photo: Saturday’s Daily Telegraph

Mathieu Eckel, head of the APU in Odzala-Kokoua National Park, Congo has been watching activity of the Chinese construction camps in the area. He said “We’ve had many stories that involve local poachers and Chinese, but to get the Chinese you have to find them with the ivory”.

In previous attempts where workers in the area had been caught red-handed, corruption or incompetence of Congolese Prosecution has led to no charges being filed. (CNN Report)

Gabon – After seeing elephant skins hanging outside a construction camp, rangers raided the camp and seized carved chopsticks, horns sheared from a Bongo antelope, the scales of a pangolin, a quantity of unworked ivory, and breakfast: several servings of roasted elephant trunk.

Lee White, the head of Gabon National Parks said, “The suspicion is they were hiding the finished pieces (of ivory) in timber containers which were being shipped to China.”

Zimbabwe – Perhaps one of the most controversial and heartbreaking moves comes from the government allowing China to come into the National Park and remove elephants for their zoos, many of them have been infants ripped from their mothers. Zimbabwe’s defense- the sale of the elephants is needed to raise funds for conservation efforts. 

Zimbabwe elephant herd

A herd of African elephants drinking at a muddy waterhole in Hwange national Park in Zimbabwe. Photograph: Zdenek Maly/Alamy

Rhinos of course have also been a target. John Pameri, head of security and chief ranger at the Lewa Conservancy in Kenya believes the recent influx of Chinese construction workers into Kenya has helped to renew awareness among locals and crime networks that rhino horns can be sold for thousands of pounds on the black market.

“Our local intelligence suggests some of the poachers come from Somalia, but the demand is from the Chinese workers,” Pameri stated.

lewa rhino

Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is one of the two main rhino sanctuaries in East Africa. Luckily in 2014, with high security, they managed to evade any poaching incidents. photo: Lewa Conservancy

The Kenya Wildlife Service has also noted a correlation between the influx of Chinese labour and poaching, and has blamed the crisis on the increasing number of Chinese nationals living in Kenya. (There are currently between 3000-10000 Chinese living in Kenya).

Other victims found at these construction sites include giraffes, pythons, leopards and even local dogs being poached and consumed by the workers. In Zimbabwe authorities found 40 rare tortoises at a worker’s home, most of which were merely skeletal remains left after consumption.

But the culprits are not just in the construction sector, Chinese merchants often sell cheap trinkets and clothing in small shops throughout Africa, but the real money is in their back door business of wildlife trade. One such area revealed in an investigation by Hongxiang Huang and Oxpeckers exposed Katima, Namibia as a central hub of trading between trans-border African smugglers and Chinese shop keepers and traders.

Many of these shop owners are linked to the ivory trade in the guise of buying and selling of ivory souvenirs and artifacts for export and sale to tourists, which is perceived to be legal.

South Africa is seeing the largest flux of Chinese migrants. Wildlife trafficking syndicates here continue to brazenly sell rhino horn and ivory at the Chinese markets in SA’s own capital cities, even in the face of global attempts to crack down on the illicit trade in endangered species.

The Chinese have a poor track record when it comes to wildlife conservation, but African countries must accept responsibility for protecting their own wildlife. The price of losing the land and animals is too great to pay for any economic gain.

elephant coming

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Elephant Size awareness in Times Square

In 2013, a massive campaign for awareness was launched. The goal: a giant digital billboard in Times Square, New York to raise awareness to the massive crisis of elephant and rhino poaching.

elephant in times square

The campaign raised the necessary $25,000 and the billboard ran for a month, once every 2 minutes, 24 hours a day, exposing the message to thousands of people.

Now two years later, Times Square will serve as the center of attention again for the New York ivory crush. 1 ton of ivory will be pulverized today as a symbol of the USA’s commitment to stop wildlife trafficking.  According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, most of the pieces are large statues and tusks confiscated in seizures in Philadelphia and New York.

ivory crush denver

Denver, Colorado ivory crush in 2013

This is the second public crush for the US, the first was a destruction of 6 tons in Colorado in 2013.

According to the group ’96 elephants’, since 1989, 13 nations have burned and crushed almost 150 tons of confiscated ivory, which represents slightly more than 13,600 elephants.

 

 

 

 

 

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Ivory Trade In our own backyards

Mention wildlife crime and poaching, and the topic generally turns to China, Vietnam and the Asian communities. Their high demand for wildlife in medicinal and mythical remedies seems to be the root of the evil.

Yet while quick to focus on the Eastern part of the globe, we’re missing what’s closer to home. The US is the second largest ivory market in the world. In 2011 a TON of ivory was seized in a single raid in New York alone.

illegal ivory trade in US

by: IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare)

 

The Fish and Wildlife Service has about 200 agents across the U.S., and just one  ivory or rhino horn investigation can occupy up to 30 agents and take 18 months. Severely understaffed and in many cases lacking training, the current laws aren’t enforceable. It is estimated for every crate or shipment that is confiscated, at least ten get through.

