Javan Rhino Makes Steady Strides While Sumatran Rhino Population Remains Obscure

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Oishimaya Sen Nag, World Atlas | December 7, 2019

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On November 23, Iman, the last Sumatran rhino of Malaysia, died, making international headlines. But while the country is mourning, hope pours in from neighboring Indonesia where the population of Javan rhinos has risen to 72 individuals.

Sumatran Rhino Population Shrouded in Mystery

The Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) and Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) are both critically endangered species. Habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation, and poaching have severely decimated the populations of both these rhino species. Once widespread through most of Asia, these rhinos are today confined primarily to the eponymous Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java.

Iman was a female Sumatran rhino, about 25 years old, who was captured in 2014 and placed under extreme protection and care at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary at Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Malaysia’s Sabah state. She died of natural causes.

The number of remaining Sumatran rhinos in the wild is largely unknown as the population is severely fragmented. It is estimated that there are fewer than 100 individuals of this species remaining in the wild, mostly in Indonesia, and around 8 in captivity. Some estimates even put the number as low as 30. The lack of knowledge makes it nearly impossible to monitor the trends in population of this rhino species.

In February, Indonesian authorities arranged an exercise for Sumatran rhino researchers to conduct an official count of the species in the country. Results are believed to arrive in three years’ time. Hopefully, the program will give a more accurate picture of the Sumatran rhinos to allow conservation groups to save them in time.

Javan rhinoceros. (Source: Wikipedia)

Javan Rhino Making Steady Strides

The population of Javan rhinos is, however, under strict monitoring as they survive only in the Ujung Kulon National Park (UKNP) on the island of Java, Indonesia.

On Friday, Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry declared in an announcement that the population of Javan rhinos in UKNP had increased to 72 individuals.

The present count obtained through surveys conducted through the end of September exhibits an increase from 68 individuals reported in the last survey. Four new rhino calves were reported in this count! A decade ago, the population of Javan rhinos in UKNP was only 50 but has grown gradually since then. At least one new calf has been counted every year since 2012.

The population in the park appears to have stabilized. Over 20 years have passed without any poaching being reported at the park. The role of the Rhino Protection Units (RPUs) in guarding the world’s last Javan rhinos in UKNP is thus highly commendable.

In 2011, the UKNP authorities launched the Arenga palm removal program that also had positive effects on the resident rhino population. Although the plant occurs naturally in UKNP, it is fast-growing and chokes out other native plants including the favorite food plants of the rhinos. The program was successful in allowing a more secure food resource for the park’s rhinos.

According to the International Rhino Foundation: “The Government of Indonesia and Ujung Kulon National Park have remained steadfast in their commitment to saving the Javan Rhino from extinction. Thanks to these efforts, we have hope for Javan rhinos.”


David Attenborough shocks BBC viewers after coming face-to-face with white rhinos

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Callum Hoare, The Express | December 9, 2019

See link for photos & video.

For the seventh episode of his BBC show, “Seven Worlds, One Planet,” Sir David sent cameras to the continent of Africa, home to more than a billion people who speak 2,000 different languages. However, the legendary presenter, now 93, surprised viewers when he made a rare onscreen appearance for the first time in the series, coming face-to-face with a pair of white rhinos. This was not trivia though, he did so to deliver a serious message about the impact humans have had on this region.

He said on Sunday night: “Of all of Africa’s wildlife, it is the rhinoceros that has been most affected by poaching. “In the Far East, its horn is used as traditional medicine.

“All of Africa’s rhinos are now under threat, but for one subspecies it might be too late.

“The northern white rhinoceros is facing extinction.

“Scientists are working on a solution, but no male now survives, so natural breeding is impossible.

“These two females are the last of their kind.”

Sir David went on to explain the impacts on the entire continent. He added: “When they die, an entire subspecies that inhabited the Earth for millions of years will disappear forever.

“Right across Africa, human beings are having a devastating impact on all wildlife.

“Cheetah numbers are decreasing year on year, today, there are fewer than 8,000 left on the continent.

“The global demand for pangolin scales for use in traditional medicine has now made them the most trafficked animal on the planet. “And western chimpanzee are so threatened by the loss of their habitat that they are now critically endangered.”

Sir David then made an appeal to viewers. He continued: “Deforestation – and not only in Africa – continues on an enormous scale, 64 million acres of forests are destroyed every year.

