Monthly Archives

January 2020

Smuggling of animal body parts continues unabated (Nepal)

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The Himalayan Times | January 24, 2020

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KATHMANDU: Police arrested a person with an elephant tusk from Lagankhel, Lalitpur, yesterday. A special team deployed by Pulchowk-based Metropolitan Police Sector found Tarakanta Chaudhary, 37, of Siraha in possession of the body part of endangered wildlife during a security check.

Officials said they had launched further investigation into the case to ascertain whether Chaudhary had poached the elephant for its tusk or had purchased it from someone else. Police are preparing to turn him over to Forest Division Office, Lalitpur, for legal action.

Despite concerted efforts of police and national and international agencies to crack down on smugglers and poachers, illegal trading in endangered wild animals’ body parts continues unabated in the country. Racketeers are found to be using Kathmandu as a transit for smuggling wildlife body parts to foreign countries, mainly China.

According to the Central Investigation Bureau of Nepal Police, it arrested 61 persons with 7.6 kg pangolin scales, three bear gall bladders, two tiger skins, five leopard skins, one rhino horn, six musk pods and seven jaws of clouded leopard.

Statistics provided by Division Forest Office, Kathmandu, show that it received from police 1,468 live bird species, 92 leopard skins, 94 red panda skins, 26 rhino horns, 400 kg pangolin scales, 19 bear gall bladders, 19 tiger skins, 18 musk pods, eight wildcat skins and 14 elephant tusks, among others, from fiscal 1998-99 to fiscal 2017-18.

As many as 371 cases were filed against 726 Nepalis, 44 Indian nationals, 11 Chinese citizens, two Saudi Arabians, two Americans, two Turks,and one each Cambodian, Thai and Pakistani for wildlife crimes.

DFO is the only authorised body for prosecuting wildlife poachers and smugglers under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act-1973

The wild animals most sought after by poachers and smugglers include red panda, tiger, rhino, elephant, leopard, musk deer and pangolin. Police said international drug smugglers were found to be using Kathmandu as a transit for smuggling wildlife body parts.

According to a report of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, Nepal is home to around two per cent of the global population of red panda amounting approximately to 300. Their number is dwindling due to the all-pervasive human pressure on their natural habitat and poaching.

Police said red panda hides and body parts were usually smuggled to China and Myanmar for their supposed medicinal qualities and aesthetic use.

Poachers have been found selling red panda hide for Rs 200,000 to 600,000 depending on their clients. Similarly, pangolin scales and body parts of other wild animals are in high demand in Asian markets as they are used in manufacturing traditional Chinese medicine, handicraft and decorative items.

Police investigation shows that local poachers usually come to Kathmandu with wildlife body parts in search of prospective clients and sell them to racketeers, who eventually smuggle the contraband to foreign countries. Any person arrested with body parts of endangered wild animals is handed over to the DFO concerned for legal action.

Anyone involved in the trade of protected species can be slapped a fine up to Rs 100,000 and a jail term of five to 15 years as per the existing law.

Nine poachers shot dead last year (Zimbabwe)

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Zim Eye | January 26, 2020

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Nine poachers were shot dead in incidents of armed confrontation with Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) rangers with at least 280 arrests last year, amid an intensifying crackdown on poaching by authorities.

Statistics from the wildlife management authority show that over 288 suspected poachers were arrested in 2019, up from 70 apprehended in 2018. Owing to intensified patrols in conservancy areas, the number of recorded illegal incursions has fallen from 720 in 2016 to 301 last year.

Furthermore, the number of armed contacts between game rangers and suspected poachers has gone down from 35 in 2016 to just 12 last year.

In the four years between 2016 and 2019, a total 32 suspected poachers have been killed in armed confrontation with rangers.

During the period, authorities recovered 64 rifles, 485 rounds of ammunition and 264 elephant tusks.

ZimParks spokesperson Mr Tinashe Farawo attributed the heightened war against poaching to joint patrols with other security stakeholders through transfrontier conservation areas.

“We are scaling up our anti-poaching activities throughout our conservation areas,” he said. “The fight against poaching is not an easy one, it is a collaborative effort which requires support not only from our communities, but our partners as well.

