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Conservation

Extension granted for submissions on work relevant to the panel reviewing lion, rhino, elephant and leopard management practices (South Africa)

By Conservation, Law & legislation No Comments
South Coast Herald | May 20, 2020

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An extension of two weeks has been granted to the public to make submissions on the work of the high-level panel established to review policies, legislation and related practices on the management, breeding, hunting, trade and handling of elephant, lion, leopard and rhinoceros.

The panel was appointed by the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy in October 2019 to investigate a number of these complex conservation and sustainable use issues. The terms of reference of the panel include issues of captive breeding and the emerging issue of lion bone trade, elephant management and culling debate, the management of the stockpiles including ivory, as well as trade in rhinoceros horn.

In applying their minds to the challenging and contentious issues that are highlighted in the terms of reference for the panel, an important component of the work is to solicit and receive submissions from interested and affected parties. As such, the panel advertised a two month window of opportunity for such submissions.

Given the current circumstances and challenges facing the country, the panel is extending the period for submissions for an additional two weeks to provide as much opportunity for inputs, comments, and suggestions from the community at large.

The panel is guided primarily by the Constitutional Mandate in the Bill of Rights, especially in terms of Section 24 which provides for environmental rights, but also considering all elements of the Bill of Rights, including the foundational values of dignity, achieving equality and advancement of human rights and freedoms, the necessity for transformation and restitution.

The panel recognises, and is conscious that much attention has already been paid to aspects of the terms of reference, to different degrees and with different outcomes, and that there exists an evidence base in both science and practice in many of the areas of concern. The panel will draw on these resources, other relevant reports and this will inform the engagement with the public.

In addition, the panel’s approach is to facilitate an engagement that is premised on the terms of reference but, within reason, allow for innovative and informed recommendations that will lead to balanced, inclusive report to the minister.

To this end the panel is aware that there may be imperatives such as transformation, restoration, and rewilding as processes for our rural landscapes, but also a need to ensure a vibrant and inclusive wildlife economy. Thriving populations of elephant, lion, rhino, and leopard may serve as symbols and flagships for this.

Given this context, the panel would appreciate both specific and broad submissions, which will enable diverse voices to be heard and internalized by the panel during the process. Furthermore, the panel encourages submissions for all interested and affected parties, in order to enrich the deliberations in such a manner as to allow consideration from multiple perspectives, such that we ensure broad relevance and applicability of the recommendations of the panel, and that they are informed by the rights, values, aspirations, and ambitions of the people.

The notice calling for submissions was published on March 27 2020 by the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy, in Government Gazette 47173 (Notice No. 221) in terms of the National  Environmental Management Act, 1998.

All submissions must be made by June 15 2020 to:

Chairperson: Advisory Committee (High-Level Panel)
C/O Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries
Attention:  Pamela Singh/Ms Ofentse Mashiyane
Private Bag X447
Pretoria
0001

Reception
Environment House
473 Steve Biko Road
Arcadia
Pretoria
0083

By email: submission2HLP@environment.gov.za

Any enquiries in connection with the notice can be directed to:
Ofentse Mashiyane
Tel: 012 399 8769
E-mail: omashiyane@environment.gov.za

Chi Initiative partners with Da Nang local government to reduce demand for wildlife products (Viet Nam

By Conservation, Demand Reduction No Comments

Traffic | May 20, 2020

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DA NANG, VIET NAM: TRAFFIC’s Chi Initiative has partnered with the People’s Committee of Da Nang City to place public service announcements (PSAs) against illegal wildlife consumption in 13 strategic locations around the city, including the Da Nang International Airport, for six months. The PSAs, which have been on display in the city since March, will be seen by an estimated 8.7 million residents and visitors.

The Chi Initiative is a social and behaviour change communication campaign created by TRAFFIC and funded by the USAID Wildlife Asia project aimed at reducing demand for rhino horn and other illegal wildlife products. The initiative targets wealthy Vietnamese businessmen—a key market segment that, based on consumer research conducted by USAID in Vietnam in 2018, consumes illegal wildlife products as a display of wealth/social status and/or for perceived health benefits.

The Chi Initiative reminds all Vietnamese that success and health come from one’s own life choices rather than from illegal wildlife products. The health messages are especially timely in light of the recent spread of the COVID-19 virus, which scientists believe may have been transmitted to humans through exposure to illegal wildlife.

“USAID is pleased to be working together with the People’s Committee of Da Nang to strengthen efforts to end illegal wildlife consumption in Da Nang and help protect the health of Vietnamese citizens and the wellbeing of threatened species around the world,” said USAID/Vietnam Mission Director Michael Greene.

The Da Nang City People’s Committee joined the Chi Initiative to boost efforts to counter the consumption of illegal wildlife products. Through the Committee’s involvement, eight PSAs are being displayed free of charge at the Da Nang Airport and on LED screens in five locations around the city. The Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) Da Nang, a long-standing Chi Initiative partner, helped organise the displays.

“There has never been a more critical time to endorse Chi messages. They remind us of the strength and resilience of our people, which are so important as we collectively fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Our partnership with USAID is a continuing effort to make Da Nang illegal wildlife free, which is critical to the sustainable development of the city,” said Mr. Nguyen Tien Quang, Director of VCCI Da Nang.