“An area of forest the size of a football field is disappearing every second. “Climate change is affecting global weather patterns, rainfall is increasingly unpredictable, average temperatures are soaring.

“But, with help, even the most vulnerable can recover.

“This is a crucial moment in time, the decisions we take now will influence the future of animals, humanity and, indeed, all life on Earth.”

Sir David previously explained why he still gets the same buzz from making documentaries and hopes it will inspire others.

“He explained: “It is extraordinary. “At the time people thought we were cranks but suddenly, after Blue Planet II, you hit the right note. I’m thrilled that we’re about to share this incredible series with the world.

“Seven Worlds, One Planet celebrates the variety of life on our planet while also shining a spotlight on its challenges.”

The seventh episode of Seven Worlds, One Planet was aired on BBC One on Sunday, December 8, at 6.15pm.
Viewers can now catch up with each instalment in Ultra-High-Definition (UHD) on BBC iPlayer.


Indonesia to capture 3 wild Sumatran rhinos to add to breeding population

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Rahmadi Rahmad / Translated by Basten Gokkon, Mongabay | December 10, 2019

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EAST LAMPUNG, INDONESIA: Officials in Indonesia say they hope to capture three Sumatran rhinos from the wild for a recently expanded sanctuary where experts are carrying out breeding attempts to save the species from extinction.

The Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) in Way Kambas National Park, in Lampung province at the southern end of Sumatra Island, now spans 250 hectares (620 acres), following an expansion announced on Oct. 30.

“We are working to capture three wild rhinos in Way Kambas National Park,” Ade Kurnia Rauf, a senior adviser to Indonesia Rhino Foundation (YABI), told Mongabay. He added this was in line with Indonesia’s Emergency Action Plan on Sumatran Rhinoceros, issued on Dec. 6 last year.

Original photo as published by Mongabay.

While waiting for new rhinos to occupy the extension sometime next year, officials at the SRS have already moved one of the seven existing Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) at the facility into the new paddocks; Harapan, a 12-year-old male, is himself the product of an earlier successful captive-breeding program carried out at Cincinnati Zoo in the U.S.

The SRS at Way Kambas was opened in 1996, covering 100 ha (247 acres) and envisioned as a way to provide a heavily protected semi-wild habitat in which captive rhinos could breed naturally. Experts at the sanctuary are also tasked with carrying out research and programs to maintain a viable captive population that should be able to be released back into the wild eventually.

“Way Kambas National Park, where some of Sumatra’s last lowland tropical forest exists, is the last frontier for nearly extinct wildlife, such as the Sumatran rhino, [so] that we must protect its sustainability,” said Indra Exploitasia, the director of biodiversity conservation at Indonesia’s environment ministry.

Indonesia has launched a program to track and tally up Sumatran rhinos in the wild, including in Way Kambas National Park outside the SRS. Ade said five teams had been deployed to look for wild rhinos in Way Kambas and, by February, to start setting up pit traps to safely capture them alive.

The park agency estimates the rhino population in Way Kambas, which spans some 130,000 ha (321,200 acres), at some 33 individuals; some analyses give a much lower figure of around a dozen. The sanctuary itself is home to seven captive rhinos: three males and four females. Two of the rhinos were conceived and born at the sanctuary.

“We need new males and females to be relocated into the SRS. The reason is clear: to avoid inbreeding,” said Subakir, the head of Way Kambas National Park Agency.

In tandem with efforts to breed the species in captivity, conservationists are calling on the government to protect the last remaining wild habitats of the critically endangered animal so that there’s somewhere to release them back into when the situation allows.

The government of Lampung province has promised to increase protection for its forests from human pressure, especially within national parks, saying it wants the province to be the stronghold for the species.

“We must protect the Sumatran rhino, Indonesia’s treasure, from extinction,” said Arinal Djunaidi, the governor of Lampung, at a ceremony to mark the opening of the SRS extension on Oct. 30. He said he would seek an agreement with the environment ministry to boost law enforcement for national parks across Lampung.

Unlike with other rhino species, poaching isn’t the biggest threat to Sumatran rhinos. It’s the lack of natural breeding in the wild — a result of their habitats being carved up and destroyed, isolating individual rhinos and making it less likely that they’ll encounter one another to breed — that poses the greatest danger to the species.

“We’re fighting against extinction,” said Zulfi Arsan, a veterinarian at the SRS. “The population decline rate is [higher] than the birth rate.”

