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Push for total Thai ban on wildlife trade

By Conservation
Apinya Wipatayotin, The Bangkok Post | July 9, 2020

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Activists campaigning against wildlife crime say Thailand could be a global leader in stopping pandemics by further cracking down on and ceasing to be a gateway for the illegal wildlife trade.

They believe this would help stop animal-to-human disease transmission.

They said scientific information has shown that the majority of emerging diseases usually originate from wet markets where wild animals are caged.

Speaking at a press conference to launch a global campaign “Endpandemics” on Wednesday, Steven Galster, the founder of Freeland who started the campaign aimed at the global community in April when the Covid-19 pandemic expanded globally, called on the government to take more aggressive action to ban the commercial trade in wild animals.

He said the nation could return to its top place in the region in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade under the framework of the Asean Wildlife Enforcement Network known as ASEAN-WEN.

He said Thailand’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak had been exemplary, resulting in some of the lowest numbers of cases and deaths in the world.

However, it has left one door open for the next viral bomb to explode, which is the illegal wildlife trade on its own doorstep. He said there needs to be strong efforts from all stakeholders, especially law enforcement, to completely ban it.

He added Thailand should close its gate to wildlife traders and lead other countries by example to follow the World Health Organization (WHO) “One Health” approach that involves simultaneously protecting people, wild animals and ecosystems.

“A new vaccine will not work against a new outbreak strain,” Mr Galster said.

“A true, sustainable vaccine will address the root causes of these outbreaks but there needs to be a new approach not only for the protection of people, but of wildlife and natural ecosystems as well.

“Thailand can be that global leader by becoming the first country in the world to ban all commercial trade in wild animals.”

Thailand is widely known as a regional hub for wildlife crime due to its geographic location and transport system linking to the other countries despite its efforts to control wildlife crime.

Tonnes of African ivory and pangolins have been confiscated at airports. The final destination of these items in the world wildlife trade market is usually China.

Many anti-wildlife trafficking experts say the Covid-19 pandemic has played a significant role in stopping the illegal wildlife trade.

An order to close the markets will be eased when the outbreak fades. Mr Galster said reopening them will be detrimental to wildlife protection and increase the possibility of diseases from animal-to-man transmission such as Sars, Mers, birdflu and Covid-19.

Mr Galster also raised concerns about the Chinese government’s policy to clean up and reorganise the wildlife market. He said it “is a big mistake”.

The WHO said 75% of all emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic.

Illegal wildlife trade needs to be penalised: FATF

By Conservation
Esha Roy, The New Indian Express | June 26, 2020

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The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) released its first-ever report on illegal wildlife trade (IWT) on Thursday. FATF is an independent inter-governmental body that develops and promotes policies to protect the global financial system against money laundering, terrorist financing and the financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The report comes amid increasing international concern that the crime could lead to more zoonotic diseases in the future. Estimating the proceeds of IWT to be between $7 and $23 billion per year globally, the FATF has suggested to all member governments that the financial aspect of wildlife trade needs to be looked at more carefully, and that money laundering laws should be applied to wildlife trade since the proceeds enters the global market through money laundering.

“The illegal wildlife trade is devastating our wildlife and putting the global ecosystem at risk. Time is running out. To ensure the survival of endangered species, we need to build strong public-private partnerships to prevent, detect and disrupt this activity, following the money that fuels it and the organised crime gangs, poachers and traffickers behind it,” said FATF president Xiangmin Liu.

“The illegal wildlife trade (IWT) is a major transnational organised crime that fuels corruption, threats biodiversity, and can have significant public health impacts. In particular, the spread in recent years of zoonotic diseases underlines the importance of ensuring that wildlife is traded in a legal, safe and sustainable manner, and that countries remove the profitability of illegal markets,” states the report.

In its report, the FATF pointed out that following the money allows countries to identify a wider network of syndicate leaders and financiers involved, and to reduce the profitability of the crime. It also stated that syndicates invovled in the crime are usually engaged in other illegal enterprises, and that tackling IWT will help dismantle such networks.

“Combating criminal organisations through their financial flows is a significant legal and investigative tool to prevent wildlife trafficking and the potential proliferation of zoonotic diseases,” it stated, suggesting the use of money laundering offences since they carry more severe penalties in many countries.

