Saturday, May 16, 2009

Illicit wildlife trade in Laos, for so-called medical purposes.

Laos emerges as key source in Asia's illicit wildlife trade

Laos is rapidly developing as China and other Asian nations exploit its resources. One of the first casualties has been the wildlife, now being rapidly depleted by a thriving black-market trade, writes Rhett Butler from Yale Environment 360, part of the Guardian Environment Network

Deep in the rugged mountains of Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area on the Laos–Vietnam border, Laotian game wardens came upon the following scene: pieces of the pelt of a recently killed tiger, its bones removed, with rifle shells scattered in the trampled vegetation.

The wardens knew precisely what had happened. Poachers had trapped a tiger in a baited snare that had encircled one of its front feet with a cable and lifted the animal into the air. Coming upon the snarling tiger, the poachers had shot it, then proceeded to carve out its 22 to 26 pounds of bones, which — when ground up — would be sold to middlemen for the Chinese medicinal market. The poachers then cut off the tiger's penis, which would eventually be soaked in wine and the wine drunk as an aphrodisiac.

Middlemen paid the poachers up to $15,000 for the bones and other parts of the tiger, an astronomical sum in a country where per capita income is around $400 a year. In China today, the remains of a tiger may fetch $70,000, with the ground bones highly valued as a cure for rheumatism, according to Arlyne Johnson, co-director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Laos Program, which is trying to stem the flow of the illegal wildlife trade.

Twenty-five years ago, hundreds of tigers roamed large swaths of relatively untouched jungle in Laos. But in recent years — particularly in the last decade — development, deforestation, and a booming traffic in wildlife have reduced Laos's tiger population to 50 or fewer individuals, according to Johnson and other scientists. The main driver of the rapid depletion of tigers and scores of other species of birds, animals, and reptiles is the growing affluence of neighboring Thailand, Vietnam, and especially China, where a vast new market for wildlife products has arisen.

Nothing symbolizes this market more vividly than the so-called "north-south economic corridor," a recently completed road that now connects once-sleepy Laos — and its timber and other raw materials — to China. With its booming economy, China is also the world's largest — and fastest-growing — market for wildlife.

Laos is the latest front in the struggle to rein in an underground global trade that every year kills tens of millions of wild birds, mammals, and reptiles to supply multi-billion dollar markets around the world. The U.S. and Europe rank among the largest buyers of elephant ivory and tiger parts and also feed this illicit business with their demand for exotic pets.

But as I learned on a trip to Laos earlier this year, it is the Asian market — particularly in China — that powers this trade. A major source of demand is traditional Chinese medicine, which is based on the belief that the parts of certain animals have curative properties — river otter tails for labor pains, bear bile for fever, shark fins for cancer. This trade is taking a heavy toll on wildlife not just in Laos, but around the world — in Southeast Asia, the Russian Far East, Africa, and even North America.

The reasons for the rise of commercial hunting and trapping are not complex — rapid development and growing affluence that create demand; an increase in international trade; the emergence of increasingly sophisticated smuggling networks; an influx of weapons and technology; and easier access to wilderness areas because of road building by extractive industries. All drive overexploitation of wildlife, but addressing the trade in a manner that is effective but also fair to local people is a huge challenge.

Until 1986, Laos was ruled by a communist government and was largely isolated from the outside world. But a change of government and an economic liberalization program began a trickle of investment in the country that has recently become a flood. Like other forest-dependent people, rural Lao long relied on hunting to supplement their rice-dominated diet with protein. But the opening of the economy put a price on the heads of virtually all animals, ranging from river insects to tigers. This, combined with an abundance of weapons from years of war and insurgency, gave hunters the incentive and the tools to convert Laos' rich biodiversity into cash. Now the very resources upon which rural people have long depended are at risk.

The situation is particularly grim along the recently completed north-south economic corridor — an 1,150-mile road that runs from Bangkok, Thailand to Kunming, China, passing through the heart of Laos. The corridor has spurred widespread deforestation and wildlife poaching. Vast tracts of forest along the corridor have been logged for timber and converted for teak or rubber plantations, while hillsides have been burned for sticky rice cultivation. The money comes from Chinese business owners who not only provide finance, but sell snares and traps and place orders for fresh wildlife, guaranteeing a market for hunters and smugglers.