Despite its name, the species used to roam other parts of Asia, including India, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia. But the combination of habitat loss and poaching has left Indonesia as the final refuge for these rhinos; Malaysia’s last Sumatran rhino, a female held in captivity, died of ill health on Nov. 23.

Widodo Ramono, the executive director of YABI,said his foundation had partnered with an international group, the Sumatran Rhino Survival Alliance — which consists of Indonesia’s environment ministry, the IUCN, the International Rhino Foundation, Global Wildlife Conservation, National Geographic and WWF — to protect the species.

“The expansion of the SRS can be used to its best to increase the rhino population while paying attention to sustainability, heritability, and good management of habitat,” he said.

Experts at SRS will still prioritize natural breeding, but are also open to using advanced reproductive technology, including in vitro fertilization.

“We must be very careful in carrying out anything,” Zulfi said. “Obviously, to produce a healthy rhino needs healthy parents who don’t have any reproductive problems.”

Fewer than 80 Sumatran rhinos are believed to live in small populations scattered in the dwindling forests of Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo. In Sumatra, experts believe the rhinos survive in Gunung Leuser National Park, Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park and Way Kambas National Park. In Borneo, no more than 10 individuals are estimated to roam the forests of East Kalimantan province. Last year, a female rhino was captured from the wild there and relocated to a second SRS facility there. In 2016, another female rhino had been caught, but died a few weeks after her capture.

“We must act quickly against time to save this species that has lived on Earth since 20 million years ago,” Widodo said. “The most important effort now is to produce as many rhinos as possible at SRS in the safest setting there is.”


‘Sides of a horn’: How Richard Branson short is raising awareness about the global rhino poaching crisis

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Anthony D’Alessandro, Deadline | December 6, 2019

Read the original story and 17 minute-plus short here

Sir Richard Branson’s new short film production, Sides of a Horn, is looking to shed light on the rhino poaching crisis that exists in South Africa. The goal is the same as the 2006 Leonardo DiCaprio movie Blood Diamond, which opened the world’s eyes to the underbelly of the diamond trade.

In fact, the 17 minute-plus short is already making waves.

Directed by British-born, LA-based filmmaker Toby Wosskow, the short follows two brothers-in-law on opposite sides of the rhino poaching argument, one a poacher and the other a game ranger. You can watch it above.

Rhino poaching is a vicious circle. Poachers receive $3K for rhino horn, enough to support their family for a year. Meanwhile, international crime syndicates will sell the same horn for $300K, using the profits to fund drug trafficking, human trafficking, and terrorism. In turn, the rhinos, who’ve survived for 50 million years, are expected to go extinct within the decade.

Wosskow came up with the idea for the short while visiting South Africa, where he witnessed the severity of the poaching crisis first hand. He reached out to Branson, who has a long history of global humanitarian work, and who inspired the filmmaker since his teenage years.

Sides of a Horn is unique in its depiction of the poaching war, in that it is sympathetic towards both sides of the struggle in communities torn apart by the conflict between poachers and rangers. Wosskow worked closely with one such community where wildlife crime was most prevalent.

Though fictional, Sides of a Horn depicts the actual dilemmas impacting South Africa’s rural communities, which are torn apart by the conflict between poachers and rangers. Poaching is connected to poverty, inequality, or corruption, and the rhinos’ suffering is closely linked to the suffering of people. As the recipient of a Mandela Washington grant, Wosskow went to Uganda this November for grassroots screenings in rural communities, where rhinos were once poached to extinction, but are now being reintroduced.

More positive global effect: The short amassed over 800K views in its first week of release in China, sparking a dialogue about China’s rhino horn consumption and the effect on the poaching war in Africa.

WildAid, African Wildlife Foundation, and Virgin Unite have been screening the film for policymakers and world-leaders in order to humanize the complex social and environmental issue.

African Wildlife Foundation CEO, Kaddu Sebunya, says about the short, “I have spent 25 years talking in circles with politicians, trying to explain the complexities of our poaching war. Now, I can show them Sides of a Horn, and 17 minutes later, we are having a productive conversation. That is the power of this film.”

Original photo as published by Deadline

Rhinos are worth more dead than alive, says wildlife vet (South Africa)

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The Independent Online | December 7, 2019

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DURBAN: Rhinos are worth more dead than alive. This is the painful reality Ezemvelo wildlife vet Dr Dave Cooper related this week, while delivering the Nolly Zaloumis Memorial Lecture at uShaka Marine World.

