Tag Archives: endangered animals

The Starving Manatees of Florida

Florida manatees are dying at a record pace, prompting a federal investigation and calls to relist the aquatic mammals as endangered. So far this year, 800 manatees have died in Florida, more than double the average for the same period over the past five years, according to state data. Their estimated population numbered 5,733 in 2019, the most recent year in which wildlife officials conducted a count….

At the heart of the problem is deteriorating water quality that has depleted the seagrasses that manatees eat, researchers say. It highlights a broader threat to other marine species, they say, and to Florida’s economy, which relies heavily on visitors drawn to the state’s coastline. Manatees, which typically measure about 10 feet in length and weigh more than 1,000 pounds, have faced numerous perils in recent years, including collisions with watercraft and exposure to red tide, a harmful algal bloom. Now, researchers say, they are experiencing starvation.

Excerpt from Arian Campo-Flores, Manatees Are Dying in Florida, and the U.S. Wants to Know Why, WSJ, June 23, 2021

Low Risk-High Rewards: Killing Endangered Species

The animals’ meat, hides and, above all, tusks are money-spinners. East Asia is the biggest market for ivory and for many illegally traded products, such as animal parts used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)—tiger bones, rhino horns, pangolin scales—or in its cuisine—pangolin meat, for example. In July,  2019 the authorities in Singapore seized 8.8 tonnes, about 300 elephants’-worth, of ivory, along with 11.9 tonnes of pangolin scales, from some 2,000 of the anteaters, the world’s most widely trafficked endangered mammal. The annual profits of the trade in illegal wildlife products are estimated at between $7bn at the low end and $23bn. This makes it the fourth-most profitable criminal trafficking business, with links to others—slavery, narcotics and the arms trade..

Athough China is trying to curb illegal trade, it is also promoting TCM as one of its civilisation’s great contributions to the world. It has indeed made breakthroughs, such as artemisinin, now a widely used defence against malaria. Artemisinin is isolated from the plant Artemisia annua, sweet wormwood, a herb employed in TCM….Conservationists are alarmed that in 2019 the World Health Organisation (WHO) gave TCM respectability by including diagnoses for 400 conditions in its influential International Classification of Disease. 

The WHO approved in June 2019 a new version of its International Classification of Diseases, a highly influential document that categorizes and assigns codes to medical conditions, and is used internationally to decide how doctors diagnose conditions and whether insurance companies will pay to treat them. The latest version, ICD-11, is the first to include a chapter, chapter 26, on TCM.

Excerpts from How to curb the trade in endangered species: On the Horns, Economist, Aug. 10, 2019; The World Health Organization’s decision about traditional Chinese medicine could backfire, Nature, June 5, 2019

The Biggest Bang for the Buck: Which Species to Save

Faced with a gulf between the species in need and the available resources, some scientists are pushing an approach that combines the cold-blooded eye of an accountant with the ruthless decisiveness of a battlefield surgeon. To do the greatest good, they argue, governments need to consider shifting resources from endangered species and populations that are getting too much attention to those not getting enough. That could mean resolving not to spend money on some species for which the chance of success appears low, such as the vaquita, an adorable small porpoise now down to fewer than 30 animals in Mexico’s Gulf of California.

The term “triage”—from the French verb trier, meaning to sort—was born on the battlefields of Napoleonic Europe. Faced with a flood of wounded soldiers, French military doctors conceived of a system to decide who got medical attention and who was too far gone. The idea reached conservation biology as early as the 1980s. But in recent years it has moved from scientific journals to the halls of policymakers, thanks in part to an Australian mathematician and conservation scientist, Hugh Possingham.

Over the following decade, Possingham and others worked to create formulas that could point to the most efficient way to spend money on species preservation. They tried to quantify answers to key questions: What will species restoration projects cost? How likely are they to succeed? How distinct and important is each species? What actions will benefit multiple species or entire ecosystems, bringing the biggest bang for the buck?…

Today, conservation spending is influenced by a complex array of factors, including how close a species is to extinction and the pressure brought by lawsuits, lobbying, and media coverage. The result, Possingham and others argue, is that money is often poured into costly long shots or charismatic organisms, whereas species that could be secured for a relatively low cost go wanting.

