Monthly Archives

March 2020

Virtual game drives

By Conservation No Comments
Traveller2| March 30, 2020

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Want to go to the bush during lockdown? Then venture into the virtual world of online safaris with game reserves like Tintswalo Safari Lodge and Shamwari Private Game Reserve, who are making an effort to bring the bush to you, right in the comfort of your very livingroom.

Tintswalo Safari Lodge has launched free virtual safaris that are available on its social media channels to all its followers. Says Lisa Goosen, CEO of Tintswalo: “The national lockdown in South Africa has been very challenging for humans, but in the bush, nature continues undisturbed as it has since the beginning of time. The conservation of our nature reserves and protection of our precious wildlife remains a priority for the Tintswalo family. Within the greater Kruger region, the Tintswalo wildlife management team in the Manyeleti Nature Reserve is ‘on the beat’ in the bush throughout lockdown and continues to monitor and safeguard our vulnerable fauna and flora.”

WATCH: 10 Virtual tours and webcams to help you travel from your couch 

Original image as posted by Traveller24

Tintswalo’s conservation patrols have presented the unique opportunity to bring virtual safaris to viewers at home. ‘We invite you to enjoy the freedom to escape for a while, focus on positivity and take delight in the wonders of the African bush as inspiration for planning your next Tintswalo safari’, says Lisa Goosen.

The game rich Manyeleti Game Reserve is known world-wide for its Big 5 sightings, but also for its birdlife and many smaller species and other interesting creatures.

Tintswalo’s ‘On the Beat’ virtual safaris include video footage of actual sightings, as well as some of the exhilarating encounters experienced by its game rangers on patrol. Videos are uploaded daily on all Tintswalo’s social media channels.

Namibia loses 9 rhinos, 1 elephant to poaching since January

By Antipoaching, Conservation, namibia No Comments
China.org | March 29, 2020

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WINDHOEK: Namibia has lost nine rhinos and one elephant to poaching since the beginning of the year, the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism said Monday.

Ministry spokesperson Romeo Muyunda said poaching took place inside private owned farms and the country’s national parks, with the latest incident taking place last Friday when one elephant was poached. Two suspects have since been arrested.

The ministry official did not say how many rhinos and elephants were poached during the comparable period last year as he said he was out of office.

“In general, we have seen a steady decrease in rhino and elephant poaching in the past 3 years,” Muyunda said.

Rhino poaching in Namibia dropped to 41 individuals killed in all of 2019 compared with nearly 72 during the same period in 2018, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism said last December.

Namibia has the second largest population of white rhinos in the world after South Africa and, according to NGO Save the Rhino, it holds one-third of the world’s remaining black rhinos.

Poaching in Namibia has yo-yoed since peaking in 2015 at 95 rhinos, falling to 60 in 2016, 36 in 2017 and then going up to 72 again in 2018.

 

Rare white rhino born in Kenya

By Antipoaching, Conservation No Comments
Kenyans.co.ke | March 29, 2020

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On Monday, March 30, Cabinet Secretary for Tourism & Wildlife, Najib Balala, confirmed the birth of the white rhino calf at the Meru National Park.

CS Balala then went on to share photos of the 3-year-old calf alongside the mother named ‘Makosi’.

“We have a newborn male Southern White Rhino Calf at Meru National Park. He was born 3 days ago. Pictured is the newborn Calf with his mum Makosi,” the CS announced.

The latest data shows that 98.5% of southern white rhinos are alive in just five countries (South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Uganda).

The Southern White Rhino is one of the two subspecies of the white rhinoceros, with its nearly extinct and critically endangered Northern White Rhino the other subspecies.

Original image as posted by Kenyans.co.ke: The rhino calf pictured in Meru National Park alongside its mum Makosi, March 2020.


There has been a boom in the number of Southern White Rhinos due to relentless efforts by rangers, wildlife conservationists, and government entities such as the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), who have been at the forefront in the battle against poachers.

A clear indicator of such efforts was how the world’s most famous and last male Northern White Rhino named Sudan, lived out his last days.

By the time he passed away on March 19, 2018, the 45-year-old rhino had was under 24-hour armed surveillance at the Ol-Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

The team of expert veterinary doctors monitoring Sudan’s condition (due to old age, he suffered from painful degenerative changes in his muscles and borns), took a difficult decision to euthanise him, leaving behind the last of his subspecies: two female Northern White Rhinos named Najin and Fatu.

According to the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), the Northern White Rhino was originally found in Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, the Central African Republic and South Sudan.

However, rampant poaching, driven by political violence and insecurity in the region wiped out populations in just a few years.

“The last known protected Northern White Rhino breeding population was built up in the 1990s, from a small group of 13 survivors in the Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to a peak figure of 32 individuals, but all were subsequently lost to poachers and armed groups,” a report by the AWF reads

On realisation that all rhinos were on the brink of extinction, conservation efforts were stepped up and coordinated across multiple countries.

This is what saved the Southern White Rhino – there were just 50 of them left when the move to protect them at all costs were implemented.

“From an isolated population in South Africa of not more than 50, the Southern White Rhino has recovered to 20,000 ranging across the region. A few were introduced to Ol-Pejeta Conservancy, which is also home to the largest and most significant black rhino sanctuary in East Africa,” the report by the AWF further reads.

The latest calf born in Meru marks the successful integration of the subspecies that were previously found only in the southern parts of Africa.

On February 15, KWS park rangers discovered a 3-day-old Southern White Rhino calf at the Nairobi National Park.

Kenya’s success in integrated and protecting this rhino sub-species has seen it moved from the endangered list to the nearly-threatened category.

