Illegal trade

Limerick man accused of rhino horn trafficking extradited to US

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Paul Neilan, The Irish Times | May 22, 2020

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A Limerick man has been extradited to the United States to face allegations of trafficking endangered rhino horns after an early morning arrest by 20 armed gardaí, the High Court has heard.

John Slattery (30), who changed his name to John Flynn by deed poll, of Old Barrack View, Fairhill, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, is accused of three offences of wildlife trafficking in the US.

At Friday’s High Court sitting, Mr Justice Paul Burns heard Mr Slattery had been arrested in the early hours of the morning before the court hearing, even though he was still on bail, and that he was to be taken to a Texas prison.

Mr Slattery’s bail was due to expire on Friday at midnight. It had been granted on condition that he present himself to Henry Street Garda station in Limerick within 24 hours of being notified. His extradition was delayed due to coronavirus.

Taxidermy Shop

US authorities allege he and two others travelled to a taxidermy shop in Austin, Texas, to buy the horns for $18,000 (€16,500) and then travelled to New York and sold them for $50,000 (€45,900). It is alleged that between April 2010 and November 2010 Mr Slattery bought two further horns for $10,000 (€9,100).

At Friday’s High Court hearing, counsel for the Minister for Justice, Lisa Dempsey BL, confirmed Mr Slattery had been “surrendered to the US authorities”.

Barrister Mark Lynam, for Mr Slattery, told the court he was “uneasy about how matters have transpired”. “Mr Slattery was taken from his home this morning by, I’m told, 20 armed gardaí,” Mr Lynam said. “He was taken from his home and put on a plane. I’m very surprised it happened that way because Mr Slattery is someone who is in a high-risk category in respect of Covid-19.

“He’s going to a prison in Texas and there’s been a reported 40 deaths in prisons in Texas in the last two weeks,” he said. Ms Dempsey said his case was “dealt with in a manner deemed appropriate” by the Garda.

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

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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.

Tusks, leopard skins seized (Namibia)

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Ellanie Smit, The Namibian Sun | May 8, 2020

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WINDHOEK: Six suspects were arrested and charged for wildlife crimes recently, while three new cases were registered. Two of the suspects were arrested for rhino poaching and/or trafficking cases while two others were arrested for elephant poaching and/or trafficking cases.

Leopard. Wikimedia Commons

This is according to statistics compiled by the intelligence and investigation unit within the environment ministry and the protected resource division within the safety and security ministry.

A total of eight wildlife products were seized, which included six elephant tusks and two leopard skins.

Elephant Tusks

At Katima Mulilo, two men were arrested on 26 April and charged with contravening the Controlled Wildlife Products and Trade Act. Pani Kavi and Mulita Kapingro were allegedly in possession of six elephant tusks.

On 27 April, two Namibian men were arrested at Oshivelo in connection with an old case dating back to March for conspiring to poach a rhino.

Samuel Kambonde and Sodomu Lazarus were both charged for contravening the Riotous Assemblies Act.

In another matter, Kambonde was also charged on 27 April in connection with an old case dating back to February at Omaruru. He was charged with contravening the Nature Conservation Ordinance.

Leopard Skins

In a separate incident, a Namibian man was arrested at Katutura on 27 April for contravening the Controlled Wildlife Products and Trade Act. Isaacs Tony Albertus was allegedly found in possession of a leopard skin.

Another Namibian was arrested on 29 April at Okahandja for being in possession of a leopard skin and unspecified bones. Fulgentius Musimba Kandjimi was charged with contravening the Controlled Wildlife and Products Act. His vehicle was also seized.

Abandoned Vehicle

According to last weekend’s crime report, a white Isuzu bakkie was found abandoned in the veld with four oryx carcasses, two hunting rifles, knives and an axe on Friday at Helmeringhausen.

In another incident on Friday at Farm Garib in the Dordabis district, five men were arrested after they allegedly killed an oryx valued at N$4 000 using dogs and spears. The meat was recovered.

Lockdown slows wildlife forensics (India)

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Sahana Ghosh, Mongabay | May 11, 2020

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As India cautiously emerges from an extended lockdown put in place to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), wildlife forensic scientists have flagged concerns over the delay in investigating wildlife crimes in the country.

The COVID-19 associated lockdown has slowed wildlife forensic work, delaying wildlife crime investigations.

The nationwide lockdown that started on March 25 was recently extended by the government of India until May 17, with some relaxations.

The extended lockdown, which is considered necessary to flatten the curve of the disease, created a chink in the chain for wildlife forensic scientists: from dispatch/reception of samples, transport of chemicals, and processing samples. There is also the apprehension of the possibility of a cut in funds for research.

Wildlife Institute of India scientist Samrat Mondol, who runs the rhino forensic facility said the pause in laboratory activities has resulted in a delay in processing some of the rhino case samples they received just before the lockdown.

“We have not been able to process the samples so definitely there will be delays in providing the reports to concerned authorities. During the lockdown, I received emails from the forest department about cases that they dispatched (or are planning to dispatch), but I am not sure when will I receive them,” Mondol told Mongabay-India.

At the Hyderabad-based Laboratory for the Conservation of Endangered Species (LaCONES), Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology too, forensic work has been affected.