Da Nang City was identified by a USAID 2018 consumer research as a consumption hotspot for illegal wildlife products and has been the site of many recent wildlife seizures, including a record-breaking 9.1-ton ivory seizure in March 2019. The Initiative has already had successes in the region. Chi workshops held in 2019 have inspired three managers of local resorts to become champions against illegal wildlife consumption by holding counter wildlife trafficking (CWT) training sessions for their staff and displaying CWT messages in their workplaces.

Wildlife at risk as hunger encircles Kruger Park

By Conservation No Comments
Ed Stoddard, The Daily Maverick | May 20, 2020

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The US government, even under Donald Trump, still has some socially useful global services.

One is the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fewsnet), an arm of the US Agency for International Development (USAID). A glance at its “Acute Food Insecurity” map reveals an arresting pattern.

A huge swathe of Mozambique, including the border areas with the Kruger Park, are shaded orange. That represents the “crisis” level of hunger. The next level is “emergency” followed by “famine”. The map of Zimbabwe is also sprinkled orange, with a big chunk on or near the Kruger’s northern border. (See map)

Most of southern Africa, including South Africa, is shaded white, which means hunger stress is minimal. That is highly questionable – a plethora of reports shows that many people in this country are hungry and even starving. And among those worst-affected are the millions of South Africans who have been thrown out of work because of the lockdown measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Fewsnet map does not capture this, but many of the communities that border Kruger on the south and west – the South African sides – rely heavily on the tourism sector. And that has utterly collapsed. Some of the jobs in the sector are skilled and pay relatively good wages. But the sector is also labour-intensive, and like most such industries in South Africa, many of the jobs it has sustained are low-wage domestic work.

This means that many of the people in the industry who have lost their jobs were not exactly living high on the hog and they in turn often support a large number of dependants through extended family networks in a region with sky-high unemployment.

There is no data on exactly how many people have lost work in the areas around the park. Farming is also an important employer in the region – sugar cane, bananas, avocados and citrus are among the crops grown there – and agriculture is an “essential service”.

But farmworkers’ wages are also generally low, so it is not much of a social safety net. And in 2019, Limpopo, according to Stats SA, had the highest headcount of adult poverty in all provinces, at 67.5%. That has surely risen dramatically in recent weeks, and would include communities around the Kruger.

In short, the park is being encircled by human misery and hunger. That is simply a fact, and a rather stark one with fairly predictable consequences.

In December 2018, this correspondent visited Kruger on a media trip for another publication. With the rhino population in decline after a decade of relentless poaching to meet Asian demand for the species’ horns, a new wave of illicit hunting was sweeping the park: the use of snares to feed an emerging market in bushmeat and muti.

Glenn Phillips, the Kruger’s managing executive, told me at the time that there was a rapidly growing bushmeat and muti trade linked to poverty. According to the latest census data, two million people live on the park’s western boundary and the unemployment rate in the area is between 40 and 60% – a rate which has unquestionably surged in recent months.

In 2014, around 180 snares were collected in the southwest boundary area of the park. In 2018, that number had soared to 1,600 – an almost tenfold increase which even more intensive monitoring could not possibly account for.

Original photo as published by the Daily Maverick. Staff of Mozambican anti-poaching authorities stand in a line ahead of a demonstration for journalists at the Limpopo National Park, just across the Kruger National Park, Gaza Province, Mozambique, 07 March 2016. (Photo: EPA/SHIRAAZ MOHAMED)

SANParks has not yet responded to Daily Maverick queries regarding the current poaching situation. The lockdown is no doubt throwing some obstacles in the way of poaching networks, which are often linked to organised crime. But given the trend, it seems likely that the demand for bushmeat must be growing along with the number of people desperate enough to turn to poaching.

“The impact of the pandemic on protected areas is already severe. And the communities around them are threatened with an economic catastrophe as Covid-19 wipes out local economies, tourism, and conservation jobs and benefits. I think we’re likely to see sharp increases in bushmeat poaching and snaring. Poaching of high-value species could also increase as lockdowns ease and new and well-trodden smuggling routes reopen,” Julian Rademeyer, the East and Southern Africa director for the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, told Daily Maverick.

The Kruger, it must be said, has always been surrounded by poverty – ecotourism only goes so far as a job and income generator. It is like an island in a sea of poverty, which is clearly one of the reasons why it has been such a magnet for poaching.

Original photo as published by the Daily Maverick. Nkwe Security staff conduct a patrol by open Land Rover for rhinos and potential poaching threats on a game farm in the Waterberg district, some 350km north-west of Johannesburg, South Africa, 09 September 2010. (Photo: EPA/JON HRUSA)

Untold numbers of Mozambicans have also tried to seek economic opportunity in the continent’s most advanced economy by crossing the Kruger on foot – a huge risk that underscores the depths of poverty in the region. There is no accurate data on how many have perished in the attempt.

One person who has tried is US journalist Robert Frump. In his book The Man-Eaters of Eden, he came to a rough tally of the number of refugees killed by lions in the park, based on estimates of refugee traffic through Kruger and a lion kill rate of 1%. He calculated Kruger lions had killed and consumed 13,380 Mozambicans between 1960 and 2005. That is ultimately a thumb-suck and experts in the field have questioned its methodology. But as hunger grows in Mozambique, a swelling number of desperate people may well be taking this trek through a deadly faunal gauntlet.

Kruger is like an island in other ways as well. It is a fragment of wildlife habitat – one about the size of Israel – which is its chief draw as a tourist attraction. And wildlife at the moment is well down on the list of priorities as the social and human health needs triggered by the pandemic and lockdown mushroom.

