Monthly Archives

December 2019

80 VDOs near Kaziranga Park provided 250 torch lights (State of Assam, India)

By Antipoaching, Conservation No Comments
The Shillong Times | December 29, 2019

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GUWAHATI: A front line biodiversity conservation organisation in the Northeast, Aaranyak on Sunday distributed 250 torch lights to 80 Village Defence Organisations (VDOs) from fringe areas of the famed Kaziranga National Park (KNP) in Assam.

The torch lights which were donated by a German wildlife enthusiast, Attila Hildmmn, were distributed by the Legal and Advocacy Division (LAD) of Aaranyak in presence of Vivek Shyam, Sub-Divisional Officer (SDO) of Bokakhat Sub-Division of Golaghat district of Assam.

Original photo as published by The Shillong Times: Torch lights being handed over to one of the VDOs near Kaziranga Park on Sunday.

Sub-Divisional Police Officer (SDPO), Kalyan Das, Officer-in-Charge of Bokakhat Police Station, Dibyajyoti Dutta were present in the event among other distinguished persons.

Village Defence Organisations (VDOs) from the villages located on the fringe of Kaziranga National Park (KNP) play a very proactive role in helping the forest and police personnel in checking poaching of animals including the precious one-horned rhinos in the Park.

VDOs’ role is extremely helpful monitoring movements of hunters in and around the national park. They have been instrumental behind declining trend of rhino hunting in the KNP during the last couple of years.

Aaranyak, which has been working in the section of biodiversity conservation for over 30 years, on many occasions in the past facilitated distribution of equipment and field gear to many VDOs as well as forest personnel engaged in various wildlife protection areas in Assam.


Michigan Zoo Announces Birth of Critically Endangered Black Rhino

By Conservation No Comments
Olivia Rosane, EcoWatch | Dec. 26, 2019

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A critically endangered black rhino calf was born at a Michigan zoo on Christmas Eve.

Doppsee, a 12-year-old female rhino at the Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, Michigan, gave birth to a male calf at 5:40 a.m. Tuesday, the zoo said in a blog post. It is the first black rhino birth in the zoo’s 100-year history.

“This is a monumental moment for Potter Park Zoo that has taken our staff years of planning and hard work,” zoo Director Cynthia Wagner said. “We are dedicated to conserving rhinos and couldn’t be more excited about this successful black rhino birth.”

The birth is a big deal because black rhinos are “statistically and historically very hard to breed and be successful,” Pat Fountain, an animal care supervisor at the zoo, told The New York Times. Only around two black rhinos are born at U.S. Association-of-Zoos-&-Aquariums-accredited facilities every year, Fountain said.

Screenshot taken from video posted on EcoWatch.

This birth marks the first for mother Doppsee. The father, Phineus, was brought to the zoo in 2017 from Texas specifically to breed with her, the zoo said. Fountain told The New York Times that their successful coupling was a “milestone.”

The calf, who is not yet named, stood about an hour and a half after he was born, the zoo said. He seems to be nursing well.

“As this is Doppsee’s first pregnancy, the animal care and veterinary staff will continue to monitor Doppsee and her calf closely in the next few weeks. But so far, the rhino calf appears healthy and we have observed frequent nursing shortly after the birth, which is encouraging,” Potter Park Zoo veterinarian Dr. Ronan Eustace said in the blog post.

The calf and his mother will be given space to bond in privacy until spring 2020, when they will be viewable by zoo visitors. In the meantime, the zoo will post updates on its blog, Facebook and Instagram accounts.

In the wild, black rhinos are threatened with extinction because of poaching and habitat loss.

Around 98 percent of black rhinos live in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Namibia, The New York Times reported. Their numbers fell by 98 percent between 1960 and 1995 to less than 2,500, mostly because of the actions of European hunters and settlers.

Their numbers have doubled since then to around 5,000, ABC News reported, but they are still considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.

“A lot of work remains to bring the numbers up to even a fraction of what it once was – and to ensure that it stays there,” the World Wildlife Fund said, according to ABC News.