“We are not going to rest until sanity prevails. We are cautiously optimistic that our efforts to thwart this menace are bearing fruit as exhibited by the latest figures.

Mr Farawo said joint patrols were being held through the Okavango Zambezi TFCA, Greater Limpopo TFCA and the Greater Mapungubwe TFCA.

Figures show that 20 elephants were killed last year either through poisoning or gunshots, a marked decrease from the 400 jumbos killed in 2015. Also, 16 black and white rhinos were killed by poachers last year, down from 30 that were killed in 2016.

In 2013, poachers killed more than 300 elephants and countless other safari animals by cyanide poisoning inside Hwange National Park in an incident that sparked international outrage.

Conservationists described the incident as the worst single massacre of wildlife in southern Africa for 25 years.

Government has since ramped up anti-poaching activities with officials deploying latest technology such as drones in the fight against the menace.


Viewpoint: Protect African wildlife with a state trophy ban (New York State, US)

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Priscilla Feral, Opinion / The Times Union | January 28, 2020

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President Donald Trump’s idea of “Make America Great Again” is making it easier for wealthy American trophy hunters like his sons, who are unfazed by six-digit price tags, to slaughter vulnerable, threatened and endangered wildlife. It is more than time for New York state — the biggest port of entry for wildlife trophies — to take steps towards ending this cruel industry.

Donald Trump Jr.’s latest hunting escapade in Mongolia — where he shot a rare endangered Argali sheep, and only received a permit to do so after the kill, on a trip last August that also included some schmoozing with the Mongolian president — is evidence of the unfair system that leaves vulnerable animal species prey to wealthy Americans, including New Yorkers who hunt African wildlife.

From 2005 to 2014, 159,144 animals were imported into New York as trophies — including 1,541 lions; 1,130 elephants and 83 pairs of tusks; 1,169 leopards, and 110 white rhinos and three pairs of horns.

Last year the state Senate passed the Big 5 African Trophies Act, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Luis Sepulveda, D-Bronx, and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan. It would ban the importation, possession, sale or transportation of the trophies of African giraffes, leopards, lions, elephants, and black and white rhinos and their body parts throughout New York — all threatened and endangered species.

The thousands of dollars in fees hunters pay to safari companies does little to help protect these animals. Studies show that less than 3 percent of revenue from trophy hunting returns to the communities. Meanwhile, the population of elephants has declined by 90 percent in the past century, with losses attributed to the commodification of elephants for their ivory and skin. This is in addition to the challenges they face from habitat destruction and climate change. There are fewer than 23,000 lions left in Africa, according to a recent study by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford, The number of Argali sheep has plummeted more than 60 percent, with just 18,000 remaining in Mongolia.

And while permits by countries that allow the hunting, and permits issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency to hunt threatened and endangered species and import the dead body parts of the animals killed overseas, are supposed to regulate the industry to ensure a species’ survival, the truth is obtaining the permits are often a matter of political influence and the only difference between “illegal” poachers and trophy hunters with permits is wealth and political connections.

New York City Councilman Keith Powers has introduced a resolution supporting the state trophy ban legislation. The council should approve it, and the state Assembly should act in its upcoming session to end the imports here. New York should lead the nation in standing up for vulnerable species who belong in the wild, not on walls.

Priscilla Feral is the president of Friends of Animals, an international, nonprofit animal advocacy organization.


Anti-rhino poaching short film to screen at DHPS next week (Namibia)

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Donald Matthys, The Namibian Economist | January 28, 2020

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Local short film, ‘Baxu and the Giants’ will have its first public screening of the year at the DHPS Auditorium, on Thursday, 6 February. Entrance is free but any donations to the Save the Rhino Trust will be welcome.

The award winning short film tells the story of how Rhino poaching triggers social change in a village in rural Namibia, seen through the eyes of a nine year old girl, will be screening in February and March 2020 in Windhoek and various villages in North-West Namibia, as well as festivals around the globe.

Original photo as published by The Namibian Economist.

‘Baxu and the Giants’ was commissioned by the Legal Assistance Centre with the aim of sensitising teenagers to the issue of poaching in Namibia. Producer Andrew Botelle (‘The Power Stone’, ‘Born in Etosha’) enlisted Director and Co-Writer Florian Schott (‘Katutura’) and Co-Producer/Co-Writer Girley Jazama (‘The White Line’) to craft an emotional story out of this difficult issue.