And, as expected in an address by an African wildlife buff, there has to be a story of climbing a tree to escape a charging rhino.

Cooper’s story of the need for such a tree involved an orphan, one of more and more that exist because of poaching.

Cooper said that, once treated, they were reintroduced into the wild, sometimes after having become “a little used to humans”.

“The first black rhino (orphan) we released in iSimangaliso had had far too much human contact,” Cooper recalled.

“It was not scared of vehicles, so it was a great tourist animal. But when I approached it on foot, I had to find a tree.”

While the incidence of rhino calves becoming orphaned has increased, the work of relocating rhinos – to stock reserves and to offer them safety – has decreased in the quarter of a century Cooper has been in the game. Now, he’s kept busy much of the time with dehorning, treating survivors of poaching and conducting post-mortems.

All because of poaching.

“It was 100 relocations a year, sometimes,” he recalled. “This year we captured eight and couldn’t sell four of them.”

The problem, he explained, was economics. “Rhinos are worth more dead than alive,” he said, stressing that it was vital that this be reversed.

Farmers with rhino stock can spend up to R5million feeding their herds and the same amount on security.

To reverse the situation, the option of legalising trade in rhino horn “needs to be looked at seriously”, he suggested.

While anyone entering a wildlife career in Africa may have expected to climb trees to escape charging rhinos, they may not have expected metal detectors to be everyday tools of their trade. It is for Cooper, as he attends to rhinos that have been struck by bullets. “I couldn’t have believed that I would ever become an expert in using a metal detector, which is now as important as a dart gun.”

All this takes its toll on lovers of wildlife, like Cooper and his colleagues, who find that their work has a psychological impact on them. “Day in, day out, doing this kind of work, no one is unaffected, so we deliberately take turns – two weeks, two weeks. Then, when there’s a serious number of cases, we all go and help each other.”

Help for the rhinos, in recent years, has also come from other countries in Africa, a significant number of them having become translocation destinations recently, Cooper said.

Last month, 17 black rhinos were taken to Malawi.

There have also been relocations to Tanzania. Then, in Kenya, the overall rhino population was down to 200. Now it’s about 1000 and security has improved through advanced intelligence systems.

To date, 87 white rhino have been moved to Botswana, in an area where the grass is “ice cream to the rhinos”.

Sceptics feared for the safety of 28 black rhinos when they were translocated from iMfolozi to Zimbabwe in 1998. “They were proved wrong over time,” said Cooper.

There are trees there, too, should rangers looking after them need an escape route.

Original photo by Robin Moore

How poachers turned wildlife protectors in Assam’s Manas National Park (India)

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Ratnadip Choudhury, NDTV | December 7, 2019

Read the original article and 4-minute video here

GUWAHATI:  Budheswar Bodo knows Assam’s Manas National Park like the back of his hand. A “wildlife protector” for the past 15 years, the 45-year-old begins each day with an evening drill and briefing to fellow volunteers deep inside the woods. He knows that if it’s not for those like him, the wildlife reserve will lose all its inhabitants to poachers who sneak in under the cover of the darkness.

But Budheswar Bodo wasn’t always this concerned about wildlife. Decades ago, when he was a notorious poacher, he had lost an arm in an encounter with a wild boar.

Manas was home to 22 of India’s most threatened species of mammals and 26 endangered birds before poachers killed almost all of its hundred-odd rhinos, most of its swamp deer and water buffaloes, and a large number of elephants and tigers in the 1980s. A lot of the forest’s prime timber was also illegally cut down at a time when the region was a hotbed of insurgency.

“We used to hunt animals for money. We killed many deer, elephants and rhinos, among other animals. We plundered Manas,” Budheswar Boro admitted to NDTV.

The Manas biosphere reserve, which houses the Manas Tiger Reserve and National Park in northwest Assam, was declared as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1985. However, the region was plunged into violence soon afterwards amid an armed struggle for a separate Bodoland state, and a substantial portion of its wildlife and pristine jungles was wiped out.

A revival initiative spanning 15 years has changed all that, with the region regaining the world heritage tag and the United Nations proposing to make Manas a hub for trans-boundary conservation efforts in the eastern Himalayas. And with the 2003 Bodoland accord in place, the same people who once poached and plundered the region are rebuilding what was once destroyed.