British troops help move endangered black rhinos to new home away from poachers

By Conservation, Gaming, Illegal trade, Relocation No Comments
James Hockaday, Metro | Dec 26, 2019

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Vulnerable black rhinos have been relocated away from the eyes of hunters with the assistance of British soldiers.

Troops from the 2nd Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles teamed up with conservationists, training rangers at Malawi’s Liwonde National Park to improve their patrols in a bid to crack down on the illegal wildlife trade. Only 5,500 black rhinos live in the wild today because hunters have decimated their numbers.

Their horns are removed and sold on to the Far East, where they are ground down and turned into ‘medicine’, aphrodisiacs, or jewellery. Around the end of their three-month assignment, the Gurkhas helped with one of the largest international rhino re-location to date.

Original photo as published by Metro: Only 5,500 black rhinos live in the wild as hunters decimate their numbers. (Picture: PA)

Conservation group African Parks say 17 of the 1.4 tonne animals were hauled by air and road from KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa and taken to a new home in Malawi. Major Jez England, officer commanding the British Army Counter-Poaching Team in Liwonde said the operation had been ‘hugely successful’.

He added: ‘Not only do we share skills with the rangers, improving their efficiency and ability to patrol larger areas, but it also provides a unique opportunity for our soldiers to train in a challenging environment. ‘Helping with the rhino move was a fitting end to our time in Malawi, getting up close to the animals we are here to help protect was an experience the soldiers won’t forget.’

So far, the army has helped train 200 rangers in the country and no high-value species have been poached in Liwonde since 2017.

The project was led by African Parks in conjunction with Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. It aims to boost the rhino population in the region and preserve this critically endangered species for the next generation. Since their release, African Parks is continuing to monitor the animals as they settle in to their new home.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the illegal wildlife trade is the fourth largest transnational crime behind drugs, arms and human trafficking and can have hugely destabilising consequences.

He added: ‘With this deployment, our armed forces have once again demonstrated their versatility and value by contributing to the conservation work taking place in Malawi.

‘Working with local communities, host governments and wildlife groups is key to our approach, we want to see sustainable, community-led solutions that help promote security and stability for both the people and wildlife of Africa.’

The counter-poaching ranger partnering programme is funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and delivered by the British Army.

The UK Government has committed over £36 million to tackle the illegal wildlife trade between 2014 and 2021. Part of this is to help support transboundary work to allow animals to move more safely between areas and across national borders.

Irishman facing extradition to US for alleged rhino horns trafficking awarded €16k for wrongful arrest in another case

By Illegal trade No Comments
Owen Conlon, The Irish Sun | December 26, 2019

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An Irishman facing extradition to the US for alleged trafficking of rhino horns has been awarded €16,000 by a Swiss court for wrongful arrest in another rhino-related case.

John Slattery, 30, is alleged by US authorities to have been one of three men who travelled to Texas to buy €8,500 of rhino body parts from a taxidermist.

Feds claim after being refused permission to purchase because they were not US citizens, Slattery and the others got a local “straw buyer” to get them and then falsified paperwork to sell them on for $50,000.

Slattery, who is fighting extradition, has yet to enter a defence before the High Court.

Cash Windfall

However, the Irish Sun can reveal he recently received a cash windfall from Switzerland after taking a wrongful arrest case there.

Slattery, with an address at Old Barrack View, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, had gone to court after a three-month spell in custody in 2014.

He had been stopped at a routine police checkpoint near the city of Freiburg on March 3, 2014, and accused of taking part in the robbery of a rhino horn worth €150,000 in Geneva three years earlier in which an antiques dealer was pepper sprayed in the face.

Fingerprints Found

Slattery’s fingerprints had been found on glass protecting the exhibit and had been picked out of photos shown to the victim by police.

Slattery admitted having visited the scene days beforehand, but produced documents which he said proved he was in the UK at the time of the robbery in February 2011.

Despite this, he was still handed a six-month suspended sentence.

