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Tanzania’s Mkomazi Park is now a rhino sanctuary

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Apolinari Tairo, The East African | April 3, 2020

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When planning a safari, tourists rarely book a visit to Mkomazi National Park to see the rare African black rhino, currently classified as critically endangered. The park will introduce rhino tourism in July as an attraction for tourists.

Mkomazi is under the management of Tanzania National Parks (Tanapa). It is located some 112 km east of Moshi town in Kilimanjaro region, between the northern and southern safari circuits.

Tanapa conservation commissioner Allan Kijazi said last week that a special programme has been launched to protect the breeding rhinos in Mkomazi.

Original photo as published by The East African: Elephants in the Tsavo/Mkomazi ecosystem. FILE PHOTO | NMG

“Mkomazi has been running the rhino conservation project for the past 20 years,” he said.

Tanapa expects to earn Tsh423 million ($200,000) from 7,680 visitors per year.

About Tsh3.5 billion ($1.6 million) will be spent on the conservation project. Rhinos are protected within the fenced 55-square kilometre sanctuary, inside the 3,245-sqaure kilometre park. Tourists can see them more easily than in the wild plains, Mkomazi park warden Abel Mtui said.

Black rhinos used to roam freely between Mkomazi and the Tsavo ecosystem, covering Tsavo West National Park in Kenya.

Together with Tsavo, Mkomazi forms one of the largest protected ecosystems in the world.

Rhino census to be conducted from March 23 (Nepal)

By Conservation, Translocation No Comments
My Republica | March 16, 2020

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CHITWAN: A rhinoceros census is to be conducted from coming March 23. The Chitwan National Park (CNP) has made necessary preparations for that connection after the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) sent a letter to that effect.

A pre-census training would be organised in Sauraha of Chitwan on March 20 and 21, CNP assistant conservation officer Prakash Upreti said. He said about 100 people including the employees of CNP, the elephant breeding centre and the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) would attend the training.

According to him, the rhino census will also be held in Parsa, Bardiya and Shuklaphanta national parks. It is said mid-March to mid-April is the appropriate time for the rhino count. Elephants would be used for the census.

Rhino census was conducted before this in 1994, 2000, 2005, 2008, 2011 and 2015. As per the latest census, the highest number of rhinos was recorded in CNP. Six hundred and five rhinos were counted in CNP. A total of 645 rhinos were counted across the country including CNP.

Rhinos were translocated from CNP to Bardiya and Shuklaphanta in 2016 and 2017 and it is estimated that the rhino population might have increased due to this as well. The number of rhinos killed due to poaching is negligible after the 2015 census. However, the number of rhinos dying due to natural causes has been increasing.


The death of ‘Serondela’ marks conservation catastrophe (Botswana)

By Antipoaching, Conservation, Gaming, Illegal trade No Comments
Dave Baaitse, The Weekend Post | March 9, 2020

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The recent rise in mass slaughter of rhinos and constant brutal killing of rhinos for their horns at Chief’s Island in the Okavango Delta led to the death of one of Botswana’s iconic and cherished white rhino affectionately named Serondela.

Over the years, Serondela has become a symbol of Botswana’s success in rhino conservation and brought joy to those that knew his story. According to impeccable sources, Serondela’s story has lived on and inspired many people.

In later days when the numbers of rhino poaching had stabilised, he was relocated back to the delta until he met his demise recently, marking an end to a great conservation story. In an interview with one of the local newspapers, former Commander of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Major General Gaolatlhe Galebotswe was quoted saying anti-poaching operations are intelligence led. “With a committed intelligence outfit we will be able to find the culprits in a short time,” he said.

Original photo as published by Weekend Post: Named Serondela, the white iconic rhino bull was one of the four surviving white rhinos in Botswana at a time when white rhinos were poached to near extinction.

Galebotswe said the problem stems not from a lack of weapons for the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, but from an intelligence service that serves individual interests. The latest incidents show an escalation of the poaching rate, with approximately two rhinos killed every week.

Impeccable sources submit that the recent increase might be instigated by the fact that poaching syndicates are agile, and will shift to different areas as security and intelligence operations ramp up in the regions that have already seen intense poaching.

It is also reported that gangs will use new tactics continuously to avoid getting caught, always looking for the next location and trying to find ‘softer targets’. Last week Botswana Defence Force (BDF) refuted reports that the recent scenario is an inside job by its members particularly the Special Forces Unit popularly known as Commandos.

Reports suggest that the BDF Special Forces Unit is currently working under ‘protest’ a move that is highly linked to the fact that they were not beneficiaries of the 2019 BDF salary adjustments dubbed ‘Ntlole’.

This move is highly linked to the recent unprecedented rate of rhino poaching in the history of the country. Colonel Tebo Dikole, Director, Protocol and Public Affairs declined to discuss BDF operational matters such as, “the members of the special Forces and Infantry Units currently deployed in the anti-poaching operations at Chief’s Island”. “BDF in the execution of its mission of defending Botswana’s Territorial Integrity, Sovereignty and National Interests is not driven by profit or remuneration. All BDF members, including Special Forces’ performance hinges on one of our core value of ‘Duty’ which succinctly states that, ‘Duty is accomplishing all assigned tasks to the fullest of our ability,’ Col Dikole said.

