Archive for ‘Wildlife Preservation’

April 22, 2015

‘Sin City’ wildlife raids a start but what about the long-term?

‘Sin City’ wildlife raids a start but what about the long-term?

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10th April, 2015

On March 31, 2015 the Vientiane Times reported that four restaurants at Laos’ Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (GT SEZ) had been shut down and illegal wildlife products confiscated and burnt, following the release of EIA’s Sin City report.

Subsequent accounts suggest it was a multi-agency response and, on the face of it, it was a welcome and encouraging first step from the Laotian authorities. The remain questions, however, as to the impact and scope of the effort and what is planned in the long-term.

For example, why would the authorities burn the evidence they presumably need for prosecutions? It’s not clear if they have filed any charges and are planning to take anyone to court.

It wasn’t just restaurants that were raided; footage from Laos TV shows authorities in the Golden Triangle Treasure Hall gift shop where two stuffed tigers, seven tiger skins, one leopard skin and vast quantities of ivory had been documented by EIA and partner Education for Vietnam (ENV). Yet it’s not clear if the ivory, stuffed tigers and other illegal wildlife products from this shop were destroyed as well.

Likewise, it’s not apparent from the stills and video footage available whether the tiger skeletons from the vats of wine in restaurants and retail outlets in the GT SEZ Chinatown were also destroyed.

Burning wildlife contraband at the GT SEZ, screengrab via Laos National TV

Burning wildlife contraband at the GT SEZ, screengrab via Laos National TVContrary to the assertion in the Vientiane Times that local people had supplied the wildlife that was confiscated and burned, the stuffed tigers had come from China and six of the seven tiger skins had been trafficked from Mong La in Myanmar, with the source of those tigers possibly India, Thailand and Malaysia.

As a Party to the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Laos should have taken action to help determine the source of the tiger parts before destroying them. In July 2014, the 65th Meeting of the CITES Standing Committee adopted a recommendation requesting Parties making seizures of tiger skins to take photographs of the stripe patterns (an identifying feature as unique as fingerprints) and share them with countries maintaining stripe-pattern profile databases of wild tigers, such as India. In this way, efforts can be made to determine origin and shed further light on the transnational criminal networks involved. It is not clear if the authorities in Laos implemented this action, or if DNA samples were taken of the tiger, ivory and other wildlife products before they were burnt.

It is also not clear if the Laos authorities are investigating associations between the Chinese business individuals engaged in illegal wildlife trade at the GT SEZ and their contacts in China and Myanmar, or whether any financial investigations are under way to help map those connections.

Officials seal a business in the raid on the GT SEZ, screengrab via Laos National TV

Crucially, there have been no reports on what is happening to the live bears and tigers at the GT SEZ, or what action is being taken to end tiger farming – again, consistent with Laos’ commitments under CITES. It was clear from our engagement with the live animal enclosure manager that the intention is to expand its operations to industrial-scale production of tiger bone wine. There was no mention in the media as to what action, if any, Laos is taking to prevent this. Officials seal a business in the raid on the GT SEZ, screengrab via Laos National TV

Laos is currently subject to CITES trade suspensions for failing to submit an adequate National Ivory Action Plan and the recent law enforcement action may be a sign of a willingness to act when under the spotlight.

But what we would like to see is tangible evidence of an intelligence-led enforcement response, an effort to investigate the individuals involved in the trafficking of tigers and other wildlife into the GT SEZ and a proactive response to end tiger farming. We look forward to working with relevant national and intergovernmental agencies to encourage a meaningful response in Laos.

EIA recognises that Laos cannot do this alone and, accordingly, Sin City sends a clear message to the Government of China over its responsibility to investigate the roles of Chinese nationals and businesses associated with illegal wildlife trade at the GT SEZ.

So far, our appeal to China to act has been met with silence.

Debbie Banks
Head of Tigers Campaign

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September 20, 2014

Green Groups Tell Mekong Leaders Lao Dam Evaluation Process Flawed

Green Groups Tell Mekong Leaders Lao Dam Evaluation Process Flawed


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Construction work begins on the Xayaburi dam on the Mekong River in northern Laos, Jan. 2014.