“We have received only two cases recently from nearby areas in Telangana state. This is worrying as investigations on wildlife crimes are being hampered,” said Karthikeyan Vasudevan at LaCONES.

India has a low rate of wildlife crime conviction. As per the available records of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, 9253 people have been arrested in wildlife poaching cases from 2012 to 2018 in the country. The bureau on its website lists 154 convictions from 2009 to 2018.

Navigating the new normal, the scientists are anxious about the post-lockdown and post-COVID-19 scenario, especially preparedness for a spurt in wildlife trade.

“I strongly believe that post lockdown we can expect to see a surge in the trade of wildlife contraband (both live animals as well as their body parts) as demands are going to skyrocket high for traditional medicine uses (as this is one way to make quick money). So, we really need to be prepared to deal with this situation,” Mondol explained.

Funds and Critical Chemicals for Wildlife Forensics

Samrat Mondol described two major concerns regarding general lab functioning, whenever they resume post-lockdown.

“First relates to the transport of chemicals/reagents for lab work. I am not sure how much the shipments of consumables will be affected due to COVID-19. Some of the critical chemicals such as ethanol are absolutely necessary for our laboratory work, and I am not sure when the supplies will become normal,” said Mondol.

“The second problem is a bit more serious. I am worried about the release of funds after the lockdown to continue our work. In almost all of our projects, we were supposed to get funds from different agencies in April 2020, but now that is being delayed. My worry is if the required funds are not released it will seriously impact our research activities,” he added.

Udayan Borthakur at Aaranyak’s Wildlife Genetics Division (WGL) in Assam echoes Mondol. “In the longer run, we also see that funding to research may be an issue due to the impact on the economy.”

Borthakur said during the total lockdown (March 25 to May 4), the only work the scientists could do during this period is to complete data analysis in our computers from home and make few pending reports. The division has resumed operations since May 5 with 50 percent staff strength.

“Now we have some pending laboratory work which we will be completing soon. For wildlife DNA forensic service that our lab provides to the forest department, we normally do not carry out field sampling by ourselves. The forest department collects and sends us samples for analysis in this case. However, for our other research projects that demand fieldwork, it will be hard for us to continue for the next few months till we can ensure the safety of our workers,” Borthakur told Mongabay-India.

“In view of the current pandemic and the associated issues of wildlife crime, I feel such labs should now concentrate on developing databases that can aid in forensic investigations and help reduce wildlife crime,” said Borthakur.

Extra Vigilance and Personnel Safety

Even as they try to figure out how the whole situation will impact regular functions, going ahead, experts concur on extra vigilance on already established stringent protocols as lockdown ceases.

Samrat Mondol said: “Generally, our forensic lab functions and protocols are quite stringent in dealing with samples (starting from the sample receiving till processing). As we mostly deal with poaching and seizure-related cases (where the disease is not a major concern), our standard forensic lab protocols generally take care of researchers’ safety. However, we need to be extra cautious given the situation now.”

“Personally, I am not much worried by wildlife samples coming to the facility as we are still not sure how much of the disease is spread from animal to human. But we need to be more careful with people coming to our facility to provide samples. This is a standard practice to maintain ‘Chain of Custody’. Our institute is planning to take appropriate measures to deal with such situations here. We will have to see how things work out after lockdown ends,” Mondol observed.

Vasudevan stressed on personnel safety.

“Although the samples are opened, processed under controlled conditions under a hood before being taken to the lab for further analysis, more stringent precautions will be followed with special containment conditions so as to avoid any disease/infection. Emphasis will be on personnel safety. Another concern will be the secured storage of samples until the analysis is complete and subsequent incineration,” he said.

Collection, storage/packaging, and transport will need more strict protocols before the samples reach the lab for DNA analysis.

“The forest authorities/staff need to be trained about the serious implications related to incorrect and improper handling of samples at the time of collection for their safety as well as safety of people in the lab. Although we train them for collection and storage of biological samples, stringent precautions to be followed at the time of collection and handling of samples in the field will be disseminated,” said Vasudevan.

The researchers call for enhanced efforts and investment in wildlife forensics.

“With regard to One Health, wildlife forensics should be an integral part of this program. Forensic samples could serve as ‘sentinel samples’ that might serve as warning signals before an episode of a disease outbreak. Therefore, there is a serious need for increased efforts and investment in wildlife forensics for accurate detection/diagnosis,” said Vasudevan.

Elaborating on the demand for DNA forensics in northeast India, Borthakur said while they started primarily with population genetics studies, wildlife studies, and using genetic tools for population monitoring including accurate estimation of population size, they eventually stepped into DNA forensics due to the demand that persists in the region.

Borthakur maintained that with a handful of institutes (wildlife forensics) for a big country like India, providing timely service is not possible.

“India must work towards the development of state-level facilities to promote the use of wildlife forensics so that the conviction rate can be increased. Wildlife disease investigation is another aspect that needs to be taken seriously and state level institutes should be empowered to take up extensive studies in this regard so that we have decentralisation of resources and expertise when it comes to the ground level investigation of zoonotic diseases and potential epidemic or pandemic situations,” explained Borthakur.

Pandemic or no pandemic, India is always in a situation to seriously work on illegal wildlife trade asserted Mondol.