Save the Rhino Africa indicated that Botswana has historically held a tough stance on poaching, often reported as an ‘unwritten shoot to kill policy’. However, strong words have not always been backed up by effective law enforcement.

In May 2018, the Government of Botswana disarmed its anti-poaching units, a story fuelled by internal politics. And there are wider issues around prosecutions further up the chain. According to the Save the Rhino report, in July 2018, Dumisani Moyo, a high-level wildlife trafficker, was released on bail despite repeated arrests for rhino poaching and being on Interpol’s Red List of most-wanted wildlife criminals.

This was not the first time Moyo had escaped prosecution: since 2008, he has apparently bribed his way out of a number of court cases, according to the report. Botswana is home to 500 rhinos, according to international conservation charity, Save the Rhino.

They are a protected species in Botswana and fall outside the government’s recent decision to end a five-year ban on trophy-hunting licences, which is largely targeted at the burgeoning elephant population.

Kevin Pietersen pat for rhino conservation efforts in Kaziranga (State of Assam, India)

By Conservation No Comments
Sanjoy Hazarika, The Telegraph India | March 6, 2020

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Former England cricketer Kevin Pietersen lauded rhino conservation efforts in Kaziranga on Thursday.

The cricketer and nature lover who reached Kaziranga on Wednesday was busy round the clock for his documentary on wild animals of Kaziranga with special emphasis on rhinos.

In a tweet, the nature activist, who is involved in rhino conservation in Africa, said rhino population in India is booming as proper conservation measures have been taken here.

Original photo as published by Telegraph India: Kevin Pietersen with the forest guards in Kaziranga. (Picture by Sanjoy Hazarika)

He tweeted: “The rhino population in India is BOOMING! Africa should take note! Saving these iconic species CAN be done and IS being done here! Bravo, India!”

In another tweet, the cricketer said, “Kaziranga is full of elephants on the right and rhinos on the left.”

The cricketer encouraged the forest guards to carry out their duty properly. “Safeguarding India’s wildlife. It’s duty first then family. Duty looks after his family. A GREAT man who serves Indian wildlife with great PRIDE,” Pietersen said in another tweet. “He is much sensitive to the sound of nature and a good observer,” divisional forest officer (DFO) of Upper Assam wildlife division, Ramesh Ch. Gogoi, said.

On March 12, Pietersen will be the guest of honour in the opening ceremony of the four-day Kaziranga Festival, 2020. The festival will resume after a gap of 11 years.

Throughout the festival several workshops on conservation of wildlife along with sightseeing will be held where several experts and students will take part.

There will be different traditional games, a photography competition, an open session on conservation of flora and fauna of Kaziranga besides quiz, drama and a cultural programme. Chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal and finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma will also take part in the open session.


Scientific breakthrough marks pioneer cheetah births through IVF, shines light on ongoing IVF on rhinos in Kenya

By Science and technology No Comments
Caroline Chebet, Standard Media | March 6, 2020

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Scientists and researchers have recorded a breakthrough following a successful birth of two cheetah cubs by a surrogate mother through In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF).

The first-ever scientific reproduction of cheetahs happened at a Columbian zoo, a breakthrough marked after more than 15 years of research.

According to a statement released by the Colombus Zoo and Aquarium, the achievement could ensure survival of cheetahs in their native ranges in Africa.

“These two cubs may be tiny, but they represent a huge accomplishment, with expert biologists and zoologists working together to create this scientific marvel,” the zoo said in a statement.

Original photo as published by Standard Media: A female cheetah and her seven cubs roam the savanna of Maasai Mara National Park in Southern Kenya. [Reuters]

Conservation scientists, the zoo said, have been doing researches to boost the number of cheetahs which, according to the International Union of Conservation and Nature, are listed as vulnerable with decreasing population trend in their native ranges. The two cubs were born on February 19.

The procedure to birthing the two cubs involved fertilisation of sperm and eggs in a laboratory and then incubated to create embryos. The embryos were implanted into the surrogate mother’s womb, where they developed into foetuses.

The breakthrough on the scientific reproductive techniques on cheetahs come in the wake of the assisted reproduction techniques being tried on the critically endangered northern white rhinos in Kenya.

On scientific milestones to assist in reproduction of northern white rhino, three embryos have been created successfully to be implanted on a surrogate mother at Ol Pejeta conservancy in Laikipia.

The ground-breaking of procedure on the northern white rhinos was marked in 2019 when a team of scientists and conservationists successfully harvested the eggs from the two remaining female, artificially inseminated them using frozen sperm from deceased males and created three viable northern white rhino embryos.

Last January the scientists noted that there was a significant increase in the chances of successfully producing offspring. The procedure also proved to be safe and reproducible, and can be performed on a regular basis before the animals become too old.

Currently, there are plans to select a group of female southern white rhinos at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, which could serve as surrogate mother for the northern white rhino embryo.

This is also expected to be a success, with the first attempt set to be crucial since it has never been achieved before. It is expected that implantation will be undertaken any time this year.

And while the incorporation of scientific technologies in conservation has been on the rise, the breakthroughs shine light in race against extinction.