The short film which premiered last September so far screened in nine countries and won multiple international Awards, including the Award for Best Foreign Narrative at the San Francisco Independent Short Film Festival, three Namibian Theatre- and Film Awards (including Best Female Actor for 10 year old Camilla Jo-Ann Daries), two international Cinematography Awards and two Awards at the Knysna Film Festival in South Africa.

International Festivals where ‘Baxu and the Giants’ will be screening in the coming two months include the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, the Toronto Black Film Festival, the Children’s Film Festival Seattle and the RapidLion International Film Festival in South Africa.

In addition to this the LAC and MaMoKoBo Video & Research is organising a series of school screenings for Windhoek students as well as free screenings for the public in Windhoek. Lastly, the ‘Baxu and the Giants’-Crew will take the film back to villages in North-West Namibia, where the film was shot, as well as the coast.

All of these screenings will lead up to the Global Release of ‘Baxu and the Giants’ in mid-March. At this time the film will not only be available on DVD but also for streaming worldwide via YouTube and Vimeo.


Moving photo of Kenyan warden with last male white rhino Sudan listed among decade’s powerful images

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Janet Ruto, Tuko | January 28, 2020

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A moving photo of a Kenyan warden with the last male white rhino, Sudan, has been listed among the last decade’s powerful images.

The photo was captured in 2018 by Ami Vitale, an American journalist, at Ol Pejeta Conservancy where she watched Joseph Wachira, one of Sudan’s care takers, lean in to offer the animal one final ear rub before his death.

Original photo as published by Tuko: A Moving photo of Kenyan warden with the last male white rhino Sudan, has been listed among the last decade’s powerful images. Photo: National Geographic.

In a Facebook post on Monday, January 27, Ol Pejeta Conservancy said it was delighted the photo was recognised as one of the decade’s best by National Geographic.

“Super delighted that this incredible photo of our very own Joseph Wachira saying goodbye to Sudan made it to National Geographic’s most powerful photographs of the past decade! Thank you to renowned photographer Ami Vitale for capturing this delicate final moment. We shall never forget what was lost shortly after,” the post read.

Sudan died on Monday, March 19, 2018, aged 45 after suffering from old-age complications. Conservationists had fortunately managed to extract his genetic materials for future reproduction of the species.

On Thursday, August 22, 2019, scientists created two embryos from the species in an Italian laboratory as conservationists’ attempt to save the species from extinction.


Alleged rhino horn, elephant tusk dealers appear in Durban Court (South Africa)

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Nkosikhona Duma, Eyewitness News | January 28, 2020

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DURBAN: Two men suspected of dealing in rhino horns and elephant tusks worth an estimated R300,000 on Tuesday appeared in the Durban Regional Court.

Vusi Mkhonza and Petros Mkhize were arrested on Monday following a sting operation.

Original photo as published by EWN: Some of the ivory confiscated by police. Picture: @SAPoliceService/Twitter

Police spokesperson Jay Naicker said they acted on a tip-off.

“An appointment was set up to meet yesterday outside a busy hotel in Point in the Durban area. A police officer from Point SAPS proceeded to the said location and requested to see the product. Without hesitation, the suspects led the undercover police officer to their vehicle.

“The men were stunned and they knew it was all over for them when they were confronted by police officers from the Point Rapid Response Team together with the Endangered Species Unit,” he said.

Mkhonza and Mkhize were remanded in custody until Monday as investigations continued.


Botswana to change strategies on anti-poaching following massive rhino poaching

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Xinhua | January 28, 2020

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GABORONE: Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi revealed on Tuesday that the country is looking at changing strategies on anti-poaching as well as renegotiating partnerships the country have with other stakeholders.

President Masisi was responding to questions from the media following revelations in the past week that at least 35 rhinos have been poached in the past nine months, with 13 of those poached only in the past two months. In almost all cases the rhinos have been found without horns, meaning they are being poached specifically for them.

The questions on poaching came as the president was updating the media on his recent trip to Davos, Switzerland for the just ended World Economic Forum.