There is hope with the current trend, as state by state the US is banding together to crack down on selling and possession of ivory and horn. Presently there are 2 states with laws passed, and fourteen states with legislation introduced. But increased funding for staffing at the ports is necessary to carry out these laws.

prince william elephant

Prince William urges EU to take a stronger stance on wildlife laws. Photo: Getty

Europe is also highly culpable. As the worlds biggest exporter of so-called “old” ivory, recent figures indicate the trade is not only alive in  Europe, but growing.  It is estimated there are 25,000 wildlife products dealt in the EU every year.

In 2013 a two-week  Interpol investigation revealed hundreds of ivory items for sale in European countries, conservatively valued at approximately EUR 1,450,000. The internet is a major source for the easy access.

INTERPOL is working closely with international enforcement agencies on shutting down the viral access to wildlife. During an online investigation, they discovered  more than 660 advertisements for ivory on 61 different auction sites, estimated to have a total volume of approximately 4,500 kilograms of ivory. The Project Web report calls for specific e-commerce legislation regulating wildlife trade to be introduced in the EU.

Current laws in all countries need immediate examination, loopholes must be closed and ALL ivory must be banned. Only with global unity can we stop the decimation of our elephants and rhinos, and slow the escalation of wildlife trafficking for other species.

Elephant cartoon

by: Matt Davies

 

 

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Big Five Bill

To combat the rapid scourge of wildlife trafficking, the United States has responded with swift action. Twenty of the fifty states have taken the step toward a nationwide ban on ivory trade. An enormous step, considering the US was the second largest ivory market in the world.

Ivory bans March 2015

 

Now New York is seeking to take it a step further. Bill s.4686, better known as the “Africa Big Five” bill, would ban the import, possession, sale or transportation of any of the Big Five (elephant, rhino, lion, leopard, and cape buffalo) in the state. This bill would amend a current law by classifying the Big Five as “foreign game”.

Senator Tony Avella said “The ban eliminates much of the incentive to continue hunting these animals overseas and shipping their remains off to buyers in New York with a high price tag. It is high time New York take a stand against this horrible practice. By passing this legislation we can ensure that New York, which is one of the largest hubs for importation and transport of these animal carcasses, does not become just another contributor to the inhumane trade of the bodies and parts of these animals.”

protect big 5

Senator Avella with Edita Birnkrant, of Friends of Animals.

New York was among the first states to pass the ivory ban. If the Big Five Bill passes, this could lead the way for not just other states, but the world. Stricter laws could give Africa’s big game, as well as other endangered species a fighting chance at a comeback.

YOU can help! Send a quick note to your local representatives and ask them to support Senator Avella and take action in YOUR state! Look up your state senators and representatives here: State senators and representatives.

 

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The Most Highly Trafficked Animal on Earth

Today is World Pangolin Day. So what’s a Pangolin? Arguably the most endangered and least heard of animal on Earth.

World Pangolin Day 2014

Like rhinos and elephants, pangolins are severely endangered and desired by Asian communities. Not much is known about these mysterious creatures, as they are nocturnal and highly secretive. Making it even more difficult for scientists is the fact they are quickly disappearing.

PANGOLIN FACTS

*There are 8 species of Pangolins; 4 living in Asia, 4 living in Africa.

*They are also referred to as “scaly anteaters”

*Pangolins are mainly nocturnal and feed primarily on insects.

*They have no teeth, only sticky tongues, which they can extend up to 40 cm (16 in).

*Pangolins have poor eyesight and hearing, but a strong sense of smell.

*Pangolin scales are made of keratin and compromise 20% of the animal’s body weight. They are a natural defense for the little mammals, but also the reason they are poached.

Roxy and Maria again

Roxy the Cape Pangolin formed a special bond with Maria from the Rare and Endangered Species Trust

Pangolin Roxy and Maria of REST Rare & Endangered Species Trust

Roxy and Maria.

ROxy and baby

Roy carries her baby on her back.

Petition: Save endangered Pangolins from illegal poaching.

Petition: Help endangered Pangolins by featuring them in a Disney film

Baby pang standing by maria diekmann

Baby pangolin by: Maria Diekmann

Photos from REST, featured in Africa Geographic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Possible Game Changer in Poaching War

from Tiger Skins and Rhino Horns:Can a trade deal halt the trafficking?
by: Jackie Northam

The Obama administration is now trying to tackle wildlife trafficking by incorporating rules into the Trans-Pacific Partnership, known as the TPP. This is the massive multilateral trade agreement currently being negotiated among a dozen Asia-Pacific nations, including the United States.

TPP

Potential Trade Sanctions

Michael Froman, the U.S. trade representative, says if it passes, countries found to be involved in illegal wildlife trafficking could face trade sanctions.

