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Land conservation

South African game-farming industry on the ‘brink of collapse”

By Conservation, Land conservation No Comments
Ed Stoddard, The Daily Maverick | May 11, 2020

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South Africa’s experiment in ‘wildlife privatisation’ is under threat from the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown measures to contain it. The once-thriving game-farming industry is in serious trouble because its main sources of revenue — hunting, game viewing and sales — have been under lockdown. It is an economic meltdown that could also create an animal welfare crisis.

Herd of giraffes in South Africa’s North-West Province where Covid-19-related financial pressures on Game farmers are beginning to tell.

Commercial farmers in South Africa have for the most part been able to get on with their business under the pandemic-triggered lockdowns — feeding the nation is clearly an essential service.

But one sub-sector of South African agriculture has seen almost all of its revenue evaporate in the face of the pandemic. The game-farming industry is on the “brink of collapse,” according to a presentation by Wildlife Ranching South Africa (WRSA), the main body that represents more than 1,500 ranchers in the sector.

“It is clear that the South African wildlife industry is on the brink of collapse due to the impact of Covid-19 on the industry and unless mitigation measures are introduced urgently to allow for live game trade, the production and distribution of game meat and the introduction of incremental local hunting and tourism activities, most product owners in the wildlife industry in South Africa will not survive the impacts of Covid-19,” the presentation says.

“Despite wildlife management being stipulated in the National Disaster Management Regulations as an essential activity, the lockdown resulted in severe negative effects for the South African private wildlife ranching industry, which included not only the international hunting and tourism market, but also the domestic hunting and tourism market, live game trade, game meat sales and other related activities.”

This gels with feedback to Business Maverick from several ranchers involved in the sector, which has three main sources of revenue — hunting, game viewing and sales. This trifecta of income has dried up like a puddle in the Kalahari.

WRSA did a survey of wildlife ranchers and 601 responded. It found that there was an 86% decline in visits to such operations by game-viewing tourists and hunters in March and April — a virtual wipeout. Estimated financial losses to the sector for 2020 from cancellations was put at R3.8-billion, while that for new bookings to the end of 2020 was put at R3.1-billion. Live game sales are predicted to lose close to R1.7-billion in 2020, while meat sale losses have been put at R640-million. So total losses for the year are estimated at more than R9-billion.

And more than half of the people employed in the sector are expected to lose their jobs or suffer reduced wages.

“Respondents indicated an average staff complement as at the end of February 2020 of 15 staff members per game farm. These figures do not include the additional part-time employees during hunting season, who basically all will have no income if no hunting takes place during the year,” the WRSA survey found. With 601 respondents that would be just over 9,000 jobs.

Most of the survey respondents also expect to see an increase in environmental crimes such as poaching, which is hardly a surprise in the face of rising levels of rural poverty and hunger. Animal welfare organisations may applaud the sharp decline in sport hunting — no Texas oilmen posing with dead rhinos! No American dentists taking down lions with human names like Cecil!

But the economic crisis also heralds an unfolding animal welfare crisis. Poaching will be part of that, but there is also the question of what will happen to animals on game farms that go bust. Around half of South Africa’s rhino population is now estimated to be in private hands, and many of those animals could be at risk if the businesses that support them collapse. In the absence of auctions, current game prices are not clear, but one would expect the bottom to fall out of the market — that is certainly the perception among game farmers whom Business Maverick has spoken to. Game farm prices may also sink along with general property values, potentially adding to the mounting toll of bad debt held by banks.

Hunting, of course, is an emotive issue that often finds itself in the firing line. There are critics who question the economic contribution of hunting to South Africa’s economy. What is reasonably clear is that its contribution is not insignificant — a North West University study estimated it to be worth R11.6-billion in 2018, accounting for domestic hunters alone.

The same can be said of the game-viewing or photographic-safari sector. Both no doubt also offer entrepreneurial opportunities for previously disadvantaged communities. What is lost in the fog of the debate is that many (though not all) jobs in both sectors are often seasonal or involve poorly paid and semi-skilled work such as domestic labour. Many of the people employed are not well off to begin with, and they can often have extended family networks which translate into several dependants. A top-up in social grants is hardly going to compensate for the lost wages in low-income rural households.

Some game farmers will clearly weather the storm. There are wildlife ranchers with diversified business models who also produce crops or raise livestock, so their operations will still generate revenue and they can call on the bank if the need arises. And some don’t even need the money.