 

 

During lockdown foresters try to balance field work and prevention of disease spread (India)

By Conservation, Illegal trade No Comments
Mongabay | March 29, 2020

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On March 25, a few hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a country-wide lockdown to tackle the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, forest authorities in Dewas, Madhya Pradesh arrested a group suspected to have killed a blackbuck, a protected species under India’s Wildlife Protection Act 1972.

As the lockdown progressed, on March 28, in Dehradun in Uttarakhand, the forest department seized what appeared to be pangolin and porcupine meat.

“Acting on a tip-off, we raided a house in Sapera Basti in Mothrowala and found partly consumed meat. Prima facie it appeared to be pangolin and porcupine meat. We have registered a case against the accused and investigation is on,” Dehradun divisional forest officer (DFO) Rajiv Dhiman told Mongabay-India.

The escalating COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated social distancing as a priority.

Original image as posted by Mongabay


While millions of Indians stay inside their homes mandated by official orders prescribing social distancing via a lockdown, forest department officials across India are out on nature’s frontlines guarding wildlife and the forests that cover over one-fifth (21.67 percent) of the country’s geographical area.

For them, it is a balancing act between protecting the forest and staving off any potential infection spread. In many areas, authorities are carrying out their work despite the availability of limited staff during the lockdown. With poachers, smugglers, human encroachment in forests and human-wildlife conflicts, they have got their hands full as many foresters believe the threats will not abate due to the lockdown but may increase in some cases.

Saket Badola, head, TRAFFIC India said these are testing times for the forest staff, who on one hand have to be extra vigilant against poaching attempts by adventurous poachers while simultaneously be prepared to tackle probabilities of increased cases of human-wildlife conflicts.

“Forest fire incidences have also started in few areas of the country which will require necessary preparedness and immediate attention. Considering this, the government has declared services of forest staff including patrolling, fire fighting, wildlife, and zoo upkeep as ‘essential’ under the Disaster Management Act,” Badola told Mongabay-India.

Wildlife Vulnerable to Poaching During the Lockdown

In Uttarakhand where field staff is operating in full capacity while taking necessary precautions including social distancing, officials said vigilance was heightened beginning with the one-day lockdown on March 22.

“With many people who are now out of work, the pressures on the forest may increase for resource extraction. We are maintaining vigilance so that there is no damage to the forests and their inhabitants,” Dhiman said.

Punati Sridhar, Karnataka’s principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) and head of forest force recollects the first thought that crossed his mind when the Indian government directed the temporary closure of protected areas.

“How will we protect the forest? That was the first thought. As of now, we are operating at 100 percent capacity and we will continue with forest protection duties. The challenge is to maintain constant vigilance and ensure staff is safe. For official purposes, we have encouraged the usage of electronic services instead of sending files. We have opened a COVID cell for monitoring and other activities linked to the disease,” Sridhar told Mongabay-India.

In the state, over 10,000 field staff are on duty. The state has five tiger reserves, 30 wildlife sanctuaries, 15 conservation reserves, and one community reserve.

“All staff is alert and we have booked a few poaching cases during the lockdown. People went into Bandipur with guns. We detected them in our cameras and arrested them. Another case was of encroachment and setting fire where one was arrested and remanded,” he said.

Sridhar recounted that about two to three decades ago the forest department faced serious problems when the frontline staff decided to go on strike and the officers had to step in.

“But we have never faced this kind of situation. We have a (satellite-based) technology to pinpoint where encroachments are happening and we send people to investigate. So is continuing as well,” said Sridhar.

Sridhar emphasised that foresters “put their heart in” to protect forests and wildlife and they deserve more appreciation.

“Despite disease outbreaks such as the Kyasanur Forest Disease, our staff is always on the field. They understand their responsibility and they take the necessary precautions,” he added.

Central Zoo Authority’s (CZA) Member Secretary S.P. Yadav, who is also the secretary-general of the Indian Forest Service Association, echoed similar thoughts.

“During this tough time and with restrictions imposed to contain COVID-19, forest and wildlife staff are working overtime to safeguard wildlife in zoological parks, rescue centres, safaris, and protected areas while putting their life at risk. They are true and brave warriors at the frontlines ensuring ecological security of the country relentlessly. This is at a time when everyone is concerned about the safety of their own life. It is highly commendable,” Yadav told Mongabay-India.

CZA’s S.P. Yadav said the threat of poaching looms large during the lockdown. “Wildlife is under threat from poachers. Even during this tough time when our wildlife is most vulnerable. The forest staff in this time of risk is still carrying out patrolling round the clock,” Yadav said.

Savita, principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF), wildlife, Himachal Pradesh said special permissions have been granted so that zoo animals are fed as per schedule.

“We got specific permissions granted to animal attendants and the person who brings animal feed. But they have to follow strict instructions for social distancing and wearing the mask,” Savita told Mongabay-India, adding that the department is coordinating efforts electronically.

Due to compliance with physical distancing measures, monitoring of encroachment in water bodies in several areas have been scaled down.

In Odisha’s Chilika lake, Asia’s largest brackish water lagoon with an estuarine character, and one of India’s first Ramsar Convention sites (wetlands of international importance), monitoring activities for illegal commercial prawn cultivation set-ups are still on but with fewer people.

Chilika is home to one of the largest subpopulations of the vulnerable Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) of around 150 individuals.

Susanta Nanda, chief executive of Chilika Development Authority, said since 2018, the organisation has removed 162 square kilometres of the area under prawn aquaculture. Another 80 square km remains to be cleared.

“We are conducting monitoring activities with skeletal staff. We have two big boats to carry out hydrological monitoring, but we have stopped that because that involves more number of people and increases the chances of spreading infection,” Nanda told Mongabay-India.