Many affluent people might well recoil in horror at the prospect of an upsurge in poaching in the park from already elevated levels. The park’s rangers, who include in their ranks many gallant and courageous individuals, are no doubt doing what they can to stem the tide. But the focus will and must be on addressing the hunger that is stalking the park’s boundaries.

This is all part and parcel of a wider crisis in animal welfare and conservation that is unfolding on the world’s poorest continent. Business Maverick has already reported that South Africa’s once-thriving game farming industry is under unprecedented pressure because its sources of revenue – hunting, tourism and sales – have evaporated since March.

Across Africa, Kruger will not be the only island of wildlife habitat in a sea of growing human suffering. I spoke to Craig Parker, an ecologist at the University of Minnesota, about the issue. His focus is lion conservation – he is widely regarded as the world’s foremost authority on the big cats.

“Until three or four months ago, I felt that the best hope for lion conservation was large scale ‘eco philanthropy’ as well as significant institutional support from the World Bank and similar global financial institutions. The scale of the problem is huge and cannot be achieved from ecotourism alone. But my worldview has been shattered by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Wildlife tourism is gone this year and maybe the next, and the World Bank will have to respond to the enormous economic challenges facing every country on earth. Meanwhile, food supplies face major disruptions and many local communities will be looking to survive on whatever they can capture in the bush. And afterwards, we don’t know how willing the global community will be to devote resources to African wildlife,” Packer told me.

It is an old cliche in some conservation and development circles that “wildlife must pay for itself” in Africa. What happens when there is no one to write the cheque?

Horrific scale of SA’s live wild animal trade to China exposed

By Conservation No Comments

 

Chimpanzees, Bengal tigers, wolves, wild dogs and lions are among thousands of endangered wild animals exported, sometimes in contravention of CITES regulations, often in shameful conditions.

At a time when the entire globe is reeling from a deadly disease that originated in wild animals and many species face the risk of extinction, a new report just released reveals that thousands of live wild animals  – continued to be exported from South Africa to China right up to lockdown, purely for profit.

Its findings provide damning evidence of dysfunctional regulations and permitting procedures, criminality and greed alongside a deep neglect of animal welfare concerns and nature conservation principles.

Gambling with global health

The hard-hitting investigative report published by two South African organisations, the EMS Foundation and Ban Animal Trading, shows that between 2015 and 2019, at least 5035 live wild animals were legally exported from South Africa to China.

This “extremely conservative estimate” is based on the painstaking inspection of hundreds of export permits, which are often difficult to obtain, and on in-person visits to the destinations in China to which the animals were supposedly delivered.

The list of animals exported comprises a bewildering array of species ranging from the relatively mundane kudu and giraffe to chimpanzees, African penguins, wolves, ring-tailed lemurs and no fewer than 45 Bengal tigers.

Trading living wild animals on international markets considerably increases the risk of future outbreaks of zoonotic illnesses like Covid-19, which are hosted by animals and transmitted to humans, by bringing disease vectors (bacteria and viruses) into closer proximity to people. In the case of Covid-19, there is scientific evidence to suggest that highly-trafficked and endangered Malayan pangolins sold in Chinese ‘wet’ markets acted as an intermediary link between virus-hosting bats and humans.

The connection between the industry and disease transmission is well established and its scale illustrates the immense threat it represents to our health. Globally, exports were estimated at some 100 million animals per year in 2014. In China, alone, the trade and consumption of wild animals – much of it illegal and most of it unregulated – is valued at a staggering 520 billion yuan (US$74 billion).

It should come as no surprise then, that the “multiple of 1 billion direct and indirect contacts among wildlife, humans, and domestic animals” resulting from the wildlife trade annually, represents a major public health problem and that mathematical models confirm the dramatic increase in the probability of future zoonotic disease outbreaks.

As a major exporter of live wild animals, South Africa’s considerable contribution to this multi-billion rand business not only potentially exposes local workers to diseases – known or as yet undiscovered – but it also helps to legitimise an industry that puts people around the globe at risk of deadly pandemics and the economic mayhem they trigger.

Astonishingly, the report notes that South African exports continued even at the time when China reached its peak of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Poorly regulated trade

It bears emphasising that all of the trade in wild animals described in the report is supposedly legal. At least some of it is meant to be monitored and controlled through a system of regulations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

In inspecting hundreds of South African export permits, however, the authors have documented numerous instances in which the CITES regulations were treated casually at best and disregarded entirely at worst.

Examples include incorrectly dated, undated and unsigned permits, permits listing incorrect numbers, ages and places of origin for the animals involved, as well as permits giving untraceable or fictitious destination addresses in China and illegal shipments masked as legitimate exports.

There appears to be little vetting of traders – both exporters and importers – some of which have in the past been implicated in illicit wildlife trafficking themselves or been associated with criminal smuggling syndicates.

In an illustrative case, 18 chimpanzees were legally exported from the Hartebeespoort Snake and Animal Park – not a CITES-registered chimpanzee breeding facility – to the Beijing Wild Animal Park in 2019. According to the researchers the permit documents include no evidence to confirm that the chimpanzees, a species listed on CITES’ Appendix I, indicating its status as threatened with extinction, were either legally acquired by the seller or bred in captivity rather than caught in the wild (as is required by CITES regulations). In the absence of this crucial information, a permit should never have been issued.

In another instance, the unsigned import permit for ten cheetahs, also an Appendix I species, sold to the Zhengzhou Zoo in 2018, was only issued after the export permit was issued, which is in violation of CITES regulations.