“Our country is among the top in biodiversity-rich places globally, and will always accordingly be under threats from poaching and harvesting these resources. Wildlife forensics is one of many ways to deal with this challenge and we need all the support possible to fight this never-ending war. The whole crime syndicate chain works in complex ways and tracing and breaking are going to be a continuous fight,” added Mondol.

TTP Investigation: Facebook is allowing sales of wildlife linked to coronavirus

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Campaign for Accountability | May 6, 2020

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group that runs the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), released a new report revealing that pangolins, one of the world’s most trafficked mammals, are being openly sold on Facebook. Recently, pangolins have emerged as a possible conduit in the transmission of Covid-19 to humans, making the trade even more alarming. Despite Facebook’s policy banning the sale of endangered and other animals or their parts, the TTP investigation found pangolin trafficking is taking place in plain sight on the platform.

Original photo as published by Campaign for Accountability. Scaly, ant-eating pangolins are at risk of extinction—and being studied as a potential coronavirus host. But the animals are still available for sale on Facebook.

CfA Executive Director Daniel E. Stevens said, “Poachers and their dealers should not be able to openly sell illegally trafficked pangolins on Facebook and its platforms. Facebook claims that it prohibits the sale of endangered or threatened animals on its platforms, but pangolins are easily available for anyone who searches for the animal. This is yet another example of Facebook failing to enforce its own rules across its platform.”

TTP identified a number of Facebook pages that offer pangolins, including one entitled “Pangolin Scales for Sale in Vietnam” and another called “Rhino Horns And Pangolin scales For sale In China.” Vietnam and China are two of the biggest markets for pangolin products. Pangolin scales are coveted for traditional Chinese medicine, and its meat is consumed in China and Vietnam as well as in parts of Africa. Pangolin skin is also made into leather. Facebook took down at least one of the pages after a reporter from BuzzFeed, who had been given access to the findings by TTP, asked Facebook for comment.

Facebook has repeatedly failed to stem wildlife trafficking. For example, wildlife advocates have previously accused Facebook of serving advertisements on pages that sell the body parts of threatened animals, including elephant ivory, rhino horns, and tiger teeth.

Notably, in March 2018, Facebook joined the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online, which established a goal of reducing wildlife trafficking on tech platforms by 80 percent by 2020. Tech companies that joined the coalition agreed to implement user awareness tools on their platforms. TTP, however, did not encounter any of these measures during its review of these pages.

Mr. Stevens continued, “Facebook has publicly committed to stopping the trafficking of endangered animals, yet it has completely failed to abide by its commitment. At a time when the pangolin is being studied as a potential intermediate coronavirus host, Facebook is failing to police its platform for the buying and selling of this vulnerable animal. Facebook’s broken promises are continuing to haunt the well-being of the world.”

Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.

How the Coronavirus changes poaching strategies

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Don Pinnock, Op-Ed / The Daily Maverick | May 7, 2020

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Wild animals are back. Kangaroos bounding through the streets of Melbourne, elephant herds passing through Indian villages, jackals in Johannesburg, leopards in Mumbai, wild boar in Bergamo and Verreaux eagles catching thermals above a silent Cape Town. And of course, inevitable cartoons of humans in surgical masks staring forlornly at animals playing on the sidewalk. Is lockdown good news for creatures – or for poachers?

Original photo as published by the Daily Maverick. member of the Anti Poaching Unit takes aim with his rifle at the Southern African Wildlife College, Kruger National Park. (Photo: EPA / Shiraaz Mohamed) .

Smuggling of illegal wildlife in Southeast Asia hasn’t stopped, but it’s slowing and traders are hurting. On 1 February China closed its borders and increased security is pinching off the flow of animal products.

As a result, in Vietnam, Cambodia and Lao PDR along the Chinese border, traders eager to offload their growing stockpiles are offering deep discounts on wildlife goods. Many shut shop when the flow of tourists dried up and batches of raw ivory are reported to be bottle-necked in Cambodia.

According to the Wildlife Justice Commission (WJC), traffickers are becoming desperate as well-tested chains of bribery fall apart. Sudden and unpredictable aviation security measures such as last-minute flight diversions are also having an unforeseen impact on criminal dynamics. Fear of lockdown is clearly hampering movements. A trafficker told the WJC: “When you fly to another country they will quarantine you.”

Increased border security and curfews are leading to increased arrests. There have been busts of rhino horn, ivory and pangolin scales which were shipped before pandemic lockdowns and languished in ports long enough to be detected. Live pangolins, widely suspected as being the vector of Covid-19 from bats to humans, have fallen out of favour and are hard to sell after Beijing prevented the sale of wildlife in all wet markets and banned trade in wild animals for consumption.

On 8 April a South African, Thurman Matthews, was tried and jailed in Singapore for attempting to smuggle 11 rhino horns. On 9 March, pangolin scale smugglers were arrested in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Area and on 31 March Guangzhou customs seized live reptiles and turtles destined for the illegal pet trade as well as 441kg of pangolin scales and gall bladders.

The same month, Malaysian authorities seized six tonnes of African pangolin scales and in Vietnam, the unexpected redirection of a plane from South Korea resulted in the seizure of 11 rhino horns. Four days later a Vietnamese was arrested at Ho Chi Minh City Airport with 11 horns. In the first three months of 2020, WJC agents in Vietnam were offered 22 tonnes of pangolin scales by traders unable to offload them.