Nearly 50 environmental groups have written to the leaders of countries along the Mekong River to revamp a regional official evaluation process for the controversial Don Sahong dam project in southern Laos, saying the current mechanism is flawed.

Their letter to the prime ministers of Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand said the concerns of local communities impacted by the project are not being included as required by the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA) for hydropower projects in the Mekong River Commission (MRC).

The PNPCA requires transboundary impact assessments and discussions among member countries, as outlined in a 1995 agreement that led to the formation of the MRC, which supervises development along Southeast Asia’s artery.

The Sept. 10 letter from 45 groups, including U.S.-based International Rivers, Japan’s Mekong Watch, Thailand’s Northern River Basins Network, and Vietnam Rivers Network, was sent more than two months after Lao authorities decided to open the 260-megawatt Don Sahong project to consultations and scrutiny among MRC members.

The Lao authorities said it would suspend construction of the project, the second dam to be built on the Mekong after the Xayaburi dam, but the developer, Malaysia’s Mega First Corporation Berhad, said work was continuing.

Regional threat

The Xayaburi and Don Sahong dams pose a regional security threat for the 60 million-some people in Southeast Asia who rely on fish and other products from the Mekong for their nutrition and livelihoods, environmental and conservation groups say.

“We are concerned that, as they stand, the PNPCA procedures cannot allow for a legitimate and participatory consultation process for the Don Sahong dam, and the project is set to follow the same destructive path of the Xayaburi dam, bringing further severe impacts to the Mekong and its people,” the letter said.

It said the prior consultation process for the Xayaburi dam, which is under construction, had been a “failure.”

“The limited stakeholder consultation both in number of participants and areas involved excluded many critical voices, including those of local communities in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam,” the letter said.

“The voices of communities must be the priority in the process related to the development of dams on the Mekong River,” it said.

The letter also said many studies indicate that if the Don Sahong dam is built, it will have “severe impacts on Mekong fish and their migration throughout the Lower Mekong River Basin.”

“This threatens the food security and livelihoods of millions of people as well as the economic and political stability of the region, due to increased tension between governments over the failures of regional cooperation,” the letter said.

“As the MRC’s mandate is not for local Mekong communities, there needs to be clarification on how local communities affected by Mekong dams can meaningfully participate in the decision-making process and how their participation will inform decisions made about whether or not a project will proceed,” it said.

“The rights of communities must be recognized.”

United they stand

Following the letter’s issuance, fishermen and villagers from Cambodia’s Tonle Sap and along the Mekong joined representatives from Thailand’s Pak Mun dam area at a conference in Bangkok this week to announce their opposition to dam construction in the Mekong Basin as well as support for including locals’ voices in transboundary impact reviews.

Residents of the Pak Mun dam area, situated nearly six kilometers (about 3.5 miles) west of the confluence of the Mun and Mekong rivers, must negotiate every year to have the dam gates opened to allow in fish from further upstream, said Somphong Viengchan, an activist who represents fisherman from the Ubon Ratchathani province in northeastern Thailand.

“If the Don Sahong is built, there won’t be fish to return to the Mun River anymore,” she said, according to a press release issued after the conference.

Fishermen from Cambodia and Thailand threw their support behind Laotians in riparian communities who want their views included in ecological impact reviews of dam projects, including Don Sahong.

A separate statement issued by the fishing community networks said the Lao government must immediately revise the decision to build the Xayaburi and Don Sahong dams and allow a cross-border study that would involve all people from Mekong communities.

“We insist that any act to prevent the people in Mekong countries from knowing about the dams or prohibiting them from raising their voices against the projects is a complete violation of human rights and our rights,” said a joint statement issued by the fishermen.

As the Lao government already has made the decision to build the Don Sahong dam, Laotians can’t do anything about it, Viengchan said at the conference.

Laotians risk arrest if they voice opposition to hydropower projects, she said.

“It is impossible for them to come out and exercise their rights,” Viengchan said. “Therefore, after the discussion, we six Thai Mekong riparian provinces have to do something to give voice via the Thai government to the Lao government about the [dam project’s] transboundary impact.”