He argued that the escalation in the number of poaching incidents is not due to any change in policies towards anti-poaching as some may believe.

President Masisi’s government was criticised for disarming an anti-poaching unit that was in place during the leadership of former President Seretse Khama Ian Khama. The two former close allies had a big fall-out that was widely reported and the former president has previously told the media that the incumbent has drawn back on the country’s efforts to stop poaching.

President Masisi said Botswana and its citizens have always upheld natural resources’ conservation mainly for the country’s tourism, and they will do everything to uphold this.

He said there is a worrying emergence of a small grouping that always have commentary of the poaching situation in Botswana and those want to tarnish the country as a good haven for animals and in turn call for boycotting of Botswana tourism.

He said due to the recent rise in rhino poaching, there is an imminent need to change strategies, but due to security reasons he could not reveal the new strategies to fight against poaching.

He said it is worrying that most of the rhinos killed are in the north-western part of the country in the Okavango Delta, which is the country’s hub for tourism.

Indonesian environment ministry ends WWF partnership amid public spat

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Hans Nicholas Jong, Mongabay | January 29, 2020

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JAKARTA: The Indonesian office of international conservation NGO WWF has expressed shock at the termination of its forest conservation partnership with the country’s environment ministry, three years before it was due to expire.

“As written in the agreement letter, the end [of the partnership] is in 2023,” Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, the head of WWF Indonesia’s steering committee, said at a press conference in Jakarta on Jan. 28. “Why [at the end of] 2019 was it suddenly cancelled? We’re wondering, but until now, there’s no answer.

“The termination of the working agreement letter from the Indonesian government is a serious matter,” Kuntoro added. “We’re shattered because we are a reputable organization.”

Original photo as published by Mongabay.

Djati Witjaksono Hadi, a spokesman for the environment ministry, told Mongabay that the memorandum of understanding with WWF Indonesia, in effect since March 1998, was “no longer appropriate and has to be revised.”

He said the decision to terminate, published on the ministry’s website on Jan. 10, followed an evaluation carried out since December 2018 and that WWF Indonesia had been notified about the impending move in March 2019.

Under Indonesian law, all NGOs with a permanent presence in the country need an MOU to carry out field work with the ministry. In WWF Indonesia’s case, that partnership was due to expire in 2023, but the ministry decided to terminate it at the end of 2019, three years ahead of schedule.

The move effectively ends much of WWF’s forest conservation work in Indonesia, which entails field conservation work such as patrolling national parks to detect threats to protected areas.

Kuntoro, a former energy minister, said he was shocked at the environment ministry’s decision but would respect it. He said WWF Indonesia would speed up the handover of affected projects to the authorities, and would remain committed to supporting the government’s push for sustainable development.

WWF Indonesia has 24 field offices in the country and employs 500 people working on various programs. It has ongoing cooperation agreements with other government institutions, including the fisheries ministry, the rural development ministry, the home affairs ministry, the land ministry, the peatland restoration agency, and various local governments. All of these are unaffected by the termination of the agreement with the environment ministry.

‘Violation of Scope of Work’

The ministry’s official reason for ending the partnership is that WWF Indonesia violated the terms of the agreement, including by working on issues beyond those defined in the MOU.

“In the MOU, the scope of work [for WWF Indonesia] is only about conservation and biodiversity, but WWF Indonesia’s work includes all aspects [of the environment], including landscape, climate change, waste, etc.,” Djati said.

He added the ministry also found WWF Indonesia was working in some locations without permission and without reporting to the ministry.

WWF Indonesia acting CEO Lukas Adhiyakso acknowledged that the NGO’s activities had “developed in accordance with the current situation” to include work on environmental issues outside of forest conservation.

He said the MOU was signed in 1998, with what was then the forestry ministry, long before its 2014 merger with the environment ministry. As such, he said, the MOU’s strict focus on forest conservation should have been revised, rather than scrapped altogether, to reflect the changing environmental priorities since then.

“That’s actually what we’d hoped for,” Lukas said. “[And] because we are a national entity, we also have the rights to participate in environmental issues. So if we want do do that [work on environmental issues], it doesn’t have to be managed by an MOU.”