Impact on Africa

Wildlife smuggling is demand-driven, so the effect of Asian lockdowns, bans and arrests are having a knock-on effect in African source countries. It’s also causing a shift from horns and tusks to meat.

In a few areas, conventional poaching has increased during the lockdown, possibly to stockpile awaiting the reopening of transport routes. In the Northern Cape, poachers have been hitting game farm livestock. Reporting in The South African on 4 April, Dan Meyer said “war was raging between anti-poaching units and criminals trying to take advantage of the unprecedented lockdown’s impact on conservation efforts and vulnerable farms”.

Rhino poaching was also taking place there. According to Nico Jacobs of Rhino 911, “poaching has ramped up significantly since the nationwide lockdown got underway, with poaching incidents in the Northern Cape allegedly taking place ‘every day’. Just as soon as the lockdown hit South Africa, we started having an incursion almost every single day,” he said.

“At least nine rhinos have been poached in the North West province since the lockdown… and those are just the ones we know about.”

Rhino Conservation Botswana founder, Map Ives, said poachers there had been emboldened because the playing field is in their favour and they won’t have as many problems moving around.

“They are professional and adept at running off with rhino horns in minutes and dodging security forces. They are masters at evading detection.”

Speaking about Mozambique, Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said because of Covid’s vast economic impact, “people will be driven into many forms of illicit economies”.

“The virus may wind up facilitating rather than stalling illegal activity. Investigators learned that several heads of poaching gangs in Mozambique are planning to take advantage of reduced ranger patrols and the lack of tourists in Kruger National Park.”

Forcing people inside across the continent, however, seems to have made transport of poached wildlife products more difficult. I contacted environmental NGOs in South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, the DRC, Liberia and Central African Republic and they all said that while conventional poaching was still occurring, it had not increased and in many places had declined. Bushmeat hunting, however, was rising.

When hunting was legalised in Botswana in 2019 and its Animal Protection Units disarmed, there was a massive spike in rhino and elephant poaching. But according to Dr Oduetse Koboto of the Botswana Ministry of Environment, this has declined.

“Reinforcement of anti-poaching surveillance and monitoring measures… has resulted in six poachers losing their lives over the last month.”

The Kruger Park reported a few incursions across its eastern boundary with Mozambique, but no poaching during the lockdown. Anti-poaching activities continue.

“Incursions into our parks and incidents related to rhino poaching have remained stable and, in some instances, reduced during the lockdown period,” said communications director Albi Modise. “We have noticed a decrease in the number of rhinos and elephant poached in conservation areas.”

Ecologist Dr Michelle Henley, who works in the private reserves along Kruger’s western boundary, said it was “wonderful to see all the creatures coming back while we’re locked inside, but the dark side of this is the potential increase in poaching”. Farm Watch has reported a rise in the collection of snares in these parks.

Hunting for the Pot

The real problem now seems to be that – as lockdown disrupts earning ability and starvation threatens – poachers are responding to the needs of locals.

In many poor countries, wild meat is a safety net suspended above destitution. People with nothing can always find something to eat or sell in the forest. This is widening the types of species being targeted and massively increasing the setting of snares. It could also lead to deforestation as farmers increase slash and burn agriculture.

According to Andrew Campbell, CEO of the Game Rangers Association of Africa, bushmeat hunting is on the rise across the continent.

“We can assume that this is a result of the devastating economic impact the pandemic has had on livelihoods and that people are becoming desperate for food in these areas.”

Some African governments have responded to the threat of zoonosis – a virus jumping from wild animals to humans – by banning the consumption and sale of all bushmeat (Malawi on 20 March) and bats and pangolins (Gabon on 3 April) in acknowledgement of the risks posed by hunting and poaching.

But with many eyes and ears in lockdown, it remains difficult to get information on the ground.

“Anecdotally,” said Matthew Norval of the Wilderness Foundation, “people are confirming that bushmeat poaching in South Africa is on the rise. There are also indications that organised poaching could rise as other income opportunities for those involved become limited.”

With more than two million potentially hungry people on Kruger’s borders, it’s hard to imagine the park will escape escalating bushmeat incursions. In late 2019, park spokesman Ike Phaahla noted that bushmeat poaching was increasing, possibly driven by organised groups. Park rangers collected about 200 snares in one small area. This is unlikely to decrease at a time of rising hunger.

The Humane Society International office in Liberia says the Forestry Department recently intercepted a cargo of bushmeat, including the body parts of chimpanzees, monkeys, pangolins and duikers. The meat was burnt on the spot in the presence of the local community to serve as a warning and a reminder that the trade of wildlife is an illegal and punishable activity.

“It’s worth noting,” it reported, “that not all bushmeat trade is for subsistence purposes and much is used for TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and trade.”

Word from Zanne Labuschagne of Africa Parks in Tanzania is that the movement of high-value illegal wildlife products like ivory seems to be becoming more difficult for trafficking networks because of road, port and airport closures. “It does seem, however, that bushmeat poaching is on the rise and will probably continue to increase as the price of imported and probably locally produced, food rises.”