“After the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) was formed in 2003, we encouraged local residents to participate in the conservation process. So they formed NGOs and became partners in the effort to conserve forests and protect animals,” BTC Deputy Chief Khampa Borgoyary told NDTV.

Today, the park is manned by hundreds of volunteers who were poachers at one time. The rhino count has gone up to around 40, there are at least 30 tigers and the old elephant corridors are abuzz with activity again. “I’m still haunted by memories of how I killed animals in the past. This is the only way I can atone for it,” said Joycharan Basumaty, another poacher-turned-volunteer.

One of the biggest challenges to the wildlife reserve comes from its shared border with the Royal Manas National Park in neighbouring Bhutan, claims Field Director Amal Chandra Sarmah. “There are poachers who enter our territory and kill animals before heading back. We caught two Bhutanese poachers recently, after which we intensified patrolling,” he said.

However, the cross-border geography of Manas is also turning out to be a huge advantage, with the United Nations now proposing to include it in the trans-boundary conservation landscape. And the rising tourist footfalls only go to show that the national park has come back to life.

Original photo by David Lloyd

Skills panacea for poaching (Botswana)

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The Daily News | December 8, 2019

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An increase of poaching incidences, especially killing of rhinos, worries President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi.

Speaking on December 6 at a graduation ceremony of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Defence Command and Staff College (DCSC), President Masisi urged graduates to utilise skills they had acquired to win the war against poaching.

“You have graduated at a time when this country is facing the challenge of poaching. Poaching has the potential to wipe out our wildlife resources thus threatening the tourism industry, one of the key engines of the growth of our economy, not to mention the ripple effect it will have on the livelihoods of the persons who live proximately to such wildlife resource,” he said.

He said the BDF graduates should pass down what they had learnt to their subordinates, thereby maintaining a sustainable, well informed, trained, disciplined and agile workforce.

“I’m informed that while appreciating the utility of the military and other security players in the country, you were also introduced to the defence and strategic studies component. This has enriched your understanding of how the defence policy and national security fit into foreign policy and diplomacy as well as democratic civil military relations,” Dr Masisi, also Commander in Chief, added.

He said a number of diplomats had been at the college giving lectures on issues of international security, diplomacy and foreign policy. He said this served to enrich the curriculum and its growth.

Dr Masisi said the input from the diplomatic community had enhanced the prestige of the college.

“The presence of students from Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe in this college demonstrates our unwavering commitment to promote both bilateral and regional cooperation. It also resonates well with my statement during the recent State-of-the-Nation Address that Botswana continues to nurture friendly relations with other countries and forge strategic partnerships with the international community for her benefit and the greater good of humanity,” he said.

He said such encounters formed part of the meaningful relations that must be cherished and grown from strength to strength.

Dr Masisi said the graduates’ qualification would go a long way in preparing them to comprehend and manage any threat that might be dictated by realities of today’s security environment which was volatile, complex and ambiguous in nature.

For his part, DCSC commandant, Brigadier Papadi Monnatlhare said the graduation of the senior command and staff course class 12 of 2019 was the culmination of a year of hard work and commitment.

He said the college had done its utmost to equip them with the tools of their trade and their supervisors and subordinates were looking forward to reap the rewards.

“It is incumbent upon yourselves to live up to expectations through embracing high levels of professionalism, providing exemplary leadership, exercising integrity and selflessness as well as providing mentorship to your subordinates,” Brigadier  Monnatlhare said.

Original photo by Gerald van der Walt

Kaziranga bids adieu to Jorba, a police dog (India)

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Sanjoy Hazarika, The Telegraph India | December 8, 2019

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Like Ali Baba who helped catch 40 thieves, Jorba, a police dog, helped catch 40 poachers at Kaziranga National Park in Assam during his seven years of service before he retired on Friday.

The skilled dog was accorded warm felicitation at Kaziranga by the authority and well-wishers of the park.

The Belgium Malinois, owned by Aaranyak, an NGO working for environment conservation, was taken to Kaziranga in February 2013 after a series of rhino-poaching cases there. The male dog, bought by the NGO in August 2011 and engaged first in Pobitora wildlife sanctuary in 2012, was trained in Guwahati by a foreign expert in tracking poachers.

