The poster child for endangered species: The giant panda

 

 

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The majestic and peaceful giant panda, with its distinctive black and white coat, is considered to be a national treasure in China, and is adored throughout the world.  The giant panda is seen as a sort of ambassador for all endangered species, as it is a well-recognized symbol of international wildlife conservation.  It has been the famous WWF logo since its founding in 1961.

Photo courtesy of weblessons.com

Photo courtesy of weblessons.com

The panda is the rarest member of the bear family.  Wild pandas only live in isolated mountainous regions of central China, where the high bamboo forests are wet and cool.  They have an insatiable appetite for bamboo, and eat 9 to 12 kilograms of it every day.  Pandas play an important role in the forests where they live, as they spread seeds and facilitate growth of vegetation.  The pandas’ habitat is in the geographic and economic heart of China, which is home to millions of people.  In order to increase the quality of life for the local populations, this area needs to be more sustainable.  Pandas bring significant economic benefits to local communities through ecotourism.

 

The Yangtze Basin in China is the panda’s main habitat.  However, the habitat is the heart of booming China.  Railways and roads are increasingly fragmenting the forest, and this isolates panda populations and inhibits mating.  Forest destruction also reduces the bamboo resources which pandas need to survive.  The Chinese government has established over 50 reserves for the pandas, but only about 61% of China’s panda population is protected by the reserves.

 

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Photo courtesy of WWF

According to WWF, there are about 1600 giant pandas left in the world today, which categorize them as Endangered species.  By the end of 2006, there were 180 pandas reported in captivity in Mainland China, and about 20 in other countries.  Hunting continues to be an ever-present threat.  The poaching of pandas for their fur has been reduced due to strict regulations and greater public awareness of the pandas’ protected status.  However, there are hunters seeking to hunt other animals in panda habitats, and pandas are killed accidentally.

 

Working towards protecting the giant panda includes increasing the area of panda habitat under legal protection; patrolling against illegal logging, encroachment and poaching; creating green corridors to connect isolated pandas; continued monitoring, research and establishing local capacities for nature reserve management.  WWF has been assisting the Chinese government’s National Conservation Program for the giant panda and its habitat.  This has resulted in the reserves now covering over 3.8 million acres of forest.

Photo courtesy of China.org.cn

Photo courtesy of China.org.cn

 

For more information please see National Geographic  – the Giant Panda 

 

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Inside the exotic pet trade

Exotic animals such as lizards, hedgehogs, monkeys, macaws and even tigers and bears, are often purchased from stores, over the internet, or in auctions, so that people can keep them as “pets”.  However, this frequently results in pain and death for these animals, as they can easily suffer from loneliness, malnutrition and the crushing stress of confinement to an uncomfortable and unnatural environment.  For every animal who is seen in the store or auction, there are countless others who have died along the way.

Tiger cubs that have been rescued from smuggling.  Image courtesy of BBC News Asia

Tiger cubs that have been rescued from smuggling. Image courtesy of BBC News Asia

The buying and selling of protected wildlife species is a multibillion-dollar business, and one of the largest sources of criminal earning, behind only drug and arms trafficking.  The U.S. is the central destination for endangered and exotic animals.  Local, state and national governments are passing laws which prohibit the capture and sale of a number of species.  However, most of these laws are poorly enforced and designed to protect humans from disease, rather than ensuring that animals are handled in a humane and kind way.

Many of these animals are taken from places like Africa, Australia and the jungles of Brazil.  There are few penalties and laws against this, which hardly discourages traders in the light of the money that is made from illegal smuggling.  Prices on animals’ heads can range from tens of thousands of dollars.

When the animals are taken from their natural habitats, they often change hands numerous times through intermediaries and exporters, and they have to suffer through appalling transport conditions.  For example, parrots may have their feet and beaks taped, and are stuffed into plastic tubes that can be hidden easily in luggage.  Other birds or reptile eggs can be concealed in special vests so that couriers can go through airport X-ray machines.  Infant pythons have been transported in CD cases, and baby turtles may be taped as to be trapped inside their shells and are shoved by the dozen into tube socks.  In one case, a man had Asian leopard cats in his backpack, pygmy monkeys in his underwear and birds of paradise in his additional luggage; he was arrested at Los Angeles airport.  There is a mortality rate of 80 or 90% for these animals.