At Garamba National Park in the DRC, ecologist Naftali Honig said border closures in the Congo had put a damper on the wildlife trade, but had caused food prices to rise. The outcome, he said, would be a move to cheap bushmeat protein.

Speaking from Dzanga Sangha in the Central African Republic, the project’s technical adviser, Luis Arranz, said Covid-19 had not yet arrived in the CAR, but they were standing by to intercept bushmeat poachers when it did.

According to environmentalist Clive Stockil in the Save Valley Conservancy, Zimbabwe, “there’s been a considerable increase in bushmeat poaching since the lockdown started on the 1st of April. We’re reacting on a daily basis to multiple incursions. This is mainly for food and resale back in the communal lands”.

Journalist John Grobler says that in Namibia “we seem to not have had any regular poaching during the lockdown, but poaching for meat is on the rise”.

Tourism Taking a Hit

A really serious threat, says Andrew Campbell, will be the collapse of long-haul tourism. This will also lead to a possible reduction of community rangers and overseas volunteers as hunting, tourist operations and donor groups hit hard times and began cutting back.

“Conservation is going to face perilous conditions for the next few years,” he said, “but we cannot afford to take a backwards step in the fight against wildlife crime.”

The impact of travel restrictions was confirmed by Charles Chari of the Bushlife Support Unit at Mana Pools in Zimbabwe.

“Lack of tourism means massive funding cuts for many of our conservation and anti-poaching operations.

“Because our resorts and lodges are empty, financial support for one of Zimbabwe’s most important sectors is being drastically reduced. Empty safari camps are an indication of harder times still to come with an increase in uncontrolled poaching.’

The lack of tourists was also flagged as a poaching danger by Tim Davenport, who directs species conservation programmes for the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“These animals are not just protected by rangers, they’re also protected by tourist presence,” he told the New York Times. “If you’re a poacher, you’re not going to go to a place where there are lots of tourists, you’re going to go to a place where there are very few of them.”

Reporting from Botswana, ecologist Dr Richard Fynn said he expected bushmeat poaching to increase, as the country’s tourism industry had collapsed and staff have been sent home on half pay.

“The army, which did focus on anti-poaching, now has to also focus on the state of emergency.

“I think Covid-19 has exposed a serious flaw in conservation strategy,” he said. “We have made the viability of conservation completely dependent on tourism/trophy hunting economics. Local people don’t benefit enough from conservation.”

Nick Jacobs of Rhino 911 agreed that reduced tourism would have devastating consequences on conservation efforts, which rely on revenue from the millions of incoming tourists to fund their initiatives. This was echoed by Vanda Felbab-Brown in Mozambique: coronavirus could “devastate much of conservation funding in Africa, further reducing rangers’ abilities to ward off poachers”.

It is clear that Covid-19 is changing the poaching landscape and increasing the dependence of poor communities on what they can hunt. Many countries have closed their national parks for now and tourism will probably flatline for the rest of the year. Hunger – and therefore bushmeat poaching – will be with communities for a long time.

In the post-pandemic world, park conservation will increasingly depend on emergency food support for mainly rural communities on their perimeters. As priorities shift and tourism dollars dry up, the viability of parks and wildlife will depend on goodwill and not fences. It would be a disaster if the only value communities found in wildlife was the supply of meat.

Traders are stockpiling ivory, rhino horns in SEA

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Ry Sochan, The Phnom Penh Post | May 5, 2020

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A Wildlife Justice Commission (WJC) report said wildlife traders have stockpiled large quantities of ivory in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia because of difficulties in transporting it to China due to Covid-19 travel restrictions and border closings.

The report which was released April 29 said: “Effects have been seen in the Southeast Asian ivory retail markets that serve mainly Chinese clientele.

Original photo as published by The Phnom Penh Post. Police capture 50kg of illegal wildlife products in Pursat province. GRK News

“While ivory markets have been on the rise in Cambodia and conversely declining in Laos, sellers in both countries are experiencing a dramatic fall in the number of Chinese customers due to travel restrictions.

“Intelligence indicates that batches of raw ivory are also being stashed in Cambodia. The apparent spread of ivory between Vietnam and Cambodia could mean it is being transported to Cambodia for carving and processing, which is plausible considering the recent rise in the number of ivory retail markets in Cambodia.”

The report said recent WJC missions to Phnom Penh established that Covid-19 is affecting the capital’s ivory retail markets.

Tour guides and shop owners told WJC operatives that there are very few Chinese tourists and customers in the capital. Many of them had gone back to China in late January for the lunar New Year and have been unable to return due to travel restrictions and quarantine measures.

“If a lack of customers and market closures continue for a prolonged period, retailers may increase the online sale of wildlife products to continue doing business,” the report said.

Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra told The Post on Tuesday that if the WJC has specific information regarding the stockpiling of ivory or other animal specimens it should cooperate with authorities to enforce the law.

Cambodia is committed to joining the fight against the illegal wildlife trade with the world, he said.

“Cambodian authorities have seized rhinoceros horns and carved products made from ivory that were illegally imported into the Kingdom and exported to other countries.

“From 2016 to late 2018, thousands of ivory and rhino horns weighing more than five tonnes were seized by authorities. Also, pangolin scales and other wildlife bones were seized as well,” he said.