A dozen years ago, New Zealand became the first nation to test Possingham’s approach. A nation filled with unique species, some 3000 of them at risk, the country is a poster child for the extinction crisis. But New Zealand had no clear process for setting conservation spending priorities, recalls Richard Maloney, a senior scientist in the country’s Department of Conservation in Christchurch.

In a bid to do better, officials asked Possingham to help craft a plan for spending roughly $20 million per year. The result was a list of 100 top-priority species, developed using a formula that balanced costs and benefits. In general, highly threatened species unique to New Zealand and ended up at the top of the list. But it also included representatives from a variety of species and took into account the cost and likelihood of success. Before that process, the government was working to recover 130 species. Now, more than 300 are getting attention, Possingham says.  But for every species or population at the top of such lists, one is at the bottom. And that can lead to agonizing choices

But saving th Canadian caribou might mean keeping the species on life support for decades… When Mark Hebblewhite, a caribou biologist at the University of Montana in Missoula, looks at how maps of woodland caribou habitat overlap with Alberta’s oil and gas deposits, his response is: Get real. Hebblewhite doubts the government will ever summon the will to impose the development restrictions necessary to save all herds. He points to a 2010 study indicating that such restrictions could mean forgoing extraction of oil, gas, and timber worth more than $125 billion in Alberta alone…

Instead of focusing on the most feeble herds, Canada should instead protect habitat in key areas where caribou populations still stand a good chance, he argued in a 2017 Biological Conservation paper. “We’ve prioritized the most screwed populations,” Hebblewhite says. “All I’m saying is that we prioritize the winners.”

That idea makes biologist Alana Westwood uncomfortable. A Vancouver, Canada–based scientist with the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative,… If Canada isn’t willing to take the necessary steps, she suggests officials rename its law “the ‘recover species that are most easy to accommodate under business as usual act.’”…”It’s an easy way out for managers who don’t have the balls to make tough decisions, and therefore we lose species after species,” says Stuart Pimm, a conservation scientist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who has often sparred with Possingham in public forums. One problem, he argues, is that giving up on a species also means abandoning a potent tool to rally the public and the courts. Sometimes charismatic animals such as California condors or polar bears can help build political support for saving endangered species or habitats more broadly….

And some species stand for entire ecosystems, Pimm adds. Consider the Cape Sable seaside sparrow. The innocuous songbird lives in Florida’s Everglades, where water diversions threaten its marsh habitat. The species might not rank high in a triage system—in part because other populations of related seaside sparrows exist. But because of how the U.S. Endangered Species Act is structured, efforts to protect the sparrow have required policymakers to reallocate water, benefiting the entire ecosystem. “I’m afraid we have to make more complicated decisions than the simple recipes that Hugh comes up with,” Pimm says.

Possingham concedes that triage is not suited to every situation. Europe, for example, has wealthy countries and few native endangered species, which makes saving them all realistic. And sometimes a species is so culturally important that it gets special treatment. New Zealand, for instance, has departed from its triage system to give priority to protecting 50 cherished species, including five species of kiwi birds, the nation’s mascot.

Excepts from Warren Cornwall With limited funds for conservation, researchers spar over which species to save—and which to let go, Science Magazine, Sept. 6, 2018

Extreme Markets: the fascination for wild genitalia

Tomohon, in the highlands of North Sulawesi, Indonesia is …the “extreme market”. There is certainly something extreme about the serried carcasses, blackened by blow torches to burn off the fur, the faces charred in a rictus grin.   The pasar extrim speaks to Sulawesi’s striking biogeography. The Indonesian island straddles the boundary between Asiatic and Australian species—and boasts an extraordinary number of species found nowhere else. But the market also symbolises how Asia’s amazing biodiversity is under threat. Most of the species on sale in Tomohon have seen populations crash because of overhunting (habitat destruction has played a part too)…

An hour’s drive from Tomohon is Bitung, terminus for ferry traffic from the Moluccan archipelago and Papua, Indonesia’s easternmost province. These regions are even richer in wildlife, especially birds. Trade in wild birds is supposedly circumscribed. Yet the ferries are crammed with them: Indonesian soldiers returning from a tour in Papua typically pack a few wild cockatoos or lories to sell. One in five urban households in Indonesia keeps birds. Bitung feeds Java’s huge bird markets. The port is also a shipment point on a bird-smuggling route to the Philippines and then to China, Taiwan, even Europe. Crooked officials enable the racket.

