Mar 21

A battle for survival

Despite three of the world’s five rhino species being classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, rhinos remain embroiled at the centre of a bitter poaching battle. In southern Africa, poaching is the single biggest threat to rhino survival, and since 2006, more than a thousand rhinos have been slaughtered by increasingly organised gangs and crime syndicates.

Levels of poaching have escalated in recent years, fuelled largely by increasing demand for rhino horn in Asia, where it is highly valued in traditional medicine. In fact, rhino horn is known to rival the price of gold on the black market; last year in Vietnam dealers quoted prices of up to $133 per gram of rhino horn – almost double the price fetched by gold.

Get Involved: Your chance for a Q & A session with Peter Gwin

With several rhino species edging ever-closer to extinction, the urgent need for conservation of these magnificent animals has never been clearer. So, with that in mind, we’re giving you the chance to find out more about some of the issues surrounding rhino conservation.

On Thursday 22nd March at 5pm GMT/1pm EST/10am PST, ARKive is hosting an exclusive Facebook 30 minute chat with NatGeo author Peter Gwin about issues surrounding rhino conservation in South Africa.

Photo of black rhinoceros

The black rhino is the smaller of the two African rhino species, but it is still targeted by poachers for its valuable horn.

What would you like to ask Peter about rhino conservation? Post your questions on our Facebook event page for a chance to discover Peter’s views.

About the author

Peter Gwin has been a staff writer at National Geographic since 2003, reporting on everything from modern pirates in Southeast Asia to early tyrannosaurs in western China. His most recent piece, entitled Rhino Wars, was published in the March 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine.

The article is a hard-hitting piece about some of the gritty issues faced by organisations and individuals’ working to conserve the world’s remaining rhinos (WARNING: some graphic images).

©Brent Stirton/National Geographic

A white rhino cow (left) grazes with a bull that has become her companion after a poaching attack in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa. Using a helicopter, a gang tracked her and her four-week-old calf, shot her with a tranquilizer dart, and cut off her horns with a chain saw. Rangers found her a week later, searching for her calf, which had died, probably of starvation and dehydration. ©Brent Stirton/National Geographic.

Peter will also be releasing an eShort book in April – Rhino Wars: The Violent Underworld of Poachers and Black Market Medicine.

Interested in rhino conservation? Don’t forget to join the debate on Facebook before Thursday and post your rhino conservation questions for Peter.

Mar 8

At least one leopard dies every day in India, according to a report released last week by the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI). Half of those deaths are caused by poachers, who target these magnificent big cats for their skins, claws and other body parts.

Photo of African leopard

African leopard

The tip of the iceberg

WPSI say that at least 356 Indian leopards died in 2011, with poaching accounting for 52% of all the deaths recorded. However, according to WPSI, these figures are likely to be just a fraction of the real numbers of leopards killed each year in India.

The cases that we have reported are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Anish Andheria, of Sanctuary Asia, which helped collect the data, “The loss could be three to five times more because most of the incidents happened outside the forest range and also due to improper intelligence gathering.”

Photo of Indian leopard (black morph)

Indian leopard (black morph)

Causes of death

Although poaching was the single biggest cause of death in 2011, it appears that other human activities may also play a significant role in leopard mortality. Around 12% of Indian leopards were killed last year as a result of human-leopard conflict, while a further 4% died after unsuccessful attempts to rescue the animals from human threats, such as farmers’ snares. Collisions with vehicles caused 8% of Indian leopard deaths last year, and around 5% of deaths were as a result of interactions with other animals, while the remaining 18% of leopards died from unknown causes.

According to WPSI, 30% of the leopard deaths occurred in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, which is also the state with the highest number of poached tigers.

Leopard deaths continue rising

Despite being protected under India’s Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, the number of Indian leopards killed each year has been rising steadily over the past decade. In addition to the 356 leopards killed in 2011, there were 180 leopard deaths in 2010, 161 in 2009 and 126 in 2007. This year appears to be following a similar trend, with around 70 leopards killed so far in 2012, half by poachers.

Photo of African leopard standing

African leopard standing on treetrunk

World’s leopards under increasing pressure

Leopards are found throughout sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia, although their range has become smaller in recent years and their populations increasingly fragmented.

Despite being listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and being protected by law in most range states, leopards continue to be threatened by poaching, illegal trade and habitat loss. All nine subspecies of leopard as classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List.

Read the full article in the Scientific American.