“But we are using three to four smaller boats to monitor and check unauthorised encroachments of prawn gherries (prawn culture). We are maintaining social distance rule but ensuring some presence in the lake otherwise people may use the opportunity to start encroaching the wetlands for illegal prawn culture,” said Nanda.

Human-Wildlife Interaction and Forest Fire are Other Focus Areas

Foresters fear the human-wildlife conflict could increase in the lockdown phase. They feel many animals, that live in close proximity to human habitations, could venture into human habitations after noticing the limited presence of humans.

In one such instance on March 24 in Uttarakhand, a leopard entered a school.

Narrating the incident, IFS officer Vaibhav Singh, who is divisional forest officer, Rudraprayag (Uttarakhand) said the presence of a leopard in the school was first noticed by the security guard who heard the animal growl. The guard informed the police who then informed the forest department.

“Whenever a leopard enters an urban area it is a risky situation as the animal is scared. The leopard is less than two-years-old but after hours of effort, the animal was finally rescued. The animal has been sent to the rescue centre and after it is radio-collared it will be released back into the wild. One of our staff was injured but he was lucky as the injuries were not serious,” Singh told Mongabay-India.

Additionally, for Uttarakhand’s forests, it is a fire-prone season.

“Usually by this time, we would have been in a precarious situation as the temperature starts increasing and the pine forests of this area become prone to fire. But this time due to rains there has been no such incident,” Vaibhav Singh said.

He explained that his division has about 100,000 hectares of forest area and for that there is a staff of 40-45 people. “Most of them are in remote places and they need food supplies and vehicles for patrolling. We usually hire people on a daily wage basis and hire vehicles to supplement our shortage but due to the lockdown, we are not getting the people and vehicles. Our resources are stretched but we are keeping our fingers crossed,” said Singh while adding that he has also instructed his officials to ensure there is no poaching and no forest areas have been encroached on.

Forest Resources Are Stretched for Critically Endangered Animals

Officials are also responsible to protect India’s iconic landscapes that are homes to threatened animals like lions and one-horned rhinoceros.

In Assam’s Kaziranga National Park, home to the world’s largest population of one-horned rhinoceros, officials plan to go ahead with their annual monsoon preparedness in April.

The Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve (KNP/KTR) located in the northeastern state of Assam, is sandwiched between the Brahmaputra river in the north and the verdant Karbi Anglong hills in the extreme south.

Over 200 animals, including 17 rhinos, died in the 2019 floods in the UNESCO-listed heritage site, vast swathes of which are inundated during the monsoon season. Poaching of rhinos in Kaziranga is a major threat managed by the staff.

“All are on duty. We have 1500 staff and we have 200 camps in the national park area and 40 in the buffer area. One advantage is that our camps are spread wide apart and they are already isolated. Two to three staff are stationed in each camp and we have instructed them to maintain social distancing and take necessary precautions,” KNP director P. Sivakumar told Mongabay-India, adding that strict vigilance is being maintained.

Dinesh Kumar Sharma, who is the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests in Gujarat, the only state in India where the Asiatic lion is found, hopes the lion census remains on schedule.

“All our staff is in the field even when there is a lockdown. There are no problems so far. The lion census was scheduled for May. We will see how things pan out. If everything is tackled by April end the census work may not be hampered. We are hoping that things come under control by that time,” Sharma told Mongabay-India. As per the 2015 census, the population of Asiatic lions was estimated to be 523.

The forest department officials are also closely surveilling the interstate border to ensure there is no harm to the animals.

“The forests along the Gujarat-Maharashtra state border are being closely monitored. The forest check posts have forest staff, health care workers and police. It’ll be forest fire season soon so we have to be on standby for those as well. We are avoiding large physical meetings and we have asked the village heads to avoid meetings,” said Agneeshwar Vyas, who is deputy conservator of forest (North Dang division), Gujarat.

Vyas told Mongabay-India that they have shut all their rest houses as well.

The staff has been instructed to attend to essential work, like protection, fire control, breeding centre, wildlife conflict, and nurseries, etc. They have been asked to remain in headquarters to attend to these works and also to avoid unnecessary travel, when not required strictly for the assigned work, he said.

“March is not a big season anyway for tourism. But in April-May, tourism income will surely get affected. The staff has masks and gloves and we keep discussing dos’ and don’ts internally as well. The staff is also instructed to stay indoors as far as possible. We communicate via wireless if it’s manageable,” Vyas said.

 

Conservation scientist aims to inspire people to protect wildlife (Vietnam)

By Antipoaching, Conservation No Comments
Viet Nam New | March 29, 2020

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Young wildlife conservation scientist Trang Nguyen, full name Nguyễn Thị Thu Trang, has dedicated herself to protecting our wonderful world. She talks to Minh Thu about the ambition and enthusiasm

Trang Nguyen was born in 1990 in Hà Nội and witnessed how animals were cruelly exploited as a child. She decided to dedicate her life to wildlife in Việt Nam. Trang finished her PhD in Biodiversity Management at the University of Kent, England. Last year, she was named in the BBC’s list of top 100 inspiring and influential women around the world and was listed among 30 young influential people under 30 by Forbes Vietnam. She received the annual award of Future for Nature Foundation 2018.

Earlier this month, her graphic novel Chang Hoang Dã – Gấu (Chang is Wild about Bears) was published. It aims to raise people’s awareness of endangered species, the friendship between people and wildlife as well as the hard work of activists to protect animals.

Inner Sanctum: Congratulations on your newly-published book on the journey of a little girl who goes to save wild animals. Why did you publish a graphic novel on wildlife?