South Africa’s most prominent game farmer happens to be President Cyril Ramaphosa — although he lacks its ornery temperament, his nickname is “The Buffalo” — and one would expect he will not be forced to sell the ranch to pay his bills. Indeed, there is more than one CEO or tycoon out there who owns a game farm as a weekend hobby where they can escape the madding crowd by jumping in a small plane and landing shortly thereafter on a remote airstrip.

This highlights a wider problem facing the industry, which according to WRSA has “transformed more than 20.5 million hectares of marginal agricultural land into thriving game ranches.” This is in many ways a conservation success story and has been part of a wider movement now dubbed “rewilding” whereby land formerly used for cattle or put to the plough has once again become the range of wild animals including megafauna such as rhino, elephant and buffalo.

Yet calling it an “essential service” is debatable and the industry almost exclusively caters to the affluent. This is not meant as a criticism — it is simply a statement of fact. The mostly white upper and middle classes in South Africa value wildlife and ultimately foot the bill for the upkeep, protection and preservation of such fauna, which in many cases has effectively been privatised.

From a free-market perspective, there is nothing wrong with this state of affairs and its potential conservation spin-offs. If someone values wildlife, they can pay for it. The challenge now is that this bill is going to become a lot bigger, for wildlife can hardly compete for resources or sympathy in a developing economy with glaring income disparities in the face of the escalating and pressing social needs wrought by the pandemic.

Coronavirus shutdown gives Nepal’s nature a respite

By Conservation, Land conservation, Reintroducation, Rescue and rehab No Comments
The Nepali Times| March 24, 2020

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While humans all over the planet are being challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, it has given nature everywhere a respite.

Carbon emissions have dipped, there is almost no carbon monoxide in the air over large parts of India and China because vehicles are off the roads, NOx and sulphur dioxide concentrations in the air have dropped. The concentration of particulate matter like soot given off by industries and diesel trucks have also decreased, improving air quality over Asia’s most-polluted cities.

Here in Nepal, Mt Everest and Himalayan peaks have got a much-needed respite after the government cancelled all expeditions and treks from the mountains for the spring climbing season. There has been an international uproar last year after photos of a traffic jam on the summit ridge of Mt Everest went viral. Garbage and corpses on the mountain have gotten a lot of media attention.

Original image from The Nepali Times: Chitlang, Makwanpur. Photo: KUNDA DIXIT


The sunny spring sky in Kathmandu was brilliantly clear on Tuesday, the first day of a week-long nationwide lockdown. With no traffic, and flights all grounded, there is no noise pollution in the street or the sky.

But the happiest must be wild animals in Nepal’s national parks, including those popular with tourists like Chitwan, Bardia, Langtang and Shivapuri-Nagarjun, where visitors have not been allowed since Sunday.

After the government closed schools and offices last week, Kathmandu’s residents had started arriving at Shivapuri and Chitwan by the busloads for picnics during weekend, prompting park officials to close entry on Monday.

“We had to close the parks because there was an increase in visitor numbers, but with the announcement of the nationwide lockdown from Tuesday, visitors will not be coming anyway,” said chief of Bardia National park Ananath Baral.

On Sunday, there were more than 400 visitors — about four times the daily average — at Shivapuri-Nagarjun, the national park on Kathmandu Valley’s northern and western rim.

Conservationists say the drop in human activity will be a relief to the park’s wildlife, since any extra noise can disturb their habitat and movement. Naturalist Mukesh Chalise recalls how there was an increase in wildlife in Langtang National Park after trekkers stopped coming due to the 2015 earthquake.

“It used to be difficult to see resident fauna and birds, now there are herds and flocks of them out in the open in Langtang,” Chalise says.

Due to its terrain and topographic range, Nepal has some of the richest biodiversity in a country with such a small area. There are 876 species of birds, 185 species of mammals and 651 species of butterflies in Nepal, some of them are only found here and nowhere else. National parks and protected areas cover 27% of Nepal’s area.

There has been a big increase in park visitors in the past few years. Nepal’s national parks and conservation areas registered 510,000 foreign visitors five years ago, and this grew to 701,000 last year.  There is no count of the number of Nepali visitors, and if this is added it would take the numbers to nearly 1.5 million per year.

