There are only three Northern white rhinos left in the world, and sadly, the one male is gravely ill. He is forty-five years old and is facing death due to natural causes. The hope of a naturally conceived rhino is now slim to none, so scientists are trying to see if in-vitro fertilization is an option or if cross-breeding with another species of rhino is possible. The loss of the northern white rhino will follow the loss of the western black rhino, which became extinct seven years ago.
The three remaining northern white rhinos are under heavy armed protection at all times. While Asia has made strides at reducing the demand for elephant ivory the past few years, rhino horn is still being sold in many open markets in countries like Vietnam. Misinformation that rhino horn treats disease such as cancer has made prices soar.
All rhino species are in danger, and organizations such as Save the Rhino are doing the best they can to educate, inform, and raise awareness. Some fundraising has been creative – for example, last year Tinder named the Northern white rhino male as the most eligible bachelor in the world. But, rhinos do not share the same prestige as elephants (which have been featured in countless fables, children’s stories, art, religious imagery, etc), and it has been more difficult to get the public to rally to save rhinos or to open their wallets for the cause.
(photo taken at my zoo)
Zimbabwe has been featured in this blog for bad news in the past, such as for selling elephants into captivity.
I’m happy to start 2018 with great news. The new president Emmerson Mnangagwa is concerned about endangered species. He is banning the trade of elephants and other endangered animals.
He also wants to devote more government funds and focus to protecting the environment. Also very encouraging: he hopes to have women be leaders in conservation. So far, he seems to be walking the walk, and not just giving nice speeches. His daughter is currently participating in the Akashinga project, a woman-run part of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation.
(My photo below)
Some good news to start 2018: Preliminary studies are showing the ban on ivory in China is working well.
From the BBC:
“Wildlife campaigners believe 30,000 African elephants are killed by poachers every year.
State media said there had already been a 65% decline in the price of raw ivory over the past year.
There had also been an 80% decline in seizures of ivory entering China, said Xinhua.
The ban was announced last year and came into effect on Sunday, the last day of 2017.”
Happy New Year!
In yet another sign that President Trump wants to undo everything the Obama administration accomplished, he is removing protections for elephants. His son Donald Jr. was also infamously photographed hunting elephants, so this may also be yet another desire to benefit his own family. From the Washington Post:
The Trump administration announced Wednesday that the remains of elephants legally hunted in Zimbabwe and Zambia can now be imported to the United States as trophies, reversing a ban under former president Barack Obama.
African elephants are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that large sums paid for permits to hunt the animals could actually help them “by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation,” according to an agency statement.
This claim that the money goes back to conservation is wrong. The US has allowed other African countries like South Africa to send hunting trophies to the States because they have been able to prove that the money earned is spent wisely and not used to line corrupt officials’ pockets. Zimbabwe and Zambia have not provided the necessary proof. In fact, you only need to read about Zimbabwe’s current political crisis to know that corruption is a major and long standing problem there. The idea that such a government would put the revenue from hunting trophies into conservation is laughable. Not surpringly, Zimbabwe and Zambia have seen some of the greatest declines in elephant populations in Africa due to poaching, over-hunting, and environmental destruction. In addition, Zimbabwe has sold elephants to places like China, hoping to raise quick cash without thinking about the long term ramifications of selling its natural wildlife and resources. From Al-Jazeera:
If you’ve read this blog or follow elephant-related news, you know one sticking point of banning ivory sales is what to do with antiquities on the market. The UK has allowed sales of antiquities if either they are carved prior to 1947 or if they have a government certificate dating them prior to 1990, which is the year the international ivory trade was banned.
The big problem, of course, is that it isn’t terribly difficult for a seller to forge a certificate or lie about the age of ivory, and the consumer would likely be unaware they were buying illegal goods. It is difficult even for experts to date ivory.
There has been a campaign to ban all ivory sales in the UK, and after years of hard work, it paid off. From The Guardian:
The UK government has bowed to campaigners and will ban the sale of ivory regardless of age, according to a new consultation.
The UK is the biggest exporter of legal ivory in the world and shutting down the trade will help prevent illegal ivory being laundered by criminals. More than 50 elephants are killed by poachers every day on average and the population of African elephants plunged by a third between 2007-14 alone, leading to warnings that the entire species could go extinct…
The government was put under pressure by a wide range of campaign groups and prominent individuals including the former Conservative leader William Hague, the primatologist Jane Goodall, Stephen Hawking and Ricky Gervais. Within the Tory party, the foreign secretary Boris Johnson and the former environment secretary Owen Paterson have pressed for a complete ban.
This news was a surprise to many, as the UK has always been very protective of its right to sell antique ivory, seeing ivory as important artifacts in its history as an empire. But, as the U.K. is scheduled to host a 2018 international conference on protecting wildlife, it was time to act.
Video: YouTube, IFAW
Sadly, as one ivory market gets strict, another gets lax. China has banned ivory sales but Laos is now happy to offer ivory to Chinese tourists looking for a way around the ban. According to a report by Save the Elephants, the ivory market in Laos has surged. Laos is an economically poor country, and people aren’t as concerned about an elephant’s welfare as their bottom line. I did a daytrip from Thailand to Laos and most of the markets sold counterfeit goods, so it doesn’t surprise me that markets are also now selling controversial ivory.
The demand for ivory must shrink for the supply to dry up – China has been effective at reducing their ivory market supply, but they must continue to try to change the culture, which unfortunately still prizes ivory as a sign of wealth, luck, and high social status.
From ABC news:
The report on Laos said ivory goods are sold openly there, including in the capital Vientiane, and that law enforcement is lax, despite the country’s pledge to curb wildlife trafficking. Researchers said the cheapest ivory item that they saw was a $3 ring, while a pair of polished tusks was the most expensive at $25,000. They also noted that wholesale prices of raw ivory in Laos dropped by more than half between 2013 and 2016, attributing the fall largely to the Chinese economic slowdown.
An article in Newsweek caught my eye this week:
Elephants in East Africa are adapting their behavior to survive the greatest threat to their existence: poachers.
A study published in the peer-reviewed Ecological Indicators journal this week suggests that elephants are aware of the danger of poaching gangs and have begun moving at night to avoid them.
The research, carried out by the Kenya-based charity Save the Elephants and the University of Twente in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service, used GPS tracking and mortality data collected in northern Kenya between 2002 and 2012.
It is interesting to note that elephants can see well in the dark, but moving at night still has plenty of danger. Lions, for example, are nocturnal and are happy to pick off baby elephants for a meal. Obviously, the elephants weighed their options and would rather risk lions than bullets and machetes.
The GPS tracking may save elephant lives. Anti-poaching ranger teams can now follow the elephants’ movement and protect them better against their worst enemy.