Category Archives: Africa

Vultures: Vilified but Vital For Healthy Ecosystems

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Picture a vulture and you’ll most likely have a hard time separating these gawky creatures with the social stigmas they hold, long being reviled as portents of death. Still, these ungainly birds play a crucial role in maintaining our ecosystems and well-being, so citizens should be as concerned as scientists are to know that vultures in some parts of the world are quickly disappearing, according to a recent University of Utah study.

Many vulture species are now declining or even close to extinction due to concentrated toxins in the carrion they eat. Such toxins often have widespread impacts on a vulture population, as dozens if not hundreds of vultures tend to swarm and feast on a single carcass. Once vultures grow scarce, they leave the field open for other scavengers to flourish, species that bring with them the potential to carry dangerous bacteria and viruses from carcasses into heavily populated cities.

88% of threatened vulture species are impacted by the presence of poisons within carrion. In North America, only 22 California condors remained by 1982, due to their consumption of toxic lead bullet fragments left in the bodies of hunted animals  However, intense conservation efforts have since helped the species grow to over 400 who inhabit California, Arizona, Utah and Baja California, Mexico.Similarly, more than 95% of India’s vultures had disappeared by the early 2000s, which was  traced to diclofenac, a drug that relieved pain in cattle, but proved deadly to vultures who flocked to cattle carcasses; fortunately, this drug was banned through international coordination efforts, and the birds have slowly increased.

Now, the vulture crisis is centered in sub-Saharan Africa, where pest-control poisons are so potent that they have been affecting birds, mammals and insects alike on a massive scale. For instance, in 2007 an elephant carcass poisoned in Namibia killed around 600 vultures. These vultures in Africa are also the direct victims of poachers who poison carcasses specifically to silence the birds who might give away the location of illegally killed animals.

Declining vulture populations will have negative consequences for human health as they make way for foragers like dogs, rats, and crows, all of whom have more frequent contact with humans than relatively-solitary vultures. Vultures are highly efficient carrion consumers, often finding and eating carcasses within an hour after death, before decay really sets in; plus, vultures’ stomachs are highly acidic, thus killing most bacteria or viruses present in carrion. In these ways, vultures help prevent diseases from dead animals spreading to human populations. However, other scavengers without these features could easily pass along those diseases to humans, as many are entrenched in cities. Following the decline of vultures, India feral dog count increased by around seven million and was linked to a rabies outbreak that killed 48,000 people from 1992-2006.

Vulture populations can be restored through careful and collaborative efforts by the international community, as evidenced by the story of California condor. However, it is important that these efforts start now if we want to retain a creature which, though vilified for its appearance and its eating habits, plays a vital role in regulating the spread of bacteria and viruses and in maintaining healthy ecosystems and human populations, whether or not we are aware of how beneficial these scavengers are.

Source: Buechley, Evan et al. “Why vultures matter – and what we lose if they’re gone.” Phys.org. 5 May 2016.

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This Earth Day, Let’s Talk About the Pangolin…

cute_baby_pangolinEstablished April 22, 1970, Earth Day serves to raise awareness of the state and well-being of our planet. One important measure of that well-being is the health and stability of Earth’s more than 8 million known species, from little-known bacteria and fungi to well-loved and long-championed megafauna like elephants and whales. Yet, though all these species serve important roles within their ecosystems and environments, lesser-known species face added challenges for conservationists.

Just look at the pangolin: sadly, the most-trafficked animal in the world is one that most have never even heard of. The highly-endangered animal is trafficked for their scales, boiled for use in traditional medicine, for their meat, a delicacy in parts of Asia, and for their blood, used as a healing tonic. From 2006 to 2015, nearly one million animals were poached. In addition to Asia, the US has a huge demand for pangolin parts, so conservation groups must work to raise both local and global public awareness of pangolins to curb this dangerous market before it’s too late. If current trends continue, the pangolin will likely become extinct before the world takes notice.

10abb2b50Docile and nocturnal, pangolins make their homes in savannahs, tropical forests, and brush, with four species known to live in Africa and four in Asia. The insectivores feed mainly on ants and termites and have highly acute senses of  smell and hearing to make up for poor vision. The solitary creatures have rarely been studied in the wild, but  have been known to live up to 20 years in captivity.

This March the United States Fish and Wildlife Service announced a positive development for the pangolin: they will consider including it in the Endangered Species Act.  “The Endangered Species Act is among the strongest conservation laws in the world, and listing all pangolin species under the Act will be a dramatic and positive step in saving the species from extinction,” said Adam M. Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA and Born Free Foundation.

So, though conservation efforts and individual awareness of endangered species are vital every day of the year, Earth Day 2016 is the perfect chance for people to learn more about this gentle and fragile animal and to consider steps necessary to prevent its extinction.