This was reversed upon appeal two weeks ago and authorities were ordered to pay Slattery €16,000 compensation for spending 93 days in jail.

Slattery was unable to attend the hearing, as he has been in custody since being arrested in France on foot of a US extradition warrant in 2015.


Love triangle complicates efforts to breed Sumatran rhinos (Indonesia)

By Conservation No Comments
Basten Gokkon, Mongabay | December 27, 2019

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EAST LAMPUNG, INDONESIA: Efforts to breed the critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) in captivity have faced numerous challenges. Breeding programs have been plagued by mysterious deaths, reproductive health problems and bureaucratic hurdles. Now, a sanctuary in Indonesia that has previously witnessed the birth of two healthy calves is facing a new, unexpected obstacle: relationship drama.

Since the 1970s, Indonesian biologist Widodo Ramono has devoted his work to the conservation of wildlife in the country, especially the iconic Sumatran rhinos. While experts like Widodo have learned plenty about the species, much remains mysterious. They are always learning more about what makes the animal tick.

Original photo as published by Mongabay: Ratu and Andatu in 2012. (Photo by Susie Ellis, courtesy of IRF.)

The latest surprising development has been a complicated love triangle among three rhinos at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) in Indonesia’s Way Kambas National Park, Widodo told Mongabay during a recent visit to the facility. The three animals involved are Andalas, Ratu, and Rosa — likely the most reproductively viable captive rhinos.

Conservation work on the Sumatran rhinoceros is largely focused on efforts to produce as many calves as possible from captive animals. The wild population of the species is believed to number no more than 80 individuals, scattered across several habitats in Sumatra and Borneo. These remaining populations are so small and fragmented that experts fear they cannot support a birth rate that exceeds the natural death rate. Without a robust captive breeding program, the population could simply dwindle to extinction.

Over the years, captive breeding attempts have yielded both successes and failures. Beginning in the 1980s, 40 wild rhinos were captured and brought to zoos and breeding facilities in Indonesia, Malaysia, the U.K. and the U.S. Almost all died without offspring; the first successful captive birth came in 2001, at the Cincinnati Zoo in the U.S.

That calf, named Andalas, was later transferred to the Way Kambas sanctuary where he has successfully fathered two calves with a female named Ratu who was born in the wild near Way Kambas. The pair’s first calf, Andatu, was born in 2012. His sister, Delilah, followed in 2016.

In 2016, hoping to have more females producing calves, Widodo and his team decided to try mating Andalas with a second female held at the SRS. The female, Rosa, is possibly the last rhino from Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, a once-thriving rhino habitat that stretches the western coast of Lampung province.

Sumatran rhinos can get rough when they mate: they ram and bite each other, and males sometimes even lift up the females. It can be life-threatening for the animals. According to Widodo, though, Andalas was “kind” to Rosa during the mating process.

“He liked her. We were excited that he mated with Rosa and she didn’t get severely injured,” Widodo said.

Although the pair successfully mated, Andalas and Rosa did not produce any calves. Rosa would get pregnant, but the embryos were not viable. According to Widodo, Rosa lost seven pregnancies due to blighted ova.

In 2018, Widodo’s team tried to mate Andalas with his previous mate Ratu, hoping for another successful birth. “But, she refused. We don’t know why,” Widodo said. His assumption is that Ratu refused to mate with Andalas because she could smell a trace of Rosa on his body.

“Right now, her [Ratu’s] keepers are putting in a lot of effort so that she wants to mate with Andalas again,” Widodo said. In the process, they are learning about how to persuade a rhino to mate. “This is difficult. Being a matchmaker for rhinos isn’t easy.”

Incidents like the affair between Andalas, Ratu and Rosa have prompted Widodo to call on wildlife experts to learn more about the psychology of the species.

Widodo says this knowledge could be key in producing more baby rhinos. “That’s the strategic way to save this species —in fact this genus — of the Sumatran rhino,” he said.