In the case of animals that don’t appear on any CITES Appendix, of which there were at least 2,465 between 2014 and 2019, trade is even less regulated, with their origin or destination frequently unknown.

This includes African Wild Dogs, 35 of which made their way to China in 2018 and 2019, even though they are classified as endangered in South Africa and included on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s infamous Red List.

Of the 1394 meerkats exported during the period investigated, the destination of 1154 is unknown, and while 321 giraffes were sold to Jinan Wildlife World, a visit to this zoo found only 16 individuals present with the whereabouts of the others unknown.

According to the report, “the majority of the permits were in breach of CITES regulations, and contained one or more false, vague or questionable declarations”. The authors conclude that in most cases “the exports that have been permitted should never have been allowed to take place.”

While “the ‘box-ticking exercise’ that defines CITES […] creates the illusion of a well-controlled system of compliance, efficiency and verification and therefore protection”, the distressing picture that emerges is one of an extremely lucrative trade riddled with frequently exploited regulatory gaps and loopholes along with rules that are scandalously lacking in transparency, implementation, oversight or enforcement on either the South African or Chinese side.

Instead of offering protection for individual animals, endangered species and human health, this system facilitates illegal trafficking by providing a front for laundering animals caught in the wild into the nominally legal trade and stimulating demand for them in Chinese markets.

Animal welfare concerns

While CITES rules are supposed to guarantee that exported live wild animals go to “appropriate and acceptable destinations”, those traded from South Africa to China may end up being used as pets, curios, food, ingredients in traditional medical practices, zoo exhibits or laboratory test subjects.

The report notes that since many animals are sold on to unknown third parties by the initial importers, their final destination is frequently impossible to ascertain.

Facilities housing imported wild animals in China are often of an inferior standard. In the case of the chimpanzees sold to the Beijing Wild Animal Park, for example, their accommodation was not yet completed on their arrival in the country and the facility did not have qualified staff to take care of them.

Many of the animals are destined for China’s thousands of government-run or privately-owned “safari parks”, zoos, theme parks and circuses for the sole purpose of entertainment. According to the report, several of these institutions have been exposed for animal abuse, poor conditions and facilities, training wild animals to perform for audiences and illegally buying wild-caught animals.

Most of the non-human primates exported from South Africa, including hundreds of marmosets, are sold to brokers, wholesalers and breeding farms, and many of them end up in laboratories conducting experiments, including vivisection, for the biomedical, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.

Morally bankrupt government policies

The evidence presented in the report makes it abundantly clear that South Africa’s trade in live wild animals has no conservation value whatsoever. Given the involvement of endangered species, the frequently dubious final destinations in China and the fact that the trade stimulates growing demand, it’s more likely to have a detrimental impact on biodiversity and species survival.

The true motivation for this industry is not hard to find. The 18 chimps exported from a commercial entity in South Africa for supposedly non-commercial purposes to a commercial entity in China came at a cost of over R7.5-million. The report lists the going price for 100 meerkats at R600,000, 57 giraffes at R 7-million and 18 African Wild Dogs at R1-million.

The South African government has been actively enabling this profit-driven industry for years. It has done so through its laissez-faire disregard for CITES and its own export regulations and through its aggressive promotion of a ‘sustainable use’ philosophy that treats wild animals as mere commodities to be bred and sold while leaving conservation concerns to the supposed benevolence of international markets. The only invisible hand at play, however, is that of the neoliberal ideologues and profiteers that appear to have the ear of the powers that be in Pretoria.

According to Michele Pickover, the director of the EMS Foundation, copies of an earlier and equally damaging EMS/Ban Animal Trading report on South Africa’s trade in lion bones clearly detailing illegal activities was sent to various domestic authorities and individuals in government. “We never received any response from any of them,” she says. “This is not a case of incompetence. They are ignoring us.”

Given the Covid-19 disaster, ignoring this issue amounts to criminal negligence. As long as the South African government continues to support and legitimise an industry that endangers the biodiversity of domestic ecosystems while exposing the entire world to novel zoonotic diseases, it bears some responsibility for the devastating ecological, human health and financial consequences it causes.

The authors call for government to abandon its controversial wildlife trade policies and to ban the export of living wild animals and their body parts altogether.

Original article: https:

Wildlife tourism in the pandemic: what will happen to the parks, staff and animals?

By Conservation, Tourism No Comments
Nita Bhalla & Harry Jacques, Thompson Reuters Foundation/World Economic Forum | May 13, 2020

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For more than two decades, M Khairi spent his days working as a park guide, accompanying a steady trickle of tourists keen to trek across the lush forests of western Indonesia or spot an endangered orangutan.

But like thousands of others who earn a living from the 56 conservation sites across the archipelago – all shuttered since March to help stem the spread of the novel coronavirus – Khairi is now out of a job and struggling to make ends meet.

“It’s enough to buy rice,” said the 48-year-old, whose income has plummeted about 75% to $17 per week.

“Around 500 of us have lost our jobs,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation of his fellow guides at the Gunung Leuser National Park on Sumatra island.

Globally, more than 3.5 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed, with deaths topping 250,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

As countries move to contain the respiratory disease by shutting down their economies and enforcing restrictions on movement, national parks and conservation areas are also feeling the pain.

From guides and forest communities who rely on visitors for a living, to conservation efforts in protected areas and the wildlife that depend on those habitats, environmentalists warn the pandemic could have far-reaching consequences.