Find out more about the Wildlife Protection Society of India.

View more leopard images on ARKive.

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author

Feb 17

In just six weeks, poachers have killed 200 elephants in a national park in Cameroon.

African elephant image

African elephants are targeted by poachers for their tusks

Trans-frontier poaching

Poachers, believed to be armed groups from Chad and Sudan, have been blamed for an unprecedented spate of elephant deaths in Bouba Ndjida national park in Cameroon. The demand for ivory in Asia is thought to be the reason for more than 200 elephants being killed within the park in a six-week period.

As a result of this outbreak of poaching by heavily armed gangs, the elephant population within Bouba Ndjida national park in the far north of Cameroon has now been severely depleted.

We are talking about a very serious case of trans-frontier poaching, involving well-armed poachers with modern weapons from Sudan and Chad who are decimating this wildlife species to make quick money from the international ivory trade,” says Gambo Haman, governor of Cameroon’s northern region.

Burning ivory image

Ivory that is seized from poachers is often burned

Unprecedented poaching

The poachers, some of whom were on horseback, have been reported to have operated with the help of the local population, who come into conflict with elephants as a result of crop damage. The locals were given free elephant meat in exchange for their help.

According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), cross-border poaching during the dry season is common, but the group states that the scale of the killings so far this year has been shocking and unexpected, “This latest massacre is massive and has no comparison to those of the preceding years.

TRAFFIC, a conservation group that monitors trends in wildlife trade, cites a record number of large-scale ivory seizures in 2011, and warns that demand for tusks for use in jewellery and ornaments in Asia is leading to a surge in elephant poaching in Africa. The group states that the sudden increase in the illegal ivory trade in Africa is a direct consequence of China’s investment drive into the continent.

African elephant image

More than 200 elephants were killed in Cameroon in just six weeks

Tip of the iceberg

Fatalities as a result of poaching and the illegal ivory trade are not limited to elephants; six Chadian soldiers were killed as they tried to arrest a group of 50 armed poachers fleeing with ivory.

Cameroon has dispatched a rapid-reaction force to the area where the elephant killings occurred, but there are unfortunately not enough troops to cover the whole of the remote park.

In January we counted 146 [elephant] carcasses and since the beginning of this month we’ve had close to 60 already. This may only be a tip of the iceberg as some may have been killed in parts of the park that we cannot access,” adds Mr Haman.

IFAW says that it is unclear how many elephants now remain in Cameroon. In 2007, an estimate put the figure at between 1,000 and 5,000 individuals.

Read more on this story at The Guardian – Poachers slaughter 200 elephants in Cameroon national park in six weeks.

View photos and videos of the African elephant on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author

Feb 10

Unsustainable hunting and poaching are decimating wildlife in the world’s tropical forest reserves, according to scientists.

Photo of a troop of greater spot-nosed guenons killed for bushmeat

Troop of greater spot-nosed guenons killed for bushmeat

In a paper published in the journal BioScience, researchers report that unsustainable hunting is leaving behind “empty forests” that are largely devoid of larger mammals, birds and reptiles.

Such losses are likely to have significant impacts on whole ecosystems, removing vital seed dispersers and destroying food chains.

Inadequate protection

Around 18% of the world’s tropical forests currently receive some level of protection, a figure which is seen as a measure of conservation success by many. However, although this has helped to reduce habitat loss, hunting and poaching remain widespread problems across the tropical forests of Africa, Southeast Asia and the Amazon.

In many parts of the tropics, hunting is now the biggest threat to tropical biodiversity,” said the author of the paper, Rhett Harrison. “There is a need to acknowledge the unpalatable but undeniable fact that current tropical conservation efforts are failing.”

Photo of a dead male Bioko Preuss's guenon for sale at a bushmeat market

Preuss’s guenon and other species for sale at bushmeat market

Lower priorities

Smaller reserves are especially vulnerable to poaching as they are generally considered to be lower conservation priorities. This is particularly true of reserves that lack large, charismatic species such as big cats or elephants.

Although the poaching of large animals often makes news headlines, many smaller, less well-known animals play equally important roles in the ecosystem. Hunters often target animals around fruiting trees, killing many fruit-eating species that are vital seed dispersers. The loss of these species could potentially affect the entire plant community of the forest.

