Category Archives: Poaching

Technologies That May Save Rhinos from Poachers

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The illegal wildlife trade, which brings in an estimated $19 billion annually worldwide, has claimed the lives of almost 6000 African rhinos since 2008, with 1175 of those killed just within South Africa, figures which have accelerated each year as demand for the horns increases steadily. Only about 5000 black rhinos, and just three northern white rhinos, which have been unable to reproduce, remain worldwide.

For poachers, killing rhinos makes good financial sense: a rhino horn in Asia was worth $60-100K per kilogram in 2013. Nevertheless, scientists and conservationists have been fighting back, using technology in creative ways to help save these beautiful creatures from having their horns hacked off and being left for dead.

A mechanical engineer thought up the idea to create robotic rhino babies, which would stay close to real rhino herds and alert authorities when poachers approached. These robo-rhinos, called Rakamera, would replicate real rhino behavior so the herds learn to accept them. The robots would be powered by hydrogen fuel cells, with internal hydraulic and servomotors to make movement possible; plus, they would be fitted with infrared sensors and cameras to track humans coming close to the herd.

Other techniques that have been implemented to stop poachers include implanting mini cameras or micro-chips into the horns, allowing officials to more easily trace and pursue poaching operations. Recently, San Francisco-based biotech startup Pembient came up with a unique and intriguing idea: they were able to create synthetic rhino horns, using a combination of rhino DNA and keratin, the protein the horns, as well as our hair and nails, are made of. These ingredients form a dry powder that is fed into 3D printers and emerges as a horn indistinguishable from the real thing. The company has even partnered with a Chinese brewery to create a beer with this synthetic powder inside, replacing other beers with real horn purported to cure hangovers. However, Pembient has faced criticism from conservation NGOs, who have long been working to reduce demand for the horns in the first place, educating the public about the dire impacts of horn poaching and the lack of evidence for supposed medicinal benefits of consuming the horn. These groups worry that flooding the market with cheap synthetic horns may actually have the unintended effect of increasing the general public’s desire for rhino horns, spurring on more poachers than before.

Until the demand for rhino horns, which are believed to have healing properties, and are now frequently used as a status symbol, decreases, we must continue to track and fight poachers through technologies which will hopefully only expand and improve in years to come.

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Sources: Gallego, Jelor. “The Newest Anti-Poaching Technique? Robotic Rhinos.” Futurism. 5 December 2016.

Ankrom, Darren. “Synthetic Rhino Horn Made with a 3D Printer is the Latest Tool to Fight Poaching.” Vice. 24 June 2015.

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Painting Sun Bears to Save the Species

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Photo: Tambako the Jaguar

In 2008, pet artist Suzi Chua learned about sun bears from biologist Wong Siew Te, founder of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center (BSBCC) in the Bornean city of Sandakan. Also called honey bears for their love of the sweet stuff, these endangered creatures live throughout South-East Asian tropical rainforests and on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo. Chua, who is passionate about animals and volunteers at local animal shelters, was saddened to learn that the adorable bears, the smallest bear species, typically weighing in at 100 pounds or less, are often hunted for their body parts or are poached to be sold as exotic pets.

Thus, she created a project to help save the sun bears: through free art lessons that would teach how to paint sun bears. “I wanted to raise awareness and save the sun bears,” says Chua. To date, she has painted five sun bears at the BSBCC, including Koko, who died in 2015 of respiratory failure and whose portrait has been placed in the organization’s visitor center. Chua donated 30% of sales from three other portraits to BSBCC and just completed her fifth painting of Debbie, a sun bear sent to BSBCC in 2012 after being rescued from captivity as a pet.

Chua’s friend, Stacey Chiew, an art teacher, helps Chua by promoting the “Saving Sun Bears, One Painting At A Time” project to her students, and feels the project will help raise awareness of this sweet, shy, threatened species. “Art can create a powerful voice for sun bears. The main objective of this project is to let the younger generation know that forests are home to the sun bears, not cages,” she says. “The students should know that we have the power to change and destroy habitats, putting sun bears on the ever-increasing endangered species list. More and more young people are waking up to the fact that the choices they make can have an impact on wildlife.”