While the exact connection between the trading of pangolins and pangolin scales to the Covid-19 outbreak is yet to be established, researchers across the globe are looking into possible ties.

“While hunters can receive from USD 2.5 to 9 per kg of pangolin scales, the price in demand countries is usually around USD 200 per kg, but has reached as much as USD 700 per kg (between 100% to 600% mark-up). Between 2016 and 2019, countries confiscated an estimated 206.4 tonnes of pangolin scales across 52 seizures globally, which amounts to USD 41-144 million in sales in destination countries,” read the report.

India has also been a source country for illegal pangolin trading.

Talking about the extravagant mark-ups of illegal wildlife trade, the report points out that the price of rhinoceros horn can reach about $65,000 per kg, but has also been known to be as low as $9,000 per kg, according to US authorities. Criminals trafficked approximately 4,500 African rhinoceros horns between 2016 and 2017, generating estimated proceeds of between $79 and 292 million.

While the price paid to elephant poachers can be just $200 or less, in destination markets ivory can be priced at between $500 and $1,000 per kg (150 per cent to 400 per cent mark-up).

Syndicates involved in wildlife crime usually poach, harvest or breed wildlife in countries that are rich in biodiversity and/or where there may be weaker law enforcement oversight and criminal justice — or in source countries. Similarly, most syndicates involved in such crime transit the wildlife through other countries to obfuscate the end destination. Transit countries typically include trade and transport hubs or countries with higher levels of corruption. The laundering of the proceeds occurs across source, transit and destination countries.

“To hide the real country of origin, criminals involved in IWT often divert containers or shipments through third countries, and switch the bills of lading or vessel. For the sale of the illegal wildlife, jurisdictions identified common use of cash, mobile or social media-based payments, and third party payments,” says the report.

Countries highlighted that criminals are relying on “established” methods to launder proceeds from IWT, including the placement and layering of funds through the formal financial sector. In particular, countries reported that criminals involved in IWT are placing and layering funds through cash deposits (under the guise of loans or payments), e-banking platforms (e.g., electronic payment services that are tied to a credit card or bank account) and licensed money value transfer systems (MVTS) like ‘hawala’, ‘hundi’ and ‘fei chen’ which are usually community-based and draw on a network of brokers across countries to facilitate international transfers without money physically crossing borders. Third-party wire transfers through banks are also used.

Criminals involved in IWT also use shell and front companies to conceal payments and launder their money. Countries identified that criminals are primarily using shell companies to facilitate transfer of value between syndicate members, between buyers and sellers, or to hold assets. At the same time, criminals use front companies, which generally conduct legitimate activities simultaneously to illegal ones, to both facilitate the movement of the wildlife and to co-mingle licit and illicit proceeds.

Wildlife traffickers often use front companies that have connections to import-export industries to help justify the movement of goods and payments across borders (eg, plastics, timber, frozen foods, or artwork). Another common trend is the misuse of front companies with connections to the legal wildlife trade such as taxidermists, farms, breeding facilities, pet shops and zoos.Other industries that may be more vulnerable to misuse include traditional medicine, décor, jewellery and fashion, said the FATF.

Legitimate pet stores and private “zoos”, “farms” or “parks” are often used to facilitate the illicit pet trade in many countries (such as Asia and the Americas) and are used to justify trading, breeding, or otherwise exploit protected wildlife. The financial flows associated with this type of IWT activity are often significant, stated the report, mentioning that “tiger zoos” with a large number of tigers have profited from selling tiger cubs and parts. A captive tiger can be sold for anything between $2,000 to $30,000 while a lion from a private zoo can cost $10,000 to $25,000.

“New technologies play an important role in facilitating communication and non-face-to-face payments between buyers and sellers for illegal wildlife. In particular, encrypted communication platforms and illegal wildlife marketplaces hosted via social media sites, online vendor platforms, and the dark net increase the ease with which wildlife transactions can occur between buyers and sellers,” stated the report, adding that VPN connections disguise the location of wildlife traffickers.

How COVID-19 Is Impacting Rangers Worldwide

By Conservation
By Molly Bergen, Global Wildlife Conservation | June 17, 2020

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In some places, the coronavirus has made it harder to protect parks. In others, it’s bringing communities and rangers together.