Losing Face

Djati said WWF Indonesia had also claimed some achievements by other parties as its own, which he called disrespectful.

“Cooperation should be based on Indonesian law and regulation as well as mutual respect,” he said.

That latter reason for the termination appears to allude to public criticism of the environment ministry last year after it was perceived not to be doing as much as WWF Indonesia and other parties in tackling forest fires in an important national park.

The fires, the worst in four years, razed nearly 16,000 square kilometers (6,200 square miles) of land nationwide — an area half the size of Belgium. One of the affected areas was Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in western Sumatra. The park contains one of the last large intact swaths of dry lowland forest in Sumatra, a landscape that has almost disappeared across the island, and is one of the last refuges for three of the four flagship Sumatran megafauna species — orangutans, elephants and tigers — along with at least 250 other recorded mammal and bird species.

Last August, popular Indonesian actresses Luna Maya and Wulan Guritno posted about the fires at the park on their social media accounts. They said the fires had worsened but that some groups, including WWF Indonesia, local residents, disaster response workers and the police and military, were working to put them out. They also called the attention of President Joko Widodo and his environment minister, Siti Nurbaya Bakar.

Wulan was appointed one of WWF Indonesia’s celebrity ambassadors last year, while Luna was an ambassador in 2008.

The ministry condemned the actresses’ statements as painting it in a bad light, saying it had done its best to extinguish fires and that some of its personnel on the ground had died during those efforts. It also pointed out that the burned area inside Bukit Tigapuluh had been managed by WWF Indonesia under a forest conservation permit since 2015.

Therefore, the ministry said, WWF Indonesia was the party that had failed to protect the national park, which was also affected by fires in 2015. Following the latest burning, the ministry sealed off WWF Indonesia’s concession in the park last September.

“WWF Indonesia has a concession and it was burned and they couldn’t manage it,” Djati said. “And yet they conducted a social media campaign continuously and negated the government’s efforts and discredited us.”

An executive for the company partnering with WWF Indonesia to manage the concession said the fires there were likely caused by people illegally encroaching into the area and clearing it by burning. Kuntoro said WWF Indonesia had done its best to extinguish the fires, adding, “If we’re not perfect, then we apologize.”

One-Sided Termination

The NGO has also questioned the manner in which the termination was carried out. It said it was unaware of the ministry’s intention until October 2019, despite the ministry saying it had notified WWF Indonesia in March of that year.

But the formal letter from the ministry announcing a review of the MOU, dated March 28, only reached WWF Indonesia on Oct. 7, according to Elis Nurhayati, the organization’s communications director. That same day, WWF Indonesia received another letter from the ministry, this one dated Oct. 4 and saying that the MOU was being terminated at the end of the year.

Lukas said it wasn’t clear from either of the letters what violations the organization was accused of having committed. He added they also never received the result of any review carried out by the ministry.

Following receipt of the letters, WWF Indonesia officials tried to arrange a meeting with Siti, the environment minister, but were rejected multiple times, Kuntoro said.

“We said we’re sorry but please explain to us what we violated, but there’s no response [from the ministry],” he said.

He said it was the unilateral nature of the decision, without any opportunity for WWF Indonesia to have a say, that surprised him the most.

“Can’t we discuss this first?” he said, adding that the organization was willing to listen and learn. “I think discussion is a good thing because we can improve ourselves.”


South Africa: Wild animals at risk of ‘genetic pollution’

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Tony Carnie, The Guardian | January 29, 2020

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The South African government is under fire for permitting gene manipulation ventures that could have a damaging effect on the continent’s wildlife.

Lions, rhinos and cheetahs are among the wild species at risk of irreversible “genetic pollution” from breeding experiments, scientists have warned.

South African game farmers have increasingly been breeding novel trophy animals, including some freakishly-coloured varieties such as the black impala, golden wildebeest or pure-white springboks.

Some hunters pay more to bag unusual trophies, but now the South African government is under fire for permitting further gene manipulation ventures that scientists say could have a damaging effect on the continent’s wildlife.