The trade in animal parts used for traditional medicine or to denote high status, especially in China and Vietnam, is an even bigger racket. Many believe ground rhino horn to be effective against fever, as well as to make you, well, horny. Javan and Sumatran rhinos were not long ago widespread across South-East Asia, but poaching has confined them to a few tiny pockets of the islands after which they are named. Numbers of the South Asian rhinoceros are healthier, yet poachers in Kaziranga national park in north-east India have killed 74 in the past three years alone.

Name your charismatic species and measure decline. Between 2010 and 2017 over 2,700 of the ivory helmets of the helmeted hornbill, a striking bird from South-East Asia, were seized, with Hong Kong a notorious transshipment hub. It is critically endangered. As for the tiger, in China and Vietnam its bones and penis feature in traditional medicine, while tiger fangs and claws are emblems of status and power. Fewer than 4,000 tigers survive in the wild. The pressure from poachers is severe, especially in India. The parts of over 1,700 tigers have been seized since 2000.

Asia’s wildlife mafias have gone global. Owing to Asian demand for horns, the number of rhinos poached in South Africa leapt from 13 in 2007 to 1,028 last year. The new frontline is South America. A jaguar’s four fangs, ten claws, pelt and genitalia sell for $20,000 in AsiaSchemes to farm animals, which some said would undercut incentives to poach, have proved equally harmful. Lion parts from South African farms are sold in Asia as a cheaper substitute for tiger, or passed off as tiger—either way, stimulating demand. The farming of tigers in China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam provides cover for the trafficking of wild tiger parts. Meanwhile, wild animals retain their cachet—consumers of rhino horn believe the wild rhino grazes only on medicinal plants.

Excerpts from  Wasting Wildlife, Economist, Apr. 21, 2018, at 36

Elephant Skin 4 dollars per square inch

“Elephant’s skin can cure skin diseases like eczema,” said one shop owner, who requested anonymity, alongside a counter brimming with porcupine quills and snake skins. “You burn pieces of skin by putting them in a clay pot. Then you get the ash and mix it with coconut oil to apply on the eczema.”  He broke off to talk to a potential buyer, who balked at the price tag of 5,000 kyat (US$3.65) per square inch (6.5 square centimetres) of elephant skin.

Elephant poaching in Myanmar has jumped tenfold in recent years, the government said this week, driven by growing demand for ivory, hide and body parts.Increasingly carcasses are being found stripped of their skin, the hide used for traditional medicine or reportedly turned into beads for jewellery. Some of it is sold in local markets but the vast majority goes to feed neighbouring China’s inexhaustible taste for exotic animals.  Myanmar’s wild elephant population is thought to have almost halved over the past decade to around 2,000-3,000. The animals are killed or smuggled alive to be used in the tourist industry in neighbouring Thailand.

“”Elephants are one of dozens of endangered species being trafficked through Myanmar, which has become a key hub in the US$20 billion a year global wildlife trade.  Watchdog TRAFFIC claims the country has “the largest unregulated open markets for tiger parts” in Southeast Asia, which experts say also sell everything from African rhino horn and clouded leopard skins to pangolins.  Much of the trade runs through the country’s lawless eastern periphery, controlled by a sophisticated network of criminals who are thought to be armed and funded by powerful “kingpins” in China.  It is lucrative business: in Mong La, on Myanmar’s eastern border, sales of ivory alone are thought to rake in tens of millions of dollars a year.

Excerpts from Skin care fad threatens Myanmar’s endangered elephants as demand from China drives trade in animal products, South China Morning Post, Jan. 21, 2016

 

Shooting to Death Poachers: conservation

A South African, 31 Zambians and seven Mozambicans were among 443 people arrested in Zimbabwe in 2016 for poaching, the national parks authority has said. [According to] the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) spokesperson Caroline Washaya-Moyo said there was an increase on arrests last year compared to 2015 when 317 were arrested.