International Rivers says the Don Sahong dam will block fish migration routes, destroy the Mekong River ecosystem and cut off the flow of sediments and nutrients.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Bounchanh Mouangkham. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.



August 20, 2014

Ivory trade: Why elephant poaching is still rampant


Ivory trade: Why elephant poaching is still rampant

World’s largest land mammal doesn’t deserve to die ‘for trinkets or financial investment’

By Janet Davison, CBC News Posted: Aug 20, 2014 5:00 AM ET.  Last Updated: Aug 20, 2014 7:01 AM ET

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An elephant is pictured in Tsavo East National Park in southern Kenya on Jan. 31, 2013.

An elephant is pictured in Tsavo East National Park in southern Kenya on Jan. 31, 2013. (Ivan Lieman/AFP/Getty)

In some countries, the idea of cherishing anything made of ivory has become repugnant, especially given that an elephant had to die — usually at the hands of poachers — before any elaborate carving of its tusks could be done.

In areas such as China and other Asian countries, however, ivory remains a symbol of status for an emerging middle class, some conservationists say.

Africa Elephant Slaughter

In this Feb. 13, 2013, file photo, a Maasai boy and his dog stand near the skeleton of an elephant killed by poachers outside of Arusha, Tanzania. (Jason Straziuso/Associated Press)

And that’s contributing to the huge spike reported this week in the death rate of African elephants at the hands of poachers.

“There’s a burgeoning middle class that has a lot more expendable money and time, and is able to buy nice things now,” says Jake Wall, a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia and a research scientist with the Kenya-based Save the Elephants organization.

“I don’t think many people understand the effect that buying ivory is having, and a lot of people [in China] believe that the tusks simply fall out of elephants and that they’re collected and turned into carvings.

“They don’t realize that elephants are being massacred for their ivory, and so that level of education is sorely needed in China and places in Asia.”

Complicated history

China knows it has an image problem around the ivory trade, but the demand for ivory is still there.

“China is a very complicated case culturally and image-wise and so on,” says Colman O’Criodain, international wildlife trade policy analyst with the World Wildlife Fund International.

The country is “very proud historically of its artistic ivory-carving tradition,” he said in an interview from Geneva.

Ivory pieces after destruction in Belgium

Pieces of ivory that were seized from illegal trade are seen after being smashed by authorities in Tervuren, Belgium, on April 9, 2014. The 1.7 tonnes of ivory with an estimated value of 680,000 euros ($930,000) were seized in recent years by Belgian customs. (Francois Lenoir/Reuters)

“On the one hand there’s a drive to reinforce that and to protect it, but on the other hand of course they are conscious of the fact that they’re seen as one of the drivers of poaching.”

As he sees it, the main driver for the loss of elephants from the savannahs and forests of Africa is not the  desire for big artistic carvings. “It’s the small trinkets like bangles and chopsticks and earrings and so on, because they result in far more wastage.”

Ivory was, he says, originally very much reserved for the aristocracy, but now its use is spreading to an increasing affluent middle class.

“They want to acquire the trappings of the aristocracy there, so they want to give presents of ivory or rhino horn or tiger wine.”

‘Whiff of danger’

Plus, he says, there’s a “whiff of danger” around ivory that makes it attractive.

“There’s also a cultural consideration there, too, because a bit like moonshine in the United States …. there’s a kind of cachet about the illegal product, that you have to go to more trouble to get it.”

In fact, according to a report in the Guardian, the price of ivory in China has tripled in the past four years because of demand.

Africa Elephant Slaughter

A herd of adult and baby elephants walks in the dawn light across Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya on Dec. 17, 2012. (Ben Curtis/Associated Press)

Wall points to a decision in 2008 to sell 102 tonnes of stockpiled ivory to accredited Chinese and Japanese traders, a sale supervized by the secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

“That essentially introduced legal ivory back into Asian markets, and ever since then we’ve seen this dramatic increase in poaching, peaking in 2011.