The in-charge of sniffer dogs at Aaranyak, Anil Das, said Jorba is a dedicated dog and never created problems during his service period. “Though he was a bit scared of rhinos in the beginning, he later got accustomed to the animals of Kaziranga and helped the authority catch a poacher on the very first day in Kaziranga,” he said.

The expenditure for the dog was borne by Aaranyak, Das said.

Aaranyak secretary general Bibhab Talukdar said Jorba helped the forest department to catch as many as 40 poachers. “He was taken to Kaziranga from Pobitora because he was needed there,” he added.

Original photo as published by Telegraph India: Jorba with forest officials in Kaziranga. Picture by Sanjoy Hazarika

“We use this particular breed because of their extreme prey-drive capability. They are very helpful in arresting suspects. Once they pick up a scent and get a lead, they are capable of outrunning and bringing the suspect down if he tries to escape. This breed has been successfully used as military working dog by the US and European forces,” Talukdar said.

Former divisional forest officer of Kaziranga, Pradipta Baruah, said Jorba is very skilled. “He helped us track a dreaded gang of poachers in Lohore sapori and recover arms and ammunition used by them,” he added.

Outgoing Kaziranga DFO Rohini Ballav Saikia said the dog also helped to prevent poaching. “Jorba is a dedicated dog. He served us whenever we needed him,” he added.

Three more dogs owned by Aaranyak, Leon (male) at Bokakhat wildlife division, Shila and Emy (females) at Bagari range and Burhapahar range respectively, are engaged in duty at present.

Rhino warriors honoured for their bravery (South Africa)

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Lowvelder | December 9, 2019

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Spear is an acronym for “Stop Poaching Our Endangered African Rhino”. Its main aim is to create awareness and attract funding for the role players on the front lines. The CEO of Spear, Estelle Roe, explained that the greatest assets in the park are the rangers.

The aim of the awards was to credit the rangers, prosecutors, pilots and police officers for their relentless work, but also to bring local businesses into the fight against poaching.

These heroes over the years have fought relentlessly against the onslaught that the Marula South region, also known as the Intensive Protection Zone (IZP), has experienced from rhino poaching syndicates for the past decade.

The rangers were involved in more armed contacts per day than the SANDF soldiers were during the Border War. This team has, through its individual efforts, played a major role in the drastic year-on-year reduction of 48 per cent in rhino poaching since 2016.

Prosecutor Ansie Venter and legal adviser Coert Jordaan were also honoured for their relentless assistance in the fight.

• Neels van Wyk – section ranger: Crocodile Bridge
An excellent marksman with a natural talent for intelligence gathering with exceptional bushcraft, tracking and anti-poaching skills.

• Albert Smith – section ranger: Malalane
The founder of the highly successful camera trap systems and instrumental in
the development and implementation of other critical technology systems currently in the IZP.

• Marius Snyders – section ranger: Stolsnek
Showed consistent tenacity during follow-up operations.

• Craig Williams – section ranger: Pretoriuskop
Personally involved in five contacts in one day. Probably been in more armed contacts than any other section ranger in the history of the KNP.

• Mark McGill – technology operations manager
Best known for his role in developing, deploying and managing the Wide Area Surveillance System or Meerkat in the IZP. In two years the Meerkat was responsible for 45 arrests and the recovery of 15 firearms.

• Sgt Wilson Siwela – field ranger sergeant: Crocodile Bridge
Exceptional bush skills and anti-poaching talent and always leading from the front. Single-handedly took on, overpowered and arrested an armed group of poachers.

• Sgt Enock Manyike – field ranger sergeant: Malalane
Second-generation sergeant who has been at the forefront of numerous anti-poaching operations. Also the recipient of multiple bravery awards.

• Field ranger Tyson Maluleke – dog handler: Stolsnek
With his K9 partner, Kilalo, in four years have been involved in 61 contacts resulting in 183 arrests and the recovery of 47 firearms.

• Field ranger Derek Maluleke – dog handler: Malalane
He and his K9 partner, Charlie, in two years have been involved in 20 contacts resulting in 34 arrests and the recovery of 15 firearms.

• Charles Thompson – helicopter pilot and air-wing safety officer
Recipient of a bravery award for his flight that saved the life of a ranger who was shot in a contact, and is considered to be one of the best chopper pilots the KNP has had.

• Brad Grafton – helicopter pilot
The first pilot to be shot at by poachers and the only one to be shot at twice, both times saving the aircraft and passengers with his exceptional flying skills.