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Source: Swan, Carol Ann. “Earth Day 2016 is for Endangered Species Like the Pangolin.” BlastingNews, 22 April 2016.

 

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500 White Rhinos Up for Bid at South Africa’s Kruger National Park

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South Africa’s Kruger National Park plans to make 500 white rhinos available for private bidders hoping to protect the animals and their highly-prized horns. The park asked potential investors to “make a written offer to purchase white rhinos in batches of 20 or more”.

Ideally, this measure would remove the animals from the rampant poaching that occurs at the park: over 1000 were poached in South Africa last year alone, more than three times the number in 2010. Rhino horn is used as a traditional medicine and a mark of wealth in growing consumer markets China and Vietnam.

As many as 5,000 of South Africa’s 20,000 rhinos are already owned by private ranchers, marking the expansion of a vast game farming industry that caters to eco-tourism and big-game hunting. Rhinos attract tourists for game viewing and legal trophy hunts, and some ranchers hold out hope that the horn trade will eventually be legalized.

Still, the risks and costs of keeping rhinos safe from poachers, even on private ranchers, may dissuade potential buyers from investing in the rhinos. “You are asking someone to put a large amount of money on the table in a speculative venture,” Pelham Jones, chairman of the Private Rhino Owners Association, told Reuters.

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This article was first published by The Guardian on 06 Oct 2014.

 

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“Yahoo” allows the trade of Ivory

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Internet company Yahoo has been accused of aiding in the slaughter of elephants by allowing the trade of ivory on its Japanese auction site. Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer and Yahoo Japan head Manabu Miyasaka to have been asked to urgently stop all ivory sales from sites/platforms in Japan and all other markets.

It’s estimated that more than 12 tones of elephant tusks and fashioned pieces of ivory were sold on the Yahoo Japan auctions site between 2012 and 2014. Yahoo Japan is a joint venture between Yahoo and SoftBank, a Japanese telecommunications company.

There are several thousand pieces of ivory for sale on the auction site at any one time. On Tuesday, prices ranged from $20 for a trinket to $60,000 for a five-tiered pagoda carved in ivory. Traffic, an anti-wildlife trafficking group, said in a report last year that most ivory products in Japan are sold as hanko – personal seals that are signifiers of status in the country.

Despite Amazon and Google both having banned the sale of ivory on their platforms, and renewed efforts by the US government to stamp out the illegal wildlife trade, conservation groups said they have made little headway with Yahoo’s Japanese operation in recent years.

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A Yahoo spokeswoman said: “At Yahoo, we understand the concerns raised by this campaign and we in no way condone the sale of products made with ivory obtained from any animal at risk of extinction. “Yahoo does not accept ads for ivory under our existing policies. Yahoo is an investor in Yahoo Japan and does not have controlling ownership.”

Yahoo owns 35.5% of Yahoo Japan; telecoms firm SoftBank is the largest shareholder, with 36.4%. While Yahoo’s US-based internet business has struggled in recent years, its Asian holdings, including Yahoo Japan and Alibaba, are considered highly valuable.

Yahoo Japan came under fire by the UK’s Environmental Investigation Agency in April 2015 for its sale of whale and dolphin meat, which was found to contain unsafe levels of mercury. The company is Japan’s only online retailer that continues to sell whale and dolphin products.

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More Elephants Need to be Culled?

Oppah Muchinguri, theZimbabwean Minister of Environment, Water and Climate addresses a press conference in Harare, Zimbabwe, Friday, July, 31, 2015. Zimbabwe intends to seek the extradition of an American dentist who killed a lion that was lured out of a national park and shot with a bow and a gun, and the process has already begun, a Cabinet minister said Friday. "Unfortunately it was too late to apprehend the foreign poacher as he had already absconded to his country of origin," Oppah Muchinguri, Zimbabwe's environment, water and climate minister, told a news conference. "We are appealing to the responsible authorities for his extradition to Zimbabwe so that he be made accountable." (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

The Zimbabwe Water & Climate Minister Ms. Oppah Muchingur says her country has too many elephants and the population needs to be reduced. Minister Muchingur blames the increased poaching of elephants on American policies, as U.S Fish & Wildlife Service  has banned the the import of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe.

After the death of Cecil the lion, America’s three largest airlines also banned the transport of lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, buffalo killed by trophy hunters. 

“The United states has banned sport hunting. An elephant would cost $120,000 in sport hunting but a tourist pays only $10 to view the same elephant,” depriving the country of revenue to fight poaching.”