Pheaktra said the ministry has notified 59 souvenir business owners, of which 27 are in the capital, 30 in Siem Reap, and two in Sihanoukville, about the suspected selling of horns and ivory and trading in other forms of wildlife.

They were required to stop their illegal activities immediately.

A raid in March by Wildlife Alliance’s Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT) exposed the dark underbelly of Cambodia’s illegal wildlife trade, Wildlife Alliance Cambodia posted on Facebook on April 16.

The organisation said after receiving a tipoff from the Wildlife Justice Commission, WRRT raided a carving factory in Phnom Penh suspected of holding illegal wildlife products.

The suspect was found with 6.58kg of ivory, 5.5kg of tiger bones, 1 tiger tooth, 1.03kg of pangolin scales, and 103 dead seahorses, it added. A Chinese national was arrested and was put in pre-trial detention.

Stop destroying the environment or face deadlier pandemics, scientists warn

By Antipoaching, Conservation, Illegal trade No Comments
Paula Froelich, The New York Post | May 2, 2020

Read the original story here.

Environmentalists and scientists issued dire warnings this week: Stop environmental destruction and the illegal wildlife trade now — or face another pandemic that could wipe out civilization.

On Monday, Professors Josef Settele, Sandra Díaz and Eduardo Brondizio, along with Dr. Peter Daszak, wrote an article for The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) titled: “COVID-19 Stimulus Measures Must Save Lives, Protect Livelihoods, and Safeguard Nature to Reduce the Risk of Future Pandemics.”

Original photo as published by The New York Post. The corpse of a slaughtered rhino lays on the ground in a national park in South Africa.

The scientists warned that “Rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining and infrastructure development, as well as the exploitation of wild species have created a ‘perfect storm’ for the spillover of diseases from wildlife to people. This often occurs in areas where communities live that are most vulnerable to infectious diseases.”

The scientists then pointed out that animal-to-human diseases that already exist, like Ebola, rabies or avian flu, already “cause an estimated 700,000 deaths each year.” Deaths in 2020 will skyrocket due to COVID-19, but if nature isn’t protected and animals aren’t isolated from humans, the next pandemic, they warn, will be worse.

“Future pandemics are likely to happen more frequently, spread more rapidly, have greater economic impact and kill more people if we are not extremely careful about the possible impacts of the choices we make today,” the scientists write.

Peter Knights, the CEO of WildAid, a conservation organization that works to end illegal poaching and consumption of wild animals, agrees. He told the Post: “Sixty percent of infectious diseases originate in animals and are transferred to humans … and the risks are increasing with deforestation and climate change. When someone logs in a rainforest and builds roads into the wild, we come into contact with species we aren’t supposed to. Humans then drive these animals into big cities and sell them at live markets, where the risks increase when you stress these animals or mix these species together.”

Some scientists believe the COVID-19 pandemic started in a wet market in the Chinese city of Wuhan, possibly jumping from humans via bats or perhaps pangolins, the world’s most trafficked animal.

“The way these cross-species jump happened is by mixing species that wouldn’t mix in the wild; they transmit diseases in close contact and under stress,” said Knights, who has started a petition calling for the end of wildlife poaching. “The wildlife trade is associated with disease. SARS [allegedly] came from bats via civets cats; HIV was [allegedly] transferred to humans via the bushmeat trade in monkeys and chimpanzees, and now COVID-19 is believed to come from bats, possibly transferred through pangolins.”

The recent decimation of the tourism industry has led to a huge uptick in poaching, which exacerbates the problem. According to the New York Times: “Heads of poaching gangs in Mozambique are planning to take advantage of reduced ranger patrols and the lack of tourists in Kruger National Park in neighboring South Africa.”

Meanwhile, CNBC reports: “In Botswana, at least six rhinos have been poached since the virus shut down tourism there … In northwest South Africa, at least nine rhinos have been killed since the virus lockdown.”

The killings affect multiple generations, as many of the rhino babies left behind either starve, are killed by other wild animals or end up in a rhino orphanage.

Even more poaching recruits are expected to sign up in the coming months.

“African countries are in dire economic straits,” Knights said. “There are a lot of unemployed people, and without tourists on safari or people working in lodges, you have less surveillance. We’re very concerned that is what is leading to the poaching spike.”

Knights and his team have been working non-stop with the governments of China and Vietnam — the largest procurers of illegally poached animals and animal parts — to try and stop this trade at the source.

“There is a demand from China and Vietnam for these exotic animals as they have traditions of eating wild animals. The size of their economies fuels a large trade,” Knights said. “But the governments are much more ready to act now than they were five years ago.”

In January, China imposed a ban on all farming and consumption of “terrestrial wildlife of important ecological, scientific and social value,” which is expected to be signed into law later this year.

After conservationists sent an open letter to Vietnam’s prime minister recommending action against the wildlife trade as a means of preventing future outbreaks of disease, that country — where wildlife restaurants have bats, civet cats, snakes, bear, monkeys and pangolins on the menu — is also looking to stop importing imperiled animals to eat.

And recently, both China and Vietnam introduced airport detection systems that can help expose someone trying to smuggle in animal parts. It’s already helped in efforts to curb the ivory trade: In early April, 11 large rhino horns were seized in Vietnam after a flight from Hong Kong was diverted from Ho Chi Minh city to Can Tho.