The situation deteriorated to such an extent that in 2005 the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) scaled back its project in Nam Ha National Protected Area, the largest nature reserve in the country at the time. Wildlife is commonly sold along the corridor, especially near the Chinese border. But other than dead animals in markets, I saw little evidence of animals and birds along the corridor — or, for that matter, in most of Laos.

In eastern Laos, the Vietnamese are the main financiers of new roads intended to facilitate access to Laos' resources; wildlife comes as a bonus. In Laos, like other countries, there is a strong synergism between road building and the wildlife trade. Loggers supplement their income with hunting and use logging trucks to transport bushmeat to traders and urban markets.

Extractive industries like logging and mining also actively encourage human settlement, boosting demand for game as a source of protein. Cash-rich workers can afford to buy weapons, snares, headlamps, and outboard motors to speed wildlife depletion, especially in regions where arms are widely available. A study, soon to be published in the journal Conservation Letters, found pervasiveness of firearms to be a key contributing factor to Laos' precipitous drop in wildlife.

For poachers, the tiger is the crown jewel. But tigers in Laos and other countries also face a secondary threat — depletion of prey populations from unsustainable hunting, making it difficult for tigers to survive in what would otherwise be suitable habitat and pushing them into conflict with humans. Hunters are using livestock to bait tigers; the loss of a cow is a small price to pay for catching a big cat. Sometimes a cow or a pig is slaughtered, dragged into the forest, and wired with snares or explosives so that a tiger lured by an easy meal is quickly converted into a pharmacological product.

Pangolins — scaly anteaters believed to cure blood circulation problems and skin conditions — are also highly prized. While commercial international trade in pangolins is banned under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), pangolins have been extinguished from much of Laos by poachers. The extent of the pangolin trade in Southeast Asia remains enormous. TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade-monitoring network, recently estimated that at least 100,000 pangolins — mostly from Malaysia and Indonesia — are killed each year to meet Chinese demand.

More than 25 tons of pangolin parts have been seized in Vietnam in the last year alone, but the enforcement action demonstrated one of the major challenges facing those working to control the trade. Instead of destroying the pangolins, the Vietnamese government auctioned off the contraband, thus allowing the wildlife products to ultimately reach their intended destination. "Selling off the seized pangolins sent out entirely the wrong message," said Sulma Warne, TRAFFIC's Greater Mekong program coordinator.

Mixed signals from the government are not unusual. Reports from the Environmental Investigation Agency, TRAFFIC, and WildAid have cited complicity of authorities across Southeast Asia in the wildlife trade. Cross-border trade of large volumes of wildlife necessitates collaboration between traffickers and officials. Border agents in Laos and Thailand are known to impose a "tax" on wildlife products, regardless of their origin or legality. Those who run the trade tend to be influential, often with ties to corrupt government officials or the military, and don't limit themselves to wildlife; investigations have turned up links to other illicit trade, including weapons, drugs, and people.

Some charged with carrying out the law act with impunity; forest rangers sometimes cite access to fresh meat as a chief benefit of a field assignment, according to Sarinda Singh, a University of Queensland researcher who conducted an assessment of wildlife trade in Laos.

In many parts of Southeast Asia, depletion of rare species has only increased their value, encouraging hunting down to every last individual in some cases. The result: Many areas now suffer from "empty forest syndrome," where wildlife densities are too low to support people or predators like tigers.

Addressing the wildlife trade means attacking on two fronts: supply and demand. Reducing demand for wildlife products in consuming countries is a critical component to this effort. "Wildlife trade won't end until people stop buying," said Troy Hansel, who works in wildlife trade monitoring for the WCS in Laos.