Washaya-Moyo said locals, who constitute a majority of those arrested for poaching, are working mainly with colleagues from Zambia as well as Mozambique, targeting wildlife sanctuaries in the north-west and south-east of the country.  “Mozambican poaching groups target Gonarezhou National Park and Save Valley Conservancy, where they poach elephants. It has now emerged that most of the poaching taking place inland is being perpetrated by syndicate members of different groups, who are hired to form one larger organised gang,” Washaya-Moyo said.

However, the introduction of modern anti-poaching strategies, such as sniffer and tracker dogs as well as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) she said, is likely to help boost anti-poaching activities. In September 2016 South Africa’s UAV and Drone Solutions (UDS) provided UAVs to Zimbabwe. The technology was deployed to Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe’s largest game park, to fight elephant and other wildlife poaching. Between 2013 and last year, poaching syndicates killed at least 300 elephants through cyanide poisoning in the park. “This silent poaching method has serious effects to the eco-system and is a potential threat to human life,” she said.

ZimParks released the 2016 report in a week it also announced the shooting to death of three suspected poachers in Hwange National Park and Hurungwe near Lake Kariba. Two were killed on 10 January in Hwange while one, believed to be a Zambian, was shot dead in Hurungwe on 11 January….

A Zimbabwean safari operator, Langton Masunda, blamed recurrent droughts, a difficult local economy and global restrictions in lion and elephant hunting for the high poaching cases in the country.  “Without money coming from hunting, communities derive little value from wildlife and when that happens they are tempted to poach. The economic conditions are pushing some to poach as well. So poaching at those low levels then escalate into wider scale and more organised poaching activities,” he said

Excerpts from Ian Nyathi,  Increase in number of poachers arrested in Zimbabwe as slaughter continues, http://www.defenceweb.co.za/, Jan. 16, 2017

Loss of Giraffes

Over 700 newly recognised bird species have been assessed for the latest update of The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and 11% of them are threatened with extinction. The update also reveals a devastating decline for the giraffe, driven by habitat loss, civil unrest and illegal hunting. The global giraffe population has plummeted by up to 40% over the last 30 years, and the species has been listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

Today’s IUCN Red List update also includes the first assessments of wild oats, barley, mango and other crop wild relative plants. These species are increasingly critical to food security, as their genetic diversity can help improve crop resistance to disease, drought and salinity…Almost every species of plant that humans have domesticated and now cultivate has one or more crop wild relatives. However, these species have received little systematic conservation attention until now.

The update was released today at the 13th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP13) in Cancun, Mexico. The IUCN Red List now includes 85,604 species of which 24,307 are threatened with extinction. “Many species are slipping away before we can even describe them,” says IUCN Director General Inger Andersen.

Excerpts from New bird species and giraffe under threat – IUCN Red List, News Release, Dec. 8, 2016 

Industrial-Scale Hunting

Starting September 25, 2016,  thousands of conservationists and top government officials will be thrashing out international trade regulations aimed at protecting different species.A booming illegal wildlife trade has put huge pressure on an existing treaty signed by more than 180 countries — the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)….

[T]he plight of Africa’s elephants, targeted for their tusks, generated fierce debate as the talks kicked off.Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa and Namibia castigated Western-based animal charities, saying they “dictated” on how African resources should be managed.”Please leave us alone, don’t just come and dictate what we should be doing,” Zambian Tourism Minister Stephen Mwansa said.Fortune Charumbira, head of Zimbabwe’s traditional chiefs, blasted “elitist NGOs who are coming from countries where there are no animals”, describing them as “domineering”.

A coalition of 29 African countries is pressing for a total halt to the ivory trade to curb poaching of elephants, but other delegates believe it would only fuel illegal trading…CITES forbids trade in elephant ivory, but Namibia and Zimbabwe have made a proposal asking for permission to sell off stockpiles to raise funds for local communities that co-exist with the animals….

CITES’ secretary general John Scanlon… warned illegal wildlife trafficking was “occurring on an industrial scale, driven by transnational organised criminal groups”.