• Section ranger Richard Sowry – section ranger: Kingfisherspruit
Founder of the free-running pack hounds in the KNP. Persisted with the pack hound concept until a great number of successes silenced the pessimists.

• Johan van Straaten – K9 manager: Southern African Wildlife College
Trained the first tracking dog, that is still operational after many successful follow-ups.

• Johan de Beer – K9 manager: SANParks
Developed the K9 unit at Phabeni. His contribution to the fight against poaching is recognised by all.

• Steven Whitfield – regional ranger: Marula North region
Groundbreaking work done to formalise relations between KNP and Mozambique conservation and law enforcement agencies.

Original photo as published by Lowvelder

Time is running out for Southeast Asia

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Jeremy Hance,  Mongabay | December 9, 2019

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On Nov. 23, the last Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) in Malaysia died. Named Iman, she’d lived in captivity in the Malaysian state of Sabah in Borneo for just over five years. Iman was not only the last rhino in Malaysia, but one of the last of the Bornean subspecies of the Sumatran rhino (D. s. harrissoni).

But Iman’s passing isn’t just another tragedy, and lost opportunity, for her species. It’s also another signal for something bigger: that the heart of our mass extinction crisis lies in Southeast Asia.

The region is undergoing a wildlife decline that’s really unparalleled anywhere else of comparable size. Recently, scientists have declared that tigers are extinct in Laos, after already vanishing from Vietnam and Cambodia. The Indochinese and Malayan populations of the tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) and the Sumatran subspecies (P. t. sondaica), are all on their last stand. The same is true of the Indochinese leopard (Panthera pardus delacouri).

Meanwhile, the last photograph of a saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis), or Asian unicorn, on camera trap was taken six years ago. There is now a project hoping to catch and breed them in captivity. But whether conservationists will find any alive anywhere is an open question — officially a couple of hundred are believed to survive — and whether they will find enough to form a captive-breeding population is an even bigger question.

The list goes on: all the big four of Sumatra – elephants, tigers, orangutans, and rhinos – are Critically Endangered. The Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis), discovered only in 2017, is existentially imperiled by the Batang Toru dam project in the only home it has. Of the 16 gibbon species evaluated by the IUCN, 15 are listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered. At best, fewer than 200 Philippine crocodiles (Crocodylus mindorensis) survive while the Yangtze giant softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) is down to only three known individuals, all of them in separate locations.

Tigers, elephants, rhinos, orangutans, leopards, tapir, banteng, dholes — all of the species within these groups are either classified as endangered or critically endangered in the region. In the last 100 years, we’ve already lost the Bali and Javan tigers, and the mainland subspecies of the Sumatran rhino (D. s. lasiotis) as well as the Vietnamese Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus). The kouprey (Bos sauveli), a giant wild ox, has not been seen since 1988 and is probably extinct. Southeast Asia’s megafauna are undergoing a decline likely not seen since the Pleistocene some 15,000 years ago.

But perhaps even more worrisome is that it’s not just the big animals: increasingly it seems like every living animal in the region is imperiled. Innumerable turtle species are being wiped out for food and traditional medicine. Birds are being hunted out of existence to be eaten or traded as illegal pets, even as they lose their forests and wetlands. Meanwhile, many smaller animals, from the slow loris to the pangolin, are being decimated by the illegal wildlife trade.

If you look at data from the IUCN Red List, Southeast Asia also stands out for its sheer numbers of identified threatened species (most remain unidentified at this point). The three nations with the most globally identified threatened species are Madagascar, Ecuador and the U.S. — not surprising, given the first is full of megadiverse and endemic biodiversity, the second contains perhaps the most biodiverse region on Earth, and the third is among the most well-studied and largest nations. But fourth and fifth on that list are Indonesia and Malaysia, respectively. Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines each have more than 600 identified threatened species, putting them on the very high side worldwide. Laos and Myanmar have considerably less, but that’s probably largely due to less research into their species.

Original photo as published by Mongabay: Deforestation in Borneo. Image by Rhett A. Butler

Let’s not forget that Southeast Asia is the region for which the term “empty forest” was coined, denoting a landscape so stripped of animals, so exploited, that while trees and plants may still grow, nothing moves larger than a mouse or a praying mantis. There is little to no bird song, no monkeys crossing the canopy, few mammals in the undergrowth. It’s more a park than a wilderness, and those plant species that are dependent on animals will soon vanish.