In March, the Philippine island of Mindoro — like much of the world — was put under lockdown orders due to the alarming global spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). In Mounts Iglit-Baco Natural Park, the rangers who work to protect the Critically Endangered Tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis), a dwarf buffalo endemic to the island, were told to minimize their work in the field and focus on keeping themselves healthy.

“The rangers were worried that illegal hunting by people coming from outside the park might increase during this time,” recounts James Slade, Global Wildlife Conservation’s wildlife crime prevention officer. “So they sort of went against the rules and actually increased their patrolling.”

While taking care to minimize contact with local indigenous communities, whom they feared might be more susceptible to the virus, these rangers ramped up their monitoring of the park, and even (at their own expense) repaired a ranger station that had been destroyed by a typhoon.

Rangers of Mounts Iglit-Baco Natural Park in the Philippines. (Photo by James Slade, Global Wildlife Conservation)

“They showed that it goes beyond just a job — it’s really a passion for them,” Slade continues. “And this is all during a time, of course, when these rangers would be concerned about their families, they might have very limited contact with them, they might have family members that were separated and unable to travel to one another because of these restrictions. But they just put their heads down and got on with the job.”

So far during the crisis, one Tamaraw has been killed by poachers. “Apparently, poachers boosted their activity in the park thinking that patrolling by rangers were lax due to community quarantine,” says Neil Anthony, the coordinator of the Tamaraw Conservation Program. This plan backfired; although the rangers were unarmed, they chased after the poachers, who ultimately escaped.

As the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc across the globe, the tragic mounting death toll has understandably taken center stage. But among its other widespread impacts is the effect on the rangers who protect the world’s last wild places — and the species that inhabit them.

Most Rangers Are Essential Workers

In theory, rangers are well set up to weather a pandemic. “Self-isolation is new to the world, but it’s not new to rangers,” says Rohit Singh, the president of the Ranger Federation of Asia. “Most ranger stations are very remote, with no outside contact for weeks, if not months.”

As of June 9, three rangers worldwide are known to have died of the coronavirus, all in Latin America. But the pandemic has upended the work of thousands more across the globe.

“In most countries, rangers are considered as essential services,” Singh says. “So legally they are allowed to operate even in countries that are in lockdown. But in some cases, because rangers are government employees, they are being asked or assigned to address the health crisis. For example, in Bhutan, rangers are being deployed along the southern border with India to stop the spread.”

A Bhutanese ranger sets a camera trap for monitoring during the pandemic. (Photo © WWF Bhutan)

During the pandemic, some rangers are being diverted from their normal jobs to distribute food or transport personal protective equipment (PPE) to places of need. Many others have been cut off from their families for longer than usual due to lockdown measures, an added stressor that is sure to take a psychological toll.

But not all rangers have permission to patrol during lockdown. Many protected areas in places like Malaysia, Indonesia and parts of Latin America rely on indigenous and other community rangers to patrol them. Because these rangers are not government employees, they are not recognized as essential workers, and therefore most of their patrols have stopped due to movement restrictions as governments try to keep the virus at bay.

While all these measures may be necessary, it ultimately means fewer people on the ground patrolling protected areas — which could have consequences for species already under threat.

Protecting Gorillas from Transmission

In Virunga National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), rangers are dealing with an additional challenge of an already difficult and dangerous job: preventing the park’s mountain gorilla population from contracting coronavirus. Because COVID-19 is a novel virus, we don’t yet know if it can infect non-human primates; however, there are many examples of other diseases being transmitted from human to gorilla — including Ebola, which frequently flares up in the region and may have killed up to one-third of the world’s western lowland gorilla population in the early 2000s.

Virunga National Park rangers manning a checkpoint to screen for Ebola in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Virunga National Park)

To reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 transmission, Virunga — already closed to tourists because of the crisis — is limiting human contact with the gorillas even more than usual. Among other measures, everyone who comes near the gorillas, such as trackers and rangers, must wear surgical masks, clean clothes and disinfected footwear. They are required to stay at least 10 meters from any gorilla they encounter.

“Two-thirds of Virunga National Park and most of its personnel operate in the Ebola affected area,” says a Virunga spokesperson. As a result, the park staff have lots of prior experience with fighting a deadly disease in a highly populated region that is also home to the only type of great ape whose population is actually growing. The park is using its staff and its network of partners to communicate COVID-19 health protection measures at places such as the neighborhood tap stands where women and children collect water every day.