The supply side is more complex. Trade restrictions eliminate a source of income for the rural poor. So in Laos WCS is taking a multi-pronged approach to dealing with the wildlife trade. In addition to working with the government to clarify laws and strengthen enforcement through training of wildlife authorities and customs agents, WCS has established a comprehensive program in local communities to explain which animals can be legally hunted and emphasize the consequences of wildlife depletion. The program includes registration of firearms, an informant network funded through collection of fines, and a system of forest stations from which rangers launch patrols into protected areas.

Still, beyond enforcement and education, WCS's Johnson and Hansel believe it is critical to prove to the Lao people that wildlife is valuable as a living entity. The conservationists are planning to launch a small ecotourism project to help create a strong link between wildlife protection and well being of locals around Nam Et-Phou Louey. To date, WCS's efforts seem to be paying off. In parts of Nam Et-Phou Louey where it has conducted its outreach project and has a strong presence, WCS sees changes in wildlife behavior that indicate less hunting pressure, including more birds in villages and wildlife along rivers.

A short foray into the park showed hopeful signs. During a single evening boat trip in Nam Et-Phou Louey, I spotted owls, civets, a pair of otters, and an East Asian porcupine. The day before, rangers even came across tiger tracks.

"Lots of good habitat remains," said Johnson. "The recovery of wildlife populations is possible with proper management."

Slaughter of the elephants

Slaughter of the elephants

Legal ivory sale linked to poaching surge across Kenya's huge Tsavo National Park

By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor

February 2009

From Reuters, february 2009:

An auction of legal ivory from animals like this South African elephant is thought to have encouraged poachers in Kenya.
There has been an "unprecedented" surge in elephant poaching in one of Kenya's principal national parks since a large-scale ivory sale late last year, which gave a renewed boost to the international ivory market.

The sale was of more than 100 tonnes of legal ivory from four southern African countries whose elephant populations are not threatened, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. It was permitted by the UN's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in the teeth of fierce opposition from many observers, from environmentalists to politicians, who warned it was bound to stimulate the illegal ivory trade across Africa, and increase the killing of elephants in other countries further north where elephants are much more at risk.

The Labour MP Alan Simpson said at the time: "This is obscene. This isn't a licence to trade. It's a licence to kill, and Britain should not be party to it."

Now five elephants have been killed illegally in the past six weeks in Kenya's Tsavo National Park, home to Kenya's largest single elephant population of about 11,700. Kenyan wildlife officials and conservationists are making a direct link between the recent ivory auctions and the deaths.

"We have noted an unprecedented rise of elephant poaching incidents in Tsavo," said Jonathan Kirui, Tsavo's Assistant Director. "Our security team is on full alert, and is going full force to ensure the poachers are deterred."

James Isiche, the director of the East African regional office of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), is concerned that the incident could portend a return to the mass-poaching era of 1970s and 1980s, when African elephant numbers fell from 1.3 million to 625,000 in a decade; the international ivory trade was banned in 1989.

"We believe that there is a strong correlation between this upsurge and the ivory stockpiles sales allowed by Cites that were completed in late 2008," Mr Isiche said. "Our concern is that the situation may be even worse in other elephant range states which face more serious law enforcement capacity challenges, as compared to Kenya or some of the southern Africa countries. The situation is dire, and needs to be stopped before it escalates further."

Only last week, a leading elephant researcher, Dr Cynthia Moss, released a report indicating that an elaborate poaching syndicate had led to a surge in elephant killings in another Kenyan National Park, Amboseli. Sources in the Kenyan Wildlife Service say elephant poaching in Kenya rose by more than 60 per cent in 2008 compared to 2007.

The bodies of the five elephants recently killed in Tsavo were found, with their tusks hacked off, in three different parts of the park. Kenya Wildlife Service rangers have arrested two suspected poachers and one middleman, and recovered two AK-47 rifles and 38 rounds of ammunition.

IFAW sources say the middleman had already sold the tusks to other dealers in the illegal ivory trade network. An elephant carcass was found close by. The other elephants are suspected to have succumbed to poisoned arrow wounds.

Many people warned that such killings would increase when news of the proposed four-nation ivory auction emerged last July. It was the second time since the 1989 ivory trade ban that a sale of legal ivory (from elephants that died from natural causes) was being permitted; the first, from the same four southern African countries, of 50 tonnes of ivory, was in 1997, pushed forward by Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, in the face of many protests.

