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Can social media be weaponised against the illegal wildlife trade?

By Antipoaching, Science and technology
By Emma Ledger, The Independent | July 2, 2020

Read the original story and watch video here.

Facebook might have a role to play in dismantling the criminal networks getting rich from trading endangered animal

It can be hard to grasp the vast scale of some illegal wildlife seizures that hit the headlines; nine tonnes of ivory found in a container arriving into Vietnam from the Democratic Republic of Congo; more than 10,000 live turtles and tortoises packed into a Madagascan house; 4,000 pangolins defrosting inside a shipping container at a port in Sumatra.

But the recent trend of “seize and post” – in which law enforcers upload photographs of their discoveries to social media – is helping to open the world’s eyes to this multibillion pound illegal trade. However, experts warn it does little to deter or prevent the criminals involved.

Stephen Carmody, chief investigator of Wildlife Justice Commission, said that “you see it particularly with law enforcement agencies working in south-east Asia. Within hours of them making a seizure there’s a media release with a picture of people standing in front of the wildlife, saying ‘look how good we are, we’ve just seized this ivory, or these pangolins’. But a seizure without an investigation is useless”.

Speaking on a webinar discussing law enforcement opportunities to combat illegal wildlife trade in Asia, hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Mr Carmody and the other panellists were in agreement that instead of prioritising photos for Facebook after making a discovery, agencies need to contact the source nation and work collaboratively to develop an effective investigative strategy. In short: they need to get hunting the traffickers.

The Independent’s Stop The Wildlife Trade campaign was launched by its proprietor Evgeny Lebedev to call for an end to high-risk wildlife markets and for an international effort to regulate the illegal trade in wild animals to reduce our risk of future pandemics.

Mr Carmody said: “A seizure needs to either represent the end phase of an investigation where you go and make arrests, or the beginning where you start working transnationally to trace back. At the moment there is a big disconnect, and that comes back to the lack of intelligence analysis in this field. If there’s no intelligence there can’t be any intelligence sharing.”

Wildlife trafficking groups not only often use the same routes as people involved in other crimes, but also often run hand-in-hand with tax evasion, corruption, money laundering and violent crime. However, according to Mr Carmody, wildlife criminals operate in ways that are unlike more sophisticated law-breakers. And their use of social media can be an opportunity for data-gathering for law enforcers to exploit.

“People involved in the wildlife trade very often have their Facebook profiles open and openly show off their wealth,” said Mr Carmody. “They are operationally very poor. They don’t change their phone numbers regularly, they meet customers at same bars or restaurants and they don’t practice surveillance. Rather than organised crime, I would call [wildlife criminals] disorganised crime.

“This might be because law enforcement just isn’t an issue for them, so they don’t feel they have to be more careful. What needs to change is for us to start making them react to us for a change, rather than us reacting to them.”

Another much needed change in order to combat criminal operations lies directly with Facebook and other social media companies, who unwittingly play a role in not only facilitating the illegal wildlife trade but allowing it to proliferate. Despite their best intentions, social platforms serve as a vehicle for traffickers to market their illegal goods, connect with buyers, and even to receive payments – whether openly or in closed groups.

In 2017, Facebook and Instagram banned the sale of all animals, and the following year they joined other tech platforms to set up The Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online, aiming to reduce online wildlife trafficking by 80 percent by 2020. Yet on both Facebook and Instagram, there are groups and individuals selling domestic and exotic pets. Earlier this year, The Independent reported that endangered pangolins had been discovered for sale on Facebook, according to report by Tech Transparency Project. Facebook was contacted for a response to this article.

Clearly, issuing policies banning illegal wildlife trade doesn’t amount to enforcement. Experts agree that increased moderation and removal of content is needed to disrupt and disband the networks of users engaging in illegal wildlife trade, and the information gathered should be shared with law enforcers.

Fabrizio Fioroni, the South Asia Advisor on Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Financing of Terrorism, agrees that only through sustained, committed transnational operations – including intelligence from social media – can meaningful wins be made against wildlife criminals. Mr Fioroni said “we cannot overestimate the importance for communication across different law enforcement departments and agencies, and between different countries. It is vital that the right people talk to each other”.

Mr Carmody adds: “We [law enforcers] are part of the problem. There is no international standardisation of response to these crimes. We need greater sharing and exchange of information. It won’t take much of a change to see these criminal networks being dismantled.”

Getting the right people talking to each other might sound like a fairly obvious starting point, but strengthening cooperation and sharing of information is a much more proactive approach to ending wildlife crime than posting snaps in pursuit of Facebook “likes”.

 

Wildlife traffickers setting up fake zoos on Facebook to sell endangered pangolin scales

By Antipoaching
Matilda Coleman, UpNewsInfo | June 25, 2020

Read the original story here

Wildlife traffickers are openly marketing critically endangered pangolins and their scales on Facebook, setting up profiles for fake petting zoos that direct prospective purchasers to personal WhatsApp numbers exactly where specials are created.

In an investigation published Wednesday, the Tech Transparency Undertaking identified half a dozen public posts marketing pangolin scales only by seeking for the title of the animal written in Vietnamese. Several of the pages presented pangolin scales, which are utilised in conventional Chinese medication.

The Tech Transparency Undertaking is a exploration initiative by the Campaign for Accountability, a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization.

“The pangolin is the world’s most trafficked animal,” the Tech Transparency Project’s executive director, Daniel Stevens, advised Information. “And it’s still easy to find these animals to buy on Facebook.”

Two of the pages identified by the Tech Transparency Report had been taken down by Facebook following Information contacted the platform for comment.