Orangutans in Gunung Leuser National Park on Sumatra Island. Around 500 guides have lost their jobs here as coronavirus halts nature-based tourism worldwide. Employees and their communities are struggling to stay afloat. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Indonesia’s foreign tourist arrivals fell 64% year-on-year in March to about 471,000, or fewer than half of January’s number, as the coronavirus outbreak discouraged travel, data from the statistics bureau showed.

The government has warned that the country could lose more than $10 billion in tourism revenue this year.

Khairi, who has four children to support, has managed to find low-paid manual work in a rubber plantation but has received no financial help from the local government and is worried about the future.

“It’s very bad for all of us now,” he said.

Criminal networks

In Africa, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit communities that rely on the wildlife tourism business for their survival in countries like Rwanda, Kenya and Botswana.

More than 70 million tourists visited Africa last year, according to the U.N. World Tourism Organization – many enticed by safaris, game drives or trophy hunting.

But with airports and borders now closed, most of those revenues have evaporated overnight.

Not only has that cut off the economic activities of millions of impoverished families living in and around Africa’s national parks and protected reserves, it has also damaged forest conservation and anti-poaching efforts.

With little government funding, the continent’s national parks largely depend on tourism revenue to run their operations and care for the animals and plants that thrive there.

“The lack of funds means parks cannot do frequent patrols as they need fuel for their cars and they need food for rangers to go on patrol,” said Kaddu Sebunya, chief executive officer of the African Wildlife Foundation.

“There are no tourists and fewer rangers around due to social distancing measures, making it easy for criminal networks to harvest natural resources.”

Sebunya said his biggest worry was for the 20 million-30 million Africans who earn a livelihood directly or indirectly from tourism.

Many are involved in eco-tourism projects – from running safari lodges to giving village tours or selling traditional produce and handicrafts – and have no other way to eke out a living besides subsistence farming.

Ballooning over the Maasai Mara in Kenya. “There are no tourists and fewer rangers around due to social distancing measures, making it easy for criminal networks to harvest natural resources,” says Kaddu Sebunya, chief executive officer of the African Wildlife Foundation. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Conservationists fear that desperate communities – which have for decades helped control deforestation and poaching – may be exploited by criminal gangs to poach endangered animals or cut down trees for the charcoal trade, to get by.

“People are not going to sit home and starve. They will rely on what natural resources are next to them. If it’s a forest, they will cut the trees. If it’s a park, they will hunt the animals. If it’s a river, they will over-fish,” said Sebunya.

Those laid off from jobs in tourism lodges or as rangers “know the parks better than anyone else” and are at risk of being targeted for recruitment by poachers, he added.

‘Desperate times’

The 46 UK-based charities that form The Wildlife Trusts are also dealing with unprecedented challenges from the pandemic.

Conservation in Britain – one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries – has become harder than ever during the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Some staff at the network have been furloughed while those still working have lost valuable time on dealing with a proliferation of illegal activities such as shooting wildlife and fly-tipping, it said.

Vital conservation work has had to be put on hold, meanwhile, leading to an explosion of invasive species, deterioration of rare wildflower meadows, stalled reintroduction of wildlife and potential loss of species such as dormice.

“These are desperate times for our movement as income from visitor centres and fundraisers has crashed, yet the demands of caring for thousands of nature reserves are higher than ever,” said Craig Bennett, CEO of The Wildlife Trusts.

Bennett also pointed to the negative impact of delays in new legislation, the halting of animal vaccination programmes and beach clean-ups, and a rise in fly-tipping, vandalism and theft on nature reserves, as well as illegal shooting of rare birds.

Governments worldwide have their hands full dealing with the “human emergency” of COVID-19, making it difficult to argue for investment in nature right now, said Onno van den Heuvel, global manager of the Biodiversity Finance Initiative at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

But biodiversity conservation provides an estimated 22 million jobs globally, he said, adding that during lockdowns, people could help by crowdfunding ongoing projects.

UNDP is now considering specific crowdfunding campaigns for three to six countries to raise money to keep rangers in their jobs, for example, while also supporting their communities, many of whom were already poor before the pandemic, he added.

“Parks are closed, tourists are at home, and their revenue sources have been drying up – and they’re really in immediate need of additional funding,” he said.

 

South Africa traffics thousands of endangered wild animals to China in ‘corrupt and growing’ trade, investigation finds

By Conservation, Illegal trade No Comments
Jane Dalton, The Independent  | May 17, 2020

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South African traders with China are illegally selling thousands of wild animals threatened with extinction and endangered, under the guise of legal exports, according to an investigation.

Monkeys have been stolen from the wild, and together with cheetahs, tigers, rhinos, lions and meerkats, they have been trafficked to circuses, theme parks, laboratories, zoos and “safari parks”, researchers found.

Their report says at least 5,035 live wild animals were exported to China from 2016 to last year – “an extremely conservative” estimate – including chimpanzees and “a bewildering number” of giraffe, which “are also eaten in China”.

The researchers uncovered how some traders have links to international organised crime syndicates and the system is riddled with fake permits, but not a single offender has been prosecuted. After arriving in China, where laws on captive-animal welfare are “non-existent”, South Africa’s animals often become untraceable or disappeared, suggesting they either died or were sold on, the report says.

To make matters worse, in a trade that is expanding, “treating wildlife as if it is merely a commodity to be farmed” risks “unleashing myriad Covid-type diseases”.

The South Africa-based groups Ban Animal Trading (BAT) and the charitable EMS Foundation, which examined wild animal exports from 2016-19, hit out at the supposed myth that legal trade crowds out the illegal trade and that animals are treated well in legal deals.