There has also been little attempt to regulate the entry of sightseeing vehicles into national parks. In Chitwan alone, the national park issued 35 jeep permits every day for jungle safari into the core area. Bardia issued 22 jeep permits per day, with each vehicle carrying 10-14 visitors. Besides this, both Chitwan and Bardia also issue dozens of elephant safari permits.

All this has now come to a halt, and has eliminated human disturbance. Chalise says this will allow wild animals and birds to be left alone for a while which will be good for nature to rebound.

“We had already started seeing rhinos interacting more and more with humans, and acting tame. It is very dangerous for the rhino to lose its fear of humans because this may expose them to poachers,” adds Chalise, who says there should be a permanent ban on human entry into national parks. Tourists should be allowed only into the buffer zone.

Sindhu Dhungana at the Ministry of Forests and Environment, however, says that if local people do not see any advantage of eco-tourism they may not help in conservation, and visitors should be allowed but in a regulated numbers.

“The main criteria should be how much human activity is disturbing wildlife, and if it is serious numbers should be regulated,” Dhungana explains.

Lessening human entry into national parks will also prevent the spread of human diseases like tuberculosis to rhinos and elephants, and also stop viruses from wild animals infecting humans.

Chalise also warns that the nationals parks should be vigilant about increased activity of poachers taking advantage of the national shutdown to hunt wild animals either for meat or tusks, horns and pelts.

Stray rhino causes panic at Jorhat district in Kokilamukh Forest (State of Assam, India)

By Conservation, Land conservation No Comments
The Sentinel Assam | March 18, 2020

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JORHAT: An adult rhino which came out from the Kaziranga National Park (KNP) has been wreaking havoc since the past one week at Aruna Chapori, Bhekuli Chapori and Molai Kathoni, i.e., ‘Forest Man of India’ Jadav Payeng’s forest, towards the northern side of Jorhat district in Kokilamukh Forest Beat under Jorhat Forest Division, said Tongkeswar Bayan, a Forest official on Tuesday.

To push back the adult male rhino, the Jorhat and Majuli Forest Divisions have brought in two elephants along with two Forest guards with arms and mahuts from KNP.

Original photo from The Sentinel Assam


They are looking for the stray rhino that has reached Jadav Payeng’s forest via the Brahmaputra shore belt.

On Sunday, the stray rhino had chased a team of Administration and Forest officials at Dhudang Chapori towards south Majuli. Somehow, the 10-member team fled the scene in a Bolero car that was parked nearby, said Forest sources.

 

1000children

100,000 children stand against wildlife crime

By Antipoaching, Conservation, Education, Land conservation, Volunteering No Comments
Sifelani Tsiko, The Herald
February 18, 2020

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About 100,000 children in and around the national parks of Gonarezhou in Zimbabwe and Limpopo in Mozambique are being educated through the Peace and Changemaker Generation project to appreciate wildlife conservation efforts and to take a stand against wildlife crime.

The project also promotes girls’ rights in their communities as part of wider efforts to strengthen the two countries’ efforts to combat wildlife trafficking.

The project is a partnership between the World Children’s Prize Foundation and Peace Parks Foundation and is implemented in Zimbabwe by Shamwari Yemwanasikana, Gonarezhou Conservation Trust and Chilojo Club, in conjunction with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education.

This may be the first time that all children in a vast, but defined area are reached in order to contribute in the long-term to increased respect for children’s rights in their communities, and to the protection of wildlife and nature. The project is being carried out in communities in Zimbabwe and Mozambique living in or adjacent to the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area.

At least 2,000 children will be trained as Peace and Changemaker Generation ambassadors, together with 700 teachers and school leaders. Parents and local leaders would also be educated. These project ambassadors and teachers will educate all 100,000 children, in about 350 schools, about child rights, global goals for sustainable development, as well as the consequences of wildlife crime and climate change for their communities.

1000children

The national parks, Gonarezhou in Zimbabwe, and Limpopo in Mozambique, are rich in animal life and biodiversity that are continuously threatened by organised crime, poaching and trafficking of products such as rhino horn and elephant tusks; loss of natural habitat; drought; and climate change.

Both ecosystems and animals are endangered. There is not a single rhino left in the area. Many children live in poverty and face violations of their rights. Girls are especially vulnerable, but boys are also affected.

Paulo from Mozambique, now 16, was told to quit school at 13 to become a poacher: “It felt pointless carrying on at school, because there aren’t any jobs here anyway. But I’ve had enough,” he said.