Facebook explained it isn’t going to tolerate the unlawful trading of endangered wildlife and their components on our platforms and will consider down pages or occasions and linked accounts when they are identified to violate these policies. The site’s moderators use a blend of technologies, reviews from NGO partners, reviews from our neighborhood, and human critique to detect and take away violating information.

“We prohibit the trading of endangered wildlife or their components,” a spokesperson for Facebook told News. “It can be unlawful, it can be incorrect, and we have teams devoted to stopping exercise like this.”

The principal way traffickers promote pangolins on Facebook is by generating fake listings for zoos. On 3 pages viewed by Information, the moderator had listed the profile as a zoo or animal rescue services, even although the pages had titles like “Pangolin Scales for Sale in Vietnam” and “Rhino Horns and Pangolin scales for sale in China.” Several of the pages also direct prospective purchasers towards WhatsApp numbers.

“We discretely hunt and sell Rhino Horn and pangolin scales contact us for more information on purchase, WhatsApp me,” 1 web page go through.

Sarah Uhlemann, global system director and senior lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity, advised Information she wasn’t stunned that the Tech Transparency Project’s researchers had been ready to discover pangolins on Facebook. Uhlemann explained she was ready to discover on the net vendors the identical way that the Tech Transparency Undertaking group did: by googling the word “pangolin” in simplified Mandarin.

“It’s not that tough to discover,” she explained. “I would say that the Vietnamese link is not surprising to me.”

Uhlemann explained that the Vietnamese Facebook customers marketing pangolin scales are almost certainly linked to a greater network that traffics African pangolins from nations like Nigeria to Vietnam and then into China. “We’re seeing a lot of scales coming out of Nigeria and usually shipped with ivory,” she explained. In accordance to Uhlemann, the pangolin scales are commonly powdered, mixed with other Chinese herbal medicines, and then offered in a mixture that can be consumed in a pill it is touted for a range of utilizes, such as lactation, skin illness, and palsy.

And demand for pangolins has not diminished regardless of the animal’s population getting decimated in China and are labeled as endangered or critically endangered about the globe. In accordance to an April report from the United Nations Workplace on Medication and Crime, seizures of illegally hunted pangolins from Africa and meant for Asian markets have elevated tenfold because 2014.

“One operation last April seized 25 tons of African pangolin scales — representing an estimated 50,000 dead pangolins — with a market value of some $7 million,” the UN office’s executive director, Ghada Waly, explained in the report. “Between 2014 and 2018, the equivalent of 370,000 pangolins were seized globally.”

The Tech Transparency Undertaking identified a different pangolin trafficker who designed a Facebook occasion web page in South Africa. The occasion, which was viewed by Information, was titled, “Sandawana and Pangolin Animals on Sale Worls [sic] Broad.” The occasion incorporated a WhatsApp quantity and advertised a “love spell using Pangolin oil.”

Simply because pangolin trafficking pages are directing prospective customers to encrypted WhatsApp channels, it is tough to estimate the dimension of these operations. The most well-liked of these pages had 336 followers as of Wednesday. The Tech Transparency Undertaking also identified a nevertheless-lively public submit that advertised pangolin shells, which a Vietnamese herbal medication retailer published final June. It had 100 feedback from interested purchasers.

In accordance to Richard Thomas, a spokesperson for Website traffic, a nongovernmental organization that tracks the international trade of wild animals, Facebook is not the most prevalent way to website traffic pangolins, but it can be utilised to promote the animals’ scales.

“Most pangolin trafficking tends to be large shipments of scales, mainly moving between Africa and Asia,” Thomas advised Information. “Social media platforms aren’t a common means used for pangolin trafficking, but if someone has got a pangolin or pangolin parts for sale, it might be one of the ways they use to advertise that.”

Facebook is an lively member of the Coalition to Finish Wildlife Trafficking On the net, which brings with each other organizations from across the globe in partnership with wildlife groups like Website traffic, the Planet Broad Fund for Nature, and the Worldwide Fund for Animal Welfare. Coalition members have eliminated or blocked above three million listings for endangered and threatened species and linked merchandise from their on the net platforms.

Nonetheless, in a secret complaint filed in 2018 with the Securities and Exchange Commission, a group of wildlife advocates accused the platform of serving commercials on pages marketing physique components of endangered animals, such as elephant ivory, rhino horns, and tiger teeth.

A single of the largest debates in the globe proper now — which animal the novel coronavirus originated from — also occurs to implicate pangolins.

COVID-19, the illness induced by the novel coronavirus, is imagined to be zoonotic, originating in animals and jumping to people. COVID-19’s genetic similarity to RaTG13, a virus identified in 2013 in bats in China’s Yunnan province, has led numerous scientists to recommend COVID-19 commenced in bats and passed to an intermediary animal prior to infecting people. What can make the scaly animals an intermediary suspect is the similarity in between proteins in a coronavirus identified in Malayan pangolins’ lungs and the proteins in COVID-19

Vincent Racaniello, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia University and host of the podcast This Week in Virology, advised Information he doubted pangolins had been the host.

“These viruses originated in bats. How they got into people, we don’t know,” he explained. “The remaining question is how it got to people, but that will require more wildlife sampling.”

Prior to delving into pangolin trafficking, the Tech Transparency Undertaking published a report final month exposing personal Facebook Groups belonging to risky extremists who had been working with anti–coronavirus lockdown protests to recruit new members.

“Our goal here is to show how big of a problem this is,” Stevens explained. “It’s really only public shaming that will make a difference to them.”

Anti-poaching efforts may get a boost from a DNA database for rhino horn

By Antipoaching, Science and technology
Adam Wernick & Bobby Bascomb, WESA/NPR | June 22, 2020

Read the original story here.