Image courtesy of sun bears.wildlifedirect.org

Image courtesy of sun bears.wildlifedirect.org

Exotic animals are often further hurt at the hands of dealers who sell them to zoos and pet stores.  PETA’s undercover investigation of U.S. Global Exotics led to a raid in Arlington, Texas, of a dealer’s warehouse.  There was a seizure of over 27 000 animals who had been enduring poor ventilation, crowded living conditions, and a lack of water, food and basic care.  Hundreds of dead animals were discovered during the raid, many just abandoned due to canceled orders.  Over 6000 animals died afterwards, as they were too sick to be saved.

There is also often inadequate care for the animals that do survive long enough.  Caretakers are often unable or unprepared to care for the needs of animals that are so far removed from their natural habitats.  The head of South Africa’s Environment Crime Investigation unit in the Western Cape estimates that 90 percent of reptiles die within a year.

Ignorance amongst these new owners causes much harm for the exotic animals.  People who find that they cannot care for these animals often dump them at zoos, or outside of zoo gates.  Others just dump these animals out along rural roads.  As these animals do not have appropriate rehabilitation or habitat, they fall victim to the elements or predators or starve to death.

Alternatively, animals who do survive could overpopulate and cause problems for the ecosystems, killing indigenous species.  Such as the Burmese python, which was kept as pets, but then escaped into the Everglades, where it has flourished and threatens native snakes and endangered birds.

An exotic snake that was smuggled in a suitcase.  Image courtesy of Reptile Related News

An exotic snake that was smuggled in a suitcase. Image courtesy of Reptile Related News

 

According the to the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 75% of all new contagious diseases originate from nonhuman animals.  There could be a range of exotic animals that may be unknown carriers of human diseases.  There was a monkeypox outbreak which affected dozens in Midwest American in 2003, this was traced all the way back to a Gambian rat from the Africa.  The rat had been kept with prairie dogs in an Illinois animal dealer’s shed.  The prairie dogs were known to have carried the plague and tularemia.  The herpes B virus can be conveyed to humans from macaques, and human contact with reptiles and other exotic animals has led to 74 000 cases of salmonellosis each year.  Hedgehogs can convey salmonella bacteria, as well as fungal and viral diseases to humans.  The Exotic Newcastle disease, which destroyed whole flocks of chickens and turkeys in the 1970s, was believed to have been transmitted to the U.S. from South American parrots, that were smuggled in through the illegal pet trade.  There is also the threat of human diseases being transferred to these animals.

National Geographic has reported that for every tiger or lion in a zoo, there could be as many as 10 privately owned.  People buy the tiger when it is about 8 weeks old, however, after about 6 months, it is about 600 pounds, has caused a great deal of harm to you, and torn your house.  There have been dozens of reports of captive big-cat attacks in recent years.  Wolf hybrids have also become more popular, it is estimated that there are hundreds of thousands kept as pets just in the U.S. alone.  It is a gross representation to sell and breed these animals as pets.

Smugglers find ways around inspections of governmental regulations.  Protected species are often hidden among legal animals, or dangerous species, where officers are unlikely to thoroughly hand-inspect shipments.  Regulations against wildlife poaching is also often lacking in resources.

Turtles that were being smuggled.  Image courtesy of news.turtleconservancy.org

Turtles that were being smuggled. Image courtesy of news.turtleconservancy.org

It is very important for people to stop buying animals illegally, this is particularly crucial for exotic animals that have been smuggled into various countries.  These are animals that they simply cannot take care of, and thus the animals endure further hardship in their ownership, if they had even survived the journey from their native environment.  It would save a lot of animals from misery, and it would help to decrease the illegal international wildlife trafficking network.

 

For more information, please see: PETA: inside the exotic animal trade, or Born Free: the dirty side of the exotic animal pet trade.

Southern right whale: facing a history of whaling and an onslaught of modern threats

The Southern right whale is enlisted as an endangered species.  This is largely due to the commercial whaling industry.  By the 1900s, Southern right whales were being driven to the brink of extinction and were thus the first species of whale to be protected in 1935.

Photo courtesy of WWF

Photo courtesy of WWF

These 60-ton whales occur throughout the southern hemisphere from temperate to polar latitudes.  In this range, they migrate between higher-latitude feeding grounds, and low-latitude winter breeding grounds.  In South Africa, Southern right whales are mainly found along the Cape coast, between Muizenberg and Woody Cape, for their winter breeding, calving and nursing grounds.  Other major wintering areas in the Southern hemisphere include Argentina, Australia and sub-Antarctic New Zealand.  It is estimated that there are about 7000 Southern right whales worldwide.