“In the Ebola outbreak, rumours led to violence against health care workers and attacks that destroyed health centers,” the spokesperson says. “Good, clear information on transmission and public health is absolutely critical, especially in the early stages of a pandemic.”

COVID-19 and Poaching

Since the coronavirus outbreak began, some places have reported elevated levels of poaching — rhinos in Botswanabushmeat and ivory in Kenyaillegal deforestation in the Amazon. In other places, however, poaching of certain species has decreased.

“This gives some of these species breathing space,” says Chris Galliers, president of the International Ranger Federation. “And it’s great for the rangers — it reduces the threat to their lives if there’s fewer poachers around.”

Red colobus rangers on a survey in The Gambia. Red colobus monkeys are among the most threatened groups of primates as the result in part of poaching. (James Slade, Global Wildlife Conservation)

One thing many rangers have noticed is more people living near protected areas. Galliers explains: “Before the lockdown in various countries, some rangers experienced a huge influx of people into the wide open spaces — people decanting from the urban environment trying to escape. That puts a whole lot of pressure on the parks.”

As cities empty out and people return to their home villages, this will almost inevitably put more pressure on nearby natural resources such as fuelwood, if not the wildlife inhabiting the parks.

“A lot of people are jumping to the conclusion that this is either going to be a boon for wildlife, and with everybody in their homes wildlife’s going to bounce back,” Slade says. “Or the other side of the coin, people think that poaching is going to be astronomical because of this. But overall we really just don’t know, and that’s the worrying part.”

Shrinking Park Revenue Threatens Local Economies

One thing we do know: as widespread shutdowns prevent tourism and other economic activities from taking place, cash-strapped locals will have fewer options to provide for their families.

“Any sort of economic crisis can lead to a higher level of poaching because people are willing to take more risks, and almost need to in order to survive,” Slade says. “But at the same time, if we lose megafauna such as the lion, the rhino, or the elephant, then what’s going to happen?”

Rangers in India distributing rations to local communities. (Photo © Prem Kawar)

In some regions famous for their wildlife, these species are the lifeblood of local economies. And in places that normally depend on one “tourist season” to bring in income, these few months of disruption could wipe out earnings for the whole year.

“It’s going to be a significant impact in terms of revenue, for example in African parks such as in South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, which are heavily dependent on tourism,” Singh explains. “And this is not only about rangers, but also the people living around the park — the guides, safari lodge workers, souvenir shop owners. For example, in India, tigers create their own economy. If you remove tigers from those towns, there won’t be any people living there anymore.”

Maintaining — or ideally, increasing — ranger numbers will be critical to ensure that parks and valuable species are adequately protected.

“We already do not have adequate numbers of rangers in many parks,” Singh says. “And if you start cutting those ranger numbers, it’s going to have an impact. We have to make sure that whatever is being taken away from rangers during this crisis is not permanent, but is a temporary measure.”

Stopping Zoonotic Disease at the Source

But amid the uncertainty and fear, there are hopeful stories, too.

“One positive thing coming out of this crisis is it shows the interdependence between rangers and communities living around the parks,” Singh says. In Brazil, rangers are distributing rations to remote villages that rarely hear from government agencies. In India, 11,000 rangers in Rajastan province have donated one day of their salaries to COVID relief for local communities.

Brazil Ranger Association providing Ration to local communities. (Photo: © International Ranger Federation)

“Conversely, communities are also supporting the rangers,” Singh continues. “In Bhutan, where rangers are now patrolling the border 24/7, communities are coming out and bringing them food.”

No matter what the coming weeks and months may bring, supporting rangers is critical — not only to help them prevent species from vanishing, but to protect us all.

“These men and women are essential workers because they are protecting our life-support system, the Earth,” Slade says. “If we’re not looking after them and considering them in the same vein, then what could happen when we end up with another zoonotic disease that could have been avoided?”

Singh agrees that rangers often don’t get the recognition they deserve for their crucial role in fighting the illegal wildlife trade and — among other things — minimizing the chance of zoonotic disease transmission from wildlife to humans. “Yes, we should use this opportunity to put pressure on the authorities to shut down the high-risk wildlife markets,” Singh says. “But we shouldn’t forget that the rangers are working tirelessly to stop this trade at the source, in the wild. And I feel that in this narrative, that part has been lost.”