Of the world’s endangered animal species, none faces a more dire situation than rhinos. With just 25,000 or so rhinos left in the world, the threat of extinction looms large.

But now an international database that keeps track of 75 percent of them may offer some hope.

South African law requires that a tissue sample be collected any time a rhino is moved from one park to another or receives medical care. The sample is used to create a DNA profile for each animal that can be recorded and, in case the animal is ever poached, matched to confiscated rhino horn.

It is a race against time, however: More than 1,300 rhinos have already been killed so far in 2016, as poachers go after their horns, which are lucrative commodities in the Asian traditional medicine trade.

The Veterinary Genetics Lab at the University of Pretoria houses the rhino DNA database. The lab has a forensic analysis for roughly 18,000 rhinos, nearly three-quarters of the total population. They hope to eventually register every rhino in the world. The rhino registry helps officials prosecute poaching crimes.

Cindy Harper, director of the lab, says criminals in possession of illegal material like rhino horn might get a slap on the wrist, but if they’re linked to a dead rhino — a crime scene — they will get a much harsher punishment. “We’re looking at cases where poachers get 29 years and more because they are actually involved in an illegal hunt, and not just possession of rhino horn,” Harper says. The sentence for poaching can vary greatly, depending on the country where the poacher was caught.

Rhino poaching is a well-organized, highly profitable crime, run by a heavily-armed international syndicate. Harper says her DNA database allows officers to keep tabs on how poachers are operating. “If you look at it internationally, that gives you some idea of the traceability of where that horn had moved from the carcass to its final destination, and how quickly it moved,” Harper says.

Jorge Rios, chief of the Global Program for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, says connecting the dots in this way is critical. The next step is training prosecutors in the countries where rhino horns end up.

“You need to have a number of concurrent processes going,” Rios says. “You need to do the forensics but, even if you have that information, you need to have the criminal legislation in place, and you need to have investigators and prosecutors who know how to use the scientific evidence. You need to train [people] along the entire chain of enforcement.”

DNA technology is also being used to create synthetic rhino horns. Pembient, a biotech company in Seattle, Washington, makes synthetic horns, which they hope to sell at a lower price than real horns and put poachers out of business. But Cindy Harper, from South Africa’s DNA lab, says the synthetic horn is virtually indistinguishable from the real horn, which she believes is actually a bad idea.

“The company that’s currently at the top of this drive wants to put actual DNA into the synthetic horn, and that is something I simply don’t understand,” she says. “I don’t see any other synthetic product, such as synthetic fur or meat or anything else, that has the actual animal’s DNA put into it. The only reason I can think for doing that is to try to make it impossible for law enforcement to differentiate [between real and synthetic].”

Harper says law enforcement agents already have their work cut out for them. She estimates that just one percent of seized rhino horn samples come back to her lab to get matched up on the database.

“That is the next step in the process — making sure that we get these seized samples back, and to be able to look at the whole movement of these horns globally,” Harper says. “The criminals are organized. We need to make sure that everybody else who’s fighting those criminals is equally organized.”

This article is based on a story that aired on PRI’s Living on Earth with Steve Curwood.

Suspect arrested for murder of Lt Col Leroy Bruwer

By Antipoaching, Uncategorized

A breakthrough in the murder investigation of Lt Col Leroy Bruwer occurred earlier today after a suspect was arrested.

According to Hawks spokesperson, Brig Hangwani Mulaudzi, the man arrested recently is from the Eastern Cape.

ALSO READ: Lt Col Leroy Bruwer laid to rest

The suspect appeared in court and was remanded in custody.

He will appear in the Nelspruit Magistrate’s Court for a formal bail application on June 25.

Mulaudzi said due to the sensitivity of the case, more information cannot be divulged at this time, but he did confirm that “serious organised crime was involved”.

‘I want my horns back’ says SA rhino baron after trade deal goes pear-shaped

By Uncategorized
By Tonie Carnie, Daily Maverick | June14, 2020

Read the original story here.

The world’s largest rhino breeder has vowed to go to court this week to recover a massive haul of rhino horns confiscated by police after a murky trading deal turned sour in a tiny dorpie called Skeerpoort.

The 181 horns originated from the ranch of John Hume, a former property developer who has ploughed his life savings into breeding rhinos commercially to harvest and sell their horns – despite a global ban on horn trading that was imposed over 40 years ago in a bid to prevent the world’s second-largest land mammal from being poached to extinction.

Hume claims that everything was above board on his side, but the police appear to have thought there was clearly more to the deal than met the eye when they seized the stash of horns and arrested Clive John Melville and Petrus Steyn on 13 April 2019 in the isolated hamlet of Skeerpoort, about 20km from Haartebeesport Dam in North West province.

Earlier this month, Melville and Steyn were fined R50,000 and R25,000 respectively after pleading guilty to charges of engaging in restricted wildlife activities without permits – to wit, possession of 181 white rhino horns of undisclosed monetary value.

Melville, 58, and believed to be related to Hume through marriage, also pleaded guilty to a further charge of forging a document to falsely authorise the transport of the rhino horns.

According to a plea and sentence agreement signed on 5 June 2020 at the Brits Regional Magistrates’ Court, Melville has been self-employed for the last 30 years and earns about R20,000 a month from buying and selling second-hand cars, and car parts.

His accomplice, Steyn, 61, is a divorced former teacher from Modderfontein who earns around R4,000 a month, working as a general labourer at a mechanical plant hire company.

The two men, who both pleaded guilty, were represented by Port Elizabeth attorney Alwyn Griebenow, who has previously represented several suspects accused of rhino poaching or rhino horn trading – including rancher Marnus Steyl and the so-called “Ndlovu gang”.