“Poaching is not only illegal; it is also very dangerous. Poachers and rangers are getting killed in South Africa and Mozambique.”

Twelve-year-old Ronaldo from Mozambique lost his father when he was shot to death by park rangers in South Africa. “It’s wrong to kill animals, they are innocent. I wish my dad had done something different, but he did it because we are poor,” says Ronaldo.

Girls in the areas are especially vulnerable, and child marriage is common.

Blessing (15) from Zimbabwe was badly affected when her father gave up poaching after the number of park rangers increased. “It means I can’t go to school anymore, because we cannot afford to pay my school fees. Now I’m afraid that I will be married off,” says Blessing, having seen many of her peers, and younger girls, being forced to marry.

“Even though I had to leave school when my dad gave up poaching, I want to become a park ranger. Our wild animals are worth more alive than dead,” says Blessing.

Blessing, Paulo, Ronaldo and 100,000 other children in Zimbabwe and Mozambique are now taking part in the project, through which they will learn to stand up for their rights and make a change for a better future.

In addition, through the World Children’s Prize Programme, two million children in other countries will learn about the children in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, wildlife and protected areas, and how a new generation of children can make a change for the better.

Kenyan wildlife policies must extend beyond protected areas

By Conservation, Land conservation No Comments
Peter Tyrrell, The Conversation | December 18, 2019

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At least 15% of the world’s surface is governed by laws to protect its living species, including plants, animals and fungi. But this is not enough. The most recent estimates suggest that an additional 30% of the planet’s surface needs further conservation attention. Without this additional protection the world will continue to lose large numbers of species.

What does this look like when we scale down to the country level?

Our research focuses on Kenya—a country renowned for its natural environment, in particular its large mammals such as elephants, rhinos and lions. We looked into whether Kenya’s protected areas and policies adequately conserve its less well known mammals, birds, and amphibians.

We examined a total of 1,535 species. We used this snapshot of the country’s biodiversity because of the availability of data for these groups and because many are under threat.

In Kenya, protected areas that are governed by wildlife laws fall under three categories. These are: national parks (managed by the Kenya Wildlife Service), national reserves (managed by county governments) and conservancies. National parks and reserves cover about 8% of the country’s land surface. About 160 conservancies protect about 11% of Kenya’s land.

These protected areas were generally established in areas with large populations of big mammals and are the focus of the current wildlife policy. This policy aims to protect these species inside national parks and reserves and help landowners coexist with wildlife in conservancies. It gives landowners the right to benefit from wildlife, for example through revenue from eco-toursim and compensation for the costs of living with wildlife.

The number of wildlife conservancies has grown to protect the many of the large mammals which are found outside government protected areas.

Despite this, we found that only 16% of amphibian species, 45% of birds, and 41% of mammals are adequately conserved within government run protected areas and conservancies. Many species need attention in areas that are not supported by wildlife policies or laws.

Kenya is developing a new wildlife policy and conservation master plan. Protected areas and conservancies must be supported. But our research shows that new and innovative wildlife policies and practices are needed to adequately protect many of Kenya’s species.

Collecting Data

For our study, we developed a data set that categorised land into different types of use:

· protected areas and conservancies (which are covered by current wildlife policy),

· forest reserves (managed by Kenya Forest Service),

· rangelands (areas grazed by livestock),

· forests, urban areas and agriculture.

We then used data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature database and Birdlife International to examine whether a species’ range was within a protected area, which other land-use options were important for conservation and which species needed more of their range to be protected.

Finally we used data on the human footprint – which includes information on built environments, cropland, human population density, night‐time lights, railways and roads. It allowed us to assess how pressure from people affects various species and which types of land use exert the highest pressures.

Inadequate Protected Areas

We found that many of the areas with the highest numbers of different species are found where considerable human pressures exist. These are often farmland areas, close to development, or rangelands. Substantial conservation efforts outside protected areas, and beyond the current policy focus, are required to ensure the longevity of these species in Kenya.

Worryingly, 80 species weren’t covered by any protected area at all. Many face immediate threats from human activities to their survival—such as the critically endangered Taita warty frog (Callulina dawida).

The highest density of large mammals is found in areas with the lowest human pressures. This is currently where wildlife policy focuses. Yet we show with locally acquired data that the number of bird and plant species can be highest in areas with considerable human pressures.