In the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, commercial whaling depleted Southern right whale populations throughout the Southern Hemisphere, and almost extirpated the population in some areas.  Whalers called these whales ‘right whales’, because they were the best or the ‘right’ whales to kill.  A reason for this is that the whales had large amounts of fat, which made them float after they had been harpooned, and so they were easy to collect.  These whales were also docile enough to approach, and slow swimmers.  Most importantly, Southern whales were full of highly valued oil, which is used for heating, lighting, crayons and cosmetics.

Image courtesy of the Antarctic Guide

Image courtesy of the Antarctic Guide

Southern right whales colliding with vessels, and getting entangled in fishing gear are leading causes of human-induced mortality.  Since 1983, 23 ship strikes of Southern right whales have been recorded.  However, these ship strikes often go undetected or unreported, and it is highly likely that the number of collisions is much higher than what has been documented.  Since 1963, at least 60 entanglements have been recorded in the Southern Hemisphere, the majority of which occurring in Brazil, Australia and South Africa.  Although, despite the current levels of entanglements and ship strikes, populations of these whales are recovering at three of the primary wintering grounds – Argentina, Australia and South Africa.  However, these nations may further develop their coastlines, which would increase the intensity of threats to Southern right whales.

Southern Right Whale view onto PE full format

The degradation of habitat is also a threat to these whales.  For example, In Argentina, sewage treatment facilities, industrial aluminum factories and fish processing plants are all situated along Golfo Nuevo, one of the major breeding grounds for Southern right whales.  In Namibia, three of the historic calving bays have undertaken major habitat alterations, such as coastal development, vessel traffic, marine mining and oil exploration that have increased over the last 20 years.  Climate change is recognized as a major threat to the recovery of whale populations, because it would fundamentally change ocean conditions and cetacean habitat.  This will affect food availability, migration routes and reproductive rates for whales.  Chemical pollution, increased vessel traffic and kelp gull harassment are additional threats to Southern right whales.

Conservation measures for Southern right whales occur under a variety of federal and state laws.  There are policies, regulations, strategies and plans throughout the Southern Hemisphere.  For information and details on these efforts, please see the 2007 Southern Right Whale 5-Year Review.

At an international level, conservation and protection efforts are promoted by the World Conservation Union’s Red List of Threatened Species, the IWC, and by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation.  The IWC has designated right whales as “Protection Stock” and set their commercial catch number at zero.  Various state and national laws also prohibit commercial whaling.  However, illegal catches of Southern right whales still do occur.

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Photo courtesy of the Guardian UK

For more information, please see the International Whaling Commission.

The world’s rarest cat: The Amur leopard

In the Russian Far East, a rare subspecies of leopard, the Amur leopard, has adapted to life in the temperate forests and mountains.  It is also known as the Far East leopard or the Korean leopard.  The Amur leopard is teetering on the brink of extinction.  The species is threatened by poaching, encroaching civilisation and habitat loss due to forest exploitation.

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Photo courtesy of WWF

The Amur leopard is the rarest cat in the world.  According to WWF, there are only about 30 individuals in the world today.  As there is such a small population remaining, the loss of each leopard placing the species at a greater risk of extinction.

Amur leopards are critically endangered largely due to the illegal wildlife trade.  They are poached mainly for their remarkable spotted fur.  In 1999, an undercover investigation team found a female and male Amur leopard skin that were being sold for $500 and $1000 respectively in the village of Barabash, which was close to the Kedrovaya Pad Reserve in Russia.  Villages and agriculture surround the leopards’ natural habitat of forests.  Consequently, these forests are relatively accessible.  Amur leopards are most often killed by local Russians who live in small villages in and around the leopard habitat.  Most of the villagers hunt entirely illegally.  Poaching is therefore not only a problem for the leopards themselves, but also for important prey species, such as sika deer, roe deer and hare, as these are hunted by the villagers for cash and food.

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Photo courtesy of WWF

The prey base in the forest of the Amur Leopards’ habitat is insufficient for the leopards’ survival.  Prey populations could only recover if the use of their forests by local people is controlled and regulated.  Measures must also be taken to limit the poaching and hunting of hoofed prey species.  There are still large territories of suitable habitat for the Amur leopard both in Russia and China.  However, in China particularly, this significant shortage of prey cannot support large populations of leopards and tigers.  Efforts must be made to limit the poaching of prey species, and the logging of forests must be managed more sustainably, in order to make these large traits adequately habitable for the leopards.