Some of Griebenow’s other high-profile clients have included perlemoen poaching kingpin Morne Blignaut; murder accused Christopher Panayiotou and a group of alleged SA mercenaries arrested in Zimbabwe for plotting a coup against the government of Equatorial Guinea.

In their statement admitting guilt, Melville and Steyn acknowledge that the offences they committed related mainly to rhino horn permit transgressions – as the horns were not poached illegally and had been harvested legally from living rhinos at Hume’s ranch.

Nevertheless, their admission of guilt statement acknowledges that “this type of offence is very prevalent” in South Africa and that the plight of the rhino was well known.

“While it is true that the horns in question were harvested legally and not through the cruel and devastating means of illegal poaching, the circumstances nevertheless show that criminals will go to great lengths to satisfy the bizarre demand for rhino horn due to the black market value thereof.”

To understand some of the complexities of the matter, it is worth recording that buying and selling rhino horns is currently legal in South Africa (subject to certain strict conditions), although selling horns commercially to buyers in another country has been prohibited since 1977 in terms of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

To complicate matters further, the legality of domestic trade in rhino horns in South Africa has undergone several changes over the past few years.

For many decades, government conservation agencies and private owners were permitted to sell horns domestically under certain conditions, but this changed in 2009, when domestic trade was banned under a government moratorium which aimed to halt rampant black-market smuggling.

Enter John Hume, a former property resort developer who currently farms more than 1,800 rhino at his ranch in North West province, and who has been lobbying to overturn the CITES ban so he can sell horns legally harvested from live rhinos to buyers in China and other Eastern nations.

(These are horns which are cut off a rhino’s head using a mechanical saw while the animal is under veterinary sedation. According to wildlife vets, the operation is entirely painless, provided it is done by a skilled professional.)

Three years ago, after a series of court battles, Hume finally managed to overturn the moratorium on the domestic sale of rhino horn.

Though this earned him the legal right to resume selling rhino horns domestically to recover some of the costs of his massive rhino ranching operation – he was still prohibited from exporting horns commercially under the CITES ban.

So, he could sell horns within South Africa (where there is no commercial consumer demand as rhino horn has never been used on a large scale for traditional medicine or other purposes) – but he was still prohibited from selling horns directly to illegal traders in China, Vietnam or Laos.

Finally, on 12 April 2019, second-hand car dealer Melville and plant hire labourer Steyn showed up at a secure banking vault where part of Hume’s stash of several tons of rhino horn are kept in custody.

However, to test the waters and push the new legal boundaries, Hume staged a widely-publicised online, international rhino horn auction in June 2017 (with prices and buyer information translated into Mandarin and Vietnamese).

He offered 500kg of his legally harvested horns to all-comers (including foreign buyers and proxy buyers), effectively suggesting to these buyers that they could acquire his products legally. But it was, ahem, their indaba if they chose to stockpile these horns in SA until a time when the CITES ban was lifted – or well, you know, make some other kind of plan.

Returning now to the recent “Skeerpoort affair”, Hume applied to the Minister of Environmental Affairs on 7 September 2018 to sell 181 of his horns to “a certain Allan Rossouw”.

According to the court papers, the minister’s representatives later issued permit number 0-29886 to Hume (allowing him to sell the horns) and permit number 0-29888 in the name of Rossouw (allowing him to buy the horns).

A month later, the Gauteng provincial department of environmental affairs also issued rhino horn possession permit number 0-101310 in the name of Rossouw. In March 2019, a further permit application was made to transport the horns from a secure banking vault in Gauteng to another secure vault elsewhere in the province, also in the name of Rossouw.

All these permit applications were submitted by Hume’s office.

Finally, on 12 April 2019, second-hand car dealer Melville and plant hire labourer Steyn showed up at a secure banking vault where part of Hume’s stash of several tons of rhino horn are kept in custody.

According to the court papers, Melville and Steyn were acting on the instructions of Melville’s brother, Charles Melville “and/or Mr Hume”.

Hume and Charles Melville had apparently requested John Melville and Steyn to shift the horns to a place where they could be “inspected by potential buyers before negotiations regarding price could be determined by such buyers and Charles Melville and/or Mr Hume”.

The court papers do not make it clear where Allan Rossouw lives, but state that the two potential buyers who wanted to look at the horns were from Bloemfontein, and that their names and contact details were provided by Charles Melville.

To cut a long story short, John Melville and Petrus Steyn collected the horns from the vault and then drove them to an undisclosed accommodation establishment in Skeerpoort, where both men were arrested on 13 April by the police because one of the permits had been forged by John Melville and because the horns had been moved from Gauteng province to North West province, apparently without authority.

According to the Department of Environmental Affairs, the arrests were made during an operation that included members of the Hawks Serious Organised Crime and Endangered Species, Tracker SA and Vision Tactical, “following the receipt of information that a vehicle from a coastal province was carrying a considerable amount of horns. The rhino horns were allegedly destined for the South East Asian markets.”

On Hume’s version, the authorities declined to witness the handover and opted instead to mount a sting operation which resulted in the arrest of Melville and Steyn.

These horns were seized by police and remain in their custody, but now Hume wants them back.

Hume, speaking through a spokesperson, had a slightly different version of events when interviewed at the weekend.

He maintained that Melville and Steyn were acting on Rossouw’s behalf when they collected the horns (not on Hume’s behalf) and that the police operation had been a “sting”.

His spokesperson said Hume’s office had notified the authorities in advance that he was about to sell some rhino horns under permit – and that he also invited them to witness the handover to the new legal buyer at the bank vault.