This same trend can be found in wildlife policies across much of the continent: a focus on protected areas and large mammals, with little consideration for broader biodiversity in systems dominated by humans.

Rangelands, Farms and Cities

Of all land uses we assessed, rangelands—which cover 67% of the country and mostly drier areas—are extremely important for conservation efforts. They cover the largest area of land and provide range for the majority of species.

Conserving wildlife and biodiversity in rangelands, which are dominated by livestock, is both possible and necessary.

People and animals can co-exist in these areas. For instance, in Kenya’s rift valley there are communities that protect large tracts of land to support the free movement of people, livestock and wildlife.

Urban and agricultural areas are often overlooked and are also important for conservation.

For instance, there’s a mosaic of green space in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi—in the form of a national park, urban parks, forest reserves and residential gardens. It hosts as many bird species as the Maasai Mara national reserve. As cities grow, urban planning needs to consider biodiversity.

Lessons can be learnt from cities such as London and Washington DC. London, for example, supports key species by protecting open spaces and their habitat.

Taking care of forest patches within farmland is also crucial. In southern Uganda, for example, preserving forest patches in intensive agricultural land may benefit some bird species.

Future Conservation Efforts

Kenya needs to prioritise conservation interventions at the national level, across land-use types to conserve a large number of its mammals, birds and amphibians. To do this, policymakers must use data to identify key areas of habitat and species range that can be conserved.

Kenya should also develop “National Red Lists”, as has been done in Uganda and South Africa. This could help target action for threatened species.

To monitor progress, there should be local programmes to collect and summarise data on the environment, biodiversity, land use, human demographics and economic indicators. This will help to prioritise action too.

Our research echoes international calls for landscape‐based approaches to conservation. The call is to balance competing land uses in a way that is best for human well-being and the environment. This would mean policy reforms that integrate conservation with all other sectors of land use.

Without this, landscapes in Africa may end up in a similar situation to those of Europe and America, needing expensive, large-scale restoration and recovery strategies to protect biodiversity.

Peadar Brehony, PhD Candidate (University of Cambridge), who has focused on the impact that conservation efforts have on socio-ecological systems, contributed to this article.

 

Rhino Fund Uganda clarifies on alleged grabbing of Ziwa ranchers’ land

By Land conservation No Comments
Nixon Segawa, Soft Power News | December 17, 2019

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Rhino Fund Uganda has come out to denounce plans of forcefully take over a total of 62 square kilometers of land in Nakasongola which was leased to the organization in 2002.

There have been several media reports that Rhino Fund Uganda and D & D International Ltd (Amuka Lodge) have attempted to “steal” any Leasehold or Mailo land from M/s Ziwa Ranchers Ltd owned by Captain Joe Roy. On August 20, 2002, Rhino Fund Uganda signed a license agreement with M/s Ziwa Ranchers Ltd, on 62 square Kilometers of land comprised in Leasehold and Mailo titles.

Under the said License agreement, Rhino Fund was to establish and manage a Rhino sanctuary on the said land for a period of thirty (30) years. In a document authored by Rhino Fund Uganda Board Chairman, Daudi Makobore, Ziwa Ranchers had the right to continue with its cattle farming on the said land however, Joe Roy moved his cattle to his other ranch (Kiryana) where he had a cattle farming business by choice.

Original photo as published by Soft Power News: Rhino Fund’s Daudi Makobore with President Museveni during a recent meeting on the matter.

“No license fee or payment to Ziwa Ranchers or Joe Roy is recorded in this license agreement. Joe Roy is to date running his business (Ziwa Rhino Lodge) which comprises of guest houses, backpackers, camping and a restaurant on the sanctuary,” Makobore explained.

Makobore said that at the time of execution of the License agreement, Joe Roy and his wife, a one Daisy Roy were the only shareholders/Directors in Ziwa Ranchers Ltd with 50% shareholding each. “On the basis of the License agreement, Rhino Fund Uganda invested heavily with donor funding in terms of infrastructure development including but not limited to purchasing and transporting of rhinos, electric fencing the entire land, dams, fences and outposts, setting up sanctuary buildings, maintenance of Roads and establishing a school within the sanctuary and serving the community and district with various social corporate responsibility projects,” Makobore said.