Original image as posted by Viet Nam News


As a wildlife conservation scientist, I always priorities activities that can increase awareness and understanding of the public on the environment and nature. Chang is Wild about Bears is a book created for young readers, to nurture their love and curiosity for the wonderful world we are living in. Nothing can do that better than a graphic novel.

Inner Sanctum: Do you plan to create more graphic novels?

Chang is Wild about Bears is receiving attention not only in Việt Nam but also overseas. One of the largest publishers in the UK Pan MacMillan is discussing with Kim Đồng Publishing House to buy the book’s copyright for English publication worldwide. Which is amazing.

In the meantime, my co-author, painter Jeet Zdung, and I are working hard on our second book Chang is Wild about Elephants – which tells a real story of the horrific situation that our Asian elephants are coping in elephant camps – where they are being used for entertainment (elephant riding and circus).

Each of these books will highlight a conservation issue. For example, Chang is Wild about Bears talks about the issue of bear bile farming in Southeast Asia and how it is pushing our bears to extinction, Chang is Wild about Elephants highlights elephants being abused for entertainment and the book after that will talk about the trade of lorises as pets and so on.

Inner Sanctum: How did you prepare for this project? How did you and illustrator Jeet Zdung team up?

Writing the book was simple but finding an artist to transfer words and imaginations into pictures was a different story. I have known Zdung for a few years and he did some voluntary work for my organisation WildAct, so I know him well as a friend and I knew his talent would contribute greatly to this book. It took a while for me to convince him to collaborate with me on this project, partly because Zdung is rather busy with his own art projects and working with publishers in Japan. But once he was hooked on the story of the bear Sorya, it was much easier.

Inner Sanctum: As well as raising awareness, will the profits from the book aid wildlife conservation?

I’m donating all royalties from the book toward wildlife conservation in Việt Nam. For example, royalties for the first print of this book worth US$2,400 were donated to Free the Bears Fund – an amazing organisation working tirelessly to rescue bears from bear bile farming and those who are being kept as pets. This funding will help them rescue bears in the country. The following payment from the publishing house will remain with my organisation WildAct – where we invest in educating children about wildlife conservation and environmental protection.

The funding from my first book Trở Về Nơi Hoang Dã (Back to the Wilderness) helped us create six different libraries for children living across Việt Nam to learn about nature and wildlife. It also helped us provide scholarships for youths to study and be trained in a professional way to become wildlife conservationists.

Inner Sanctum: What does WildAct do in Việt Nam?

WildAct is a conservation charity and non-governmental organisation based in Việt Nam. Our work is dedicated to raising Vietnamese people’s awareness of conservation issues by providing information and education programmes for the public. Our mission is to inspire, motivate and empower society and individuals to engage in the science-based conservation of threatened species and ecosystems.

We are the first organisation in the country working with the Ministry of Education and Training and the University of Vinh City (the central province of Nghệ An) to create the first master’s course in wildlife conservation to build national capacity in fighting the illegal wildlife trade and improving captive wild animal welfare.

Inner Sanctum: How has being from an Asian country where wild animals are exploited and killed for medicine, food, clothes, entertainment, conflicts with humans and deforestation impacted you?

Being able to witness what’s happening to nature and wildlife motivated me to work harder and get to where I am today. It is also an advantage when doing undercover work overseas, as many people from other parts of the world assume if you are Vietnamese or Chinese then you are consumers of wildlife parts or worse, an illegal wildlife trader.

Inner Sanctum: Can you share with us some memories of your career?

In South Africa, I worked closely with the police to stop illegal wildlife trafficking. As a Vietnamese woman, it was easy for me to talk to the dealers. They were not scared of me. They showed me rhino horns and other products from wild animals, anything I asked for. I followed them for day after day and talked to them with a hidden camera and voice recorder. When we had enough information, we decided to make an arrest. That morning, I asked them to go with me to get a huge amount of cash for elephant tusks and other illegal products. I got in the car with three armed criminals. Then, believe it or not, the hidden camera inside my coat ran out of battery, it kept flashing constantly. I was so terrified. If they found it, I would have been shot. Then I let my hair down to cover the camera. Luckily it stopped flashing. When I got out of the car and felt safe, I touched my right ear, the sign for the police. All the men involved were arrested.

Inner Sanctum: What plans do you have for the next few years?

In the next two years, I plan to finish working on the book series Chang is Wild. That’s a big deadline to work on with Jeet Zdung. My third book called 100 Things I Do for the Planet will be published by Nhã Nam Company in summer this year, which is very exciting. The book is a collection of small, simple, easy thing that every single one of us can do to support our planet.

At the same time, my organisation WildAct is growing fast. We are continuing to work with the University of Vinh City to build up our master’s course on wildlife conservation for Vietnamese youths. We just kick-started another programme to support and empower women in conservation and another programme to reduce the amount of plastic waste entering the ocean.

Inner Sanctum: What does it take to be a wildlife activist?

To make it clear, I am not an activist only. I’m a wildlife conservation scientist, a person who works full-time to conserve nature and species.

An activist is a person who campaigns to bring about political or social change. They can be anyone in society and not necessarily work in the sector that they are campaigning in, for example, a journalist or a teacher can be a wildlife activist.

If you are an activist then the most important thing you need to do is act. Whether it’s speaking out for animal’s rights, or organising a campaign to urge the government to change its policies regarding the trade and consumption of wildlife, the scale doesn’t matter, as all your small activities will add up and create a big change in our society.