On Hume’s version, the authorities declined to witness the handover and opted instead to mount a sting operation which resulted in the arrest of Melville and Steyn.

And now, says Hume, he wants the horns back.

But hang on, Daily Maverick asked his office, surely the horns were no longer his, because he had already handed over the horns to Rossouw’s agents?

No, says Hume. Rossouw never paid for them – so they remain Hume’s property.

But hang on again, Daily Maverick asked, how could Hume have agreed to hand over 181 horns potentially worth many millions of rands into the custody of two men apparently acting on behalf of Allan Rossouw (if Rossouw had not paid for the horns in advance or provided adequate financial guarantees).

And, hang on once more – didn’t Hume’s office state that he had never met Rossouw in person and had only communicated with him via email.

In response, Hume’s office claims he was so desperate to conclude a legal sale that he was willing to run the risk of losing them by handing them over to the custody of a man he had never met.

Hume’s office suggested that Rossouw may have been an “agent” acting for a third party.

“Agents don’t always want you to speak directly to their clients,” his spokesperson suggested, adding that such buyers might potentially buy a product for a certain price and then sell it on at a higher price.

In any event, Hume’s office said they have now contacted the State Advocate and obtained an assurance that the horns would not be destroyed before Hume lodged an application in the High Court to recover the horns.

Good luck to the court in untangling what really went down at Skeerpoort, or the true identity and nationality of the potential end buyer.

The Hawks, the National Prosecuting Authority and Department of Environmental Affairs were all invited on Friday, 12 June 2020 to comment on Hume’s efforts to recover the horns. No response has yet been received.

 

Rhino horn trade – why trade is bad for our wild rhino populations

By Conservation
Video presentation by Colin Bell, June 8, 2020

Respected conservationist Colin Bell spells out why trade in rhino horn will lead to the demise of rhinos in the wild. He debunks the myths fabricated by speculators and explains how this well-resourced and determined lobby has flouted law, abused trust and bullied their way to convincing legislators that turning rhino into a livestock commodity will save them in the wild.

Can Vietnam stop its trade in endangered wild animals?

By Uncategorized
Dan Southerland, Commentary, Radio Free Asia | June 9, 2020

 

Read the original Story here.

Vietnam is considering a plan to end the poaching and consumption of the Southeast Asian nation’s wild animals.

The VnExpress news agency reported in mid-March that Prime Minister Nguyen Phuc Xuan had ordered Vietnam’s Agriculture Ministry to “soon” draft a directive to ban these activities and to submit it to the government no later than April 1.

But as Michael Tatarski, a freelance journalist based in Ho Chi Minh City, reported in an article written for the environmental website Mongabay.com in late May, that date has “come and gone” with “no information on the requested ban.”

The wildlife trade in Vietnam is a lucrative business believed to bring profits totaling at least $1 billion a year.

Vietnam, like neighboring Thailand, is also a key hub on global wildlife trafficking routes.

Not surprisingly, organized criminal gangs are said to be involved.

The Guardian newspaper said that Prime Minister Phuc’s call for a trade ban directive is seen as a victory for animal rights organizations and has led to hopes that it will “lead to clamping down on street-side markets,” which are located across Vietnam, as well as to an increase in prosecutions of online wildlife traders.

According to The Guardian, up until now many Vietnamese wildlife traders have openly advertised on Facebook, showing photos of leopard cats caught in mesh nets and dead pangolins stored in a freezer.

Also shown have been slaughtered macaque monkeys, frozen tiger cubs, butchered bats, and even freshly barbecued wildlife.

The trade pays well enough to draw in thousands of Vietnamese farms, The Guardian said.

Many middle-class Vietnamese consider serving exotic animals at meals as a sign of their status. Some also believe that wildlife animal “products” have medicinal benefits, although no scientific evidence is available to support such beliefs.

Wildlife Exports to China and Hong Kong

Many of Vietnam’s wildlife “products,” including among other things, the scales from pangolins, get exported to China and to Hong Kong.

As The Economist magazine explained early last month, “eating pangolins is illegal in China, but putting their scales into medical concoctions is not.”

More than 700 hospitals in China are allowed to prescribe these anteaters’ scales, which they can buy from the government.

This and the Chinese government’s approval of pangolin farms, The Economist says, provide cover for illegal trading.

Pangolins are found in several Asian countries, including both China and Vietnam. But China’s demand for their scales has taken a heavy toll in Vietnam.  So pangolins are now reported to be coming mostly into China from Africa.

In Vietnam, meanwhile, 14 local organizations have recommended a wildlife trading ban in order to prevent the spread of epidemics.

As Tatarski notes, experts believe that the current coronavirus epidemic began when a virus jumped from a wild animal to a human at a wet market in Wuhan, China.

China closed its wildlife markets to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Vietnam, meanwhile, has been applauded for successfully containing the coronavirus outbreak.

When it comes to enforcement of the law, VnExpress reports that at least one big-time wildlife trader has been caught.

Pham Thi Tuan, 58, was fined 60 million Vietnamese Dong, equal to $2,560 at a trial last December. But prosecutors said the punishment was too lenient and sought a harsher sentence.

In August 2018, Vietnamese police entered Tuan’s house and found “13 endangered King cobras, nearly 300 turtles, and many other species for which she failed to provide any documentation.”

According to VnExpress, it’s illegal to hunt, kill, possess, capture, transport, or trade protected animals In Vietnam, and violators can get up to 15 years in prison.

The problem up until now at least has been lax implementation of the laws.

One example is the lowly pangolin, which is now by most estimates considered to be the most trafficked mammal in the world.