The 2010s: Nearly 8,000 rhinos poached in Mzansi this decade (South Africa)

By Antipoaching, Illegal trade No Comments
The Independent Online | December 28, 2019

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Nearly 8000 rhinos have been poached in South Africa over the past decade. That’s according to the Stop Rhino Poaching NPO, a local website dedicated to raising awareness and support for the war against rhino poaching.

Rhino poaching is part of a multibillion-dollar worldwide illicit wildlife trade, with rhino horn considered a prized possession in Asian medicine.

Original photo as published by IOL: Since strategies were put in place in 2014, there has been a decrease in the number of rhinos poached. – Armand Hough African News Agency (ANA)

For the past few years, government and environment organisations alike have been working tirelessly to curb the poaching crisis, while attempting to preserve and grow existing numbers of the endangered animals.

Stop Rhino Poaching founding director Elise Serfontein said South Africa was home to 74% of Africa’s remaining rhino population. “The estimated number of rhinos in South Africa as related by the African Rhino Specialist Group is 15,625 white rhino and 2,046 black rhino,” Serfontein said.

In 2014, the Cabinet adopted the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros approach to draw together the work of the Department of Environmental Affairs together with the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster and Agencies.

Since its adoption, there’s been a decrease in poaching incidents from 1,175 in 2015 to 769 in 2018.

“We will need to wait for the official figures from Environment Minister Barbara Creecy to be released, but all indications are that there will have been a further decrease in poaching for 2019,” said Serfontein.

She said the dip in poaching figures has been due to a collective approach in the fight against poaching. “From the ranger on the ground working tirelessly to protect rhinos, to the magistrate or judge that takes a firm stand against poaching with a good sentence Along this chain are reserve staff, security personnel, law enforcement officials, prosecutors and myriad other people that include reputable NGOs and their donors.”

Going into a new decade, Serfontein said there would be continued efforts to further preserve rhinos.

Technology has also seen a rise of video technology security solutions to assist in anti-rhino poaching methods, including drone technology.

From January to December 2018, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) obtained convictions in 78 of the 82 rhino poaching cases.

As of September, 318 rhino had been poached in South Africa.


‘World’s oldest rhino’ Fausta dies in Tanzania aged 57

By Conservation, News No Comments
BBC News | December 29, 2019

See link for photo & 2-minute video.

A rhino thought to be the oldest in the world has died in Tanzania, aged 57.

Original photo as published by BBC News: Conservationists in Ngorongoro said Fausta, pictured, was the oldest rhino in the world.

Fausta, an eastern black rhino, was first sighted in the Ngorongoro crater in 1965, when she was three. She roamed the crater freely for more than 54 years, but health issues in her old age required her to spend her final few years receiving specialist care in a sanctuary.

Fausta never had calves – something conservationists in Ngorongoro suggest may have contributed to her long life.

By 2016, Fausta’s eyesight was deteriorating and she was suffering from the lingering effects of hyena attacks.

“Vicious animals, especially hyenas, started attacking her and she received very serious sores,” Dr Freddy Manongi, from the Ngorongoro Conservation Authority, told BBC Swahili. “By 2016, we had to get her out of the wild and put her in special care.” He added that on the day Fausta died, another rhino was born.

Mr Manongi later said in a statement that “records show that Fausta lived longest [of] any rhino in the world”, and that she had died of natural causes on the evening of 27 December.

In the wild rhinos typically live to between 37 and 43 years old, or up to 50 years in captivity.

The eastern black rhino is listed as critically endangered. Its numbers are dangerously low because the animals are often poached for their horn – however, numbers are increasing.


Ukrainian lawmaker faces criticism for killing endangered black rhino in Africa (Namibia)

By Gaming No Comments
Artur Korniienko, The Kyiv Post | December 30, 2019

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While plenty of vacation photos being posted this holiday season are bringing joy, one Ukrainian lawmaker’s resurfaced photos from Africa have sparked outrage.

Pictures have surfaced showing another member of parliament from the pro-Russian Opposition Platform party with killed wild animals, including a number of endangered and critically endangered species.