“What we’re doing through the Trans-Pacific Partnership is first of all making sure environmental issues are central to the agreement, including things like wildlife trafficking, and then making them fully enforceable just like any other provision of the trade agreement,” he says.

The U.S. is also trying to make this part of a trade deal with the European Union.

But Leigh Henry, senior policy adviser for the World Wildlife Fund, says the Asia-Pacific trade deal is key because much of the demand for the endangered wildlife comes from Asian countries negotiating the TPP.

“Vietnam is huge. They are the primary consumer of rhino horn that’s driving this increase in rhino poaching in South Africa,” Henry says, adding that Malaysia is a huge transit route for the illegal wildlife trade.

Henry says when it comes to fighting wildlife trafficking, international law has no teeth. She hopes the TPP will change that.

The U.S. is trying to better coordinate with international law enforcement agencies and hopes to beef up customs and borders patrol, and the number of fish and wildlife inspectors, if the TPP agreement is signed.

sanctions

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The US struggles to tackle wildlife trafficking

Wildlife trafficking is the fourth most lucrative crime in the world, and the US alone has held the distinction of being second only to China in perpetuating the market for ivory.

In February of this year President Obama banned the commercial use of ivory. He set forth a national strategy of increasing cooperation among a half-dozen federal agencies, toughening laws and enhancing enforcement.

US detector dog

Trained detector dogs are used in many ports like this one in Miami to search out wildlife products. by: Tom MacKenzie/USFWS

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has been charged with cracking down on the trade, responding through undercover efforts like Operation Crash, in which officers tackle all aspects of U.S. involvement in the black market rhino horn trade.

 

But the largest issue is in the ports. Fewer than 330 Fish and Wildlife inspectors patrol the largest U.S. ports, about the same number as 30 years ago, when the agency’s law enforcement branch was formed, before wildlife trafficking was as problematic.

In fact only 6 USFWS inspectors and 4 police agents are employed to search millions of shipments that arrive at JFK airport, one of the most massive cargo facilities in the country. For every crate discovered with illegal ivory, horn or other banned wildlife products, it is estimated that about 10 others make it through.

“We don’t have enough people to do what we have to do,” said Paul Chapelle, the special agent in charge of the USFWS  law enforcement office near JFK Airport. And when they do arrest someone, he said, “you go back and look at the [shipping] manifests, and you see the same people had been doing the same thing for five or 10 years. . . . It happens all the time.”

USFW again

USFWS officer in a room of confiscated illegal wildlife in New York. by: Yana Paskova

Checking every shipment isn’t feasible but obviously spot checking isn’t enough. Intentions and enacting of laws is only the beginning. To say more manpower is severely needed to back up these laws is an understatement.

USFWS JFK

Yet ironically with a severely flawed and ineffective system, the  Fish and Wildlife agents are considered by many as the world’s most effective illegal wildlife trade enforcement team.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement continues to be the premier law enforcement agency in the world when it comes to combating wildlife trafficking,” said Deputy Chief Ed Grace.

*Source: Darryl Fears of the Washington Post

 

 

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South Africa’s Latest Embarrassment in Poaching Saga

Keeping rhinos safe in the bush is tedious, exhausting work. Rangers spend long hours in the elements, patrolling vast areas on foot, putting themselves at risk every day.

Wouldn’t it be nice if it were easier? Too bad there’s not a list of known poachers on a website or in a book somewhere. Oh wait…there is!

Terri Stander

Terri Stander

South Africa’s DA shadow Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs, Terri Stander stated that intelligence is a weakness for SA in the fight against poaching. Holding up a list, Stander said:

Why is it that I can have a list of 72 suspected poachers in my hands, but not one of these have been properly investigated let alone convicted? You can even call them on the listed telephone numbers.”

Yet one more embarrassment on the backs of the South African government. Money exchanging hands to sell rhino to hunting outfitters, money unaccounted for from the Dutch lottery, translocation plans made only to fall through, as the “window of opportunity” was missed, now this. Where does it end?

 “Our rhino are dying because of ineffective systems — a lack of the required political will, alleged complicity in poaching by security and policing services, lack of information sharing between our enforcement agencies and judicial sanction that is not yet swift or severe enough,” Stander said.

In Edna Molewa’s rhino poaching statement in early August,  the “Strategic Management of Rhino” was announced. It calls for managing rhino populationsinternational collaboration and intervention, and bolstering existing interventions.  One of those existing interventions included Improved intelligence gathering and analysis capability.

SA police service timeslive

photo: Gallo

Part of the solution has been to create a special investigation unit as a branch of the South African Police. It will ONLY focus on rhino poaching. All operational members of this unit, which are made up of all detective heads of the member countries, are situated and operating at the borderlines.

Molewa said  “It is the SAPS’ hope that there would be better communication and collaboration between government departments and to improve database systems sharing..”

Now that this unit exists, what will happen with that list?

rhino poaching stats SA

 

 

 

 

 

 

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