Pangolins Sought for Meat and Cures

The Vietnamese government passed a law more than two years ago banning the sale of pangolins, but implementation of the law appears to have been weak.

Pangolins, which are anteaters found in both Asia and Africa, have been designated as threatened by the Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“All eight pangolin species are now listed as threatened with extinction, largely because they are being traded to China and Vietnam” said Jonathan Baillie, co-chair of the Pangolin Specialist Group at the IUCN.

Pangolins are much sought after for their meat and their scales, which when ground up are believed to remove toxins and cure a variety of ailments, including everything from arthritis to cancer.

Users boil the pangolin and remove the scales, then dry and toast them for traditional medical use.

Some users claim that the scales help to treat kidney disorders and palsy as well as skin diseases.

Pangolins sometimes serve as the centerpiece of a Vietnamese banquet.

Paul Mooney, a freelance journalist based in Hanoi, learned from a Vietnamese acquaintance, an innkeeper, that a banquet serving pangolin could cost between five million and 10 million Vietnamese dong.

That’s the equivalent of roughly $215 to $430 dollars, which would be a high price to pay for most Vietnamese but affordable for those who host big banquets in Vietnam.

Vietnam’s Caged Black Bears

In early 2018, this commentator wrote that some experts saw headway being made to free caged Asiatic black bears that were being used for the extraction of bile in several Asian countries.

Some of the bears’ body parts are considered delicacies in Vietnam and elsewhere.

Animals Asia, a Hong Kong-based charity, signed a memorandum with the Vietnamese government on July 17, 2017 to ensure a complete end to bear bile farming by 2020.

This clearly hasn’t happened yet, said The Guardian, which is known for its investigative reporting on environmental issues.

Until recently at least, Vietnam has scored poorly in protecting wildlife. According to a report written by Nguyen Quy for VnExpress, Vietnam has ranked as one of the worst performing countries in Asia, along with Myanmar, in terms of policies and laws designed to protect animals.

An index created by the international charity World Animal Protection ranks 50 countries around the world.  Vietnam got an “F,” ranking behind India, Malaysia, the Philippines, China, Indonesia, and Japan.

Traffic, a non-profit, UK-based wildlife trade monitoring organization, recently published a report analyzing thousands of successful seizures of trafficked wildlife across 10 nations in Southeast Asia.

The study highlighted the issues that have allowed the illegal trade in wildlife to thrive, including the existence of organized crime networks that move wildlife contraband from country to country.

Other issues include poor conviction rates, inadequate laws, and the poor regulation of markets.

One of the more startling recent findings by experts is the existence of a thriving illegal trade in python skins.

Matt McGrath, an environmental correspondent for the BBC, reported a number of years ago that a half million python skins were being exported annually from Southeast Asia in a trade worth $1 billion.

A growing demand for handbags and other items was fuelling imports of the python skins, according to a report from the International Trade Centre, a joint agency of the World Trade Organization and the United Nations.

As McGrath notes, it’s difficult make a case for halting the trade because snakes “don’t evoke much sympathy.”

But some methods of killing the snakes in Southeast Asian nations, including decapitation, are said to be cruel.

One of the saddest stories to emerge in recent years is the decline in the numbers of tigers in Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries.

As is the case in China, tigers are prized in Southeast Asia for their pelts and bones.

In 2015, according to the Swiss-based World Wildlife Fund (WWF), only about 80 tigers survived in the wild in Vietnam.  Today only a much smaller number still roam in the wild, sharply down from the days when hundreds of them ranged across mountains and forests.

On April 14, 2016 the website VietNamNet reported that only five tigers were left in the wild in Vietnam.

Vietnam is likely soon or even now only to have tigers that are held in captivity in zoos and parks.

A Few Positive Developments

On the positive side, Vietnam appears to have succeeded in cutting down on imports of rhino horns from Africa. This appears to be partly due to international pressure.

Ground-up rhino horns are believed to treat a variety of maladies, including everything from cancer to hangovers. Serving them with a dinner endows the host of the meal with a certain status.

When it comes to pangolins, there is little on the positive side to report. Pangolins are shy creatures which normally do not take well to captivity.

But in Malaysia, scientists have announced that an online event will take place on June 12 featuring Malaysia’s first captive-born baby pangolin, according to the newsletter “Green Echoes” from the Environmental Reporting Collective.

In another positive development, The Guardian reports that scientists have mastered the use of “frozen zoos” to reproduce endangered amphibians, which may be the smallest of Vietnam’s endangered animals.

A toad named Olaf is reported to be the first of his species to be born in a zoo from previously frozen sperm.

And at a zoo in Cologne, Germany, a bony-headed toad, which would have been designated as endangered in Vietnam, is said to be thriving.

Dan Southerland is RFA’s founding executive editor.

 

Poaching spikes amid lockdown in South Asia

By Conservation
Abhaya Raj Joshi, Adeel Saeed, Neha Sinha & Nazmun Naher Shishir, China Dialogue | June 4, 2020

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As countries in South Asia locked down to curb the spread of coronavirus, criminals in the illegal wildlife trade took advantage. With authorities focused on enforcing lockdown restrictions, poachers felt less likely to be caught.

Authorities in India, Pakistan and Nepal reported a surge in illegal hunting, including of endangered animals and rare birds. People who had lost their livelihoods also turned to poaching to support themselves.

The trend follows what has already been confirmed in Southeast Asia, Africa, Brazil and Colombia: poaching and deforestation has increased since Covid-19 restrictions went into effect.

Joseph Walston, head of conservation at the Wildlife Conservation Society, told the BBC: “In places like Southeast Asia, there’s this huge urban-to-rural migration where people have lost their jobs in the cities overnight. They’re now having to depend on poaching, logging or other activities that are degrading nature because they have no other option.”