Scientists estimate that the cheetah population has declined to approximately 7,500.


How technology is protecting endangered species

By Antipoaching, Illegal trade, Science and technology No Comments
Sharon Gaudin, Medium | March 3, 2020

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Artificial intelligence, the cloud, and smart cameras are being used to catch poachers and track wildlife populations.

Cambodia is home to 16 globally endangered species, like the Asian elephant, tigers, and leopards. Conservationists there are working with a Harvard computer scientist to stop the poaching that is pushing so many species to the brink of extinction.

It’s just one of a growing number of collaborations bringing technologists and conservationists together to fight to protect wildlife from being wiped off the face of the planet. Environmentalists have long had a daunting challenge ahead of them when it comes to protecting animals from poachers, habitat loss, pollution, and climate change. They’re now hoping, though, that technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), drones, GPS trackers, smart cameras, and the cloud could give them the upper hand they’ve been looking for.

“It is horrifying to think about the possibility that we may be leaving a world behind where keystone species like tigers, elephants, and rhinos may just be gone,” says Milind Tambe, the Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science and director of the Center for Research in Computation and Society at Harvard University. “We don’t want to have to tell our children, ‘Well, they’re all gone.’ We don’t want a world like that.”

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, which coordinates the organization’s environmental activities, the earth is in the midst of a crisis, with 150 to 200 species of plants, insects, birds, and mammals reportedly going extinct every 24 hours. Biologists say that’s 1,000 times the rate that’s considered natural extinction. And a 2019 U.N. report notes that approximately 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction, many within decades. More recently, research from the University of Arizona suggests that one-third of plant and animal species could be gone in 50 years.

Original photo as published by Medium.com.

Here are some more alarming numbers:

· In 2018, three bird species vanished from the earth.

· In Tanzania, the elephant population has dropped by 20 percent in recent years.

· Because of widespread poaching for their horns, as of 2018, there were only two northern white rhinos — both female and incapable of natural reproduction — left in Kenya.

· An estimated 100 African elephants are killed each day by poachers seeking ivory, meat, and body parts.

· Fewer than 450 North Atlantic right whales, including a little more than 100 breeding females, remain. With so many dying and so few being born, scientists warn that the species may not survive more than another 25 years.

With numbers so staggering and dire, conservationists around the globe increasingly are turning to technologists and tech to protect endangered animals and hopefully save them from extinction. Seeing the plight of many species, tech-savvy people are offering their time and expertise to track animals, analyze their habitats and availability of food, and better understand population dynamics.

It’s not new for wildlife conservationists to draw on technology like cameras and tracking collars. What’s new is the explosion in technologies like AI, machine learning (ML), the Internet of Things, 5G, wireless, and the cloud. And that explosion is touching many industries, including conservation.

“Every industry is going to be changed by it,” says Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst. “It’s transforming so much. It only makes sense that it’s transforming wildlife protection. Where before they could never really follow the animals and the paths they take, and the things they’re eating, and how they’re living, now we can see exactly where these animals are and what they’re doing. And think about how much it will advance in the next 10 years.”

Outsmarting the Poachers

Tambe, who for the past 15 years has been working on how AI can benefit society, made a slight turn six or seven years ago when he began to wonder how technology could be used to protect animals.

The computer scientist is the creator and driving force behind Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security (PAWS), predictive AI software geared to analyze massive amounts of data and then use ML, game theory, and mathematical modeling to take on the poachers decimating many species of animals around the world, including Cambodia.

For instance, intensive poaching of both Cambodian tigers and their prey have caused a rapid decline in the big cats. Today, the World Wildlife Fund reports that there are no longer any breeding populations of wild tigers left in the country, making them functionally extinct there. As for wild elephants, it’s generally estimated that only 300 to 600 remain in Cambodia, down from 2,000 in 1995 and 500 to 1,000 in 1999, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N.

Normally, park rangers and environmentalists study maps trying to figure out where poachers may be laying traps or lying in wait to kill protected animals. The PAWS system goes beyond human gut instinct and crunches data to predict where the poachers will be working, where the animals are in the most danger, and the best patrol routes for the rangers.

Tambe has been extensively testing PAWS in Cambodia. Conservationists there are finding poaching traps five times more today than they were before they began using his AI-based system.

“I kept saying, ‘I think AI can help,’” he says. “Where are the poachers going to hit next? There are thousands of square kilometers in national parks. There are hundreds of rangers. They can’t be everywhere. If we can tell them where they need to be [to stop the poaching], that’s important.”

Now, Tambe’s PAWS system is being adapted to work with 800 global national parks that use SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) software to measure and evaluate the effectiveness of conservation and wildlife law enforcement. With the help of an AI engineer from Microsoft, Tambe has been working for the past six to eight months to integrate PAWS with the SMART software and enable it all to run in the cloud. The system, which so far has been running only on an experimental basis, is scheduled to launch this spring.

“We are honored to be able to contribute,” he says. “Some people think of AI being a technology that might be harmful in some ways, maybe taking jobs away. It’s a surprise to people that you can apply AI to protect wildlife and use it for social good. The gift to us, as AI researchers, has been opening the door to new AI research challenges so we can advance the state of the art in artificial intelligence.”