The coronavirus may seem all encompassing, but when it eventually recedes, ongoing issues like poaching and the extinction crisis will remain. In Slade’s words, “We can’t let something like this allow us to let down our guard.”

(Top photo: A rangers of Mounts Iglit-Baco Natural Park in the Philippines. Photo by James Slade, Global Wildlife Conservation)

South African proposal to breed wildlife for slaughter courts disaster

By Conservation
Chris Alden & Ross Harvey, The Conversation | June 14, 2020

Read the original article here.

There are times of spectacular policy myopia – and promoting a revision to the Meat Safety Act by the South African government is surely one of these moments.

In late February the government proposed adding over 90 local and non-indigenous species to the list of animals regulated under the Meat Safety Act. Prior to this the act allowed for the commercial slaughter of 35 “domesticated animals” and “wild game” species.

The list of 90 included rhinoceros, hippopotamus and giraffe, as well as “all other species of animals not mentioned above, including birds, fish and reptiles that may be slaughtered as food for human and animal consumption”.

The bill is currently being circulated for comment.

The purpose of the Meat Safety Act is to provide measures to promote meat safety and the safety of animal products for human and animal consumption. The effect of the proposed amendment is to make the whole act applicable to any animal to be slaughtered.

It appears that at least part of the reason for these amendments is to regulate the slaughter of captive bred lions, whose bones are exported in growing quantities to Asian markets.

If passed in its present form the act opens up the possibility of massive consumption of wildlife. How? By inadvertently driving up the demand for bushmeat through legitimising the consumption of protected wild animals.

A growing conservation concern

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the dangers of the transmission of viruses from wildlife to humans. The same pattern of infectious disease “species jumping” was implicated in the origin and spread of COVID-19, Ebola and SARS.

This zoonotic spillover risk is strongest in “wet markets”, where live animals, fish and birds are butchered and sold to consumers on site (as well as products like skins, scales and horns). A systematic review in 2007 concluded that:

The presence of a large reservoir of SARS-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats, together with the culture of eating exotic mammals in southern China, is a time bomb.

Bushmeat consumption across the continent is already a daunting conservation problemBushmeat increasingly serves as a supplement to protein from other sources such as cattle, chickens, goats and sheep.

Our fear is that the change in the law could lead to more wet markets being established in South Africa. While the amendments increase regulatory control, it’s not clear that the government will have the capacity to enforce them. More likely is the risk of realising unintended consequences. Individuals and small businesses are likely to see this as an opportunity to enter a sector where start-up costs are minimal, sanitary standards difficult to enforce and oversight non-existent.

Trade in small markets already exists in South Africa, which double as markets for traditional medicine in some instances. One study of the Faraday Market in Johannesburg revealed that at least 147 identified vertebrates were being traded for both bushmeat and traditional medicine.

Preserving scarce wildlife

Putting African wildlife on the menu for mass consumption holds implications that are important for our relationship with the wild and environment. It reduces wild animals to mere consumables.

Remember that these amendments come in the wake of 32 wild animal species having recently been included in changes to the Animal Improvement Act, essentially relegating them to mere agricultural products.

What is being put forward by government signals that it is open season on the country’s national heritage and authorises a great expansion of the legal procurement of wild animals for sale.

As has been demonstrated time and time again, the formal legalisation of wildlife trade provides both a cover and an incentive for the illegal trade in wildlife and its products. For example, the trade in perlemoen or abalone has been legal for generations and harvested on a sustainable basis. However, once permits were issued to unscrupulous front companies from Asia, the systematic stripping of the coast commenced with exports packed and sent out of the Cape and Johannesburg all under the legal guise of a legitimate business.

A significant portion of perlemoen has disappeared from coastal shores, depriving South Africans of employment, valued-add production (such as canning, now performed in Asian countries) and enjoyment of a national resource. Attempts to protect the species through listing on Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) appendixes have been thwarted by pressure from a fishing industry subject to corruption.

Defeating public health and conservation objectives

Promoting the consumption of wildlife in South Africa will only intensify the commodification of the country’s natural heritage. And it will potentially create zoonotic spillover health risks for humans as well as from wild animals like wildebeest to domesticated animals such as cattle.

We cannot continue to treat our delicate ecological systems as free capital. They are the vital life support systems without which nothing and no one can survive.