“The legal and illegal trade are so intertwined as to be functionally inseparable,” the report states. “The research demonstrates that South Africa’s live wild animal trade with China is riddled with irregularities that are exploited by traffickers. There are gaping loopholes in the global permitting, enforcement and oversight system.”

Zoos, as well as brokers and wholesale companies, are behind the trafficking of animals caught from the wild, going to destinations that are often pure fiction; most permits are in breach of regulations, and their verification largely absent, meaning most wild animal exports in 2016-19 were probably illegal, according to the report authors.

Regulation is “failing dismally, imparting a false sense of security for those who believe that the international trade in wildlife is justified and sustainable” while “such security is wildly misplaced and, far from contributing to conservation, the legal trade is one of the single biggest factors currently undermining conservation.”

The two groups examined the scope of South Africa’s trade with Beijing by visiting the claimed destinations, examining licences and analysing data from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

“Our investigation of theme parks and zoos revealed that nearly all trained primates are not bred in captivity, but were wild-caught and illegally traded out of Africa and Indonesia,” according to the study, which also says South African exotic primate breeders export hundreds of marmosets to Chinese laboratories or breeding farms each year.

And the trade in chimps violated several regulations, yet there were no repercussions, the groups said.

More than 100 South African giraffes were sent to a Chinese zoo that holds the world record for having the highest number of hybrid animals “which have zero conservation value”.

But a global system of paper export permits allows for pervasive fraud, with widespread false declarations by traders, agents and exporters, the research found, and “once animals leave South Africa it is impossible to identify where they will land up”.

The South African government says the country ranks as the fifth-richest in Africa and the 24th richest in the world for numbers of endemic species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. It says rhino horn sales are subject to strict regulation including documentation.

South Africa is not the only country that sells wildlife to Asia. Zimbabwe has regularly exported young elephants to zoos in China since 2012 – 108 in all, according to Humane Society International.

Zimbabwe has previously said it has more elephants than it can cope with, and must be allowed to benefit from their numbers.

Demand in China for products made from all types of wildlife remains high, with a 2018 investigation finding tiger wine openly sold in shops. The report authors note that consumption of animals including tigers, threatening wild populations, is legitimised by captive breeding. There are more tigers in captivity in the world than in the wild, WWF figures show.

The report authors say photos taken at Chinese importing centres, showing barren enclosures, “tell their own story of animal welfare violation and naked greed”, while the wildlife trade allows Covid-type disease to spread.

Calling for “transformative changes” to prevent more wildlife exploitation, and prevent more coronaviruses, the study warns: “Nothing short of a global paradigm shift is necessary if we are to prevent further planetary disruption that unleashes Covid-type viruses.” The changes would include a ban on “wet” live animal markets, captive wild animal breeding and the stigmatisation of wildlife trade and consumption.

“Certainly there is no clear evidence that the legal trade somehow crowds out illegal trade,” the report says. “If anything, the presence of a legal trade … normalises consumption and triggers demand for wild-origin animals for commercial use and consumption.” And it condemns the idea of well regulated markets as a smokescreen for vested interests.

“Animals confined to life in captivity are welfare-deprived to the point that we are eroding our own humanity by continuing to endorse this system,” the document says.

Two years ago, a report by the same groups concluded South Africa’s growing trade in lion bones should be halted, and keeping and breeding lions and tigers should be curbed.

The Independent is campaigning for tighter regulation of the world’s wildlife trade.

No, the South African government is not planning to legalise the eating of rhino meat

By Conservation No Comments
Tamlyn Jolly, The Zululand Observer | May 16, 2020

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A recent article claiming that it would soon be legal to eat a variety of wildlife, including rhinoceros, set the internet alight with debate and made its way to the Africa Check fact checking site, which investigated the claim.

The article stated that an amendment to the Meat Safety Act ‘expands the list of animals that may be legally consumed by humans’.

It went on to say that the list included many threatened species, including rhino, elephant and giraffe.

The Meat Safety Act of 2000 referred to in the article regulates how animals should be slaughtered, if it is legal to do so, it does not make any decisions on which animals are to be slaughtered.

The Act regulates abattoirs, and promotes the safety of meat and meat products.

Schedule 1 lists animals to which the Act applies, which are currently domesticated animals including cattle, poultry and horses, and 15 wild game species, including the African elephant.

In late February, the Department of Agriculture published a proposed amendment to the Act for public comment.

The proposed amendments expanded schedule 1 to include all species of animals under a list of 75 orders, families, subfamilies or genera.

Included on the expanded list are all rhino species in the world, the Indian and Asian elephant, and the American bison, among others.

According to Africa Check, by the time the article in question had been published, the department had already dismissed claims that the proposed amendment to the Act would effectively legalise the consumption of protected species.

‘Contrary to some misconceptions regarding the purpose of the amendment of the schedule, the addition of more animals to the list will allow the regulators to have more control on how animals are slaughtered for human and animal consumption,’ said the department.

It further said that listing an animal on the schedule does not encourage the slaughter of those listed animals, and that the decision on which animals can be slaughtered lies outside of the mandate of the Meat Safety Act.

The Department of Agriculture has extended the deadline for public comment to the proposed amendment to 30 June.

Conservation must not be a COVID victim

By Antipoaching, Conservation No Comments
John Scanlon, for The Independent | May 13, 2020

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Several hundred miles north of a dwindling Ebola outbreak, rangers at Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are most concerned with how the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to play out around the world.

