Feb 17
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In the News: Elephant slaughter in Cameroon

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
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In the News: Majority of tropical forest reserves “empty” due to hunting

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
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In the News: Javan rhinos caught on camera

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

Oct 28
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Endangered Species of the Week: Javan rhinoceros

Javan rhinoceros image

Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus)

Species: Javan rhinoceros                       (Rhinoceros sondaicus)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: Rhino horn is not made of bone, but keratin, the same substance that forms nails and hair.

The prehistoric-looking Javan rhinoceros is one of the world’s rarest large mammals. This amazing species has a single horn and an armour-plated appearance caused by the deep folds of hairless skin. Little is known of this exceptionally rare mammal. It is mainly a browser of leaves, twigs, fruits and shoots and often breaks saplings down to access food. The rate of reproduction in this species is relatively slow; females give birth to a single young every one to three years, after a presumed gestation of 15 to 16 months, as in other rhinos.

Habitat loss and poaching for its horn have played a major role in the decline of the Javan rhino, which, until recently, existed in just two populations, one in Vietnam and one on the island of Java. The last rhino in Vietnam has recently been killed by poachers, leaving this species extinct in Vietnam, and there are fears it may be too late to save the remaining 50 or so individuals left on Java.

Find out more about the Javan rhinoceros on the EDGE website.

View images and videos of the Javan rhinoceros on ARKive.

Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author

Oct 25
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In the News: Javan rhino driven to extinction in Vietnam

WWF and the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) have confirmed that the Javan rhinoceros has been driven to extinction in Vietnam. The last known Javan rhino was found dead in the Cat Tien National Park in April 2010.

Photo of Javan rhinoceros walking through water

Javan rhinoceros in water. This Critically Endangered species is now extinct in Vietnam.

Driven to extinction

It is thought that the last Javan rhino in Vietnam was a victim of poaching, as it was found with a bullet in its leg and its horn removed. The upsetting findings are presented in a new WWF report, ‘Extinction of Javan Rhino from Vietnam’.

A survey team from Cat Tien National Park and WWF collected 22 samples of rhinoceros dung between 2009 and 2010, and genetic analysis confirmed that all of the samples belonged to a single individual which was subsequently found dead in April last year.

“The last Javan rhino in Vietnam has gone,” said Tran Thi Minh Hien, WWF-Vietnam Country Director. “It is painful that despite significant investment in the Vietnamese rhino population conservation efforts failed to save this unique animal. Vietnam has lost part of its natural heritage.”

Photo of a pair of Indonesian Javan rhinoceros

Pair of Indonesian Javan rhinos. Fewer than 50 individuals now remain.

Work in Indonesia ‘critical’

The Javan rhinoceros has had a tumultuous history on mainland Asia and was previously believed to be extinct there until 1988, when an individual was discovered by hunters in the Cat Tien area. This led to the discovery of a small population, numbering just 8 individuals, in the Cat Tien National Park.

A number of conservation organisations were involved in efforts to conserve the remaining Javan rhino population in the national park; however, only one sighting of a Javan rhino had been recorded in Vietnam in recent years.

The new WWF report highlights that ineffective protection by the park was ultimately the cause of the extinction of the Javan rhino in Vietnam.

“Reintroduction of the rhinoceros to Vietnam is not economically or practically feasible. It is gone from Vietnam forever,” said Christy Williams, WWF’s Asian elephant and rhino programme co-ordinator.

The extinction of the Javan rhino from its last stronghold in mainland Asia means that worldwide population of this Critically Endangered (CR) species has now declined to less than 50 remaining individuals, all of which are confined to the Indonesian island of Java.

According to Susie Ellis of the International Rhino Foundation, the extinction of the Javan rhino in Vietnam makes their work in Indonesia even more critical.

“We must ensure that what happened to the Javan rhinoceros in Vietnam is not repeated in Indonesia a few years down the line”, says Ellis.

Photo of Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys in a tree

The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey is just one of a number of other species in Vietnam facing extinction.

Worldwide plight

The plight of rhinos is not limited to Asia, and earlier this year several reports indicated that rhino populations in Africa were also facing their worst poaching crisis for decades.

The rhino is globally threatened by the illegal trade in rhino horn, which is being driven by demand from the Asian medicinal markets.

In Vietnam, illegal hunting to supply the wildlife trade has also caused huge population declines in many other species, in many cases reducing them to small, isolated and highly vulnerable populations. Species such as the Indochinese tiger, the Asian elephant, the saola, the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey and the Siamese crocodile are all on the verge of extinction, and may soon experience a similar fate to the Javan rhino if conservation efforts fail.

The tragedy of the Vietnamese Javan rhinoceros is a sad symbol of this extinction crisis,” said Nick Cox, Manager of WWF’s Species Programme in the Greater Mekong, Vietnam. “The single most important action to conserve Vietnam’s endangered species is protecting their natural habitat and deterring poaching and illegal wildlife trade”.

Read the WWF press release about the extinction of the Javan rhino from Vietnam.

Read the full story on the BBC news and Guardian websites.

Find out more about the International Rhino Foundation.

View images and videos of the Javan rhinoceros on ARKive.

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author

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