A new sanctuary for the Sumatran rhino is delayed amid COVID-19 measures (Indonesia)

By Conservation
Junaidi Hanafiah, Mongabay| May 27, 2020

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BANDA ACEH, INDONESIA: A much-anticipated plan to establish a new rhino-breeding sanctuary in northern Sumatra is one of many that has been put on hold in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The proposed facility is a top priority for Indonesia’s conservation plan to rescue the world’s last remaining Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) through a network of captive-breeding facilities. One already exists in southern Sumatra, inside Way Kambas National Park, and authorities planned another for a forest area in the Leuser Ecosystem in Aceh province, in the island’s north, expected to be completed by 2021.

For the past year, officials and experts — from the environment ministry, local government, academia and NGOs — have been working on the permits, feasibility and environmental studies, and developing the designs, including the detailed engineering design (DED).

“If it wasn’t for the pandemic, the DED would’ve been done in March 2020,” said Dedi Yansyah, the wildlife protection coordinator at the Leuser Conservation Forum, one of the NGOs involved in the plan.

Indonesia confirmed its first cases of COVID-19 in early March. Since then, the country has recorded the second-highest number of deaths from the disease in East Asia (behind only China­), even amid widespread measures to curb the spread of the virus, including stay-at-home orders and grounding of flights.

Harapan, a captive male Sumatran rhino, with a keeper at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park. Image by Rahmadi Rahmad/Mongabay Indonesia.

The planned rhino sanctuary in Leuser will cover 100 hectares (250 acres) of an ecosystem that’s also the only place on Earth that’s home to rhinos, tigers, orangutans and elephants. Agus Irianto, the head of the Aceh provincial conservation agency (BKSDA), said the area in question is a mosaic of logging forest, oil palm concession, and non-forest land. He said permits to acquire the logging forest and non-forest area were nearly completed; the agency is also in discussions with the oil palm concession holder to acquire that land.

“Certainly, [COVID-19] has affected the activities and timeline that were previously arranged,” Agus said.

An environment ministry official said an initial batch of at least five rhinos would be captured from the wild in Aceh and moved to the sanctuary to kick off the captive-breeding program there. The Leuser Ecosystem is touted by experts as the most promising habitat for wild rhinos because it’s believed to have the largest population of the species, at about 12 individuals. (Estimates for the Sumatran rhino’s total population range from 30 to 80.) But conservationists still understand little about the mountainous area, and the incidence of poaching there is believed to be higher than elsewhere.

Indonesia’s captive-breeding program currently has eight Sumatran rhinos in two sanctuaries: seven Way Kambas National Park, and one in the Kelian forest, in Indonesian Borneo.

Rhino experts around the world decided only in 2017 that the captive breeding of Sumatran rhinos, from both Sumatra and Borneo, was the only viable option to save the species, which is now found only in Indonesia after the death of Malaysia’s last captive rhino. The species once ranged across Southeast Asia, from the Himalayas in Bhutan and India, to southern China and down the Malay Peninsula. But it has been decimated by a series of factors, from poaching to habitat loss and, more recently, insufficient births.

Harapan, a captive male Sumatran rhino, at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park. Image by Junaidi Hanafi/Mongabay Indonesia.

The initiative agreed to in 2017 mirrors a similar effort in the 1980s to capture Sumatran rhinos for breeding. That program, however, collapsed a decade later after more than half of the animals died without any calves being born. But a string of successful captive births in both the United States and Indonesia, and a growing consensus that the species will go extinct without intervention, have laid the groundwork for the latest captive-breeding effort.

On the butcher’s block: rhino, hippo, giraffe and many other animals for human consumption (South Africa)

By Conservation
Nicholas Ashby, Dispatch Live | May 15, 2020

Read original story here.

While there is general scientific consensus that the novel coronavirus is of zoonotic origin and various groupings are advising that wildlife markets must be closed, the government has put forward legislation that could massively expand the wildlife industry to become mass meat suppliers to the world.

GroundUp reports that last year, the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development amended the Animal Improvement Act, redefining 32 wild species.

The practical effect of this is “to legitimise this part of the ‘game meat value chain’ and therefore to develop the industry, especially the export of game meat,” according to Sarah Kvalsvig, a consultant with Cullinan & Associates, a specialist environmental law firm.