Makobore said that sometime in 2009, the shareholders of Ziwa Ranchers Ltd (Capt. Joseph Charles Roy and Mrs. Daisy Roy) transferred all their stakes in Ziwa Ranchers Ltd (the company) to Amiral Karmali and Rukhsana Karmali who later became shareholders and directors of the company. “On or about the 16th October, 2017 and with no basis at all, Rhino Fund Uganda was stunned to be served with what purported to be a termination notice from M/s Omongole & Co. Advocates, Counsel for Joe Roy allegedly terminating the 30 years License agreement between Rhino Fund and M/s Ziwa Ranchers Ltd,” Makobore said.

He says that on the basis of the purported termination notice, Joe Roy has continuously issued eviction threats to Rhino Fund Uganda and on 28th January, 2019, Joe Roy through his lawyers issued a notice to Rhino Fund to vacate certain facilities within the sanctuary. “The “Land Wrangle” being referred to in the media is twisted and misinterpreted. Rhino Fund Uganda, its Executive Director and D & D International Ltd (Amuka Lodge) have no desire or have never attempted to “steal” any Leasehold or Mailo land from Joe Roy”.

What is referred to as a “Land Wrangle” is merely the above contesting the early termination notices and protecting their interests and investments on the said land, Makobore clarified.

Makobore noted that on the other hand, by letter dated May 27, 2019, Joe Roy through his lawyers wrote to the Ambassador of the European Union (EU), World Bank and UNDP urging them to desist from further funding Rhino Fund Uganda, claiming in this letter that Rhino Fund Uganda and its Executive Director are busy with illegal activities and conflicted.

“On the basis of these facts Rhino Fund Uganda instructed its Lawyers Ms. Opyene & Co. Advocates and Ms. Sekabanja & Co. Advocates to seek necessary redress from the courts to protect among others its interests on this land,” Makobore noted.

The lawyers thus secured a court injunction to foster the security and safety of the Rhinos, an extremely vulnerable and endangered species. “This order aforementioned does not and did not by any glimpse of error or wildest interpretation bar Joe Roy from accessing his land, business or client guest house which he refers to as his home. Joe Roy, his colleagues and family have been and still have access to the sanctuary whenever and wherever he wishes,” Makobore noted. He added that, “The ‘war’ which is played to the gallery is to distort the clear facts of the sequence of events.”

 

African Parks’ most hopeful conservation news in 2019

By Conservation, Land conservation, Science and technology No Comments
African Parks / PR Newswire | December 18, 2019

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JOHANNESBURG: Successful conservation interventions are critical, now more than ever, to improve the trajectory of the planet’s biodiversity and the state of its ecosystems, as highlighted in the IPBES global biodiversity assessment published this year. Well managed protected areas are vital anchors of sanctuary, stability and opportunity for millions of people and countless species.

With the largest and most ecologically diverse portfolio of parks under management by any one organisation across Africa, African Parks’ goal is to realize the ecological, social and economic value of these landscapes, preserving ecological functions, delivering clean air, healthy watersheds, carbon sequestration, food security, and better health for millions of people.

Here is some of their most hopeful news from 2019:

  • Zimbabwe’s exceptional Matusadona National Park which abuts Lake Kariba became the 16th park to join African Parks’ management portfolio. Through partnership with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, they will fully restore the park as a leading wildlife sanctuary for the region.
  • One of history’s largest international black rhino translocations was concluded with the WWF Black Rhino Range Expansion Project, using source populations in South Africa to boost Malawi’s population to create a valuable range state for the critically endangered species.
  • The largest ever transport of rhinos from Europe to Africa was undertaken, releasing five Eastern black rhinos, bred successfully by the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria Ex Situ Programme, into Rwanda’s Akagera National Park, helping to build a sustainable wild population of this subspecies numbering only around 1,000 in Africa.
  • Cheetahs were introduced to Majete Wildlife Reserve in Malawi to form a crucial founder population and help grow the range of the vulnerable big cat; and almost 200 buffalo were released into Zambia’s Bangweulu Wetlands to restock one of the continent’s greatest wetland landscapes.
  • 100 years of conservation was celebrated with the Barotse Royal Establishment and Zambia’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) in Liuwa Plain National Park with the official opening of the world class King Lewanika Lodge. The event was testament to their 16-year partnership to restore the ecosystem, promote livelihoods development, provide employment, education, and support to thousands of people, while seeing the park emerge as one of the world’s top travel destinations hailed by The New York Times and TIME Magazine.
  • TIME Magazine featured Chad’s Zakouma National Park on its list of World’s Greatest Places 2019, and Akagera National Park in Rwanda continued to see remarkable strides in tourism development, with Wilderness Safaris opening the gorgeous luxury tented Magashi Camp.
  • With several partners they have installed the most advanced technology available, from Vulcan’s EarthRanger, ESRI, Smart Parks, and others, to improve real-time monitoring of wildlife and to support law enforcement within the parks.