Another acute concern for the Amur leopards is the problem of inbreeding.  This problem is further exasperated by the leopards having such a tiny population, as there are only about 20-25 leopards left in the wild today.  This remaining population could disappear as a result of genetic degeneration.  The levels of diversity are remarkably low, which indicates a history of inbreeding over several generations.  These levels of genetic reduction could impede health, survival and reproduction of some, but not all, genetically diminished small populations.

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Photo courtesy of WWF

The Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance (ALTA) is an initiative, made up of Russian and western conservation organisations, that works toward the conservation and protection of Amur leopards and tigers.  It works towards securing a future for these species in the Russian Far East and Northeast China.  ALTA collaborates with local, regional and federal government, and non-government organisations to protect the area’s biological wealth through sustainable development, conservation and local community involvement.  In this way, the extraordinary Amur leopard can hopefully be brought back from the brink of extinction, and onto the road of recovery.

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These men form part of the anti-poaching brigade of the Lazovsky State Nature Reserve. The work towards protecting the Amur leopard from poachers. Photo courtesy of WWF

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Photo courtesy of WWF

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Photo courtesy of WWF

South Africa fights for its Black rhinos

In 1961, the front page of a UK newspaper read “DOOMED” and was accompanied by a full-page photograph of 2 Black African rhinos.  The article claimed that these rhinos were doomed to extinction due to man’s greed, folly and neglect.  As a South African, the endangerment and poaching of rhinos seems to have more of a personal effect.

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These remarkable mammals have ranged across Africa and formed an important part of our natural and cultural heritage for thousands of years.  African royalty has revered rhinos as they epitomised the golden rhino buried with King Mapungubwe 800 years ago.  South Africans should be proud of their rhino history.  According to WWF Rhino Conservation, more than 75% of all rhinos are found in South Africa today.

Rhino horns are worth more than their weight in gold. Black rhinos have 2 horns, which makes them lucrative targets in the illegal trade in rhino horn.  96% of Africa’s black rhinos were killed between 1970 and 1992.  Today there continues to be a rise in demand for rhino horn, which resulted in black rhinos being critically endangered.  There has been an increase in rhino poaching, particularly in South Africa. This is driven by a growing demand from Asian consumers, especially in Vietnam, for remedies containing rhino horn, despite that it being scientifically proven that traditional medicines, aphrodisiacs and beauty treatments made from rhino horn have absolutely no effect.  To ensure future survival of rhinos, conservation and protection efforts have reached a critical status.

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Political instability and wars have greatly hindered rhino conservation work in Africa, especially in Rwanda, Angola, Sudan and Somalia.  This situation has aggravated threats such as illegal trade in rhino horn and increased poaching due to poverty.  Habitat changes have also contributed to population declines.  For example, In Zimbabwe, privately owned rhino conservancies were invaded by landless people, reducing safe habitat and increasing the risk of snaring and poaching.  However, this is still a secondary threat compared to poaching.

The current wave of poaching is being committed by sophisticated and coordinated criminal networks that use night-vision equipment, helicopters, veterinary tranquilisers and silencers to poach rhinos at night, whilst attempting to avoid law enforcement patrols.  The number of poached rhino has increased drastically from 2010 to 2012, with 333 poached rhino in 2010, 448 in 2011, 668 in 2012 and already 146 in 2013, according to South African Government Information.

The most recent rhino poaching statistics indicate that the Kruger National Park, the world famous safari park that houses the largest numbers of Black and White rhinos in the country, is still the hardest to be hit.  15 rhinos have been poached since February 20th 2013.  This brings the number of slaughtered rhinos in this conservation area to 107 since the beginning of 2013.

Black rhinos in the Kruger National Park

Black rhinos in the Kruger National Park

The South African government has reacted by intensifying its law enforcement efforts.  50 people have been arrested; of these 47 are alleged poachers and 3 have been charged with illegal trading in rhino horn, as well as being in possession of rhino horn following a raid in Johannesburg in February.  Since the beginning of March, 2 poachers were arrested in the Kruger National Park, and 2 in Limpopo.

Recent success in black rhino conservation is encouraging, but much work must still be done to restore the population back up to even a fraction of what it once was, and to make sure that it stays there. WWF has launched an international effort to save Black rhinos, among other species, from the brink of extinction.  Conservation efforts have led to the increase in black rhino numbers from 2 410 in 1995, to 4 880 in 2010.  In order to bring the rhino to a state of complete safety, we have to work to stop poaching, increase rhino numbers, bring down the illegal rhino trade and improve law enforcement.