Up until this year, Ebola was perhaps the scariest disease on the planet. Arising at times when human activity expands into and damages the West and Central African rainforests, the disease set off a global panic in 2014 when seven cases appeared outside the African continent. But in 2020, COVID-19 is now the scariest, with its impacts slamming all facets of the global economy.

With so many funding sources decimated, everyone expects a precipitous drop in conservation efforts this year. In Garamba, the fear that poachers will take advantage of the situation is almost palpable. But more than just Garamba’s endangered wildlife hangs in the balance.

The world has entered a crisis of extinction, with almost all of its biodiversity under some kind of threat. In 2019, a report released by scientists from 134 UN member states found that the planet’s natural ecosystems have declined by an average of 47%. Approximately one million plant and animal species were found to be threatened with extinction.

The report emphasised that conserving the world’s most intact ecosystems has to be a global priority, a finding echoed by a report released at the start of 2020 by the World Economic Forum (WEF). The WEF report noted that the severe decline in biodiversity threatened food security, public health, and commerce around the world, and could magnify the worst impacts of climate change.

In that light, Garamba provides a success story for low and middle-income countries that have limited capacity to invest in nature conservation. Grants from donor countries and philanthropists have funded the park enforcement and community engagement, which in turn has curtailed poaching.

Elephant poaching alone has dropped by more than 90% in the past four years, and, concurrently, studies show that elephant populations are now recovering. The number of critically endangered Kordofan Giraffes in the park has stabilised and even started to increase again as the park prepares to explore the viability of tourism and additional revenue generating activities.

The giraffes and elephants and other charismatic large animals are obvious benchmarks for success, but Garamba’s story extends beyond their recovery. The park has succeeded because of the partnerships built with the local communities, who have lived in and managed this area for generations. Out of the park’s 523 employees, 95% are DRC nationals with 74% coming from the local province of Haut-Uele.

Garamba supports two local schools and its mobile health clinics and hospital served nearly 25,000 community members in 2019. Additionally, water sources for 24 villages have been constructed or rehabilitated, bringing clean water to more than 7,000 people.

Keeping this economic development in mind, one can easily make the point that these investments help countries meet many of the commitments made in UN conventions and agreed global goals—from sustainable development and public health to biodiversity conservation and climate change.

While international tourism revenues for 2020 are fast disappearing, it remains imperative for business, donors and governments to continue to invest in conservation, not only for its own sake, but to help avert the next pandemic, mitigate climate change and retain tourism appeal.

We need to be creative in achieving this goal by tapping business, national governments and donor budgets. As the benefits of effective nature conservation extend well beyond wildlife populations and attractive scenery—including health, development and security benefits—so too must the sources of financing. It would take a fraction of the program budgets in these other fields to deliver on nature conservation.

When they do, we can keep more natural places intact and allow endangered ecosystems to recover. Research finds that such efforts are successful; an analysis of conservation spending between 1992 and 2003—a total of $14.4 billion spent by 109 countries—cut the rate of biodiversity decline in each country by an average of 29%.

These successes have been noticed and embraced by a growing number of nations. Rwanda, for example, has grown its tourism industry by investing in conservation. One quarter of almost $10 million invested last year was to support Volcanoes National Park—one of the few places in the world where mountain gorillas can be found. As a result, tourists coming to see these primates have generated $19.2 million of revenue in 2019 alone, along with many decent local jobs.

While this revenue stream will not hold steady in 2020, the gorilla population can continue its recovery after decades of decline only if the protected areas are maintained and if conservation programmes can continue to be adequately funded during and after this pandemic. This will require a collective effort of business, government and donors; the tourists and the jobs will not return if the gorillas disappear.

The same reasoning motivates the rangers at Garamba to redouble efforts amidst warning signs of a surge in wildlife poaching.  Gains have been made but they are fragile. If enforcement programmes cannot remain vigilant and lose the engagement and support of local communities, the modest recovery of the Kordofan Giraffe can be swiftly reversed.

The impacts of the 2014-16 outbreak of Ebola were terrible and the current COVID-19 pandemic has caused incalculable social and economic distress, but the next disease to emerge from damaged nature could be even worse.

Nature conservation has never been more important and we cannot risk it becoming another victim of COVID-19—it must become an investment priority of business, donors and government. If not, I fear we may find ourselves back in the same bleak place in the not too distant future.

John E Scanlon was Secretary General of CITES from 2010-2018 and is now the Special Envoy of African Parks

 

Take all measures to prevent poaching of animals in Kaziranga: Sonowal (State of Assam, India)

By Antipoaching, Conservation No Comments
The Shillong Times | May 14, 2020

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GUWAHATI: Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has directed the administration of five districts adjoining the Kaziranga National Park to ensure protection of wildlife from poaching and provide the animals adequate relief during flood.

Considering the setback faced by the tourism sector during the coronavirus-induced nationwide lockdown, Sonowal also asked the officials to prepare a plan to rejuvenate tourism at the Kaziranga National Park, declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The chief minister said this while reviewing preparation of Golaghat, Nagaon, Sonitpur, Biswanath and Karbi Anglong districts on wildlife protection during the forthcoming monsoon season in a meeting, held at Kaziranga in Golaghat district, on Tuesday.

To strengthen anti-poaching drive at the park famed for one-horned rhinoceros, the chief minister asked the district administration and the forest department to engage village headmen, tea garden sardars and people with strong grassroots connection living in the adjoining areas in the wildlife protection endeavours.