Photo of eastern lowland gorilla skulls, poached for bushmeat during coltan boom

Skulls of eastern lowland gorillas, poached for bushmeat by coltan miners

Complex issues

The issues behind what has become known as “empty forest syndrome” include a lack of funding for reserves, a lack of wildlife rangers, limited political support, poor infrastructure and insufficient law enforcement. New roads and development projects are also opening up previously inaccessible areas of forest to hunters.

A lack of data also hampers efforts to tackle hunting, with reserve authorities often reluctant to admit having enforcement issues. This makes it difficult to obtain accurate measures of the number of animals being killed.

Photo of a common tenrec which has been hunted for food

Common tenrec hunted for food

The social issues behind hunting are also complex, with poverty and a lack of alternative protein sources leading many local communities to rely on bushmeat for food.

Local communities often regard the forest as their birthright and hunting – even of endangered species – as an important cultural tradition,” said Harrison.

Unfortunately, commercial bushmeat is becoming a luxury item in some parts of the world, even being sold in urban areas, and hunting for the traditional Chinese medicine trade is also taking a heavy toll on many species.

Potential solutions

Harrison recommends a number of measures to protect wildlife from unsustainable hunting. These include encouraging conservationists to ‘think outside the box’ when coming up with solutions to the sale of bushmeat, as well as measuring conservation success by effective enforcement and intact wildlife communities rather than by the amount of land protected.

Conservationists should also work with logging and energy companies to improve the enforcement of hunting rules in their concessions.

Photo of a live young Nile crocodile with legs and snout bound, for sale as bushmeat

Live Nile crocodile for sale as bushmeat

For many poorer countries, efforts to combat poaching need to be seen as vital to the economy, for example through nature-based tourism.

Many tropical nations earn large sums of money from nature-based tourism, but governments often remain ignorant of the essential role that wildlife and nature reserves play in underpinning the industry,” said Harrison. “Partnerships with tour operators and government tourist agencies may therefore be an effective way of lobbying for improved wildlife management.”

Unfortunately, many protected areas are already in an impoverished condition and may need efforts to restore vanished species. Unless this is done, and species are effectively protected from unsustainable hunting, being “protected” will not ensure that tropical forests survive in anything close to their natural state.

Read more on this story at Mongabay – Majority of protected tropical forests “empty” due to hunting.

Find out more about the issues surrounding bushmeat hunting at the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force.

Find out more about threats facing Endangered Species on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

Jan 5

Camera traps have successfully captured footage of 35 Javan rhinos in Ujung Kulon National Park, Java, providing new evidence of this species’ sole surviving population.

Photo of Javan rhinoceros feeding

Evidence of breeding

The images from the cameras included five calves, giving encouraging confirmation that the rhinos in the park are breeding. However, they also showed that around 60% of the rhinos are male, raising concerns over an imbalance in the sex ratio of the tiny population, which could lead to increased fighting between rival males. Four of the five calves recorded were also male.

Photo of Indonesian Javan rhinoceros wading in water

According to Yanto Santosa, a Javan rhino expert from Bogor Institute of Agriculture, the camera footage gives more accurate estimates of rhino numbers than previous methods that involved counting rhino footprints.

Last stand against extinction

Previously widespread across Southeast Asia, the Javan rhinoceros population has been decimated by habitat loss and by hunting for its horns, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Photo of Javan rhinoceros in shallows of river

Until recently, this Critically Endangered species was confined to Java in Indonesia, and to a single national park in Vietnam. However, late last year it was announced that the Vietnamese subspecies, Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus, had become extinct, leaving the single Javan population as the species’ last stand against extinction.

Precarious future

Although the total number of rhinos in the park is likely to be higher than the 35 recorded on camera, the total population of this highly endangered species is not thought to exceed 60 individuals. As the entire population occurs in one park, it is also at high risk of being wiped out by a single natural disaster or outbreak of disease.

Photo of a pair of Indonesian Javan rhinoceros

With no Javan rhinos occurring in captivity, the preservation of the last remaining population in Ujung Kulon National Park is vital for the survival of the species.

To this end, a dedicated rhino breeding sanctuary is being set up within the park to help Indonesia reach its goal of increasing the population of this rare rhino to between 70 and 80 individuals by 2015.

Read more on this story at Mongabay – Camera traps snap 35 Javan rhinos, including calves.

Read more and watch footage from the camera traps at The Telegraph – Hidden cameras film rare Javan rhinos in Indonesia.

View photos and videos of the Javan rhinoceros on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author


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