African countries lash out at Western charities at international wildlife conservation meeting, ABC News, Sept. 24, 2016

Deaths of Rhinos in National Parks

In cold statistics the number of rhinos poached a day in South Africa has now reached three with 769 of these Big Five animals killed to… (Sept 2014).  That equates to 3.027 animals a day and the country’s (South Africa’s) internationally renowned Kruger National Park remains the preferred hunting ground for rhino poachers. Bordering on both Mozambique and Zimbabwe, the park, increased security and patrol activities notwithstanding, offers poachers fairly easy access and egress with their bounty. So far this year Kruger’s rhino population has been decimated by 489 – well over half the national loss.

Statistics released by the Department of Environmental Affairs this week show all nine of South Africa’s provinces, including mostly urban Gauteng, have now been hit by rhino poachers.  The latest kill figures come ahead of next week’s United States-South Africa: Border Surveillance Technology Co-operation Symposium at the CSIR International Convention Centre.  All eyes will be on retired SA Army general Johan Jooste, now Commanding Officer: Special Projects for SANParks based in Kruger. The title of his keynote address is “Turning the tide – borders, poaching, technology”…

US Ambassador to South Africa, Patrick Gaspard, is also carded as a speaker alongside senior representatives (unnamed at the time of publication) from Armscor; the CSIR’s Defence, Peace, Safety and Security section; SA Aerospace, Maritime and Defence Industries Association (AMD); the US Army Research Office and the US Corps of Engineers.

Excerpts from Kim Helfrich, Three rhinos shot every day in South Africa, Defence Web, Sept. 12, 2014

$10 Billion Illegal Market for Wildlife

At $10 billion a year, illegal wildlife makes up the world’s fifth-largest illicit market behind drugs, counterfeit products, trafficked people and smuggled oil. An intergovernmental conference in Geneva from July 7th-11th, 2014 revealed the special worries about ivory smuggling in Thailand, rhino-horn trafficking through Mozambique and trade in tiger parts across South and South-East Asia.

According to TRAFFIC, a lobby group, the street value of rhino horn is $60,000 per kilo—more than the price of gold. Gram for gram, bear-bile flakes or powder sell in Japan [slightly less] than cocaine in Asia. Booming demand from Asia’s growing middle classes is pushing some species close to extinction. As supply dwindles, prices rocket, which tempts criminal gangs to sink their claws in even further.

Elephant ivory is valued for aesthetic reasons. Demand for rhinoceros horns, the paws and bile of Asiatic black bears and sun bears, tiger bones and penises, and deer musk, is stimulated by the healing powers ascribed to them in traditional Chinese medicine. Rhino-horn shavings boiled in water are said to cool and to cure headaches; the brew is akin to fingernail clippings in water (both are mainly keratin, an indigestible protein). Bear bile does help with gallbladder and liver problems—but no more than the synthetic version of ursodeoxycholic acid, its main component.

In February 42 countries, including China and Japan, and the European Union signed a declaration against trade in illegal wildlife products. Chinese law punishes the purchase or consumption of endangered species with up to ten years in jail. But in May, when Philippine forces seized a Chinese vessel carrying sea turtles, giant clamshells and live sharks off the disputed Half Moon Shoal, China expressed outrage at the “provocative action”—not the illegal cargo.

The illegal trade in wild-animal products: Bitter pills, Economist, July 19, 2014, at 54

Smuggling Endangered Species and Drugs

Criminals involved in smuggling endangered species from Latin America into Spain are using the same routes as drug traffickers, Spanish police told Efe.  Some drug traffickers have actually turned to the business of smuggling exotic animals because it is lucrative and less dangerous than the narcotics trade, Spanish Civil Guard Wildlife Protection Service Capt. Salvador Ortega said.  Spain is one of the main entry points used by animal smugglers from Latin America to penetrate the European market, Ortega said.

The trade in exotic species is “very lucrative” and continues growing, the police officer said.  Animal smugglers use “the same routes as the drug trade and some have traded their businesses for exotic species,” Ortega said.  A small egg can easily be smuggled across international borders, with the parrot that later hatches being sold for more than 15,000 euros (about $20,500), Ortega said   Reptiles, amphibians, turtles – smuggled from Morocco – and parrots are the exotic animals most commonly illegally introduced into Spain, the police officer said.

Animal Traffickers Use Same Routes from Latin America as Drug Smugglers, Police Say, Latin American Herald Tribune, Jan. 3, 2014