These advancements are only possible because of the partnerships with national governments who entrust African Parks with managing their natural heritage. Their shared vision of a future for people and wildlife is realised through the generous funding received from a global community of committed supporters, including anchor donors: Acacia Conservation Fund (ACF), Adessium Foundation, Arcus Foundation, Dutch Postcode Lottery, European Union, Fondation des Savanes Ouest-Africaines (FSOA), Fondation Segré, Government of Benin, Howard G. Buffett Foundation, MF Jebsen Conservation Foundation, National Geographic Society, Oppenheimer Philanthropies, People’s Postcode Lottery, Save the Elephants and Wildlife Conservation Network’s Elephant Crisis Fund, Stichting Natura Africae, The Walton Family Foundation, The Wildcat Foundation, The Wyss Foundation, WWF-the Netherlands, WWF-Belgium, UK Aid, U.S. Department of State and USAID.

Overall, these gains are only possible because of the myriad support received, from events to charitable auctions and races, recommendations to friends, travel to the parks, bequests and helping to tell the story of the urgency of the conservation work, and to generous board members in Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the U.S. and South Africa.

Source: African Parks

Related links: www.africanparks.org

 

Time is running out for Southeast Asia

By Conservation, Land conservation, News No Comments
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.

How many rhinos is enough rhinos? (Nepal)

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Sonia Awale, The Nepali Times | November 29, 2019

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Despite Nepal achieving zero rhino poaching for the past five years, conservationists say the country should not let its guard down given the official extinction of the Sumatran rhinoceros in Malaysia last week.

There has been a rise in rhino deaths in Nepal recent years, for various reasons such as natural death, overcrowding in protected areas and human-animal conflict due to habitat encroachment. But the biggest threat to rhino conservation in the post-poaching era is the growing infrastructure that crisscrosses nature reserves.

Conservationists interviewed for this article said sustaining rhino numbers will be even more challenging because the animal’s floodplain habitat is affected by upstream infrastructure development, pollution and disease, as well as the impact of climate change.

In order to assess future priorities for wildlife conservation in general and rhino protection in particular, the department of national parks and wildlife conservation is currently conducting a baseline study of the carrying capacity of Chitwan National Park for rhinos. A census of the total rhino population will also be done next year.

Original photo as published by Nepali Times. (Photo: KUNDA DIXIT)

The population of the Greater One-horned Rhinoceros was estimated at 1,000 in Chitwan until the 1950s. But with hunting, poaching and transmigration of people from the mountains to the valley after the eradication of malaria in the 1960s, the number plummeted to less than 100.

This prompted the government to establish an armed Rhino Patrol Unit in 1961, and in 1973 it declared the remaining prime rhino habitats along the Rapti, Narayani and Reu rivers as Chitwan National Park.

Over the years, successful efforts by the government and conservation agencies translated into a gradual rise in the rhino population. Of the 645 rhinos counted in the last census in 2015, 605 individuals were found in Chitwan National Park alone, with the rest scattered in Parsa, Bardia and Shuklaphanta reserves.

Climate change is the latest threat to wildlife, with rhinos particularly affected because weather extremes have aggravated water scarcity, flash floods and prey decline. A major flood in 2017 washed away about a dozen rhinos to India, and only seven of them were rescued and returned to Chitwan. Changes in vegetation, due to both human and natural causes, is leading to loss of grasslands, a prime rhino habitat.

Next year’s rhino census can determine the effectiveness of past conservation efforts and help to craft a future plan of action. The census is conducted every 4-5 years, but the 2019 census was postponed due to lack of funding.

The current carrying-capacity study is also expected to provide key information for park managers and the government that will feed into future rhino conservation initiatives. It will answer key questions like whether Chitwan has exceeded its carrying capacity for 600 rhinos and if so, if the animals can be moved to other national parks as they have been in the past.