Original photo as published by The Guardian: The South African government is under fire for permitting gene manipulation ventures that could have a damaging effect on the continent’s wildlife. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Writing in the latest issue of the South African Journal of Science, a group of 10 senior wildlife scientists and researchers have criticised the government for quietly amending the country’s Animal Improvement Act last year to allow for the domestication and “genetic improvement” of at least 24 indigenous wildlife species – including rare and endangered animals such as rhino, cheetah, lion, buffalo and several antelope species.

The researchers warn that: “A logical endpoint of this legislation is that we will have two populations of each species: one wild and one domesticated … domesticated varieties of wildlife will represent a novel, genetic pollution threat to South Africa’s indigenous wildlife that will be virtually impossible to prevent or reverse.”

Lead author Prof Michael Somers, a senior researcher at the Mammal Research Institute at the University of Pretoria, says the government should scrap the controversial law amendment which lumps together rare and endangered species such as rhinos with rabbits and domesticated dog breeds.

Somers and his colleagues say the act typically provides for domesticated species to be bred and “genetically improved” to obtain “superior domesticated animals with enhanced production and performance”.

These animals “can also be used for genetic manipulation, embryo harvesting, in-vitro fertilisation and embryo transfers,” say the scientists.

They argue that the law will not improve the genetics of the affected wildlife species but rather will pose ecological and economic risks as it will be expensive and almost impossible to maintain a clear distinction between wild and domesticated species.

Somers and his colleagues say the government did not appear to have consulted either scientists, government wildlife agencies or the general public about the controversial move.

Last year, in response to concerns that the legal amendment would remove the listed species from the ambit of conservation legislation, the government’s environment department issued a statement to emphasise that that game breeders would still have to comply with the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act and regulations concerning threatened or protected species.

But Somers and his co-authors remain concerned, saying that in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, where there is close cooperation between game breeders and the provincial conservation organisation, the authorities still had difficulty keeping track of what happens on game farms and in enforcing legislation.

The “golden wildebeest” is a novel species derived through the ranching and selective breeding of the common or blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus), much darker animals whose coats are typically a deep slate or bluish grey colour. Moves to allow more intensive genetic manipulation of several wildlife species in South Africa have raised the concern of scientists around irreversible genetic pollution of the original wild species. Photograph: Prof Graham Kerley/Nelson Mandela University

“This new law will add to this difficulty, and will likely be less controlled in some other provinces,” they said, adding that the genetic consequences of intensive or semi-intensive breeding of wildlife species were “negative and considerable”.

“Intensive breeding through artificial (non random) selection of individuals for commercially valuable traits (eg horn size/shape, coat colour) represents humans taking over this natural process. Such artificial selection by humans is even more powerful than natural selection in creating distinct phenotypes within very short time frames.”

Michael Bruford, a professor of biodiversity at the University of Cardiff and co-chair of the Conservation Genetics Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, added his support to the concerns raised. “The Convention on Biological Diversity’s 2020 targets clearly state that signatory countries should minimise genetic erosion (loss of genetic diversity) in domestic, socio-economically and culturally valuable species,” he said.

“However you regard these species – and they cannot reasonably be classified as domestic animals – South Africa’s proposal will very likely lead to genetic erosion, in contravention of the CBD target,” he added. “This proposal also comes at a time of rapid environmental deterioration, when we need to be increasing the resilience of our species by ensuring they retain as much genetic diversity as possible”.


Two rhinos dead in Chitwan National Park (Nepal)

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Online Khabar | January 29, 2020

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Two one-horned rhinoceros died their natural deaths in Chitwan National Park, the biggest shelter of one-horned rhinos in Nepal, on Tuesday.

Original photo as published by Online Khabar: A rhino in Chitwan National Park. (File photo)

With this, the number of rhinos dead in the park in this fiscal year has reached 13. Though the park has not recorded any poaching incident for the past few years, the big number of natural deaths has been alarming the stakeholders. The number is constantly rising in the past three years.

Two female rhinos, aged around 20 and 30 respectively, were found dead in Tamaspur and Sukhibhar areas of the park yesterday, according to the park’s information officer Gopal Ghimire.

The park’s senior veterinarian Bijay Kumar Shrestha says his preliminary study suggested one of the rhinos died after eating poisonous grass.

Meanwhile, A team commissioned by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation has been studying the increasing number of deaths.