The second sale raised even more concerns, not least because, for the first time, China was being allowed to bid as a legal ivory buyer, alongside Japan. China not only has a potentially gigantic demand for ivory, but is already the home of a flourishing underground market.

Conservationists feared that the unleashing of a massive Chinese demand for traditional and popular objects such as trinkets, name seals, expensive carvings and polished ivory tusks would itself give an enormous boost to the illegal trade, which is entirely poaching-based.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

In Drenthe in the Netherlands a lynx has been spotted.

The Eurasiatic lynx (Lynx lynx) is a cat as big as an Alsatian dog. The lynx hunts in the evening, at hare and small deer, and also birds.

One finds the lynx in dense woods of Europe and Asia. Officially the lynx is extinct in the Netherlands. It coud be that the animal is getting used to smaller habitats.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


News from

10 Tigers sighted in Wayanad sanctuary

Kalpetta, Kerala (PTI): Forest officials at the Wayanad Wild Life Sanctuary here are excited as a preliminary assessment of tiger population, conducted by the Sanctuary, indicates an increase in the number of big cats by about 10in the last two years.

Ten big cats, including three cubs, have been sighted in the sanctuary during the three-day survey of tigers and co-predators, which concluded on Monday evening.

Five tigers and a cub were sighted in Tholpetty range, one tiger and two cubs in Sulthan Bathery range and one tiger each at Kurichiayd and Muthanga areas, a Wildlife Department official said.

Though only 10 tigers were sighted during the survey, their exact population in the range could be between 20 to 25, C.T. Joju, Assistant Wildlife Warden, told PTI.

This is considered as a sharp increase in the Tiger population as the last survey conducted two years ago put the figure between ten and fifteen.

What was important is that the sighting of the cubs showed that the sanctuary is a healthy habitat for tigers, he said.

A firm idea of the exact number of big cats in the Sanctuary could be given only after a detailed analysis of the indicators gathered during the survey, like pug-marks, droppings, hair and scratches made on the trees by the tigers, he added.

The team, which carried out the survey, came across about 50 pug-marks, droppings and hair and scratches on trees.

Pug-marks are important indicators of the distribution of tigers in an area.

The droppings and hair of the animal are as important as sighting itself since DNA of the animal could be extracted from them, based on which a fair idea about the gender distribution of the population in the area could be made, the official said.

The genotyping would be done at the Wildlife Disease Diagnosing Laboratory at Sulthan Bathery near here.

This would also throw light into genetic relationship, prey preference, parasitic load and individual identity of the tiger population, he said.

The results were considered to be a positive sign indicating the success of the Tiger conservation project here as a similar survey at Panna Sanctuary has revealed that male tigers have virtually disappeared from the range.

The Wayanad Wild Life Sanctuary is spread over 344.44 sq. km under four forest ranges divided into 35 blocks.

Each block would be surveyed by a four-member squad comprising a forest official, a NSS volunteer and two watch men of anti-poaching camps in the sanctuary.

Monday, May 11, 2009

poaching lions in Gir sanctuary

Key accused in 2007 Asiatic lions poaching case held in MP
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Express News Service
Posted: May 11, 2009 at 0335 hrs IST

Rajkot/Ahmedabad Minter Singh, a key accused in the Asiatic lions poaching case of 2007, was arrested in Kutney, Madhya Pradesh on Saturday, in a joint operation by the Gujarat CID (Crime) and the MP Police. Singh will be brought to Gujarat for prosecution.

A total of 36 people have been convicted for the poaching of eight Asiatic lions at three different sites in and around the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary in 2007.

The arrest of Singh, who is suspected to be the kingpin of the poaching racket, is considered significant for the case, as some villagers of Kutney were involved in the poaching that had jolted the state.

Carcasses were found at different places, including Babariya Range in the Gir sanctuary as well as from Bhunduriya village in the coastal belt of Bhavnagar district, 100km from the sanctuary.

A total of 36 people, half of them women, were arrested from Una in Junagadh district and from the Bhavnagar railway station in 2007.