Saving the Salmon

In the Northern California foothills of the Sierra Nevada range, a group of conservationists, the Friends of Auburn Ravine, has been working to protect the local wild Chinook salmon, also known as king salmon. The salmon’s numbers have been slashed by logging, dams, overfishing, and pollution. Scientists estimate that 29 percent of the Pacific salmon populations have become extinct in the past 240 years.

The group of volunteers set up cameras to record video of the fish as they migrate upstream to spawn every fall and winter. They were trying to collect data on the number of salmon swimming through, to garner support to improve habitat and facilitate natural migration of adult and juvenile salmon.

The problem was that volunteers were sitting and staring at a seemingly endless amount of video to count fish swimming by.

“It’s boring work looking at the videos,” says Brad Cavallo, president of Cramer Fish Sciences and a board member of the Friends of Auburn Ravine. “It’s easy to miss something because you just space out, but estimates are important so we know how to set harvest limits and how the fish are doing.”

Eric Hubbard, a master technologist who has worked at Hewlett Packard Enterprise since 1999, came along and changed that boring, but important, work.

Hubbard says two or three years ago, his dad, who is a volunteer with Friends of Auburn Ravine, told him about video watch parties where volunteers ate pizza and counted fish.

“It was a cool volunteer effort,” says Hubbard. “I saw their enthusiasm and effort, but it hurt me to see them doing it so inefficiently. It took huge amounts of hours to look at videos to count these fish. I knew we could automate this and make it so much easier on them.”

Hubbard, using the annual 60 hours of paid volunteer time he receives from HPE through the company’s community involvement program, HPE Gives, traded out the volunteers’ security cameras, which used proprietary protocols that were difficult to work with, for new digital underwater and overhead cameras — dubbed salmon cams — with standard protocols and formats.

Using the Java programming language, Hubbard wrote 5,000 lines of code to create a software program, called FishSpotter, to detect and document passing fish. Raw digital video is uploaded to the cloud, where FishSpotter processes it. Using advanced image recognition to detect activity and identify salmon, FishSpotter automatically produces short GIF highlights of any passing salmon, so humans can then review it to confirm the fish species.

The 2018–2019 migration season was the first to be monitored with the new digital system.

By eliminating the need to watch this large batch of data, FishSpotter was able to pare down 1.6 terabytes and 2,416 hours of raw data into just 101 gigabytes and 20.4 hours of GIF highlights for volunteers to vet and verify as salmon (or other wildlife or activity). In future seasons, Hubbard hopes to further refine FishSpotter’s image recognition capabilities to narrow this data set of possible suspects down even further to further accelerate insights.

“I live in a real tech bubble,” says Hubbard. “Everyone around me is tech-savvy. I look at these nonprofits and they’re outside that bubble. They don’t necessarily have the expertise to know what’s possible. It’s been very gratifying. Initially, it started out as helping people more than the salmon. Then as I got more involved, I was drawn into how important these fish are.”

Tech to Protect Polar Bears and Rhinos

Colby Loucks, vice president of the Wildlife Conservation Program at the World Wildlife Fund U.S., says technology is increasingly a vital tool in wildlife conservation. And as a leader in the organization’s Wildlife Crime Technology Project, which focuses on using cutting-edge technology to fight poaching, he says tech advancements have opened doors.

That’s what led the group to create WildLabs.net, a global online community joining conservationists with technologists, engineers, data scientists, and entrepreneurs. With more than 3,000 active users, the group’s mission is to use technology to tackle conservation issues, like illegal wildlife trade and poaching.

“We had conservationists trying to use technology, but they weren’t technologists by training,” says Loucks. “There were a lot of technologists around the world who have the skill sets, knowledge, and desire to help in conservation. WildLabs.net is about connecting those communities. We’re piecing together innovative ideas between people with a conservation background and a technology background.”

For instance, Loucks says conservationists are combining cameras with ML software trained to distinguish between animals and people. When the system identifies humans, as opposed to zebras or rhinos, passing by a camera, rangers are notified so they can check to see if the people are poachers.

Others in Africa are using thermographic cameras that use infrared radiation to detect elephant and rhino poachers.

Loucks notes that the smart thermal camera technology was installed in 2016 in two different areas of Kenya’s Lake Nakuru National Park, a site known for its rhino conservation work. The year before the technology was installed, there were 17 attempted poaching events in the park, he says. The year the system was installed, two poachers were caught, and after that, there were no poaching incidents for the rest of the year and none in 2017 and 2018. In 2019, the system was used to catch another four poachers.

“We feel like that is a big success,” says Loucks.

Some scientists are even using environmental DNA (eDNA) technology, which can detect genetic material, such as traces of biological tissue and mucus, obtained directly from environmental samples like soil, sediment, and water. Loucks explains that scientists studying polar bears can scoop samples from streams or footprints in the Arctic snow. From that, they can pull up DNA and use that information to identify what the bears have been eating and even identify individual bears.

“The dream is that you might not see a bear, but if you get a polar bear footprint, you could still know quite a lot about it, which would be a big leap forward for tracking polar bears and seeing how climate change is impacting them,” says Loucks. “It is an exciting time to be in the wildlife conservation space right now. We’ve seen a lot of developments and efforts using technologies to solve problems.”