Nestor Shufrych, chair of the Ukrainian parliament’s committee on freedom of speech, has hunted and killed golden wildebeest, golden oryx, brown hyena and three black rhinos in Namibia and South Africa, according to photographs first posted by a safari company in 2015, and shared online by Ukrainian civil society groups on Dec. 29.

Original photo as published by Kyiv Post: Nestor Shufrych, now a chair of the Ukrainian Parliament’s committee on freedom of speech, poses with a critically endangered black rhino killed during a safari in Namibia in 2013. Shufrych is the second lawmaker for the pro-Russian Opposition Platform party after Volodymyr Kaltsev that was spotted killing endangered animals in Africa. (Photo by Thormählen & Cochran Safaris)

The safari company in question brands itself as an “African trophy hunting specialist” and says it “provides international clients with a unique classic African safari” – it also highlights Shufrych as one of its best clients, and praises him for hunting and killing a number of “very rare” and “super rare” animals for trophies.

There is no evidence that Shufrych has done anything illegal. Some conservationists support regulated and controlled trophy hunting as beneficial to biodiversity and communities. It can provide revenue for deprived areas and can also fund bigger conservation efforts. The practice is, however, extremely controversial, especially when endangered and critically endangered species are involved.

Shufrych was praised with special recognition for killing all three subspecies of the black rhino, all critically endangered according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“Nestor Shufrych became the first and only hunter that ever collected three different black rhino subspecies,” the safari’s website says, in a post that was shared online by Ukrainian activists over the weekend.

Shufrych admitted to having hunted the animals in Namibia in 2013 “with the permission of the authorities authorized for this by the national government.” 2013 was the last time Shufrych went on such an “expedition” to Africa, according to his press service.

“The target was a male of non-productive age, aggressive by nature, subjected to shooting,” the press service said in a statement. The statement did not specify which of the killed animals were of non-productive age. Some of the species seen in the photographs, like the cheetah and golden oryx, appear to be young.

UAnimals, a Ukrainian non-profit that advocates for animal rights, said in a statement that there is no place in parliament for the “fans of killing” like Shufrych. “UAnimals and the Humane Country inter-factional group condemn such actions by the lawmaker and stress that killing animals in the modern world is unacceptable and is a sign of degradation,” the non-profit said in a Dec. 29 statement, sharing multiple photos of Shufrych with slain animals.

The Humane Country inter-factional group in the Ukrainian Parliament includes 25 lawmakers from the Servant of People, the Voice (Holos), the European Solidarity and Batkivshchyna parties.

Shufrych is a veteran politician notorious for his bad behavior and proneness to getting involved in physical fights.

Before joining the strongly pro-Russian Opposition Bloc party, he was a member of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions and its successor, the Opposition Bloc. In January 2014, Shufrych voted for the “dictatorship laws” aimed at crushing the EuroMaidan protests and freedom of speech.

Volodymyr Kaltsev was the first lawmaker from the Opposition Platform that was known to hunt wild animals in Africa. During the parliamentary election campaign, the Soy Alma y Espíritu Animal nonprofit posted photographs of Kaltsev posing with killed ostrich, antelope and two lions, including an endangered species of a white lion.

As for the iconic black rhino, all three different subspecies, intensive anti-poaching efforts have helped its population recover since 1993 when there were only 2,000 left in the wild. The population has now grown to about 5,500 but the animals are still critically endangered.

Conservation groups keen to lend hand in Botswana’s anti-poaching fight

By Antipoaching, Illegal trade No Comments
Mqondisi Dube, Voice of America | December 30, 2019

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GABARONE, BOTSWANA: With wildlife poaching on the rise in Botswana, the country’s government has appealed to conservation groups and the private sector to lend a hand to help protect targeted species. More than a dozen rhinos have been killed in the country since October, forcing the government to deploy more armed troops in affected areas.

Botswana’s government says more soldiers will be deployed in the vast Okavango area, to the northwest of the country. This is where at least 13 rhinos have been killed in the past 12 weeks. At least 31 of the animals have been killed since October 2018.