 

Elise Serfontein is passionately following a calling (South Africa)

By Antipoaching, Conservation No Comments
The Citizen | March 28, 2020

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It is one of life’s great ironies that one of South Africa’s most valuable anti-poaching resources would probably not have existed if not for a particularly devastating poaching incident, which helped set a clear path for a lifelong conservationist.

For founding director of Stop Rhino Poaching Elise Serfontein, the idea of starting a website to create awareness and support for the war against rhino poaching came to her after taking a nap on a Sunday afternoon. She always knew she would eventually get into rhino conservation, but until that moment, her path was unclear.

“My boss phoned me and said it looked like what appeared to be another helicopter poaching incident. I was absolutely devastated, because this was potentially someone in our industry. It was a Sunday afternoon and I was crying my eyes out and I fell asleep. It was so weird, as I woke up, I knew I needed to build a website,” she said in an interview with Saturday Citizen.

Since what was probably Elise’s most enlightening nap 10 years ago, Stop Rhino Poaching has turned into an invaluable resource for South Africa’s anti-poaching war, especially for the rangers on the ground bearing the brunt of large-scale syndicates that continue to decimate rhino populations across the country.

Original image as posted by The Citizen: Elise Serfontein, founding director of Stop Rhino Poaching, in her ‘office’.


And the journey has definitely been a personal one.

Serfontein said Stop Rhino Poaching “was kind of a calling”.

“It’s become personal because one becomes involved in the lives of so many people out there who are trying so hard to stop this. And you realise the impact it has on them. It’s because of them that I can’t stop.”

Often deflecting questions directed at her, Serfontein speaks of her “band of brothers” – those involved in the physical fight against poaching – as her motivation to keep going, no matter how taxing it becomes.

Serfontein and rangers are exposed to disturbing, morbid scenes on a regular basis – something that takes its toll. But their friendship binds them together and keeps her grounded.

When asked how she copes mentally with the scenes she is exposed to, she says she forces herself to keep going.

And why she does this is simple: “My exposure is nothing compared to what they’re exposed to.”

Serfontein also uses gestures from donors as a way to keep going.

“Someone sending an e-mail saying we love what you’re doing, we can see that the funding is going to the right places and that you’re delivering on what you say you’re going to do, here’s five grand or whatever. It’s just that little extra nudge to realise we must all carry on fighting and believing.”

But Serfontein is only human – and although remaining optimistic and driven by her team is essential to help keep the existential dread at bay, sometimes all a person can do is cry and drink beer.

The look on a ranger’s face when they realise what people from around the world who they will never meet are contributing to make their job more manageable, she says, is an unforgettable moment that never gets old and something that will keep her going.

“To make a difference in somebody’s life like that means he can go out there and make a difference for our rhinos. And that is a hugely motivating factor that I reflect on to keep me strong, focussed and determined.”

Staying on track, no matter how muddy the path is, is essential for someone like Serfontein, who does not know of a life of free time, saying she’s not a free-time kind of person.

This is partly because she loves what she does and the people she works with, partly because she is on call 24 hours a day, and partly because if she does have a moment to herself, she ventures into the bush to help her fellow rangers and team-mates.

“I’m not an exotic island girl,” she proclaimed proudly, adding that if people want to get away from everyday life, many gravitate to the bush – or as she refers to it, her office.

She has a prominent part to play in helping prospective donors or budding conservationists understand how complex, yet rewarding, the work she does is.

“Once you weave the story together of how complicated this all is and give them an idea of how it’s affecting the people who are on the frontlines, it gives them a different and personal perspective, compared to what they might read about in the media.”

The passion Serfontein has for people and animals is palpable and the reasoning behind this was summarised perfectly: “Our tourism industry is there because of our wildlife – and the people who safeguard that are critical – it’s thanks to them that those areas are there in the first place.”

 

Why we should review historic wildlife trafficking cases from a financial perspective

By Conservation, Illegal trade, News No Comments
RUSI Newsbrief| March 27, 2020

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It is a sad fact that, even today, enforcement action against the illegal wildlife trade (IWT) usually begins and ends with a seizure of illegal wildlife products. Financial investigations – routine for other serious crimes – are seldom undertaken for IWT.

In recent years, however, a growing consensus has emerged that financial approaches need to be mainstreamed into all IWT investigations. This includes not just the identification of illegally acquired assets and the possibility of forfeiture, but the use of financial intelligence in ongoing investigations.

Promisingly, many countries have shown a willingness to embed these techniques in their investigative procedures. But what these states often lack is the resources, knowledge and experience of inter-agency cooperation to put this enthusiasm into practice. Here, locally tailored, interactive and evidence-based capacity-building assistance is key.

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), which in 2017 became one of the largest ivory markets in the region, has shown a willingness to incorporate financial intelligence into its investigations, taking several measures to improve their response to IWT. In November 2019, the Department of Forestry Inspection (DoFI) invited the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), TRAFFIC and RUSI to pilot a new capacity-building exercise in the form of a multi-agency review of two contemporary wildlife trafficking investigations. This Newsbrief explores some of the outcomes of this exercise and the potential value of conducting similar reviews in other contexts.

Original image as posted by Rusi.org

The Illegal Wildlife Trade in Lao PDR

IWT in Lao PDR is dominated by sophisticated, well-funded and regionally networked organised crime groups (OCGs). In January 2018, the US Treasury Department issued sanctions against the so-called ‘Zhao Wei’ transnational OCG for their alleged involvement in money laundering and the trafficking of wildlife and narcotics through the Kings Roman Casino, situated in the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone in Lao PDR. Furthermore, a UN Office on Drugs and Crime assessment, published in July 2019, suggests that wildlife trafficking networks in Southeast Asia are decentralised, but ‘often well-organized and involve highly specialised actors at various stages of the trafficking, each involving their own methods, routes and markets’.

