2013 in review: the year wildlife crime became an international security issue


   looks back at some of the year’s biggest wildlife and natural world stories – 16 December 2013
Chinese Superstar Yao Ming Encounters Poached Elephant in Northern Kenya
Former NBA star and Chinese icon Yao Ming inspects the corpse of a poached elephant in Namunyak, northern Kenya. Photograph: Kristian Schmidt/Wild Aid

Demand for ivory destabilising central Africa – 18 June 2013

Arguably the biggest story of 2013 was wildlife crime, which escalated from a conservation issue to an international security threat. Driven by rising demand for ivory from east Asia, it has doubled over the past five years into a global trade worth $10bn, threatening political and economic stability in central Africa.

This month there were warnings that Africa could lose one-fifth of its elephants in the next decade if the continent’s poaching crisis is not stopped. By the end of September, a record 704 rhinos had been killed by poachers in South Africa and 47 in Kenya this year. Figures showed two-thirds of forest elephants had been killed by ivory poachers in past decade.

Some high-profile massacres hit the headlines, with 86 elephants – including 33 pregnant females–  killed in less than a week in Chad, 26 elephants slaughtered at a wildlife-viewing site in the Central African Republic and 80 poisoned at a water hole in Zimbabwe.

While conservation groups looked to technology such as surveillance drones and GPS trackers to aid their efforts, park rangers lost lives and faced corruption fighting a one-sided war against increasingly militarised and organised gangs of poachers sometimes linked to terrorist groups like Al-Shabaab.

Prince Charles calls for war on animal poachers – 21 May 2013

With Prince Charles and his son the Duke of Cambridge calling for a “war on poachers”UK prime minister David Cameron announced he would host the highest level global summit to date on combating the illegal wildlife trade. In the US, the Obama administration said it would destroy all 6m tonnes of its ivory stocks and the Philippines crushed 5m tonnes of seized ivory beneath industrial rollers.

Read the rest of the article here at The Guardian

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 55 – The Sumatran Rhinoceros


Sumatran Rhinoceros in close-up

Photograph courtesy: World Wildlife Fund

Description
The only surviving member of the Dicerorhinini, a primitive group of rhinos from the Miocene epoch – which existed almost twenty million years ago, the Sumatran rhino is now close to extinction itself.  It is also closely related to the woolly rhinoceros, which roamed throughout Europe and Asia until a mere ten thousand years ago.  The Sumatran rhino was widespread across Asia as recently as the early twentieth century. Now it seems doomed to go the way of its ancestors.

The Sumatran rhino is the smallest of all the rhino.  But, as you would expect, these animals are not lightweights.  They weigh in at anything up to two thousand pounds, can grow to a length of nine and a half feet and stand up to five feet at the shoulder.  They have grey leathery-looking skin, which, contrary to belief, is quite thin and pliable.  They are not smooth-skinned either, as you would perhaps expect.  They are covered in coarse hair which has earned them the nickname of ‘hairy rhino’ in some circles.  Another notable characteristic is the prehensile upper lip, used for tearing food.  Add to that its short, stocky body and stumpy legs and its whole appearance is that of a small furry tank.

But, it is the horns which are most interesting.  For starters, they have two of them; the only Asian rhino to do so. Although, the posterior horn is very small and often absent altogether in females.  The horns are made of keratin, as fingernails are, and will grow back in the same way if broken off or torn.  The most obvious use of the horn would be self-defence, but this is not its true purpose.  Sumatran rhino use their horns for reaching vegetation (of which they eat over fifty kilos a day), fashioning wallows and protecting their heads when travelling through dense vegetation.

Rhino are nocturnal, feeding very early in the morning and late at night.  Their days are spent wallowing in mud. The mud protects them from the sun’s rays and keeps them cool. It also helps to stave off insects.  They are found near water, and the mudholes they wallow in are made by themselves.  They will only use a hole a few times and then move on.

Sumatran rhino only come together to breed.  Otherwise, they are solitary animals. Calves are usually born during the rainy season, from October to May. Females birth every three to four years.  After a long gestation period of fifteen to sixteen months, a single calf will be born with a dense coat of hair.  The calf will stay with its mother for the next two or three years.

I recently read an article where rhino horns, on the living rhino, were being poisoned.  It seems South Africa has taken the dramatic, and brilliant , step of injecting the horns of living rhino with chemicals which, although will not harm the rhino, will definitely make anyone who uses it in crushed form, very ill.  Hopefully, this idea will spread across the globe and eventually render rhino horn worthless on the black market.  Read more…

Habitat
Tropical rainforests and montane moss forests.
Where
Sumatra, western Indonesia and Sabah, Malaysia.   It is not known whether a small population still exists in Borneo, but the species is generally thought to be now extinct in that location.
What they eat
Leaves, fruits, twigs and bark.
Threats
The main threat to the Sumatran rhino is hunting.  Like all rhino, it is callously slaughtered for its horns and other body parts, believed to have medicinal properties. Yet again, the folly of Chinese traditional medicine prevails.  The horns alone can fetch up to thirty thousand US dollars per kilo on the black market, making the horns extremely valuable and the rhino extremely vulnerable.
Another major threat is loss of habitat resulting from illegal logging and land conversion. The Sumatran rhino is left to inhabit small fragmented pockets of forest, and as such is left exposed to disease, fire and possible inbreeding.

Status: Critically Endangered
Although hunting is now illegal, poachers are not deterred.  And, the destruction of their natural habitat continues.  Both these factors have led to the status of this species becoming critical.

From the 31 March to the 4 April, 2013, the Sumatran Rhino Crisis Summit took place.  On the 4th of April, 2013, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) issued a press release.

“With population estimates of Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) reduced to less than 100 individuals, a ground-breaking agreement to save the Critically Endangered species was reached today between representatives of the Indonesian and Malaysian governments. The agreement was formed at a summit convened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC), involving a wide range of international and national organisations.” Read more…

“Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man”
Stewart Udall