“Many people in China [and Vietnam] find this illegal wildlife trade as abhorrent as everyone in the west,” Knights said. “When the coronavirus broke out there was a tremendous uproar. But in a country of 1.4 billion, you don’t need that many bad actors to have (a huge impact).”

Paula Froelich is the founder and editor of the online travel magazine for women, A Broad Abroad. Instagram @pfro.

Sharp drop in rhino poaching amid lockdown (South Africa)

By Antipoaching, Illegal trade No Comments
Danell Watts, Corridor Gazette | April 29, 2020

Read original article here.

The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries has reported a significant decline in the number of rhino poaching incidents, not only during the lockdown, but since the beginning of the year.

The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) in a statement confirmed that ranger services and anti-poaching activities continue in all national parks and provincial reserves during the nationwide lockdown.

Original photo as published by Corridor Gazette

“We have dedicated essential staff members who are on high alert in the Kruger National Park, all other national parks, as well as provincial and municipal game reserves,” said the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy.

Low demand and strengthened law enforcement at the ports of entry could possibly have contributed to the decline in the numbers of rhinos and elephants being poached, while there are also indications of a decline in marine poaching, according to the statement.

The department stated that it is encouraging to see that rhino poaching numbers have decreased since the start of the year and continue to decrease during the lockdown period.

The department has been in contact with both SANParks and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife in relation to rhino poaching incidents in the Kruger National Park and the provincial parks in KwaZulu-Natal – the two areas which are the hardest hit by poaching incidents.

Incursions into the parks and incidents detected that are related to rhino poaching have remained stable and reduced during lockdown period. The one area where there has been a slight increase in the number of incursions into the KNP since the lockdown, has been in the Marula North region.

The incursions all came from Mozambique, the department stated, where there appears to be a general perception among poaching groups that KNP rangers were “all on lockdown” and not at work.  A number of arrests continues to be made across the country as anti-poaching work is recognised as an essential service and teams are fully operational.

“This can be attributed to the devotion of rangers and supporting security personnel who are not only in the field protecting our natural environment, but also performing anti-poaching duties, that we have a continued decline in rhino poaching in our country,” the minister said.

As calls to shutter wildlife markets grow, China struggles with an industry worth billions

By Illegal trade No Comments
Ashoka Mukpo, Mongabay | April 27, 2020

Read original article here.

Last Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on China to shut down wet markets where illegal wildlife are sold. Pompeo’s call was echoed by the Australian government, which on the same day urged G20 countries to take action on wildlife markets in order to reduce the risk of new diseases like COVID-19 spilling over into humans in the future.

Lost in both statements was a recognition of the complexity of China’s wildlife trade or the scale of the challenge it now faces. Wet markets have shouldered much of the blame for the deadly pandemic, but few of those markets sell wildlife and those that do only account for a portion of a supply chain that involves millions of people and vast sums of money. Unwinding China’s wildlife industry – which serves as the primary means of survival for many of those people – will be far from straightforward.

Original photo as published by Mongabay. China issued a provisional ban on wildlife consumption in late February, but on Thursday the U.S. called for the ban to be made permanent.

Some new polling data shows high levels of support in the region for shutting down illegal wildlife markets, even in countries where consumption of wildlife is considered a delicacy. China’s provisional ban on eating wildlife has earned praise from conservation groups as a good start, but sorting out the line between legal and illegal markets has already proved tricky.

Key sectors of China’s wildlife industry remain free from new regulations – including those that sell products made from animals known to carry coronaviruses. Traditional medicine, for example, includes the use of remedies made from bats and pangolins, but producers serving that market have so far escaped the kind of harsh new restrictions that the wildlife consumption industry faces.

In the long run, conservation experts say they hope the spike in outrage over the link between commercial wildlife exploitation and COVID-19 will lead to lasting change across the wildlife industry in China, as well as elsewhere in the region.

Wildlife markets shutter in China, but challenges remain in a vast industry

After the initial spread of COVID-19 was traced to a wet market that sold wildlife in Wuhan, the Chinese government ordered people across the country to stop trading or eating wild animals on Feb 24. The ban on consumption is provisional, with a new legal framework expected to come later this year. Horseshoe bats as well as pangolins – one of the world’s most trafficked species – have been identified as potential hosts that might have passed the virus to a human.

While the focus on wet markets can obscure the complexity of China’s wildlife industry, the small proportion of those markets that do sell wild animals have been identified as a public health hazard.

“These animals are often mixed with multiple different species in unsanitary conditions, creating a perfect environment for the pathogens that they carry to jump from one species to another,” said Jonathan Sleeman, director of the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center in an email.

Conservationists based in China say that the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted an outcry on social media, leading to calls for harsher restrictions and reinforcing perceptions of the wildlife industry as dangerous to public health.

“This pandemic is so shocking,” said Fei Zhou, chief program officer of WWF China in an interview. “It’s a catastrophe at the national level we never had in the past, and a consensus has emerged to close all the wildlife markets.”

But abroad, misconceptions of what constitutes a wildlife market and how people in China consume or purchase products made from wildlife have led to confusion.