“It shows that if you trickle in a little bit of an illicit and coveted substance …you create this huge black market for it as well.”

However, countering that black market, and the poaching that is threatening the population of the world’s largest land mammal, is not a simple prospect.

Observers say it requires a multi-pronged approach that reaches from Africa to the ports through which smuggled ivory travels to those middle-class folks who covet the goods.

‘Many-headed beast’

“It’s like a many-headed beast to tackle,” says George Wittemyer, a Colorado State University professor who was lead author of the report this week that found poachers have killed an estimated 100,000 elephants across Africa between 2010 and 2012.

“For me, the key to the whole story is really undermining the demand, the consumption.”

Ivory tusks waiting for destruction

Ivory tusks are displayed after the official start of the destruction of confiscated ivory in Hong Kong on May 15, 2014. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Steps have been taken to try to do that in China, including some high-profile campaigns that have featured celebrities. In one, China’s most famous basketball player, retired NBA star Yao Ming, took to billboards and TV public service announcements to urge his native country to say no to ivory and rhino horn.

“He’s been extremely outspoken about this issue,” says Wall.

Efforts to target the illicit ivory trade chain have also been made, which the WWF sees as crucial.

“To counter poaching … you also have to counter illicit trade,” says O’Croidain.

Those efforts can focus on ports such as Mombasa in Kenya, and Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar in Tanzania.

“You have to tackle the problem there as a straight-forward smuggling problem,” says O’Croidain. “Similarly in southeast Asia, there are transit points where you can intervene.”

Better monitoring

Other potential measures include increased monitoring of the existing elephant population, something Wall advocates and has been involved with through a high-tech Save the Elephants program that involves GPS satellite tracking collars.

He also sees a need for better wildlife protection programs involving the African communities where elephants roam, programs that would give residents economic options other than poaching.

In one case, some ex-poachers have been hired as wildlife rangers, complete with salaries they can live on.

“I think that is really a key thing that we develop human programs so that people don’t feel the need to go out and poach elephants, and that they feel they can make a living in other ways.”

No one is under any illusion, however, that any of this will be an easy task.

“It’s a long-term process. It may be a generational process,” says James Kinney, elephant program officer for the International Fund for Animal Welfare

“That’s why we take a multi-pronged approach because it doesn’t seem elephants have generations to wait for the Chinese to stop consuming ivory.”

The IFAW feels elephants “don’t deserve to die for trinkets or for financial investments,” Kinney adds.

“They’re important on a number of levels, individually as sentient beings and as kind of mega-gardeners in the forests and savannahs where they live.”


August 20, 2014

100,000 Elephants Killed by Poachers in Just Three Years, Landmark Analysis Finds

National Geographic

100,000 Elephants Killed by Poachers in Just Three Years, Landmark Analysis Finds

Central Africa has lost 64 percent of its elephants in a decade.

By Brad Scriber | National Geographic | Published August 18, 2014

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Ivory-seeking poachers have killed 100,000 African elephants in just three years, according to a new study that provides the first reliable continent-wide estimates of illegal kills. During 2011 alone, roughly one of every twelve African elephants was killed by a poacher.

In central Africa, the hardest-hit part of the continent, the regional elephant population has declined by 64 percent in a decade, a finding of the new study that supports another recent estimate developed from field surveys.

The demand for ivory, most notably in China and elsewhere in Asia, and the confusion caused by a one-time sale of confiscated ivory have helped keep black market prices high in Africa.

The new study, published in the August 19 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, led by George Wittemyer of Colorado State University, included local and regional population estimates and concluded that three-quarters of local elephant populations are declining.

The study authors conducted the first large-scale analysis of poaching losses using data on illegally killed elephants maintained by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

Wittemyer and his team hope the new information will move the discussion beyond anecdotes and wild guesses. “I think it’s the only quantitatively based estimate out there,” he said.

Researchers and conservationists hope the analysis will prompt policy makers to take further action to stem the years-long onslaught of poaching, which now threatens the survival of elephants in Africa.

Previous estimates of population declines produced by study co-authors Julian Blanc and Kenneth Burnham, both of CITES, used similar data to examine poaching trends, but those estimates limited the analysis to just 66 sites that were being monitored.