This is just as true in South Asia. In a northern region of Pakistan, poaching cases tripled in March and April. Six musk deer bodies were found in a Nepalese national park below Mount Everest. The killings of desert antelope, leopard and rhino may only be the tip of the iceberg in India. Bangladesh is the only country that has reported a decrease in poaching incidents, though conservationists remain concerned.

These countries have been battling the illegal wildlife trade for many years. The recent lockdown has shown just how entrenched the black market is.

Trafficking Triples in Parts of Pakistan

In the northern region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), there was a spike in hunting and poaching during the lockdown period 22 March to 12 May.

“From 20 March to 30 April, we have made a record registration of 600 cases of illegal hunting and poaching,” said Muhammad Niaz, the divisional wildlife officer in KP’s wildlife department. In regular months, he said, the total is 150 to 200.

Most of the cases involved the smuggling of captured birds and animals to supply markets in the major cities, some of which were open to allow essential items.

“In Dera Ismail Khan district alone, my team booked 220 hunters and poachers who were operating close to the River Indus,” said Khan Malook, the local district wildlife officer.

The biggest case was the smuggling of 65 demoiselle cranes on 24 March from D.I. Khan to Peshawar. The cranes were found tied up with their heads covered with cloth in an ambulance, whose operators pretended they were shifting a body, Malook said.

Sharifuddin, the chief conservator of forests and wildlife of Balochistan province, said that smuggling cases had increased in KP because the province is a key resting point for migratory birds flying back to Siberia from India along the Indus Flyway.

Lucrative Trade

Poaching is a lucrative business and people have taken advantage of the lack of activity at the wildlife department during the coronavirus lockdown period, said Muhammad Sohaib, a bird seller in Peshawar. Sohaib admitted there had been an increase in the supply of birds by poachers during this time.

There is big money in hunting birds. Poachers selling cranes and other rare species can easily earn hundreds of thousands of rupees on a monthly basis. A crane can fetch anywhere from PKR 7,000 (US$44) to 2 million (US$12,500).

“The price of rare wild species on the open market is drawing people towards this illegal practice, threatening already endangered wild species,” Sohaib warned.

Wildlife officials believe the surge in the clandestine wildlife trade is due to people needing to look for other sources of income, including poaching, during the lockdown, which has put a stop to commercial activity. Not only professional poachers, but ordinary people have moved into the illegal trade as authorities have been distracted.

Idle youngsters bragging on social media by uploading pictures of hunted wild species also caused an increase in hunting during this time of enforced leisure, wildlife department officials said.

Endangered Species Killed in Nepal

In Nepal, major incidents involving endangered species have raised suspicions about an increase in poaching as the country went into lockdown.

Officials say that a host of issues such as loss of livelihoods, restrictions on movement and a lull in tourism may have encouraged poachers to take advantage of the situation.

On 25 April, the bodies of six musk deer were found inside Sagarmatha National Park, below Mount Everest, a month after the Covid-19 lockdown was imposed. Park officials say it was “one of the worst cases of poaching” in recent years.

“When we reached the site where the bodies were found, we saw that the deer were trapped and killed. The pod on one male deer had been removed,” said Bhumiraj Upadhyaya, chief conservation officer at the Sagarmatha National Park.

The Himalayan musk deer, more commonly known as Kasturi in South Asia, is one of the most endangered species in the region. Scent glands from male musk deer, also known as pods, can fetch thousands of rupees. They’re used to make perfume and traditional medicine.

Dawa Nuru Sherpa, a resident of Khumbu on the foothills of Everest, wrote on his Facebook page that a dead golden eagle was also found inside a trap in the same area. More wire traps were also found.

Another incident in southern Nepal’s Parsa National Park saw poachers exchange fire with patrolling soldiers. A poacher was killed and a soldier injured, said Bishnu Shrestha, information officer at the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation. Officials managed to arrest one of the poachers, who worked as a painter in Kathmandu, and had returned home after the lockdown because of a lack of work, said Amir Maharjan, the park’s chief conservation officer.

Conservation officials have stepped up security efforts in the wake of these incidents. “All our offices have opened even as the government has not listed us under essential services,” Shrestha said.

Most of Nepal’s national parks see an influx of tourists during spring season. But the protected areas are currently deserted, and that has encouraged poachers to kill wild animals, said Upadhyaya. “The Everest region would be brimming with people with the advent of spring,” he said. “But this year, with the lockdown, it’s easier for [poachers] to set up traps.”

Numerous minor incidents related to wildlife poaching and illegal logging have also been recorded in the country since the lockdown, said Shrestha. At Chitwan National Park, Nepal’s most popular conservation area, an elephant and three crocodiles have been reported killed.

Endangered Species in India

As India went into lockdown, there was a spike in poaching registered in many parts of the country. From wild birds in cages, to animals caught for bushmeat, to prized commodities in the international illegal wildlife trade.

In Odisha, four men were apprehended on 10 May with a leopard skin in Simlipal tiger reserve. On the same day, officials found a rhino killed by poachers in Kaziranga national park and tiger reserve in the northeast state of Assam. Conservationists say the Indian rhino will not survive without constant vigilance, because its horn is highly valued in trade.

A sharp rise in poaching has come to light in Rajasthan, including several cases of the endangered chinkara, a desert antelope which has been pushed back from a larger range and is now predominantly found in Rajasthan.

Conservationists say this may just be the tip of the iceberg. Sumit Dookia, who studies desert ecology and works on community conservation said: “From our estimates, at least 55 cases of poaching were reported [in Western Rajasthan]. The animals poached include chinkara, black buck, spiny-tailed lizard, desert hare, peafowl, monitor lizards and grey francolin.”