Adds Chua of the impact on students: “They can also gain a general understanding of how profound the loss would be if we don’t take action now to protect them. One day, we may never see the beautiful sun bears except in a picture book.” On their August 26 art session, they had over 40 students show up to paint Si Kecil (the Little One), a rescued sun bear cub who had been raised by sun bear biologist Gabriela Fredrikkson until he was killed by another sun bear in 2000. They worked from a photo taken by Wong two months before the cub’s death. Wong told Fredrikkson he hoped the photo of Si Kecil would grow famous around the world to shed light on the fate of the sun bears, and Si Kecil has since become the center’s icon. “These paintings will be displayed at BSBCC’s visitor center for public viewing. In future, we may sell or auction some of these paintings during special functions or fund-raising events,” says Wong.

BSBCC currently houses 40 rescued sun bears, the youngest of which is Wawa (a nine-month-old cub) and the oldest of which is Amaco (a 23-year-old sun bear). Sun bear populations throughout South-East Asia, Sabah included, are suffering greatly. Says Wong, “They face tremendous threats from habitat lost across their distribution range. For the sun bears that manage to survive, their survival may be further threatened by poaching for body parts and the pet trade. Recently, the Sabah Wildlife Department prosecuted two separate cases of sun bear poaching within two weeks. These cases raised serious concern for wildlife poaching in the state. In addition, Facebook is being used as a platform for the illegal wildlife trade.”

Wong praises Chua and Chiew for their unique project, which increases the next generation’s awareness of this beautiful endangered species.

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Photo: Suzi Chua

 

Source: Chiew, Marjorie. “Care to paint a bright future for sun bears?” Star2.  16 September 2016.

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3-D Printed Sea Turtle Eggs:Will Poachers Know the Difference?

Conservationists have been putting technology to good use, creating artificial eggs with wireless transmitters that can trick and track black market traders.

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Each year, hundreds of eggs from endangered sea turtles are dug up from the beaches of Nicaragua and other countries and carted off to restaurants across the globe. Each egg can be sold anywhere from 20 cents at local bars to $150 apiece in the US or China, where the eggs are seen as rare delicacies. However, the process by which these eggs wind up on the black market is still murky, giving rise to nonprofit group Paso Pacifico’s new plan to shed light on the eggs’ journey.

Using 3-D printing technology, the organization is developing fake sea turtle eggs, each the size of a ping-pong ball, containing GSM transmitters which will track egg-smuggling routes across the globe. This innovative idea won the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge, sponsored by U.S. Aid for International Development, National Geographic, the Smithsonian Institution, and wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC. Paso Pacifico and its partners were awarded tech support along with $10,000 to bring the concept to fruition. “The plan is to start testing them in the next nesting season, which will start in July,” said Eduardo Boné-Morón, the organization’s managing director.

Right now, a few improvements are still needed. Though initial prototypes were revealed at this year’s SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, Paso Pacifico is still seeking out the best quality transmitters and is working with an art studio near Hollywood to perfect the shell’s texture and color. The eggs will then be placed in Nicaragua to test their success in tricking poachers. Said Boné-Morón of the plan’s next phase: “Our rangers will locate vulnerable active nests that are more likely to be poached, for example, nests that are closer to trails. We will plant as many eggs as possible in the beach to increase the possibility of poachers taking the artificial eggs.”

Sea turtle nest

Because the smugglers have to transport their precious goods immediately after poaching (the eggs spoil within 15 days), the tracker eggs may quickly reveal a wide web of illicit trade networks. “If these guys have the capacity to send an egg from a beach in Central America to China in 15 days, it’s a well-structured network,”  Boné-Morón said. He believes the eggs may implicate several rounds of middlemen passing the eggs along, as well as the initial poachers. He also hopes that some smugglers may be deterred by the knowledge that some eggs could be bugged: “Eventually the poachers will learn there is something wrong with the beaches. That is totally fine with us. The reason they’re poaching right now is because it’s so easy. If they see that we’re watching them, we may be able to discourage them.”

Once development and successful testing has been carried out, Boné-Morón wants to expand the use of artificial eggs to wherever sea turtles lay their eggs around the globe. “We want to have eggs that are cheap enough that any nonprofit or any government agency can buy them and plant them on the beaches all over the world,” he said.

Source: Platt, John R. “Faking Out Poachers With 3-D-Printed Sea Turtle Eggs. ” Takepart, 24 March 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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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.

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