Friday, February 24, 2012

Kenya Launches 10-Year National Elephant Conservation Strategy

An African Bush elephant in Kenya

It has been recently announced that the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has launched a new national elephant conservation and management strategy. The function was held at the Ivory Burning Site in Nairobi National Park, and was attended by several conservationists. These included representatives of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Save the Elephants (STE), African Conservation Centre (ACC), universities and other research institutions. Among the participants present was the Minister of Forestry and Wildlife Honorary Dr. Noah Wekesa, who pointed out that the world was witnessing an increase in the illegal killing of elephants and that the level of sophistication and organization of the traders were also worrying. He further noted that Kenya had lost 278 elephants last year, compared 177 in 2010. At the same time, over eight tonnes of illegal ivory were seized in the nation over the last three years.

The strategy's goal is to maintain and expand the distribution and numbers of elephants, enhance their security, reduce human-elephant conflict, and increase the value of elephants to habitats and people. It also outlines strategies the KWS and other conservation organizations will use to protect the animals, especially in key locations, such as dispersal areas, migration routes, and human-elephant conflict hotspots. In addition to that, the strategy seeks to address growing problems and threats to elephant conservation in Kenya. To achieve this, it will engage communities living adjacent to protected areas on the importance of protecting elephants through awareness and education. Furthermore, the strategy will agree on offering of incentives and provision of tangible benefits linked directly to presence of elephants which will increase tolerance of these animals among people. Overall, the strategy is designed to encourage landowners and local communities to accommodate and protect the elephants.

I'm very proud what Kenya is doing with respect to its elephants. Not only is this plan going to help people coexist with the animals, but also encourage them to protect the elephants from illegal poaching. In addition to reaching out to the community through education and awareness, this strategy also going to call for improved cross-border partnership. This includes coordination and cooperation on enforcement and monitoring of poaching and ivory trade with neighboring countries through groups, such as the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF) and the INTERPOL. Kenya has long been noted for its role in elephant conservation, in which the KWS and other conservation stakeholders attributed to renewed and sustained efforts in curbing any illegal activities. Among these strategies included the introduction of sniffer dogs in airports such as Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta, and the Moi International Airport in Mombasa to detect any flow of ivory. There have even been plans to introduce dogs at the Eldoret International Airport, as well as other entry and exit points. I think Kenya is definitely a role model for African countries when it comes to wildlife conservation. A lot of other such countries where poaching is rampant would benefit if they learned from Kenya. At the same time, bot Kenya and these countries would benefit from one another if they form alliances in the battle to stem poaching and trade in wildlife of Africa. A good example would be Cameroon, which had recently witnessed a massacre of 200 elephants killed by poachers. The incident clearly highlights the danger and horror of poaching in countries that are not considering the threat as seriously as Kenya did over the years. This is why it is crucial for Kenya and all the other African countries to join hands together against this ongoing catastrophe.

View article here

Federal Investigators Crack Illegal Rhino Horn Smuggling Ring in U.S

A Sumatran rhinoceros

It has been recently reported that federal U.S wildlife investigators in California and other states have busted an international smuggling ring that had functioned for many years in rhinoceros horns. More than 150 federal agents and other local enforcement officers raided houses, businesses, and made several arrests in twelve states, including three in Southern California. According to U.S Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, the raids have dealt a serious blow to smuggling of rhino horns both in the U.S and globally. During the operation, the service seized more than $1 million in cash, $1 million in gold bars, diamonds, and Rolex watches, as well as twenty rhino horns. Much of the contraband was found at a Westminster-based import-export business belonging to Jimmy Kha, in his safety deposit boxes and at his home in Garden Grove. Mr. Kha, along with his girlfriend Mai Nguyen and son Felix, each face four counts of trafficking rhino horns in violation of federal laws protecting endangered species. While both father and son remain in jail, following their arrests earlier at the Los Angeles International Airport, Nguyen is set to be released on $50,000 bail.
This stuffed rhino head was one of many seized during the raids

