Corruption and the illegal wildlife trade

A new report published by The Guardian yesterday has exposed key wildlife trafficking crime groups and the corrupt government officials enabling them.

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The investigation was carried out by Freeland over 14 years and identifies through Thai government surveillance the main crime networks and individual traffickers who have profited around $23bn through illegally trading in animals, including endangered species, such as elephants, tigers and rhinos.

‘The Bach brothers’, two Vietnamese siblings, allegedly control one of the main trade routes in endangered species and are some of the key suspects in the report.

Why and how is this criminal trade so lucrative? It is the fourth most profitable illegal trade, after drugs, people and arms trafficking. A pair of rhino horns, for example, can sell for 200 times the original price in Vietnam and 400 times in China. Around 5% of rhinos are alive today compared with four decades ago, and around 1,000 are killed by poachers each year. Just to be clear – the rhinos are ‘detusked’ and left to bleed to death.

Rhino horns have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, and used to treat rheumatism, fever, gout, headaches, and all sort of other ailments, despite having no scientific basis in fact. Rhino horn is mainly made of keratin and has no proven ability to cure anything.

The Guardian report reveals that the known wildlife trafficking kingpin, Vixay Keosavang, has apparently brought his operations to a close, since the US put a $1m reward on his capture. This is the only monetary reward historically offered for a wildlife trafficker, and seems to have been almost instantly effective in halting his business. Since then, however, new players have taken over – the Bach brothers, who are:

well-known locally for their criminal activities, which also include vehicle smuggling; the Bachs run legitimate businesses in wholesale agriculture and forest products, construction materials, electrical equipment, hotels, and food services.

Today, the Guardian has also revealed  that senior officials in Laos have profited through a 2% tax on trade involving tigers, rhinos and elephants. For over a decade, the office of the Laos prime minister has cut deals with three leading traffickers to move wildlife through borders. The statistics are truly shocking:

In 2014 alone, these deals covered $45m (£35m) worth of animal body parts and included agreed quotas requiring the disabling or killing of 165 tigers, more than 650 rhinos and more than 16,000 elephants.

This trade is illegal and prohibited by the International Trade in Endangered Species.

Laos continues to be a full member of Cites, despite having been suspended in 2015 for failure to produce a plan to tackle the ivory trade, and again this year for failure to implement a plan to tackle the ivory trade. This new evidence proves that not only has Laos shown little interest in confronting the illegal trade in wildlife, it has actually profited substantially from taxing the trade.

You can read about the WWF’s efforts to stop the illegal wildlife trade here.

If we are to end this horrific trade in wild animals, we need an international approach that must involve robustly tackling the demand, enforcing the laws, and investing in the areas that are targeted by poachers, to promote education about the ecological need for diverse habitats and species, and to enable local communities to protect wildlife on their doorstep.

Most importantly, we need to kill the demand in Asia and China.

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Birding Diary #1

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I’m a (very) amateur birder, so it makes sense to record my birding adventures on this blog. It will mean I can remember what I have seen and where I’ve seen it – mostly this will have been in Norfolk, as this is my stomping ground. These ‘birding diary’ entries will mainly be about the locations, the background, and, of course the birds. Don’t expect expert knowledge – I am just muddling through!

Today we went to RSPB Titchwell Marsh, a nature reserve in Norfolk, that houses sand dunes, salt marshes, and a freshwater lagoon. Historically, this is an interesting site because artefacts from the Upper Paleolithic period have been found, as well as military paraphernalia from the world wars. (Yeah, I Wikied it….)

A pair of Montague harriers were spotted nesting on the marshes back in the 1970s, prompting the RSPB to purchase the land, and since then it has been home to all kinds of sandpipers, birds of prey, water voles, plovers, goldeneyes, godwits, oystercatchers, and all sorts.

What I saw:

 

** We couldn’t work out which, but tend towards the opinion that it was most likely a curlew. This video from the BTO has been very helpful in IDing this mysterious bird.

Getting into Birding

I am gradually becoming a birder. It only occurred to me in the last year of so that birds are interesting – interesting because they are everywhere, yet at the same time so elusive.

I did some Comms volunteering last year with the RSPB and that was really the impetus I needed, though I have always been aware of birds and birding because my mother has always been into birdwatching. And so I spent many long and confusing hours perched in hides, failing to spot creatures that others had identified but had only appeared to me to be a blur of feathers in the corner of my vision.

The RSPB bird book my boyfriend got me has been indispensable, as has the time we put in to visiting our local reserves and having a go. Now the good weather is here (hottest day of the year today has been unbearable) I can get out more into the countryside and have some nature days.

So far I can count the number of interesting birds that I have seen on my hands: bittern, marsh harrier, cetti’s warbler, lapwing. There are more but without a detailed list I have forgotten them. I need to buy some kind of log book!

I also need to learn not only to ID birds but to recognize their calls because this is frankly half the battle. Maybe I should turn this briefly into a birding journal? In the meantime, here’s a photo of an egret I took in the south of France recently.

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Resolutions for a greener new year

Sometimes we need an excuse to make changes in our lives, and the new year is the best excuse of all.

I’ve been scouring the net for ideas on how to live a better, greener, more eco-friendly existence in 2016 that will hopefully benefit the environment or, at the very least, do as little harm as possible (which is often the best we can do.)

Below are the five changes I pledge to make in 2016!

  1. No more bottled water!

This should be a simple and easy change to make. Plastic bottles are one of the largest contributors to our plastic pollution problem.

2. Unplug chargers to reduce phantom power use

I’m ashamed to realize that I’ve been wasting energy by leaving plugs in sockets when I have finished charging my phone/watching TV.

3. Limit dairy consumption

I’m already a vegetarian, but I can do better by switching to soya milk, vegan cheese and other non-dairy products.

4. Don’t buy anything that contains palm oil

Around 1000 orangutans are killed every year as forests are cleared to make way for palm oil production. I don’t want that to happen. Palm oil seems to be in everything, so this will be a challenging one.

5. Waste less food

Hugh’s programme about supermarket food waste was profoundly shocking. #wastenot