“Nobody’s put out any scientifically-based numbers for the continent,” Wittemyer said. “People have said numbers, but they’re based off guesses. This is the first hard estimate we have at that level.”

Photo of a boxes of ivory.

Confiscated elephant tusks and boxes of figurines carved from ivory sit in the main hall of the National Wildlife Property Repository, in Colorado.
Photograph by Kate Brooks, Redux

Targeting the Policymakers

Although conservationists have agreed for years that there’s an ongoing poaching crisis with huge implications for the future of African elephants, the authors point out that it’s been “notoriously difficult to quantify” the raw number of animals killed by poachers.

In recent years poachers have perpetrated mass killings, such as the 2012 slaughter of hundreds of elephants with automatic weapons in Bouba Ndjidah National Park in Cameroon.

Poachers have also used poisoned arrows to kill iconic individual elephants. In February, a poison-tipped arrow killed Torn Ear, a well-known Kenyan elephant. (See “Mourning the Loss of a Great Elephant: Torn Ear.”) Three months later, Satao, another of Kenya’s most beloved elephants, was also killed by a poisoned arrow by poachers, who cut off his face to remove his massive tusks. (See “Beloved African Elephant Killed for Ivory—’Monumental’ Loss.”)

These criminal acts have prompted some official actions, including a U.S. ban on the commercial trade in ivory, but the killings continue at an unsustainable level, with new births unable to keep pace with the killings.

“At the higher policy levels there have been a lot of questions and debate about what the numbers actually are, what they indicate, and how we should be interpreting them,” Wittemyer noted.

“There hasn’t been a robust scientific piece to rely on definitively as the source. In my mind what we’ve locked down here and provided the community—and in my mind we’re really targeting the policymakers—are definitive numbers on which they can act and on which they can discuss and debate approaches they can take.”

Hard-Won Numbers

In 2002 CITES created a program called MIKE (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants) to attempt to quantify the number of elephants killed by poachers. Rangers at MIKE sites note all dead elephants they find and determine what proportion of the dead animals was illegally killed.

But the growing number of locations where monitoring is done—the program now monitors between 30 and 40 percent of the population—is still only a portion of the range of the species, and there are big differences in how closely these sites are monitored.

Another problem is that no one knows how many African elephants there are. Elephants are present over many thousands of square miles, which makes it expensive and time-consuming to estimate their overall numbers.

A map of elephant range and poaching statistics.


The most recent comprehensive population estimate for the continent—a range of between 472,000 and 690,000 elephants—was published in 2007 by the IUCN’s African Elephant Specialist Group. That figure was based on the best available data at the time, which for some locations were already nearly a decade old.

The African Elephant Specialist Group continually collects updated population survey data for portions of the continent and shares them with researchers via its public database. But it has yet to produce a new comprehensive population estimate for the continent. Meanwhile, a continent-wide aerial survey, the Great Elephant Census, is under way, with results expected in mid-2015.

Modeling the Numbers

For their study, Wittemyer and his co-authors used the most recent population numbers available from the African Elephant Specialist Group database for well-monitored locations. The researchers calculated that in the absence of poaching, about 3 percent of an elephant population would be expected to die each year.

Applying the percentage of deaths from poaching in 2010 through 2012, derived from MIKE data at the most closely monitored sites, they were able to calculate the percentage, and the numbers, of elephants poached regionally and continent-wide.

Kenneth Burnham, the statistician with the MIKE program who devised this method, used a similar approach to project the number National Geographic magazine used in its October 2012 cover story, “Ivory Worship.” The magazine reported that “it is ‘highly likely’ that poachers killed at least 25,000 African elephants in 2011. The true figure may even be double that.”

The new study puts the 2011 number at 40,000 elephants slaughtered at the hands of poachers.

Trevor Jones, of the Southern Tanzania Elephant Project, who didn’t participate in the study, said, “I think this paper represents an honest attempt to interpret the MIKE data, and no doubt its results and conclusions are broadly correct in describing an overall trend of large declines in elephant populations across Africa.”