Poaching and the problem with conservation in Africa (Commentary)

By Antipoaching, Conservation No Comments
Richard Fynn & Oluwatoyin Kolawole, Mongabay | March 3, 2020

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Poaching is threatening wildlife conservation in Africa. Elephant (Loxodonta africana) and rhino (Ceratotherium simum and Diceros bicornis) populations have been devastated and the bushmeat trade is severely impacting wildlife populations. Who is to blame? Will international funding of anti-poaching forces help to solve the problem?

Crime syndicates may be fuelling the poaching of elephant and rhino but they are not the source of the problem. Rather than treat the symptoms by spending millions on weapons and anti-poaching forces, which experience has repeatedly shown does not stop poaching, there is a need to understand the underlying causes of the poaching problem if it is to be solved.

Original photo as published by Mongabay.

Kruger National Park in South Africa, which spends over $13.5 million annually on anti-poaching, has the most highly-trained and dedicated anti-poaching force in Africa, including dividing the park into 22 sections, each with its own section ranger and a team of field rangers, use of dog tracker packs, helicopter support, and the South African defense force to offer assistance.

Yet with all this money spent and all the manpower effort, 504, 421 and 327 rhino were poached in Kruger in 2017, 2018 and 2019, respectively. Although the number of poached rhinos is going down each year, it is partly because there are fewer and fewer rhinos left to poach, with their numbers having declined exponentially in Kruger since 2011.

This underscores our point that if all the money spent on the massive, highly coordinated anti-poaching effort in Kruger cannot prevent the poaching of rhino, how much more difficult will it be to save elephant and rhino populations in other African countries that do not have access to this sort of funding?

For example, in spite of all the efforts of national defence forces and wildlife departments, elephant numbers are in a catastrophic decline. The main mandate of the Botswana Defence Force is anti-poaching. Yet, they have been unable to curb rhino and bush meat poaching in Botswana. So why is poaching such a problem?

In his paper “Everyday Forms of Resistance,” Professor James Scott, a political scientist at Yale, outlined the reasons for poaching and why it is so difficult to control. Scott noted that poaching (as a form of resistance) metamorphoses into a form of class conflict between the local, rural disenfranchised class and the external, affluent class. We need to first understand that, local people across Africa were moved out to create protected areas (PAs).

Today, international tourism companies and national governments make millions from the resources (wildlife and scenery) within these PAs while local communities are pushed to the periphery and do not benefit from them. The disenfranchisement of the Maasai in both Kenya and Tanzania is a case in point and well known; a recent article on this issue was recently published right here on Mongabay.com.

Evidence of local communities’ displacement abound. For instance, the book Conservation and Mobile Indigenous Peoples: Displacement, Forced Settlement, and Sustainable Development provides many case studies, highlighting the devastating effects of displacement by PAs on peoples’ livelihoods through the ensuing loss of access to traditional resources and adaptive strategies, such as key forage resources for livestock in wetlands during drought years.

To make things worse, not only do local communities not benefit from conservation, but they are confronted with a serious challenge of having to contend with conflict with wildlife. Marauding elephants damage farmers’ crops and kill people. Lions and other carnivores kill people and their livestock, while wildlife-related diseases, such as foot and mouth disease, only translate to receiving a pittance for the sale of livestock as compared to regions where wildlife is absent. Thus, local communities are carrying a very heavy burden of conservation while elites carry very little of the burden, resulting in the cost-benefit ratio of conservation being strongly skewed in favor of tourism companies, national governments, and the international conservation community.

While this situation is not ethically and morally acceptable, it is also not in any way sustainable. A recent article in the Ngami Times, “Okavango Delta robbed to feed the rich” (January 17-24, 2020), lamented the fact that outside people and elites are getting rich from the Okavango Delta while the local people are kept in poverty. This is true across Africa.

Recently, the governor of Kajiado County in Kenya, Joseph ole Lenku, threatened to order his people to start killing wildlife unless they are given much better benefits from wildlife conservation. As local people continue to be disenfranchised by conservation policies and practice, they are angry because they see others benefiting from their resources, while they receive very little or nothing therefrom; they only witness the damage caused by wildlife on their livelihoods.

As James Scott noted:

To do so affirms the fact that class conflict is, first and foremost, a struggle over the appropriation of work, property, production, and taxes. Consumption, from this perspective, is both the goal and the outcome of resistance and counter-resistance. Petty thefts of grain or pilfering on the threshing floor may seem like trivial ‘coping’ mechanisms from one vantage point; but from a broader view of class relations, how the harvest is actually divided belongs at the center. [Our emphasis.]

Scott also provided some insights into why poaching becomes so difficult to control when rural people are disenfranchised by an inequitable conservation harvest:

The problems of enforcement, however, are not entirely attributable to geography and demography; they are due at least as much to tacit complicity, and, occasionally active cooperation among the population from which the poachers come. Consider the difficulties that poachers would face if local residents were actively hostile to them and willing to give evidence in court. Poaching as a systematic pattern of reappropriation is simply unimaginable without a normative consensus that encourages it or, at a minimum, tolerates it. Otherwise it would be a simple matter to apprehend offenders. The forms such coordination and cooperation might take are extremely difficult to bring to light. [Our emphasis.]