A Junagadh court had sentenced 20 people to three years imprisonment and a fine of Rs 10,000 each, while the Bhavnagar metropolitan court sentenced 16 people to four years imprisonment and a fine of Rs 2,000 each. They were convicted under provisions of both the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Singh was wanted in the same case.

The CID (Crime) was handed over the investigation of the case at a time when the state government was under pressure to shift some of the Asiatic lions to MP. While poaching left no tigers in neighbouring Rajasthan, it was for the first time that Asiatic lion’s last abode — Gir sanctuary — had become a target of poachers.

of cats

Of Cats
Weekly Feline News

Posted: 10 May 2009 05:09 PM PDT

Here are last week's cat-related news..

First tigers. Controversy is surrounding the recent death of a Royal Bengal Tiger in Sattari wildlife sanctuary in Goa, India. The tiger is thought to have been shot by poachers, according to photographic evidence obtained by a wildlife activist. However, the local administration is trying to hush up the matter and deny the occurrence of a poaching incident in the forest. The reason for that may be simple. Goa has not reported the presence of any tiger in the Sattari forest in the past. There are numerous multimillion dollar mining ventures going on in the periphery of the forest, run by politicians. If the local government decides to acknowledge the presence of a resident tiger in its forest, the national tiger conservation authority in India will immediately change the status of Sattari to a protected tiger reserve. This will put the whole mining enterprise there in jeopardy. A dead tiger will not cost the administration any votes or political favors, but the halting of mining operations in the forest might do so! More on this here and here.

Incidents like the above have resulted in the issuance of a new directive by the chief tiger conservation body in India, the NTCA. All dead tigers are now to undergo a postmortem in the presence of a NTCA representative. This will help to ascertain the cause of death in many cases where the circumstances surrounding the animal's demise are ambiguous. The NTCA has also set up a panel to draft a set of guidelines for the proposed relocation of tigers across forests in India. The need was felt for this when after the relocation of a tigress to Panna tiger reserve, to repopulate it with the big cats, it was discovered that there was no male tiger in the reserve to breed with the female. Fortunately, a male tiger is now being translocated to Panna. More on the above here, here and here.

While browsing through the site that hosts the second of the three links above, I came across a couple of interesting articles about the maneating tigers that were terrorizing northern India a couple of months ago. You can find them here and here.

There's good news for Siberian Tigers. South Korea has resumed a breeding project for the big cats, the largest wild felines extant. The move has come after repeated failures to breed the Amur Tigers there in the past. Let's hope that the project is successful this time around and aids the conservation of the endangered cats. To read more about this and see the picture of the beautiful male tiger that has been donated by China for this purpose, go here.

Good news for Jaguars too. For the first time, a jaguar has been photographed in Barro Colorado Island, an important wildlife research site in Panama. The camera trap picture is a significant milestone for the researchers tracking the big cats in that area. For even though the image shows a single migratory jaguar traversing the island, it indicates the presence of the elusive big cats in the tropical forest and their ability to move across fragmented island habitats to survive as a species in that particular region. More here.

For lions too, this has been a good week. This is owing to the long-awaited arrest of a kingpin in a gang of poachers who were responsible for the deaths of several Asiatic Lions in India in 2007. The arrested poacher was the last remaining member of the poaching gang that was still eluding the authorities. With his arrest, a degree of closure has been brought to the tragic series of poaching events couple of years ago when six lions were killed by this gang. Let's hope that similar incidents are not repeated in Gir. More on this on the Asiatic Lions blog.

So positive news mostly, for this week. The only 'negative' one is from UK where government is contemplating a law that would make it easier to keep exotic pets in private captivity. The new law will ease the restrictions on owners of big cats and reptiles, thus encouraging a wrong trend towards private ownership of dangerous pets, who belong in the wild. The harmful impact of having such animals in private captivity has been well demonstrated across the world, both to the animals who often suffer from abuse once they grow up, and their owners who are frequently mauled by their 'pets'. Here is one such account from Abu Dhabi. And here is more on the proposed legislation.