This is a video of the promising and encouraging work that was done by the Black Rhino Range Expansion Project (BRREP), in partnership with WWF-South Africa, Ezemvelo, KZN Wildlife and Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism.  Nineteen Black “Flying Rhinos” were transported via helicopter to a land vehicle.  They spent 10 minutes in the air, then woke up in new safer and more spacious home where they would have a greater opportunity to increase in number.

Mountain gorillas left in the aftermath of the Rwandan war

Mountain gorillas are one of the most endangered animals in the world today.  Scientists estimate that there are about 600 Mountain gorillas, living in two populations of about 300 individuals each and separated by about 20 miles.  There is only 285 square miles of high-elevation rain forest in the whole world, which is in east-central Africa, and the gorillas’ natural habitat.  These gorillas are highly endangered due to habitat loss, but also to poaching and war.

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Photo courtesy of WWF

Despite their endangered status, Mountain gorillas had been one of conservation’s greatest success stories.  Decades ago these gorillas were on the brink of extinction, but conservation efforts were able to reverse the decline and lead them onto the road to recovery.  However, the Mountain gorillas now face a new threat, which is the aftermath of a tragic civil war that erupted in Rwanda in the early 1990s.  This war claimed the lives of 500 000, and created refugee camps that contained 750 000 people living in poverty and desperation on the borders of the gorillas’ reserves.  Ongoing political unrest is threatening to unravel almost 20 years of extraordinary conservation work.

There are no Mountain gorillas living in captivity.  Only the other subspecies, the lowland gorilla, can be found in zoos.  Mountain gorillas live at high altitudes of 10 000 feet or higher on the slopes of mountains or volcanoes.  They are herbivores, eating plants like thistle, nettles and wild celery that grows in the cool, moist mountain climate of their range in Rwanda, Uganda and Zaire.  Gorillas live in family troops led by the largest male, called the silverback.  They are fiercely protective of their young and will literally defend them to death.  Poachers that are after baby gorillas for international trade often kill entire families in order to capture their bounty.

A Mountain gorilla with her baby in Rwanda

A Mountain gorilla with her baby in Rwanda – Photo courtesy of WWF

From early in the 20th century, hunters and collectors from the United States and Europe began to kill or capture Mountain gorillas.  50 gorillas were taken as trophies or for collections in 25 years.  Africa’s first national park was established for the gorillas in Zaire in 1925, by the Belgium government that was ruling at the time.

The gorillas were fairly well protected until 1960, however, civil war then erupted and park protection disappeared.  Gorillas were caught in poachers’ snares that were set up to capture animals for food.  They were also killed intentionally for their meat and parts: gorilla heads and hands were sold to tourists as souvenirs.

The gorillas have also lost large amounts of their habitat due to agriculture.  They live in countries that have some of the highest human populations in the world.  Every acre of land that is not protected is farmed.  Mountain gorillas therefore live in islands of mountaintop habitat in a sea of human settlement.  Terraced fields climb right to the border of the gorillas’ park, high up in the mountains.  Sounds of children playing in the fields can even be heard in the park, an intense reminder of the relentless pressures the expanding population places on gorilla habitat.

In the late 1970s, a new era in conservation began when international conservations organisations established the Mountain Gorilla Project to educate Rowandans about the gorillas, anti-poaching and bringing gorilla tourism to the area.  The program had profound effects on the local people’s attitudes.  Gorillas were placed in carefully controlled areas so that tourists could view them at close range.  This was so successful that at one time gorilla viewing was Rwanda’s third-largest earner of foreign currency.  Similar programs were initiated on the Ugandan and Zaire sides of the volcanoes of the gorillas’ habitat.  Rwandans realised that protecting the gorillas was in their economic interest.

A park ranger clearing away traps set to catch Mountain gorillas - Virunga National Park.  Photo courtesy of WWF

A park ranger clearing away traps set to catch Mountain gorillas – Virunga National Park. Photo courtesy of WWF

When the Civil war broke out in Rwanda in the early 1990s, it surprisingly did not decimate gorilla populations itself.  It did, however, inhibit gorilla tourism, cutting off the flow of much-needed foreign money.  Despite tens of thousands of soldiers and refugees passing through the gorilla’s habitat, and other animals being poached for food, few gorillas were actually killed in the war.