“I think people get this message a little mixed that there are these rampant wildlife markets all over China and they’re reopening,” said Blake. “That’s not the case, it’s mostly food markets.”

Part of the wildlife trade has shifted to online marketplaces in recent years, where buyers can purchase wildlife products and have them delivered to their doorstep by courier services.

Warehouses and farms where animals are stored by sellers who operate those marketplaces can pose similar public health risks to those of in-person wildlife markets.

“The situations where you have wildlife housed in warehouses for customers can still create a high-risk disease situation for workers, who can then subsequently spread a disease if they catch it,” said David Olson, director of conservation at WWF Hong Kong in an interview.

E-commerce companies like Alibaba and Tencent have begun issuing warnings and reporting accounts that sell wildlife food products to law enforcement agencies, conservationists say.

“They use keywords to check if there are online stores or advertisements talking about wildlife consumption, and if they find those they will send an alert to the store’s owners and ask them to take it off,” said Aili Kang, executive director of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)’s Asia Program in an interview.

According to an official with China’s State Council, 17,000 e-commerce accounts offering wildlife products were shut down in a month earlier this year.

Nearly overnight, a ticket out of poverty becomes a public health hazard

For many of the 6.3 million people involved in China’s $18 billion dollar per-year wildlife farming industry, the new rules are a life-upending event.

Among the species covered under China’s consumption ban are civet cats and bamboo rats, which have featured in a years-long effort by Chinese officials to reduce rural poverty by encouraging people to legally farm wildlife. The sale of civet cats was briefly banned in 2003 after they were identified as likely hosts for the SARS virus that killed nearly 800 people, but the ban was lifted not long afterwards.

This time, conservationists say, the restrictions are likely to stick.

“The difference between the current pandemic and SARS is that this health scare is a wake-up call for the government and public that there’s a need to end these kind of markets,” said Zhou of WWF China.

But sorting out compensation for farmers involved in a trade that was legal just a few months ago and helping them transition into other industries will be challenging, particularly for a government that prizes economic development. Already, some farmers have expressed frustration at the ban and are lobbying behind the scenes for exceptions to be made.

“They want to argue that captive breeding of civet cats isn’t the problem because they can get health checks or other types of control,” said Kang of WCS. “There’s a debate within China currently between conservation groups and the captive breeding groups.”

Kang says the government is examining whether farms used for wild species can be repurposed for other kinds of domesticated livestock.

According to one Chinese official, nearly 20,000 captive breeding farms were forced to close down in February alone. Some worry that if the owners of those farms aren’t assisted in finding new sources of income, they could be pushed into the black market.

“For a transition out of the wildlife trade to be socially acceptable and effective, it is essential that the identification of alternate livelihood options is carried out,” said Elizabeth Mrema, acting executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in an email. “And this must be done in consultation with, rather than imposed on communities.”

Despite risks, traditional medicine escapes new regulation

While China’s ban on wildlife consumption has been welcomed by conservation groups and public health experts, some say it doesn’t go far enough. The new rules don’t cover traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which has deep roots in Chinese culture and includes remedies derived from wildlife products like tiger bones and pangolin scales.

“The TCM lobby is really powerful,” said Olson of WWF Hong Kong. “More powerful than the wildlife farming industry even, because it’s a part of cultural tradition.”

Most TCM remedies don’t include wildlife products, but demand for those that do is high enough to link the industry to catastrophic levels of poaching across the world. China has long banned consumption of pangolin, but loopholes for use of the reclusive creature’s scales in TCM have fed the illicit trade and provided opportunities for its meat to make its way into markets and restaurants.

The decision to allow the TCM industry to continue selling products made from species that have been identified as coronavirus carriers has been met with criticism, although some NGOs are reluctant to push the Chinese government too aggressively on the issue.

“I think sometimes the international calls for action are counterproductive because of the nationalism and politics involved,” Olson said. “China doesn’t do things just because someone told them what to do.”

While production lines for TCM remedies can be better controlled than open-air wildlife markets, critics of the government’s decision say there are risks even when safety precautions are in place. Large-scale production of dried bat feces – which is used to treat eye and other ailments – remains legal and it can still be purchased online.

Bats have been a recurring feature at the center of viral outbreaks in recent years, and have been linked to the transmission of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome [SARS], Middle East Respiratory Syndrome [MERS], Ebola, and now COVID-19.

One study from early February identified bats from a region near Wuhan as the most likely original host of Covid-19, speculating that use of the species for TCM may have been the initial vector of infection.

“Even when the selling of live wild animals at food markets would be completely prohibited in China, the trading and handling of bats for traditional medicinal purposes would remain a serious risk for future zoonotic coronavirus epidemics,” the authors wrote.

While concerns over the absence of TCM in China’s regulatory response to the pandemic remain, conservationists say the halt on wildlife consumption is a step in the right direction that they hope neighboring countries will emulate.

For now, public sentiment is soundly against the wildlife trade, but they worry about what could happen once memories begin to fade.

“After, say, five years, when people begin to recover from the pandemic and start to move back to normal, it’s possible they’ll forget what happened,” said Kang of WCS. “They may say, well we have medicine to treat Covid-19. That will be the time businesses may say, ‘now we can rethink this.’”