This 18-month investigation called Operation Crash was forced out in the open on February 9th when officials of the Transportation Security Administration stopped three people at the Long Beach Airport. These included accused wildlife trafficker Wade Steffen of Hico, Texas, his wife Molly, and his mother Merrily. The trio had $337,000 in their carry-on luggage, which included $20,000 dollars in $100-bill bundles in Molly's purse. In her words, the money did not belong to her and that her husband may have put it in her purse. Merrily allowed the officials to view pictures on her camera's memory card. The pictures contained images of $100-bills in stacks bound with rubber bands and rhino horns being weighed on scale. Steffen was incarcerated in Texas, but neither his mother nor his girlfriend was arrested. Since then, wildlife officials intercepted at least eighteen rhino horn shipments from the Steffen family and an owner of a Missouri-based auction house that trades in live and stuffed exotic animals. Law enforcement sources and court records say that the packages were opened, and the horns were identified by scientists. They were then repackaged to be sent either to Kha's business or his girlfriend's nail shop, and presumably smuggled out of country. The investigators tracked the flow of hundreds of thousands of dollars through bank wire transfers, including to accounts in China, and travel records of suspects flying between Los Angeles and Asia, as well as between California, Texas, and Missouri.

Although I'm glad to see that U.S is becoming involved in the ongoing battle of the illegal trade in rhino horns, I also feel that it would be more useful that it should form partnerships with nations like South Africa. South Africa has been losing its rhinos on a huge scale and while it had teamed up with Vietnam to tackle this problem, it would further help if it would ally itself with other nations as well. With several nations working together with South Africa, I believe that it would help in the curbing of rhino poaching and the trade in rhino horns. Earlier this year, around 441 rhinos were killed in South Africa compared to 333 in 2010. If this ongoing massacre continues, then the nation's rhino population will surely plummet to the brink of extinction deeply affecting South Africa's tourist industry. Same with Indonesia, where the numbers of Javan rhinoceroses are in a critical condition and that a single poaching activity could wipe out the entire population from the face of the Earth. The clock is ticking.

View article here

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Survey Reveals Two Great Indian Bustards Alive in Ajmer

A great Indian bustard in Rajasthan

A recent census conducted in the Sokhliya region of Rajasthan's Ajmer district revealed that only two great Indian bustards were found alive. The discovery shocked the forest department, since the bustard is the state bird of Rajasthan. It has been found that mining activities being carried out in the area forced the birds to abandon the region, whose numbers were once estimated to be 72 in 1990. By 2004, the number had declined to 24 birds. According to Mahendra Vikram Singh, president of Bird Conservation Society, the grassland of the Sokhliya is a natural habitat for them and they even stay there during the breeding season. Twenty years ago, most of the birds were sighted in the region while others were seen near the cities of Kota and Pune. But since that time, mining companies in the region were given about 85 leases, most operating illegally. Bhola Rawat, a former sarpanch of a nearby village, stated that the companies frequently use dynamite and other explosives and possibly this is causing the birds to disappear. Four years ago, the forest department attempted to make the area a reserve forest in order to put an end to mining and other activities. Officials sent a letter of their proposal to the BJP, but it was turned down. The reason was that the mining lobby became active at that time.

This article clearly highlights one of the key hotspots in India being exploited, forcing its iconic species to disappear. In this case, it is the great Indian bustard. Over the period of time, this magnificent bird has suffered tremendously by human encroachment all over India, including Rajasthan where it is considered to be a state bird. But what really appalls me is that the mining companies operating in the region are illegal, yet most are benefitting from the BJP having turned down a proposal to halt them simply because the lobby is active. In my opinion, this situation clearly points out the corruption that is fueling our nation with misery. Not only is the bustard affected, but also the people living alongside the bird. In the Sokhliya region, there are 76 villages living in grasslands that are turning into deserts with debris of illegal mining. One would imagine how the lives of villagers are affected as this ongoing environmental catastrophe continues. This is why it is crucial to take a stand against illegal mining because it is taking toll of nearly every form of natural habitat in India, and is not only affecting the wildlife but also the people living near it.