Now the department is putting forward legislation to allow for most creatures to be slaughtered as products for human consumption, in which case abattoirs are about to see a vast array of wildlife in general ending their lives in these facilities.

Last week during an educational briefing to MPs on “the wildlife trade, the origins of Covid-19, and preventing future pandemics”, Prof Nick King, referring to Covid-19, told SA legislators: “That this spillover [the transmission of disease from animals to humans] happened in Asia is irrelevant … It could just as easily be Africa.”

King said there was a possibility that SA may bear some responsibility for the phenomenon of SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. The trade in pangolins, “a huge criminal enterprise” and a possible intermediary in the novel coronavirus spillover, included local involvement and the failure to act effectively against the illegal trade.

KwaZulu-Natal MP Narend Singh (IFP) asked what legislative changes could be made to control the wildlife trade.

SA has good environmental legislation, King replied, but there is underinvestment in its enforcement.

Until recently the Meat Safety Act (MSA) allowed for the commercial slaughter of 35 “domesticated animals” and “wild game” species.

But on February 28 the department proposed adding more than 90 local and non-indigenous species to the list of animals that the MSA regulates, including rhinoceros, hippopotamus and giraffe, as well as “all other species of animals not mentioned above, including birds, fish and reptiles that may be slaughtered as food for human and animal consumption”.

The MSA sets national standards at abattoirs. It prohibits animals being killed anywhere other than at accredited abattoirs, unless the killing is done for non-commercial personal use or ritualistic purposes. It also regulates the export and import of their flesh, skin, bone and horn.

Rationale for the amendment was not provided by the government. The department did not respond to queries as to why the change has been proposed, but it had asked for public comment.

Then on April 30, the department released a “clarification”. Animals covered on the newly proposed list, it said, would have previously fallen outside the act’s regulatory ambit. The loophole had allowed for the slaughter of unlisted animals without oversight.

The department, it added, does not encourage the slaughter of listed animals, and endangered and protected species which appear on the list are subject to other relevant legislation, including conservation. The amendment it said would ensure animal welfare requirements extended to newly scheduled animals.

But the amendment has shocked wildlife protection campaigners and welfare advocates such as Tozie Zokufa, director of the Coalition of African Animal Welfare. Doubly so, he told GroundUp, because of so many new additions to the list, as well as the added cruelty he believes it will involve.

Zokufa’s concerns are similar to Kvalsvig’s, who represents EMS, a wildlife protection and social justice foundation.

In a public comment submission to the department, Zokufa wrote: “In the light of the circumstances we find ourselves in with regards to Covid-19, we therefore, respectfully request that the department: acknowledge the risks and take action to protect human and animal health; reconsider the listing of the species of wildlife until further engagement with all relevant stakeholders; ban live wildlife trade and restrict local trade under stringent measures.”

He told GroundUp that SA’s animal welfare set-up is already thinly spread. In many cases it can’t enforce the welfare of currently farmed species.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA), mandated in law to enforce rules that limit animal cruelty, receives no government financial backing and its finances have been hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

An academic, who has studied game and wildlife meat safety, has pointed out that land for typically farmed species like sheep and cattle was at peak productivity. Alternative indigenous wildlife species adapted to surviving increasingly harsh conditions, could be seen as a future meat source.

This was echoed in November 2019 by veterinarian Dr Tertius Bergh, who owns roving slaughter trailers.

He said: “There is most definitely a big export market for our game meat.”

Poorly handled game meat, he said, came out of the industry because of the government’s lack of clarity.

“Many zoonotic diseases historically found mainly in livestock are now increasingly common in game,” he said.

He called for urgent change to the law.

“It is interesting that people are avoiding talking about the link between the wildlife industry and the pandemic,” Kvalsvig told GroundUp. “This is the important issue if we are to avoid another pandemic. Game farmers are always talking about how they create rural jobs and help to conserve natural habitats.

“But a farmer wrote to our clients and said that game farmers are also increasingly threatening conventional farms as there are apparently fatal diseases crossing over from wildebeest for example to cattle. He saw game farming as threatening the livelihoods of conventional farmers, not least emerging farmers.”

The period for public comment has been extended to June 30.

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

By Uncategorized
Ashoka Mukpo, Mongabay | April 27, 2020

Read original article here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Despite risks, traditional medicine escapes new regulation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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