He points to continued misgivings about the MIKE numbers because they are based on a smaller number of carcasses than aerial surveys. “Aerial censuses of the Selous Game Reserve,” Jones said, “estimate a decline from 2009 to 2013 of 39,000 to 13,000—yet the MIKE data estimate 4,931 elephants poached from 2010 to 2012.”

Jones, like many others, is eager for the results of the forthcoming Great Elephant Census. “The best way to update data on population sizes in most areas is by aerial sampling, and I strongly suspect that the census is going to confirm the unprecedented scale of the current crisis for elephants across the continent. Those results cannot come a day too soon.”

But aerial surveying has drawbacks too. Forest elephants can’t be seen from the air, and assessing their numbers takes labor-intensive foot surveys of dung piles. A recent forest elephant survey took “80 foot-surveys; covering 13,000 km; 91,600 person-days of fieldwork,” according to the study abstract.

What We Lose When We Lose Elephants

The huge scale of the losses of African elephants could reduce genetic diversity to the point where healthy and robust populations become dangerously weakened.

But, as Wittemyer said, the problem is greater than genetic diversity. “You’re talking about the distribution of species and its ecological role.”

Elephants are vital to the web of life in Africa. As a keystone species, they help balance all the other species in their ecosystem, opening up forest land to create firebreaks and grasslands, digging to create water access for other animals, and leaving nutrients in their wake. Sometimes called the “megagardeners of the forest,” elephants are essential to the dispersal of seeds that maintain tree diversity.

Since three out of four local populations are declining, those losses have serious ecological implications. “That’s a problem we probably didn’t speak to strongly enough in this paper,” Wittemyer said.

Follow Brad Scriber on Twitter.


May 10, 2014

Researchers warn captive elephants in Laos could be extinct in 100 years

UQA - The University of Queensland


Captive elephants in Laos face extinction


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5 May 2014

A UQ study has shown the captive elephant population in Laos is declining as the elephants are not allowed to breed at a rate sufficient to sustain the population. Photo courtesy of ElefantAsia (

The captive elephant population in Laos will be extinct in just over a century if current management practices do not change, a University of Queensland study has found.

It is estimated that only 480 captive elephants remain across Laos, and the study shows that changes to conservation management are necessary to prevent extinction.

The study’s lead author, Dr Ingrid Suter, from UQ’s School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, said captive elephants were an important part of Lao culture and supported the livelihood of many rural communities.

“Elephant ownership has long been associated with Lao culture and national identity,” Dr Suter said.

“Extinction of this population would lead to loss of income for the mahouts (elephant owners) and their communities, impact on tourism and the logging industry, and would mean the end of thousands of years of elephants and humans working alongside each other.”

The study shows the captive elephant population in Laos is declining as the elephants are not allowed to breed at a rate sufficient to sustain the population.

Female elephants require at least four years off work to produce and wean a calf, an unaffordable length of time for mahouts.

UQ researchers collaborated with ElefantAsia, a non-government organisation which aims to overcome this barrier through the Baby Bonus program.

The program works with mahouts to provide alternative income while their elephants are on “maternity leave”, and to ensure the calves are well cared for.

UQ’s School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management’s Dr Greg Baxter, senior author on the study, said a wider management approach was needed to prevent further population decline.

“The small number of breeding-age females is limiting the growth of the captive Laos elephant population,” he said.

“Increasing the breeding rate through programs such as the Baby Bonus is a good start, but it is unlikely to prevent population decline over the next 100 to 200 years.

“Establishing a rental agreement with other countries would allow the import and exchange of elephants for the purpose of breeding and provide benefit to all countries involved.”

The research was published in Endangered Species Research this month.

Contact: Dr Greg Baxter, 07 3365 8064 and +61403174149,; Dr Ingrid Suter, +31 6 2730 3026 .


Related News:

  1. Researchers warn captive elephants in Laos could be extinct in 100 …

    ABC OnlineMay 7, 2014
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    An Australian study has warned that captive elephants in Laos will be extinct in 100 years, if nothing is done to increase numbers.

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