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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I’m worried about the new Environment Secretary

If you’ve been too absorbed in Pokemon this week, you may be forgiven for missing the disastrous appointment of Angela Leadsom as Environment Secretary. Newly ‘crowned’ Theresa May (she has not actually been elected) has selected one of the least appropriate people to this position.

Are we being hilariously trolled?

Sadly not. Our new Environment Secretary wants to see the return of fox hunting for animal welfare reasons, and has voted to oppose climate change prevention measures. Perhaps I am an idiot to assume that not hunting a species might be in its interests? Leadsom thinks that the ban on fox hunting is “absolutely not proven to be in the interest of animal welfare whatsoever.”

A few years ago, Leadsom backed the government’s proposal to sell of Britain’s forests, so why on earth does she know have their future in her greedy, carbon-loving, oil-dripping hands? I would have thought that as a mothershe (and only she and other mothers) could appreciate the importance of protecting our planet for our children’s future?

Her appointment is part of wider, more insidious threat to environment protection; gone is the Energy and Climate Change department, and in its place we have the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. This represents a clear and defiant shift from climate change anxiety to a focus on business and industry (to the detriment of all else?)

 

Humans Have Cut Down More Than Half The Earth’s Trees… So Far

I haven’t blogged in a few months – I’ve moved house, started a new job, then helped my mother move house. So it’s been very busy and stressful. There’s been some hideous animal stories I’ve missed out on discussing in that time. I’m starting some volunteering soon, which will take up a lot of my writing time, but I’ll try to keep this blog going still.

Let’s talk about trees.

Credit: WWF – http://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation

A recent study by Yale University has calculated the shocking decline of tree density.

Using a combination of satellite images, data from forestry researchers on the ground and supercomputer number-crunching, scientists have for the first time been able to accurately estimate the quantity of trees growing on all continents except Antarctica.

The largest forests are found in tropical climates, particularly the Amazon, which is home to a staggering 43% of the world’s trees. The greatest tree density, however, is to be found in the colder climes of Russia, North America and Scandinavia. The scientists documented the influence of growing human populations on tree preservation, and found that, unsurprisingly, as civilizations expand, natural arboreal areas are deforested.

This news is certainly worrying – we have so far cut down around 46% of the world’s trees. The National Geographic claims that “the world’s rain forests could completely vanish in a hundred years at the current rate of deforestation.”

Crowther, who led the study, had this to say:

…human activity is the largest driver of tree numbers worldwide. While the negative impact of human activity on natural ecosystems is clearly visible in small areas, the study provides a new measure of the scale of anthropogenic effects, highlighting how historical land use decisions have shaped natural ecosystems on a global scale. In short, tree densities usually plummet as the human population increases. Deforestation, land-use change, and forest management are responsible for a gross loss of over 15 billion trees each year.

The WWF explains why forests are vital ecosystems:

forests provide habitats to diverse animal species; they form the source of livelihood for many different human settlements; they offer watershed protection, timber and non-timber products, and various recreational options; they prevent soil erosion, help in maintaining the water cycle, and check global warming by using carbon dioxide in photosynthesis.

But what everyday things can I do to slow deforestation, I hear you ask?

  • Go paperless.
  • Plant a tree.
  • Buy recycled products and then recycle them again.
  • Buy certified wood products from the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council).
  • Buy only what you will use.
  • Don’t use Palm Oil or products with Palm Oil.

Shabani the Handsome Gorilla

I kind of get it. I can see how you might think a silverback is sexy – they seem to be made entirely of muscle. But what do young Japenese women find so attractive about Shabani, the famous hunky gorilla of Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens?

It’s his brooding good looks, and the fact that he’s a loving dad. Two words keep coming out from all the social media associated with Shabani:

ikemen: It’s the Japanese slang for “handsome guy”. The word is a combination of “I-ke” (pronounced “ee-kay”), which is an abbreviation of a word meaning “cool” or just “good”, and “men” derived from the English.

Ikumen: Another slang word meaning “a hands-on dad who looks after his children” – “iku” being an abbreviation of the word “iku-ji” which means “raising children”.

This fascination with the ‘human-ness’ of this gorilla has shown that by examining the facial expressions of some animals we recognize deep cognition, striking sexuality and strong family relationships. This is not to anthropomorphize Shabani, but to attribute animal qualities to humans; zoomorphism, in the sense that personifying animals reminds us we are a highly evolved animal species.

“Thinking Deep Thoughts.”

The Real Easter Bunnies

Spring has sprung, and, for animal shelters worldwide, that means the imminent arrival of hundreds of discarded bunnies in the weeks following Easter.

Rabbits do not obey the myths surrounding them: they don’t like to be handled by humans, they dislike being confined in cages, and, most annoyingly for homeowners, rabbits can chew through pretty much anything. They just don’t stop chewing.

When pet stores sell their Easter bunnies, the cute little creatures are small, fluffy and adorable. Hard for most parents to resist. But they grow, and, if, paired up with another rabbit, they breed. And breed and breed and breed. Like rabbits.

Many families give up on their Easter critters within weeks, and animal shelters are consequently overwhelmed. Buying Easter bunnies encourages bad breeding practices that result in a surplus of bunnies from consumers’ ill-conceived purchases.

80% of easter bunnies end up in shelters and those are the lucky ones – some families assume bunnies will be better off in the wild, so release them. However, bunnies are prey animals, and not used to the wild so they simply won’t survive.

Red Door Animal Shelter attempt to discredit the myths surrounding bunnies so consumers can make informed decisions before making an impulse purchase.