The reasons that Southeast Asia is facing an extinction crisis are varied, complicated and, in some cases, unique to each country. But themes emerge. Number one: deforestation. Nowhere else in the world have humans destroyed so much forest so rapidly — all to provide commodities like palm oil, lumber, rubber, paper, tropical wood — in a global economic system whose foundations are waste and consumerism.

For another, there is the truly malignant illegal wildlife trade for Chinese traditional medicine, bushmeat, pets and trinkets. This market has increasingly turned from using guns and bullets to deploying millions of snares, killing indiscriminately across the region’s national parks and last intact wildernesses.

Finally, the human population of Southeast Asia stands at around 655 million. This is more than 8 percent of the world’s population across eleven countries covering only around 4.5 million square kilometers (1.7 million square miles). That’s a region half the size of the U.S. with double the number of people. Southeast Asia’s population, however, is within a generation or two of peaking in places; both Malaysia and Vietnam, for example, now have fertility rates at or below replacement levels. Laos has the highest in the region (2.7 children per woman), Singapore the lowest (1.16). This is a glimmer of light for the region’s natural resources and beleaguered wildlife, if only it can hang on.

But it may not be enough time for many. No species, no matter how resilient, can stand up indefinitely to the relentless harrying and industrialized destruction. The number of victims grows greater every year, many as yet unidentified.

So, the citizens of Southeast Asia have to make a decision: Are they OK with losing their iconic species to plantation companies, unscrupulous poachers, sham medicine, and tacky status symbols? Are they OK with nature conservation remaining at the bottom of their governments’ priorities amid such a scale of loss? Are they OK with this generation squandering their children’s natural inheritance, just as recent generations have gambled away our climate stability?

There is no doubt the region faces economic and development challenges — and tough decisions. But let’s not pretend this mass death is about smart development or poverty reduction. Singapore is one the wealthiest countries in the world, while Malaysia has less extreme poverty than the U.S. Poverty rates in Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar are still high, but have plunged in recent years.

Nor does the vast destruction of forests and wildlife do much, if anything, for public wealth and well-being. Most of the money from slaughtered wildlife goes not to the local people doing the hunting, but to a black market and regional mafia that’s also involved in trafficking humans and drugs.

Meanwhile, the destruction of the region’s remaining forests, including intentional burning, is often fueled by foreign companies and corruption, and increasingly goes against local wishes (the only time palm oil is really economically beneficial to the public is via smallholders).

In an age of rapid climate catastrophe, surely no economy can survive on the burning of peatlands and destruction of its few remaining rainforests? We can no longer develop just for the sake of “development.” Smart development and conservation of natural resources must be the future, not just in Southeast Asia, but everywhere.

What needs to be done in the region? A lot. And I don’t begin to pretend to have all the answers. But a good place to start would be the region’s governments taking this extinction crisis (and the climate one) seriously and spending more resources on law enforcement and protecting standing forests. At the same time, gains must continue to be made on changing public views on the wiping out of wildlife for sham medicine.

The region’s national parks and wildernesses require better management and more boots on the ground. It may be time for a regional equivalent of something like African Parks to be established in Southeast Asia, an idea recently raised to me by the conservationist Niall McCann.

Conservation groups in the area, especially the small, on-the-ground organizations, desperately need only more funding and resources. Ambitious ideas and bold commitments are needed now more than ever from the international community. And we must also consider more extreme options more quickly. We should not wait decades to install captive-breeding operations, for example, but should begin building insurance populations for many of the near-extinct species as possible. Let’s use the Sumatran rhino and the saola as examples; for both species, conservationists probably delayed much longer than they should have.

Let’s not kid ourselves. None of this will be easy and all of it will require public support. We get the leaders we vote for. The public in this region need to decide if it’s worth saving their orangutans and tigers, their elephants and rhinos, their pangolins and dholes. There is still time today. But there may be none tomorrow.

Iman’s death closes another door for Sumatran rhino conservation, leaving only a single known Bornean individual of the Sumatran rhino left on Earth, and one less female for a species that at best numbers only around 80 animals.

If aggressive change isn’t made, one day soon Indonesians and Vietnamese, Filipinos and Malaysians, will wake up and find there is nothing much left of their forests — their whole region will be truly empty. It will no longer just be empty forests, but empty landscapes from the Mekong Delta to Sumatra, and the Cardamom Mountains to the Cordillera Central.