Mentioning that Kaziranga National Park (KNP) has global importance, Sonowal said that any untoward incident that takes place in the park draws attention of the people worldwide.

Noting that the Assam governments strong measures have led to considerable drop in the number of poaching at the park, Sonowal said fast track courts set up by Gauhati High Court as per the state governments request have so far convicted several poachers and handed them exemplary punishment. He observed that steps of this kind have instilled fear in the mind of poachers and left positive impact on wildlife protection.

He also stressed on the need to make the wildlife protection measures of the forest department more visible and directed the department to fill up all vacancies.

The forest department was further directed to carry out a survey to assess the impact of the highlands developed inside the park on the wildlife and its use by the animals during flood.

He also asked the park authorities to be prepared with adequate food stock so that it could be provided to the animals during flood.

In view of African swine fever infection reported in different parts of the state, the chief minister urged officials of the five districts to ensure that intermingling of domestic and wild pigs does not take place.

Due to African swine fever, movement of domestic pigs are restricted to stop the infection from spreading.

Covid-19 is putting the country’s hard-earned conservation accomplishments at risk, conservationists warn (Nepal)

By Conservation, Science and technology No Comments
Chandan Kumar Mandal, The Kathmandu Post | May 14, 2020

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The Covid-19 pandemic is threatening the country’s years of nature conservation achievements, with potential repercussions for years to come, conservationists have warned.

In a statement, Society for Conservation Biology (SCB Nepal), a non-governmental organisation of professional conservationists, said that it is concerned about how the Covid-19 pandemic will affect conservation communities in Nepal: practitioners, researchers and everyone.

“Although it is too early to make a conclusion about the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, SCB-Nepal is alarmed about its possible repercussions on biodiversity and our ability to continue conservation achievements,” reads the statement.

The conservations’ concerns stem from the pandemic and the resultant lockdown, into eight weeks now, which has led to suspension of all non-essential activities.

According to Prakash K Paudel, president of the SCB Nepal, the Covid-19 pandemic, which has affected every sector globally, will leave short- and long-term impacts on Nepal’s conservation sector.

“Conservation research has been disrupted, making it difficult to generate good knowledge and train young researchers,” Paudel told the Post. “Such disruption will mean there will be less funding available from the conservation organisations and government agencies, and such restriction would stop researchers from continuing with their work on the ground.”

Raju Acharya, another conservationist, said regular conservation and research-related activities have been completely halted.

“Field researchers have not been able to work on the ground. For example, our research on the clouded leopard has been put on hold for now,” said Acharya, who is also executive director of Friends of Nature Nepal, an organisation that works with the environment and in wildlife conservation.

“The trouble due to Covid-19 has already made it worse for small organisations which rely on small-scale grants for research. They have completely stopped for now. For example, zoos, which also support wildlife research from its income, have stopped financial assistance as zoos have remained shut for weeks now.”

Nepal has made some remarkable strides in conservation over the last decades, as a result, the country has witnessed a rise in many wildlife populations like tigers, rhinoceros, elephants, gharials, and blackbuck among others. The country’s green cover has also increased across much of the country.

The decade-long insurgency and political instability resulted in massive loss of the country’s valuable wildlife and led to deforestation in the past, according to conservationists. Now, the Covid-19 crisis has caused a sudden disruption in many regular conservation activities on the ground and might put the hard-earned achievements at risk, they say.

“Nepal’s biggest loss of wildlife, for instance, rhino poaching in Babai Valley and deforestation occurred during the periods of political instability and social unrest. Wildlife hunting, poaching and deforestation escalate during such difficult times,” said Paudel. “We are deeply concerned about recent reports of increased wildlife poaching and deforestation.”

There have been reports of wildlife poaching and increased deforestation in several parts of the country in the wake of the Covid-19-induced lockdown.

“While air quality has improved and nature is taking a break, there have been incidents of poaching and deforestation, mainly in rural areas. Outskirts of urban areas have not faced such problems,” said Acharya. “In rural areas, where people have returned home from cities, they are involved in illegal fishing, killing of wildlife and cutting down forests in the cover of the pandemic.”

Likewise, regular conservation activities have been suspended due to Covid-19 pandemic, fearing infection among park officials and others involved. The rhino count has already been called off for an indefinite period.

According to Paudel, both field-based and laboratory-based conservation research activities have been severely affected, as some field data have to be collected in a specific season, and failing to complete it in the specified time period means that researchers will have to wait until next year.

Not only researchers but also fieldworks of several MSc and PhD students have been cancelled due to the lockdown.

“Our frontline conservation staff are in the urgent need of safety equipment and resources, including better pay during such pandemics and other emergencies. Such a situation discourages them,” said Paudel. “The Nepal government, which is already not very supportive of investing in the conservation sector, will take this situation as an exception to reduce funding on regular programmes.”

Suspension of international flights and zero inflow of tourists have completely devastated Nepal’s nature-based tourism, causing a further drop in revenue–critical to sustaining conservation activities in protected areas and buffer zones.

The Society for Conservation Biology has called on the Nepal government to make more funds available for both research and conservation programs.

According to Acharya, global pandemic might work both ways for the country’s conservation sector in future.

“There is a strong realisation that people destroyed nature so that they are bearing the brunt in the form of Covid-19 pandemic. Governments at all three levels might increase funding for nature conservation now,” said Acharya. “But we also know people tend to forget when the crisis is over.”