Given that local people are probably poaching mainly for socioeconomic benefits (selling of bush meat, ivory, or rhino horn), such acts would be extremely difficult to sustain without cooperation and complicity among the population from which the poachers come. This demonstrates that resistance of authorities is a key element sustaining the viability of poaching. Poaching, as an act of resistance, is achieved through informal rural social networks; they hide and even encourage poachers and the middlemen to hunt game and buy meat, ivory, and rhino horn.

Herein lies the answer to the poaching problem: Local communities, who are born and bred in the area, know the landscapes intimately, have well-developed local social networks in these areas, and, as such, are ultimately able to outwit government conservation agencies who don’t know the area and don’t have the local social networks and sufficient funding or manpower to operate at every local situation. Thus, the level of legal authority is mismatched with the level of management requirements (a scale mismatch). Local communities, with their social networks and local support, hide the middlemen buying the meat, ivory, and rhino horn. They have information through their networks on where government patrols are, and by that means find it easy to avoid them. If caught, they have the local police on their side, who are their own people and who sympathize with them, hence poachers, in many cases, are let off the hook and their weapons returned to them. Consequently, government conservation agencies are rarely able to effectively control poaching, as witnessed in the incessant rhino, elephant, and bush meat poaching occurring across Africa.

These same factors that enable local communities to outwit government conservation agencies also make them much more effective conservators, because they are better matched to the local scale than centralized, state-led institutions. For instance, the greater knowledge of local communities about their local landscapes, combined with the practicalities of living on site, resulted in wildlife scouts from a community wildlife management area (WMA) in the Luangwa Valley of Zambia to clock more working hours and arrest more poachers than government scouts.

These local communities were given ownership rights and decision-making power over wildlife in their area and derived benefits from wildlife conservation through tourism, trophy hunting, and meat from hunted animals. Soon the chief ordered his people to no longer poach and to report the presence of poachers. With their strong social networks, it became impossible for external poachers to remain undetected. This resulted in a tenfold reduction of rhino and elephant poaching. Similarly, Namibian conservancies, where local communities have been given ownership over wildlife, have seen a great reduction in poaching of rhino, with some having not lost a single rhino in the last two years.

The significance of the positive outcomes in these community conservation projects becomes clearly apparent when contrasted with the indelible flood of rhino poaching in Botswana and South Africa, where local communities neither have ownership and decision-making powers over wildlife nor derive any benefit from wildlife. Another example is the Rovuma elephant project, which is a community project in Tanzania. Here local communities are involved in decision-making and their village members engage in anti-poaching activities. While elephants are being devastated by poaching all around their area in the government-controlled PAs of the Selous Game Reserve, elephant poaching in their immediate local area has dropped dramatically.

These testaments are living proof. The reasons for conservation problems in Africa are not far-fetched. The problems are inextricably linked to government control of conservation and the associated moral and ethical problems of displacement and disenfranchisement of local communities by PAs while elites benefit from their resources — a colonial conservation mindset that is no longer acceptable. Thus, it is time to give local communities’ lands back to them and allow them to conserve and derive benefits from wildlife conservation in their local areas, where they have the decision-making rights over wildlife management. True and valid devolution of decision-making rights to local communities means that they, not governments, decide on who they will partner with in tourism and they, not consultants, decide on how they will manage their areas.

This also means that local communities must decide whether they want to have trophy hunting in their area. It is a direct violation of decision-making rights of local communities for governments to implement nation-wide hunting bans, as this greatly undermines the former’s ability to demonstrate ownership of and derive value from wildlife. The hunting ban in Botswana caused loss of access to game meat and collapsed income flows from wildlife to local communities, causing resentment of external control of conservation, implemented from the top down, against their wishes, which has resulted in increased poaching.

Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) thrives when full decision-making rights and benefits from wildlife are devolved to local communities. Theory and factual evidence show that this is the only solution to ensuring that wildlife conservation is sustainable.

Science-based frameworks, such as the social-ecological systems framework (SESF), clearly articulate the governance principles for sustainable conservation, highlighting the importance of devolving autonomy of decision-making rights and benefits from wildlife to local communities. So successful has this framework been for community conservation worldwide that Elinor Ostrom, one of its key proponents, was awarded a Nobel Prize. Similarly, decades of research on CBNRM in Africa have confirmed the importance of local people’s decision-making rights and benefits from wildlife for promoting successful local community conservation projects. Ostrom and Nagendra reached similar conclusions in south Asia from studies of forest use by local communities under different governance regimes. They note:

If the formal rules limiting access and harvest levels are not known or considered legitimate by local resource users, substantial investment in fences and official guards to patrol boundaries are needed to prevent ‘illegal’ harvesting. Without these expensive inputs, government-owned, ‘protected’ forests may not be protected in practice… when the users themselves have a role in making local rules, or at least consider the rules to be legitimate, they are frequently willing to engage themselves in monitoring and sanctioning of uses considered illegal, even of public property.

By contrast, if these principles are overridden and centralized by government agencies, then local communities are likely to resist conservation objectives, even causing a collapse of conservation efforts.