Elephant ivory, for example, is mostly trafficked into landlocked Lao PDR from Vietnam and Thailand – two other regional IWT hotspots with global significance. According to Save the Elephants, until 2016, up to 90% of all large-volume ivory consignments shipped into Vietnam previously would have been moved directly to China, but in 2017 these hauls were increasingly diverted from Vietnam to large urban areas in Lao PDR. From there they are sold in predominantly Chinese-owned retail outlets to predominantly Chinese tourists, who are often bussed in by complicit tour guides. These shops not only advise customers on how to evade customs controls as they travel back over the border, but also offer door-to-door shipping for larger items, with payments often taken via WeChat or card in person. In some cases, payment is taken only when the goods have safely arrived.

Encouraging Signs: The Changing Nature of Legislation and Enforcement in Lao PDR

In the past, Lao PDR took a fragmented approach to tackling IWT, particularly those cases involving illegal products originating from outside the country, and domestic timber trafficking. In 2016, the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) concluded that the country’s laws were too ‘vague, ambiguous or inadequate to tackle the problem’ of wildlife trafficking. The same report also criticised the absence of any prosecution for wildlife trafficking between 2012–16.

Recognising this threat to its international reputation, the government of Lao PDR has taken several measures over the past three years to combat IWT by improving the regulatory environment. This includes the promulgation of a new Penal Code (May 2017, with proclamation on 17 October 2018), raising penalties to a maximum of LAK 10 million ($1252), with imprisonment terms of three months to five years for domestic wildlife trafficking offences. Crucially, given the nature of the threat in Lao PDR, the Penal Code also introduced provisions specifically designed to target transnational organised crime; individuals operating as part of an OCG will now face imprisonment for five to 10 years, and a fine triple the value of the item in question. Moreover, in 2015, Lao PDR introduced environmental crime, illicit trafficking and smuggling as predicate offences to money laundering – making financial investigations possible in wildlife trafficking cases.

Although this has not yet resulted in any publicly reported wildlife-focused financial investigations, this legislative reform has been accompanied by an increase in enforcement action more broadly. Issued on 8 May 2018, Prime Minister Order No. 05 (PMO5) directed Ministers, Heads of Ministry-Equivalent Organisations, the Vientiane Capital Governor and Provincial Governors across the Lao PDR to take strict action on wildlife law enforcement, including compliance with national laws and international legal frameworks such as CITES. According to WWF, there has been a subsequent ‘dramatic reduction’ in the open trading of illegal wildlife products, including ivory, pangolin and rhino products following PMO5. In 2018, DoFI and the Environmental Police reportedly carried out 15 specific law enforcement actions, with the value of products seized exceeding $750,000.

More recently, the Prime Minister’s office endorsed PM90, which established a taskforce of senior officials to oversee all issues relating to anti-money laundering (AML) and financial crimes. On 8 January 2020, the taskforce issued Instruction No. 1, encouraging investigating authorities to pursue AML charges and financial investigations in IWT cases. While these positive strides do not negate the fact that there is much more to be done to close IWT markets in Lao PDR, they represent an important indication of the willingness of the Lao PDR authorities to make a more concerted effort to tackle IWT as a form of transnational organised crime – an objective that demands the integration of financial investigations to be successful.

Lessons Learned: Piloting Interactive Multi-Agency Case Reviews in Lao PDR

At the invitation of DoFI, in November 2019, WWF, TRAFFIC and RUSI convened a multi-agency case review of two recent ivory trafficking investigations. This proactive approach is in line with Lao PDR’s commitment to developing ‘needed competencies’ to tackle IWT, as reaffirmed in its National Ivory Action Plan Progress Report in 2018.

The agencies involved in the exercise included DoFI, relevant Provincial Offices of Forest Inspection, the Economic Police and the Anti-Money Laundering Intelligence Office (AMLIO). All agencies except AMLIO are members of the LAO-Wildlife Enforcement Network (LAO-WEN), the national inter-agency coordination mechanism for wildlife crime, which has been given new momentum under PMO5 and is currently chaired by DoFI. LAO-WEN is currently supported by ‘P-WEN’ models in most of the provinces in Lao PDR. Guided by an experienced financial investigator, the exercise aimed to:

— Identify missed opportunities for financial action during the original investigations.

— Discuss the application of Lao PDR’s AML and financial crime architecture to wildlife trafficking.

— Encourage further use of financial investigation by local agencies.

— Explore the role of domestic agencies in combating wildlife trafficking as a financial crime.

— Establish first steps for triggering a financial investigation.

— Encourage inter-agency working across government.

— Demonstrate the effectiveness and impact of financial investigations to encourage and support further policy development.

The investigations selected by DoFI for review were chosen based on the types of cases frequently and typically confronted by wildlife crime investigators in Lao PDR. To maintain confidentiality and the ability to pursue further action against the individuals identified in the course of these investigations, the tactical details of these cases are not discussed in this article. While follow-up actions are not the aim of such reviews, participants were encouraged to consider options for further action under Lao PDR’s AML and financial crimes legislation.

For the purposes of this analysis, the two selected cases are identified as Case A and Case B. Case A involved the seizure of less than 100 kg of ivory, as well as smaller volumes of pangolin scales and rhino horn, from a retail establishment. Case B involved the seizure of less than 5 kg of ivory, also from a retail establishment.