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Caught: The Killers of Elephants

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Boniface Matthew Mariango,  “SHETANI” / “The DEVIL”

Boniface Matthew Mariango,  “SHETANI” has spent the past years managing at least 15 poaching syndicates throughout Tanzania, Burundi, Zambia, Mozambique and southern Kenya, according to the Elephant Action League. Last Thursday he was arrested in Tanzania.

This arrest is another substantial breakthrough in Tanzania’s anti-poaching and anti-trafficking efforts, with implications also reaching into neighboring countries. Finally, those directly responsible for illegal Ivory trade are getting caught for the heinous crimes by international law enforcement.

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 Yang Fenglan, a Chinese national “The Queen of Ivory,”

It is believed that 96 elephants are killed every day, 35,000 a year in Africa by poachers for their valuable ivory. With only 400,000 elephants left in the Africa wild, it is believed that if this rate of mass murder continues, elephants will be extinct by the year 2025. Breakthrough arrests like Bonicafe Mariango and recently Ms. Yang Fenglan, a Chinese national “The Queen of Ivory,” cannot come soon enough.

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Recent commitment to ban elephant ivory by President Barack Hussein Obama and Chinese Present Xi Jinping gives hope for elephants.

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World Rhino Day

Today is World Rhino Day. Wildlife conservationists and concerned individuals alike are celebrating the large, horned herbivores by spreading awareness about the vulnerable species.  World Rhino Day has grown into a global phenomenon to spread the word about both the beauty of rhinoceros and the dangers they are facing. Here are ten interesting facts about rhinos, as well as ways to contribute to World Rhino Day.

1. There are five species of rhino, which are indigenous to Africa and Asia: black, white, greater one-horned or Indian, Sumatran and Javan rhinos. World Rhino Day celebrates all five species.

2. Rhinos have been around for more than 50 million years. Some of the world’s first rhinos didn’t have horns and roamed through North America and Europe. But no known rhino species have ever inhabited the South American or Australian continents. The Sumatran rhino is the closest living relative of the ancient woolly rhino.

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3. Rhino is short for rhinocerous, which means “nose horn.” The rhino’s horn is not bone and it’s not attached to its skull. In fact, its hollow and made from a protein called keratin, the same substance that makes up fingernails and hair. Just like our own hair and nails, a rhino’s horn continues to grow throughout the animal’s lifetime. The longest known horn was 4 feet 9 inches long on a black rhino, which on average has a 20-inch horn, according to Save the Rhino, a conservation charity based in the United Kingdom

4. Three of the rhino species are listed as “critically endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, which means they have a 50 percent chance of becoming extinct in three generations. With its headquarters in the United Kingdom, the IUCN is the leading world’s authority on the conservation status of species.

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There are perhaps 95-125 Sumatran Rhinoceros left in the wild.
A “Last Stand is being made by multiple conservation and government agencies to offer more protection and save this
species from extinction.

5. The IUCN Red List identifies Javan and Sumatran rhinos, two species native to Asia, and the black rhino, which is native to eastern and central Africa, as “critically endangered.” The Indian or greater one-horned rhino, native to the Indian subcontinent, is identified as “vulnerable.” And the white rhino, which mainly lives in South Africa, is identified as “near threatened.”

6. Rhinos can grow to over 6 feet tall and more than 11 feet long. The white rhino is the second largest land mammal after the elephant, with adult males weighing up to a massive 3.6 tons. Thanks to conservation efforts, this rhino species was brought back from the brink of extinction. But a surge in poaching for their horns has seen a record number killed in recent years. There are 20,000 southern white rhinos living in protected areas and private game reserves, mostly in South Africa, and just four northern white rhinos living in captivity in Kenya and the United States.

7. The Javan rhino is the world’s rarest land mammal and less than 50 survive in Indonesia’s Ujong Kulon National Park, according to Save the Rhino.

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Perhaps as few as 50-60 Javan rhinoceros remain in the world. However recently three separate calves were seen via camera traps. This gives hope the species can be saved from extinction.

8. Rhinos have poor eyesight and have difficulty detecting someone only a hundred feet away. But they have a high sense of smell and well-developed hearing and can run up to 40 miles per hour.

9. Rhinos have thick skin that can be very sensitive to sunburns and insect bites. The animals wallow in mud, which protects their skin from the sun and bites when it dries.

10. Rhinoceros pregnancies last for 15 to 16 months and mother rhinos are very nurturing. Their young stay with them until they are about  3 years old, according to Save the Rhino

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The Wildlife Conservation Film Festival & Biodiversity Conference, October 16-25 in New York, NY will feature several speakers to discuss the conservation of rhino. Also will be the world premiere of HORN, produced by Dr. Reina-Marie Loader of the Cinema Humain and professor at the University of Vienna.

2015 WCFF Post Card