Said Bishnu Prasad Shrestha of the department of national parks and wildlife conservation: “At the moment we are in the planning and coordinating stage for the census. Together with the ongoing carrying-capacity study, it will give us a future direction and help us formulate strategies moving forward for the conservation of rhinos in Nepal.”

 

Kaziranga National Park: Report identifies 9 corridors for free movement of animals (State of Assam, India)

By Conservation, Land conservation No Comments
Tora Agarwala, The Indian Express | November 27, 2019

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A special committee has recommended the delineation (laying down the exact boundaries) of nine animal corridors in Kaziranga National Park (KNP).

Wildlife or animal corridors are meant to ensure safe passage for animals between two isolated habitats. At KNP, famous for the one-horned rhino, animals are known to regularly move (especially during the annual floods) from the park area to the nearby Karbi Anglong hills through these corridors. Once the rains clear, they make their way back to the grasslands.

The recommendations, if enacted, will help put a spanner on construction activities in these sensitive ecological zones, which have been proving an impediment to the free movement of wildlife.

Original photo as published by Indian Express: The report says “Kaziranga is like nature’s gift and a unique combination of floodplains, river, and hills — a mosaic of habitat.” (File/PTI)

The committee — comprising members of the forest department — was constituted after a report by the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) and a Supreme Court Order of April 12, 2019, which banned mining and related activities along KNP.

The report has been submitted to the state government, a member of the committee confirmed on condition of anonymity.

The report is in public circulation after Bokakhat-based environmental activist Rohit Choudhry filed an RTI query regarding it. It was Choudhry’s application that led to the crucial CEC report and the SC banning mining in the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

To define the nine corridors, the committee considered human-wildlife conflict data over the past three years, animal mortality rate on the NH-37 highway, camera trap images, and also conducted a number of field visits and interactions with local communities. The corridors are: Panbari, Haldibari, Bagori, Harmoti, Kanchanjuri, Hatidandi, Deosur, Chirang, and Amguri.

“The committee has done its best in keeping the interest of wildlife and views of local administration while making recommendations for these nine corridors” states the report.

“Kaziranga is like nature’s gift and a unique combination of floodplains, river, and hills — a mosaic of habitat. If there is some catastrophe during floods, animals can go to the hills. When there are no floods, they can graze on the grasslands,” says DP Bankhwal, who retired earlier this year as the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) (PCCF) and Assam Chief Wildlife Warden (CWLW).

However, the National Highway-37 (NH-37), that cuts across the Park, “fragments the once contiguous Kaziranga landscape into two discrete regions” according to the report. “This restricts movement especially during the floods when the NH-37 works as a link /temporary high ground,” says Bankhwal.

The report further goes on to state: “Human habitations and activities, tea plantations, truck parking lots and commercial establishments on either side of the highway are augmenting the fragmentation of the landscape. Despite the fragmentation, animals negotiate the NH-37 to seek refuge at the risk of getting killed in accidents.”

The report also points at commercial land use such as opening of resorts and dhabas, stone quarrying and industrial land use (stone crushers etc) as other important reasons to recommend new boundaries of these animal corridors.

In wildlife parlance, corridors are mainly of two types: functional and structural. While functional corridors are defined in terms of functionality from the perspective of the animal (basically areas where there have been recorded movement of wildlife), structural corridors are contiguous “strips of forested areas and structurally connect the otherwise fragmented blocks of the landscape.” When structural corridors are affected by human anthropogenic activities, functional corridors automatically widen because of animal use.

The nine corridors that already exist behave as functional corridors. According to the new recommendations, the corridors will act as both structural and functional, on the basis of need. The report suggests that structural corridors “should be made free of all human induced disturbances except for the forestry and wildlife management practices.” On the other hand functional corridors (which might become important when structural corridors are disturbed), “can have regulated multi-use with restrictions on land use change.”

“Many corridors pass through government areas as well as private land,” says P Sivakumar, Director, KNP, “That is why an independent committee was formed to make recommendations fairly.”

Bankhwal says that the only way these recommendations can have an impact is if corridors are notified. “A corridor should not be considered as just a passage but function as proper areas with proper resources for protection where animals can stop over and rest for a while,” he says.

Additional PCCF wildlife and CWLW Assam, MK Yadava, said while the report has been received, the matter is sub-judice and he could not comment further on the future action of the government.