By using familiar and real investigations in a closed-door setting, participants were able to have candid discussions about where opportunities to collect financial evidence are commonly missed in cases of a similar nature. For instance, participants noted that in all future cases involving retailers, documents such as receipts, logbooks, inventories and invoices should be seized at the scene. Card readers, as well as QR codes used to take WeChat payments, were examples of physical evidence that should be collected at the scene. Guided by the facilitators, participants were able to reflect on the value of developing financial intelligence to better understand criminal networks, even if these leads are not used in evidence.

Practical policy recommendations also emerged from the workshop. It was observed, for example, that to guarantee effective inter-agency cooperation, AMLIO could join LAO-WEN and provide guidance on the application of the relevant Lao PDR financial crime legislation. AMLIO could also potentially provide future training on the identification, handling and assessment of financial evidence and in turn encourage the private sector, including financial institutions, to report on typologies associated with wildlife crime. By returning to the initial stages of each investigation, participants gained a practical knowledge and understanding of how a financial investigation should be initiated, and the roles of each of their respective agencies. In turn, the facilitators provided supporting guidelines on what types of cases are most suitable for financial investigation.

In line with the principles of these guidelines, formal requests are being made to the Central Public Prosecutor’s Office to reopen and allow financial investigations into both cases examined in November 2019. To ensure the sustainability of this approach, on 31 December 2019, the Director-General of DoFI established a dedicated team within the department to coordinate all financial crime investigations and prosecution relating to the environment.

Conclusions

The role of financial investigation in identifying and disrupting wildlife crime has grown in profile in recent years. A financial response to wildlife crime featured prominently in the 2018 IWT London Conference, and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) – the global AML standard setter – has committed to focusing on the financial dimension of wildlife crime over the next year.

There are several excellent examples of government and NGO-led studies that use a financial investigation approach to identify broad strengths and weaknesses at a national level. These include the Wildlife Conservation Society’s 2018 study of judicial proceedings in the Republic of Congo, with a similar analysis conducted in Zimbabwe by Space for Giants. Expanding this model to consistently include a financial analysis would be valuable, and where studies such as these have already been performed, these cases could be revisited from a financial perspective to generate new leads.

Multi-agency case reviews are also an opportunity to guarantee ongoing interaction and community building between the agencies needed to run successful financial investigations. Where best practice or areas for improvement are observed, feedback from such exercises may provide agencies such as financial intelligence units or national wildlife authorities with a justification for the application of specialist resources to future wildlife trafficking cases. This validation is especially important where these techniques have not led to ‘concrete outcomes’ such as asset recovery, which remains out of reach for many countries.

Documenting evidence of best practice in the financial investigation of wildlife crime is a key output for the FATF’s programme of work under its Chinese Presidency this year. Financial investigations are a labour-intensive but absolutely essential tool in disrupting organised crime. It is time they were used in all IWT investigations. Case reviews such the one conducted in Lao PDR are a practical way of improving the response to IWT as a financial crime.

Funding for this research was provided by WWF International and TRAFFIC through the USAID funded Wildlife TRAPS Project. With thanks to the Government of Lao PDR for their cooperation.

The views expressed in this Commentary are the authors’, and do not represent those of RUSI or any other institution.

Sixteen arrested for poaching (Namibia)

By Antipoaching, Conservation, namibia, News No Comments
New Era Live| March 28, 2020

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The Namibia Police Force arrested and charged 16 suspects on charges of rhino or elephant poaching and conspiracy of elephant poaching last week.

Police also confiscated five firearms, rounds of ammunitions and a motor vehicle.
Among other items which were recovered during the anti-poaching operation are; varied wild life products such as  four elephant tusks, a pangolin skin , two duiker carcasses, one waterbuck carcass and one warthog carcass.

Original photo by Robin Moore

 

According to the police crime statistics report, at Kongola seven suspects were charged for illegal hunting of the protected game and another four offenders appeared before court for illegal possession of firearms without licences as well as illegal supply of arms and ammunitions.

At Dordabis four suspects were also apprehended for illegal hunting of the protected game. While at Nkurenkuru, four accused persons appeared in court for illegal position of firearms.

In a related charge at Okahao, one person was arrested for contravening Section 4(1) (a) and (b) of Controlled Wildlife Products and Trade Act 9 of 2008.

Lt Col Leroy Bruwer laid to rest

By Antipoaching, Conservation, News No Comments
RUSI Newsbrief| March 26, 2020

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His broken-hearted colleagues, friends and family mourned his death during a memorial service in the city on Tuesday. National key players in the war on crime vowed that his murder would not go unavenged.

Bruwer was shot on his way to work a week prior. His colleagues, as well as members of national and provincial government agreed that his killers must have been the subjects of one of his investigations. “However, none were named. Deputy police minister, Cassel Charlie Mathale, described those responsible for his death as “the trigger men and the ones who organised his death”.

He warned, “We will leave no stone unturned until we find them and they will be brought to book.”

National Hawks head, Dr Seswantsho Godfrey Lebeya, promised, “Although we are wounded, we will not rest until we have found those responsible for his death.

Original image as posted by the Lowvelder


“Lebeya listed highlights from Bruwer’s career with the South African police: “Since joining the police in 1990, Bruwer executed his mandate – to serve and protect – tirelessly and fearlessly,” he said.

He was promoted to the rank of police captain in 2009. In 2013, he moved from the SAPS to the Hawks, where he specialised in serious organised crimes such as poaching and cash-in-transit heists. In 2016, he was awarded the elite unit’s detective of the year award. During his career, Bruwer arrested various high-profile criminals.

Lowvelder regularly reported on his testimony against robbers and rhino poachers.

At the time of his death, he was due to testify against alleged poaching kingpins such as the notorious Petrus Sydney “Mshengu” Mabuza and Joseph “Big Joe” Nyalunga.