Across Africa, national governments refuse to devolve decision-making power and benefits from wildlife to local communities. Thus, poaching is unsurprisingly out of control. African governments have, therefore, reaped, and are still reaping, the harvest of their bad policy decisions. So far, only the Namibian government has been brave enough to bring in proper science-based policies that devolve ownership, decision-making rights, and benefits from wildlife to local communities. The Namibian government now reaps the benefits as witnessed in very low poaching rates and growing rhino populations in their country. Wise and proper policies bring good results!

Indeed, it is now time to give local communities large concession areas in and around PAs, over which they have autonomy of decision-making rights, managed through their local institutions, and through which they could benefit from tourism, trophy hunting, fishing, collection of veldt products such as thatching grass, reeds, and wild food plants, and, importantly, access to key traditional grazing resources for their livestock (planned in a manner that facilitates co-existence with wildlife).

It must be emphasized that the role of national governments in conservation is not eclipsed by these community-centered approaches to conservation, but rather re-aligned from managing local scale problems, such as anti-poaching patrols, to playing overseeing, coordinating, and supporting roles at national scales. This could involve coordinating cross-scale conservation networks that include various government departments, parastatals, local and international NGOs, researchers, and private sector interests that support and promote the success of community conservation projects.

Tourist companies are not threatened by such an arrangement either. Instead of partnering with governments and paying government concession fees, they can now partner with local communities and pay them directly. This ensures that local communities get much better financial benefit from conservation — a critical ingredient for sustainability.

The proof of concept for giving back lands to local communities within PAs can be seen in the Makuleke example, where the Makuleke community were given back the northern section of Kruger from which they had been displaced. They have successfully run this section of Kruger in partnership with South African National Parks, with support from conservation NGOs.

Giving local communities land within PAs can also play a key role in negotiating for conserving important land for wildlife, such as migration corridors, in community areas outside PAs, which was observed when the Makuleke community added some of their land outside Kruger to their repatriated land within Kruger.

Devolving power and benefits to local communities will enable local communities to acquire full responsibility for anti-poaching operations, which they are much better positioned to do than external agencies who do not have the social networks and local knowledge needed to effectively perform oversight functions in the local area. As witnessed in the Luangwa Valley and Namibian conservancies, there is every likelihood that there will be a significant decline in poaching once community conservation is properly implemented.

Ultimately, the solution to significantly reduce poaching across Africa is not going to be about increasing state-led anti-poaching forces and their automatic weapons. As witnessed in Kruger, the cost of relying on government-controlled anti-poaching forces is immense and ineffective. These unnecessary costs could have been avoided under community conservation and the money more effectively invested into developing community conservation programs.

Richard Fynn is an Associate Professor of Rangeland Ecology and Oluwatoyin Kolawole is a Professor of Rural Development, both at the Okavango Research Institute, University of Botswana, Maun.


Tech Companies Take Down 3 Million Online Listings for Trafficked Wildlife (United States)

By Antipoaching, Illegal trade, Science and technology One Comment

IFAW | March 2, 2020

Online technology companies in the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online reported removing or blocking over three million listings for endangered and threatened species and associated products from their online platforms to date. These listings included live tigers, reptiles, primates and birds for the exotic pet trade, as well as products derived from species like elephants, pangolins and marine turtles.

Offline and in the Wild a report released today about progress made by companies involved in the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), TRAFFIC and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)-convened coalition, finds that efforts taken by these companies are helping to shut down the cloud-based trade routes cybercriminals rely on for exploiting wildlife.

“eBay has been fighting online wildlife trafficking on our marketplace for over a decade,” said Mike Carson, Director of Global Policy and Regulatory Management at eBay. “We’re collaborating with government agencies, NGOs, industry peers and members of the eBay community to help us enforce our Animal and Wildlife Products policy in alignment with the Coalition’s wildlife policy framework, and it’s working. In 2019, we blocked or removed over 165,000 listings globally that are prohibited under this policy.”

The Coalition’s progress has resulted from strengthened wildlife policies, an increase in staff ability to detect potential illegal wildlife products and live wild animals, regular monitoring and data sharing from wildlife experts, reports sent in by volunteers through the Coalition’s Wildlife Cyber Spotter Program, enhanced algorithms—thanks to key search word monitoring and collation—and shared learning.

“Criminal networks are taking advantage of internet platforms at the expense of the rarest species nature has to offer,” said Crawford Allan, Senior Director for TRAFFIC at WWF. “But the vastness of the internet presents a challenge for law enforcement to regulate. The online companies in our Coalition now have the smarts and tools to fight back against wildlife trafficking online, and can help ease the burden on law enforcement.”

The Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online was born out of the global proliferation of internet access and resulting shift in illegal wildlife trade transactions from physical to online markets. The extensive number of listings removed by the Coalition’s second anniversary demonstrates both the long-term effectiveness of the partnership and the continued commitment of the companies to prevent wildlife trafficking on their platforms.

According to Tania McCrea-Steele, International Project Manager, Wildlife Crime at IFAW, “Uniting online technology companies is critical in the fight against wildlife cybercrime as wildlife traffickers are abusing the anonymity of the internet to exploit endangered wildlife. Tragically, you can find elephant ivory, pangolin scales, live tiger cubs, live birds and reptiles and more, all for sale on your smart phone. The online technology companies are a core part of the solution as they are able to work at an unprecedented global scale and disrupt illegal wildlife trafficking.”