Meanwhile, in Karnataka’s Bandipur tiger reserve, a poaching ring was discovered – 50kg of chital deer meat was seized and nine people arrested. This was among a string of poaching incidents. Some of the accused used to work in temporary jobs for the forest department.

Bangladesh Reports Zero Poaching

In contrast, wildlife officials in Bangladesh say poaching has been kept under tight control during the lockdown period.

“We have had no cases of poaching to date after the pandemic arrived in Bangladesh. Despite lockdown, our Wildlife Crime Control Unit is working relentlessly. Since transportation is prohibited, controlling poaching wildlife is now possible,” said Mihir Kumar Doe, conservator of forests, Wildlife & Nature Conservation Circle.

“Bangladesh does not have its own market for wildlife species rather it is used as a route… But wildlife poaching is going down in Bangladesh during the pandemic,” said Amir Hosain Chowdhury, chief conservator of forests.

According to WCCU there were 438 cases of wildlife trafficking recorded between 2013 and the end of 2019, with only 107 cases in 2019.

But others say that the illegal trade continues. Some local species, such as deer, pangolin, lizard turtles and native birds, are still being poached and smuggled out of the country, said Shahriar Caesar Rahman, Chief Executive Officer, Creative Conservation Alliance.

“Now that the law enforcement is busy [with the] coronavirus issue, smugglers have opportunities to increase trading through illegal land ports. Many communities in hill areas are now getting involved with poaching or killing wild animals for their livelihood. It is alarming,” he said.

Militants poaching rhinos in Kaziranga (State of Assam, India)

By Antipoaching
News Live | June 6, 2020

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GUWAHATI: Three poachers arrested by Karbi Anglong police revealed that some militant organisations have been resorting to rhino poaching in Kaziranga National Park in Assam to buy arms and ammunition for their outfits. The poachers identified as David Siyama, Biki Thapa and Simon Lakra informed police during interrogation that several militant organisations from Karbi hills have been purchasing arms and ammunition by selling rhino horn at the international markets illegally.

According to reports, the militant organisations and the poachers have been carrying out the illegal activities along the Indo-Myanmar border. The arrested poachers revealed that a poacher named Maibong who was killed in an encounter with Karbi Anglong police was the man behind the nexus between poachers and militants.

They also informed that a KG of rhino horn is sold against Rs. 1.5 crore.

The group of poachers was arrested from different parts of Karbi Anglong on June 2. Apart from a hand grenade, an AK-81, two AK-56 rifles, a double-barrel gun and 400 rounds of assorted ammunition were seized from them.  The kind of ammunition the hunters carried blurred the line between poachers and extremists.

Poaching doubled during lockdown, says TRAFFIC

By Antipoaching, Conservation
Mrityunjay Bose, The Deccan Herald | June 6, 2020

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Poaching of wild animals in India during the lockdown period is on the rise and is not restricted to any geographical region or state or to any specific wildlife area, according to a report by TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network. Reports of poaching incidences for consumption and local trade have more than doubled during lockdown although there was no evidence of stockpiling of wildlife products for future trade.

The analysis was carried out by comparing media-reported instances of poaching during a six-week pre-lockdown period (10 February to 22 March) to those from six weeks of lockdown March 2 to May 3, 2020). Reported poaching incidences rose from 35 to 88 although it is unknown how reporting rates have changed because of the lockdown, according to a statement by WWF-India. The findings were released in the form of a short report “Indian wildlife amidst the COVID-19 crisis: An analysis of poaching and illegal wildlife trade trends”.

The study indicates that despite consistent efforts by law enforcement agencies, wild animal populations in India are under additional threat during the lockdown period. The highest increase in poaching was reported to be of ungulates mainly for their meat, and the percentage jumped from nearly eight out of 35 (22%) total reported cases during pre-lockdown to 39 out of 88 (44%) during the lockdown period.

The second group which showed a marked increase was poaching of “small mammals” including hares, porcupines, pangolins, giant squirrels, civets, monkeys and smaller wild cats. Although some have always been in high demand in international markets, most hunting during the lockdown period is presumably for meat or for local trade. Cases for these rose from 6 (17%) to 22 (25%) between the pre-and lockdown periods.

Among big cats, leopard poaching showed an increase during the lockdown period as nine. Leopards were reported to have been killed compared to four in the pre-lockdown period. A total of 222 persons were arrested in poaching related cases by various law enforcement agencies during the lockdown period across the country, significantly higher than the 85 suspects reported as arrested during the pre-lockdown phase.

Incidences related to wild pet-bird seizures came down significantly from 14% to 7% between the prelockdown and lockdown periods, presumably due to a lack of transport and closed markets during the lockdown period. Larger birds such as Indian Peafowls and game birds such as Grey Francolins, which are popular for their meat, were reported to be targeted during the lockdown. There was less reporting of poaching and illegal trade in tortoises and freshwater turtles, with almost no seizures of these species during the lockdown period.

Dr Saket Badola, Head of TRAFFIC’s India Office said, “The more than doubling of reported poaching cases, mainly of ungulates and small wild animals for meat is doubtless placing additional burdens on wildlife law enforcement agencies. Therefore, it is imperative that these agencies are supported adequately and in a timely manner so they can control the situation”.

Ravi Singh, SG & CEO, WWF-India added, “If poaching of ungulates and small animals remains unchecked it will lead to depletion of prey base for big cats like tigers and leopards and a depletion of the ecosystems. This in turn will lead to higher incidences of human-wildlife conflicts and will undermine the significant successes that India has achieved in the field of wildlife conservation”.