View article here     

200 Elephants Slaughtered in Cameroon

A mother elephant and her calf

Cameroon has recently witnessed a horrific massacre of 200 elephants by poachers in the past five weeks, according to activists. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) warned that money being made from selling elephant tusks is adding a great deal of misery throughout the continent. The killings left many orphaned elephant calves, which have been spotted in Cameroon's Bouba Ndjida National Park. Their presence raised concerns among activists, fearing that they may die of hunger and thirst. While it is not known how many elephants remain in West Africa, the latest figures by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimated that there were 1,000 to 5,000 in 2007. Activists stated that the fund blamed poachers from Sudan, who were said to cross through Chad to reach the remote northern wildlife reserve. They further added that ongoing shooting is making it impossible to carry out a detailed assessment. And although armed insurgents conducted poaching raids for years, the scale of this year's killings were called "massive and unprecedented." The incident led to American, British, European, and French embassies calling the nation's government to take urgent action to stop the slaughter.

The incident highlights one of the main reasons poaching should be dealt with in Africa. Poachers will use whatever force they can to conduct their illicit business, even if it means carrying out a massacre. Because of this, it is crucial the society should get involved in helping the authorities to put an end to this ongoing slaughter. While reaching out to the community and educating people about the dangers of poaching is one step, it would also be useful for the citizens to report any suspicious activities. This could lead to authorities getting a tip on what might appear to be a poaching activity. Just as people around the world generally report such activities concerning their own safety or their property's, people living near any wilderness areas should also do the same thing regarding the wildlife. This especially goes to people not just in Cameroon, but in other parts of Africa.

View article here

Friday, February 10, 2012

Jack Hanna Criticizes Ohio State Lawmakers on Exotic Pet Legislations

Jack Hanna

The state of Ohio had experienced one of the most horrific events last year, when dozens of wild animals were set loose in the town of Zanesville by their suicidal owner, Terry Thompson. The end result was 48 of these endangered species shot down for the fear of harming and killing the general public. Many of these magnificent beasts included lions, tigers, bears, a baboon, and a wolf. The incident highlighted the fact that Ohio remains to have some of the weakest restrictions on exotic pets. A Republican senator named Troy Balderson, who was from that same town, had planned to introduce a bill that would regulate exotic animals in the state. He even sent them a letter last Friday, asking them to sign on to the bill. The letter included details about future regulations, such as banning people from acquiring additional exotic animals and that zoos, circuses, sanctuaries, and research facilities would be exempt. It further added that owners of large animals would be banned from keeping them in 2014, unless they applied to be a "private shelter" and met new caging requirements and care standards.  However, despite having such convincing information, the bill was never passed. And for this reason, celebrity zookeeper Jack Hanna criticized the lawmakers for not passing that bill. In his argument, Mr. Hanna stated that he was in a state of shock because of the delay in passing the law. This would mean that in the future, more people are going to be either killed or will be in danger of being killed if this law is not going to be passed. He further added that he had been frequently asked about the aftermath of this issue during his travels, making it an international issue.

I very much feel the same way as Mr. Hanna, regarding the lives of people and animals in the state of Ohio. This state has long been considered to have one of the most lax laws in exotic wild animals. Because of this people are being put in a state of danger. Due to the state of laws, Ohio has witnessed numerous cases of exotic animals turning against either their "owners" or the general public. One incident occurred in August 2010, when a bear attacked and killed its caretaker on a property near Cleveland. Recently, a suicidal owner turned his so-called "pets" loose in the town of Zanesville all of which ended being shot and killed by the local police. Although Mr. Hanna is no power over the Ohio State Legislature, he has the knowledge about exotic wildlife and the dangers of owning such animals. This is why it is important that the legislature should listen to him, and should pass the bill calling for regulating exotic animals in Ohio as soon as possible. Otherwise, the general public will continue live in fear of being brutally mauled by a lion, tiger, or any other dangerous animal.

View article here