The Botswana Defense Force (BDF) anti-poaching units killed seven poachers, recovering rhino horns and weapons, in the process.

Original photo as published by VOA News: Anti-rhino-poaching troops simulate a hunt for poachers in the Madikwe Game Reserve, Botswana. (Photo: File)

Botswana has asked conservation groups and the private sector to play a more prominent role in protecting its estimated 400 rhino population. And some conservation groups are more than willing to help the government repel poachers.

Kalahari Conservation Society chief executive officer Neil Fitt says the private sector has an important role to play.

“Some NGOs and CSOs as well as the private sector are involved, but at a very low level, in assisting the government with poaching in Botswana, mainly around the Delta. Other NGOs and other Botswana-based CSO, will be very willing to assist the government, if the government opens the door and allows us to,” Fitt said.

Map Ives of the group Rhino Conservation says it is partnering with the government in the fight against poaching.

“Rhino Conservation Botswana monitoring teams are assisting the BDF by supplying trackers and aircraft to fly over the areas and see if we can locate the poachers, who appear to be foreign-based,” Ives said.

Last year, the government disputed reports that the rise in poaching was due to the disarming of some anti-poaching units.

Former President Ian Khama believes the move contributed to the rise in poaching. “I was surprised that soon after I left office, they were disarmed, their weapons were taken away. Those poachers, from my experience in the BDF, they are not shy to take on those who are protecting our wildlife,” Khama said.

But officials insist they have zero tolerance for poaching and are prepared to adopt stern measures to protect the country’s wildlife.

A rhino horn fetches more than $50,000 on the black market, particularly in Asian countries, where it is believed to have medicinal value.

SANParks makes U-turn on suspension of whistle-blower and general manager

By Antipoaching, Conservation No Comments
Sizwe Sama Yende, News24 | December 24, 2019

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SANParks management has backed down and reinstated a suspended whistle-blower after his union reported the matter to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office.

Raymond Khosa has been spearheading a campaign to end alleged racism, arbitrary torture and detention of black employees at the world-renowned Kruger National Park, mostly on baseless allegations of rhino poaching.

He was suspended on gross misconduct charges that included making allegations against SANParks and certain officials, challenging authority and being disrespectful.

Management hired Analytical Forensic Investigation Services (AFIS) six months ago to investigate the allegations. SANParks also suspended Marula regional ranger, Don English, who black rangers implicated in the abuse when they made presentations to AFIS investigator, Boyce Mkhize. English’s suspension has also been lifted.

At the moment, no one is facing charges concerning the alleged atrocities reported at Kruger National Park.

General manager, Glenn Phillips, resigned when the investigation started.

Although personal reasons were cited for Phillips’ departure, it is wildly believed he left to avoid the process.

SANParks spokesperson, Isaac Phaahla, could not be drawn into revealing the reasons for the lifting of Khosa and English’s suspensions, and if SANParks would discipline anyone implicated in the abuse of black employees.

“The decision was taken to adhere to good labour relations and governance,” said Phaahla.

“The employees are back at work while the investigation initiated by the organisations into their allegations are being finalised.”

SANParks, he said, has been consistent in explaining its wish to protect the integrity of “our own employees and the process that is underway”.

Phaahla said the matter was between the employer and employee.

“A discussion on details of what will happen when the process unfolds will certainly undermine a highly regulated process. We therefore request for the process to be respected and allowed to run to its logical conclusion,” Phaahla said.

According to minutes of a meeting that Khosa and his union, the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers Union, held with corporate services chief director in the presidency, Mandla Feni, on December 2, it was recommended then that Khosa’s suspension be lifted.

When SANParks ignored Khosa’s requests to end the abuse of black employees, he had to report the matter to the presidency for action to be taken.

The meeting also recommended that the Special Investigations Unit should be involved.

“It is recommended that the matter be escalated to the SIU for authentication of all claims. The suspension [of Khosa] must be lifted or extended pending the proposed outcome of the investigation by the SIU and all other on-going engagements,” reads the minutes.

It seems English also benefited from the meeting’s outcome.