Guards and researchers remained in the park to protect the gorillas until they were forced to leave; they did this at great personal risk.  Some have managed to return to the park, but operations have not been able to resume to their formal level.  Civil unrest continues to be a major problem, and forests in the habitats in Zaire are being denuded for firewood in refugee camps.

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Park rangers patrolling the Virunga National Park boundary – Photo courtesy of WWF

The future of Mountain gorillas is depending on whether a stable government can be reinstated and maintained in Rwanda, and whether the country can feed and house its refugees without destroying the park.

This video shows the Virunga National Park and their efforts to save and protect the gorillas, as well as demonstrating the danger that rangers subsequently face.  The Virunga website.

For more information:  WWF Mountain gorillas and Bagheera Mountain gorilla, an Endangered Species. 

Park rangers come under the firing line trying to protect endangered species

It is not just endangered animals that face the ruthlessness of dangerous gangs and smugglers: park rangers have also come under the firing line. Heavily armed criminal syndicates and smugglers, and even rebel militia in some cases, are running the global wildlife trade. These gangs will stop at nothing, placing park rangers who are tasked with protecting these species in danger.

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A ranger who is tasked with protecting the beautiful, but isolated stretch of Savannah, in the heart of one of the poorest regions on earth

Over recent years hundreds of rangers have been killed, as poachers are relentless in their quest for lucrative animal parts such as rhino horn and ivory.  France24 reported that Sean Willmore, president of the International Ranger Federation (IRF), said that at least 1000 rangers have been killed in 35 countries over the past decade; however, he added that the true global figure could be closer to between 3000 – 5000. There seems to be war at the frontline of conservation. Willmore cited the example of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a group of 50 rangers came across a group of 5000 militia out poaching and armed with AK47s.

Zakouma National Park, Chad, demonstrates one example: elephant poachers shot down an entire squad of rangers. These poachers shot with a deadly precision. They crouched in the bushes from a triangle of different spots, whilst the rangers had been hunched over in prayer just before dawn. Among the freshly dug graves and empty bullet shells, the cost of protecting wildlife is horrifically clear. Ivory poaching is becoming more militarized, as rebel groups, and even government armies are slaughtering thousands of elephants across Africa. Wildlife rangers, who tend to be older, yet incredibly knowledgeable about the environment and animals, are wading through the bushes only to find hardened soldiers.

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Park rangers travel on horseback, sleep in the bush and start patrolling early in the morning

Ivory poachers seem to be becoming increasingly ruthless and reckless. Dozens of African rangers have been killed in coldblooded murder. In Zimbabwe, poachers are using deadly poison on elephant carcasses to kill the vultures. These birds serve as a natural early warning system that a kill has taken place. Therefore making it even more dangerous for rangers as they then have no idea when poachers are around.

Zakouma rangers are trying to make a last stand. The park’s once great and magnificent herd of elephants has nearly been exterminated. It is one of the most extreme declines of an elephant population in Africa, as 90% of the herd has been poached off in the last 10 years. There has only been one confirmed birth of an elephant calf in the past 2 years, as with all the shooting and stress, the elephants do not breed.

Elephant herd of Zakouma National Park

Elephant herd of Zakouma National Park

Attacks by elephants or lions do make poachers’ work dangerous enough. They also have a lack of training and equipment, and low wages weighing against them. Although, wildlife crime has always been known as a low-risk crime, with high profits. These criminals are still determined to capitalise on large animal reserves in the world’s most unstable and poorest countries, such as the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. To worsen the situation, these groups are not only involved in wildlife crime, but also other illicit trades such as human trafficking and drug smuggling.

The countries that have faced the most damage due to wildlife trafficking are willing to tackle this issue, but they do so with limited means. However, some countries have not even made wildlife trafficking a serious crime, which makes convictions of the criminals difficult. Political commitment against the poaching needs to be accompanied and assisted by national and international resources. There must be sustainable movements against the actual poachers, but middlemen working in transit countries must also be dealt with, as well as the distributors and merchandisers in market countries. The whole corrupt network of wildlife crime needs to be taken apart. This is a very difficult task, as much of these trafficked animal products are destined for use in Asia as traditional medicines or delicacies.

Elephant herd in Zakouma National Park

Elephant herd in Zakouma National Park

This is an article that was featured in the New York Times, demonstrating rangers in isolated Central Africa, under the grim cost of protecting wildlife.