In addition to blocking or removing illegal wildlife trade related information, Coalition companies have launched user engagement initiatives to promote wildlife conservation reaching millions of internet users.

“Wildlife crime is a widely recognized global problem which demands a global solution,” said Siyao, Security Expert at Alibaba. “The Coalition provides a platform for online technology companies to contribute to this solution together. At Alibaba, we share our lessons learned and continuously learn from other Coalition members on how to better curb and prevent wildlife trafficking online by investing in innovative technology and engaging the public to join the fight for wildlife.”

Individuals can join the fight against wildlife cybercrime and support the efforts of the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online by not buying wildlife products and reporting suspicious wildlife listings online to companies. Prohibited wildlife products found online can be flagged for removal athttps://www.endwildlifetraffickingonline.org/.

WWF, IFAW and TRAFFIC train citizen science volunteers on how to identify prohibited wildlife products online through the Coalition’s Wildlife Cyber Spotter Program. So far, Coalition Cyber Spotters in the U.S., Germany and Singapore have flagged over 4,000 prohibited listings for sale online. These listings have been removed in real time by Coalition company enforcement teams. Through the program, Cyber Spotters have helped uncover new seller keywords and identify wildlife trafficking trends that have helped companies’ ongoing monitoring efforts.

Interested individuals can sign up for the Wildlife Cyber Spotter Program at www.endwildlifetraffickingonline.org/get-involved.

Bengal Forest Dept begins vaccinating rhinos and captive elephants after deaths of 5 rhinos (India)

By Conservation No Comments
Shubham Bose, Republic World | February 24, 2020

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The Jaldapara National Park in Jalpaiguri district has recently announced the deaths on five Asiatic one-horned rhinos within a span of 4 days. According to reports, the rhinos in the area, as well as captive elephants, are being vaccinated against anthrax while the authorities await the autopsy report from the 5 dead rhinos.

Original photo as published by Republic World. (Pixabay)

Drones and Elephants Used to Patrol the Forest

According to sources, samples from the dead rhinos have been sent to veterinary facilities and the results from them are awaited. Sources have claimed that Ravi Kant Sinha, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, has been advised to give the animals vaccines for anthrax and not to take any chances.

According to state Forest Minister Rajib Banerjee, a postmortem of the five rhinos was conducted and samples from them were sent to Bareilly and Kolkata and its results are awaited. Meanwhile, the forest officials have reportedly fenced off parts of the national park in an effort to not let domesticated animals into the park. The villagers close to the park have also been advised to not take their animals to the national park for grazing.

Reports suggest that the forest officials have even deployed drones, as well as forest guards that are mounted on trained elephants in order to patrol the jungle and check for sick or dead animals.

Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife, North), Ujjal Ghosh said that the forest staff has been put on high alert and that they have started vaccinating rhinos within a 1-kilometre radius to where the rhino carcasses were found. Even the captive elephants that are used for patrolling have been vaccinated. The officials have also initiated an awareness campaign for the villagers in the surrounding area.

Situated in the foothills of Eastern Himalayas in Alipurduar subdivision in north Bengal, Jaldapara National Park is spread over an area of 141 square kilometres and the main attraction of the park is the one-horned rhino. It has been reported that there are 280 rhinos in West Bengal and 250 of them are in Jaldapara.


Top dog: Scout is off to South Africa to save rhinos from poachers

By Antipoaching, Conservation, Education, Illegal trade, News No Comments
The Independent.ie
February 18, 2020

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A specially trained Irish guard dog is to be sent to a South African wildlife reserve in a desperate bid to protect rhinos from ruthless poachers.

The Dutch Shepherd, 14-month-old Scout, was trained by Rory Hennebry and Padraig O’Keeffe of Munster Canine and donated to the South African reserve where wildlife rangers have been fighting a losing battle against heavily armed poachers.

The Munster Canine team has used its dogs to help in the training of Ireland’s special forces, the elite Army Ranger Wing.


Original photo as published by Independent.ie

A fully trained combat tracking dog can be worth almost €30,000, and the South African reserve now hopes that Scout will help protect the rhinos, park rangers and even reserve personnel. “Dogs like Scout live in a world of scent and that is the huge advantage they bring to a situation like this,” said Rory.

The rhino population at the reserve has been ravaged by poachers who slaughter the animals for their horns. The horns are hacked off the animals with an axe after they are shot by poachers with high-powered rifles.

The horns are then sold on the black market – usually destined for Asia, where they are seen as a valuable ingredient in local ‘medicines’.

A total of 13 of the reserve’s 32 rhinos have been killed over the past two years, with poaching gangs so heavily armed that ranger teams must themselves carry assault rifles for personal protection.

Rory and Padraig will bring Scout from Co Cork to South Africa in April thanks to the support of Dean Lowe of Pet Express Transport. An intensive training course will then help adapt the Irish dog to his new bush environment.

Padraig – a former French Foreign Legionnaire – said the campaign to help protect endangered species was something they wanted to fully support. “If the poaching of rhino continues at its current rate there will be no rhino left in the wild in the next five to 10 years,” he said.