“He was a fearless legend,” recalled Pr Sean Bushby.

Regarding the suspects Bruwer would chase relentlessly, who are generally described as fear-inspiring, Bushby stated, “They feared him, because he wanted to do what was right.” He did this one day at a time, motivated by Matthew 6:25-34.

“He knew to trust God every day and to put His kingdom first.” This was echoed by Bruwer’s colleague and close friend, Col Johan Jooste.

“Lt Col Leroy Bruwer was the real thing. His values were to protect and serve without compromise.” He did this, in the words of Mathale, “with no expectation of proportional reward”.

Bruwer’s integrity, loyalty and devotion to God, his country, community, friends and family were honoured by every speaker who remembered him. This included representatives of the South African Police Union.

The MEC for safety, security and liaison, Cynthia Gabisile Shabalala, gave a warning to his killers: “They killed him purposely. Whatever they are trying to silence, will rise strongly.”

She urged anyone with information on Bruwer’s assassination to contact the police.

 

The Sixth Mass Extinction

By Conservation, News No Comments
KCW London| March 27, 2020

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The planet is currently experiencing a global extinction crisis unlike any in human history. It has become so bad that many are referring to it as the sixth mass extinction. Whether it’s directly, such as by hunting and culling, or indirectly through climate change and deforestation, it is no secret that human activity is largely to blame.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies species based on how serious their situation is. At the bottom are “least concern” or “near threatened.” These are followed by “vulnerable,” “endangered” and “critically endangered” when a species faces a high risk of extinction in the wild. After that a species may be declared “extinct in the wild” if a few live in captivity, or “extinct” if none do.

The IUCN estimates that over 30,000 species, or 27% of all of those that have been assessed, face extinction. This includes nearly a sixth of birds, a quarter of mammals, and almost half of amphibians.

Original image supplied by KCW Today


And some groups seem to be in even more dire straits than that. The International Rhino Foundation says that “two-thirds of the world’s five rhino species could be lost in our lifetime.” However, thanks to conservation efforts, hope is on the horizon for these mammals. “Ten years ago, roughly 20,800 rhinos roamed Earth,” it says. “Today, rhino numbers hover around 29,500, a 41 percent increase in a decade.”

It attributes this to conservation efforts in both Africa and Asia: “The Government of South Africa and dedicated conservationists teamed up to bring the southern white rhino back from fewer than 100 individuals in the early 1900s to roughly 20,000 today. Thanks to strict protection by government authorities in India and Nepal, the greater one-horned, or Indian, rhino has rebounded from fewer than 200 individuals to more than 3,550 today.”

And that’s the other side to this story. Because while many animals are becoming extinct, others are being pulled back from the brink and their numbers increasing. Giant pandas, China’s national symbol, are no longer endangered! The black and white bears are now classified as vulnerable.

The IUCN praises the Chinese government’s efforts to conserve them, but warns that this is not the end. “It is critically important,” the organisation said, “that these protective measures are continued, and that emerging threats are addressed.” One big threat to their numbers is climate change. Because the bears live only on bamboo, they are especially susceptible to this as more than 35% of bamboo forests could be destroyed.

While there are some that can adapt to a changing climate, many more will not be so lucky. This is something that we can see in the fossil record. The giant Spinosaurus, which some believe lived mainly on fish, could not sustain itself as the rivers around it dried up. The enormous dinosaur probably struggled to compete for food with other predators in the area as it ventured out of its favourite habitat.

In the same way, it is very likely that the size of most dinosaurs doomed them as no large land-dwelling animal survived the mass extinction 65 million years ago. “From polar bears in the Arctic to marine turtles o the coast of Africa,” the WWF says, “our planet’s diversity of life is at risk from the changing climate.”

In addition to continuing efforts to fight it, the WWF calls on us to “help people and nature adapt to a changing climate.” Warming over the past century is well under way and has been the cause of a number of ecological changes. These include changes to the growing seasons, species ranges, and patterns of seasonal breeding. On the other hand, deforestation and destruction of natural habitats can exacerbate climate change and the problems it causes. This shows that two seemingly separate issues, climate change and the extinction of species, are not separate but one and the same and it’s impossible to work towards solving either without the other.

But one of the biggest problems affecting some of the world’s rarest species is still poaching; whether sport and trophy shooting or for an animal’s body parts, including fur and other parts used in traditional medicine.

Some countries are taking great steps to fight it however. Namibia has become the first African country to actually put protection of its environment in its constitution. It has taken active steps towards restoring numbers of lions, cheetahs, black rhinos, zebras, and other large animals. Bhutan in Central Asia has guaranteed in its constitution that at least 60% of its land be forest.

One thing that is becoming clear is that the countries doing the most for conservation, including those already mentioned as well as Tanzania, Botswana, and Norway, are those whose tourist industries are heavily dependent on it. Tanzania for example is where you’ll find the Serengeti which is home to a vast array of wildlife including lions, elephants, and hippos.

While tourism in some parts of the world has been blamed for damage to the environment, these countries show that it can also be a blessing, though one which needs to be managed properly. And that’s because preserving biodiversity is vital for the planet’s future. Lack of biodiversity can be as serious as climate change and while some species are adapting to this change, some may go the way of Spinosaurus.

They also have the potential to cause a domino effect as whole food chains collapse around us. While we may think of predators such as tigers as simply killers, they play a vital role in their ecosystem and help to maintain balance. It is this delicate balance that our actions, and in some cases our economies, threaten. Each species, including humans, has its own interests and these always conflict with those of one another. But we are in a unique position in the animal kingdom. We have the ability to shape the world around us, not just for ourselves, but for other living creatures as well.