And, before you leave, go here for a quick laugh. I won't be able to blog next week owing to some professional engagements, but will be back a fortnight later. Take care, all :)

Of Cats, c/o Google, 20 W Kinzie, Chicago IL USA 60610

animal lovers!!! declawed big cats!!!

The Paw Project
Sun, 5/10/2009 - 10:56 AM — christinabush
by Christina Bush, V.P., Sr. Financial Consultant, Wells Fargo Investments PR Director, Forever Wild Exotic Animal Sanctuary

There are more than 100 big cat sanctuaries in 41 states caring for over 1000 declawed big cats that live each day in constant pain. The Paw Project's goal is to help every one of these cats by providing support to animal sanctuaries and veterinarians.

Paw Project Founder Dr. Jennifer Conrad has over two decades of experience caring for wildlife on six continents. An impassioned advocate for animal welfare, Dr. Conrad has witnessed animal suffering and exploitation, destruction of habitat, and gratuitous hunting, which threaten the welfare and the very survival of many species. Dr. Conrad supports and participates in many programs to protect and improve the lives of wild and captive animals as well as domestic cats.

The Paw Project exists to promote animal welfare and increase public awareness about the crippling effects of feline declawing, to rehabilitate big cats that have been declawed, and to end the practice of declaw surgery. Dr. Jenny Conrad and The Paw Project initiated efforts which led to the ban on declawing in West Hollywood, CA, the first law of its kind in North America. The Paw Project was also the sponsor of AB 1857, introduced by Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-42nd District). In January 2005, the California Anti-Declaw Act, signed into law by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, became the first state law in the US banning the declawing of wild and exotic cats. Now, because of The Paw Project, it is illegal to declaw exotic cats in all 50 states.

Scientific research published by Paw Project veterinarians provided the data behind the 2006 USDA ruling forbidding declawing of animals by USDA-licensed owners of exotic and wild animals. The USDA ban is enforced by the federal Animal Welfare Act. Declawing is a surgical procedure, also called onychectomy, in which the animal's toes are amputated at the last joint. Most people do not realize that a portion of the bone—not only the nail—is removed. Declawing may result in permanent lameness, arthritis, and other long-term complications. It is actually illegal in many countries. View case studies of cats that have suffered negative health effects due to declawing.

Since April 2000 veterinarians working with The Paw Project have performed reparative surgery on lions, tigers, cougars, leopards, and jaguars that had been victims of declaw surgery. Enjoying relief for the first time after years of suffering, declawed cats that could hobble only a few agonizing steps prior to reparative surgery are able to leap, run, and play much more as nature intended.

ALL CATS NEED THEIR CLAWS. Please don't declaw!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Conflicts between tigers and human beings in India, tigerwidows grow in number.

Washington, May 5 (ANI): Reports indicate that constant face-offs between humans and tigers in India’s Sundarbans region are on the rise, with tiger populations dwindling and rising seas pushing humans into the territory of the big cats.
The 2,700-square-mile mangrove forest in the Sundarbans is the world’s largest, and the region is one of the few remaining natural tiger habitats in India.

But, according to a report in National Geographic News, the predator’s long shadow looms large over village life. Local government records report that each year about 40 people are attacked by tigers.

There are several ‘tiger widows’, which is a local term used to describe women whose husbands have fallen victims to tiger attacks.

Once more common in the south, where no humans live, tigers have been increasingly seen in northern woods, closer to inhabited islands.

At the same time, rising sea levels, erosion and increasingly brackish waters have ruined once-dependable crops, forcing farmers to venture into the tigers’ domain in search of fish, crabs and honey to sell.

Sundarbans is an established tiger protection zone, and to ward off tigers from creeping into populated villages, officials have built a nylon fence around the tiger reserve.

Patrolling and monitoring of the big cats’ movements within the region has also been stepped up.

The Indian government now wants to recruit retired soldiers to patrol tiger sanctuaries in the hopes of saving the last of the cats.

There are only 1,500 left in India’s reserves and jungles - down from about 3,600 six years ago and an estimated 40,000 a century ago. (ANI)