Sharing 96.4% of human genes and Critically Endangered: the Orangutan

Orangutans are known to be highly intelligent creatures – they share 96.4% of human genes.  Orangutans, with their distinctive red fur, are the largest arboreal mammal and spend most of their time in trees.  Orangutans play a crucial role in seed dispersal in their tropical forests.  They have a very low reproduction rate, which makes their populations extremely vulnerable.  Females give birth to one baby at a time every 3 to 5 years.  Therefore their species take a very long time to regenerate after population declines.  As human pressures continue to increase, orangutans face an increasing threat of extinction.


A baby orangutan. Photograph courtesy of

“Orangutan” means “man of the forest” in the Malay language.  They live solitary existences in lowland forests.  There are two species of orangutan: the Sumatran and the Bornean.  The two species differ slightly in behaviour and appearance, with both having shaggy red fur, but the Sumatran orangutans have longer facial hair, and Borneans reportedly have closer social bonds.  Both these species have experienced dramatic population declines.  There were over 230 000 orangutans in the world a century ago, but today the number of Bornean orangutans is estimated to be at about 41 000 (enlisted as Endangered), and the Sumatran orangutans at about 7 5000 (enlisted as Critically Endangered).


The highly intelligent, piercing eyes of an orangutan. Photograph courtesy of

The orangutan is Asia’s only great ape.  Their habitats are rapidly disappearing in order to make way for agricultural plantations, such as oil palm plantations.  Deforestation is also a huge problem: there is illegal logging within protected areas, and unsustainable logging in orangutan habitats, which are major threats to their survival.  Today, over 50% of orangutans live in forests outside of the protected areas, where the forests are managed by palm oil, mining and timber companies.


Deforestation in Borea, what is left of an orangutan habitat. Photograph courtesy of

Unfortunately, orangutans are large and slow targets, which makes them easy targets for hunters.  They are hunted for food, or they are killed when they enter into agricultural areas and destroy crops, which often occurs when orangutans cannot find sufficient food in the forest.  Females are more frequently hunted.  When a female is caught with offspring, the babies are often kept as pets, and the pet trade is a huge problem.  For each orangutan that enters Taiwan, it is thought that as many as 3-5 additional individuals die in the process.  There have been recent enforcements in the Taiwan law, which has reduced the importation of orangutans.  However, the trade continues to be a threat in Indonesia where there is still a large demand for orangutans as pets.  There is also trade in orangutan skulls in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo).


A baby orangutan – many of which are traded illegally on the pet trade. Photograph courtesy of

Efforts towards orangutan conservation include conserving and protecting orangutan habitat, promoting sustainable agriculture and forestry, anti-poaching, and ending the illegal pet trade.  WWF does work in Sumatra and Borneo to secure wider forest landscapes and to secure well-managed protected areas in order to connect sub-populations of orangutans.  Orangutan populations are monitored, and there is also work done on ecotourism and providing community based support for orangutan conservation.

This video is from  It shares important, insightful information about orangutans, their major threats, and conservation work.


An emergency meeting to deal with elephant massacres in Chad and Cameroon

Central African governments have met to collaborate and conduct an emergency plan to stop the mass elephant killings.  This is in the aftermath of the biggest episode of elephant poaching in 2013.  However, does the meeting not mark an effort that is just too little, and too late?

On the 14th and 15th of March, at least 86 elephants were slaughtered in Chad, near the Cameroon border.  This included over 30 pregnant females.  Even more sickeningly, the calves were then shot, or just left to die.

This image reveals the elephant carcasses that were left after the shocking and sickening massacre of March 14- 15.  Photo courtesy of SOS Elephants.

This image reveals the elephant carcasses that were left after the shocking and sickening massacre of March 14- 15. Photo courtesy of SOS Elephants.

This massacre, whether incidentally or accidentally, took pace during the closing hours of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) conference meeting, where elephants were high up on the agenda.  This massacre occurred just weeks after 28 elephant carcasses, with all their ivory tusks removed, were discovered in the Lobeke and Nki National Parks of Cameroon.  There were also at least 15 carcasses in four different locations across the Central African Republic.  These massacres all followed a number of reports of Sudanese poachers that were crossing over CAR and heading towards Chad and Cameroon.  Both the governments of Chad and Cameroon responded to this warning, but neither could find and stop the poaching gangs.

This crisis was acknowledged and a three-day emergency meeting on the poaching of elephants was held Yaounde, Cameroon from March 21 to 23.  The Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC) organized the meeting.  The meeting’s participants were made up of ministers of foreign affairs, defense and wildlife protection, it also included representatives from organizations such as the SOS Elephants and the World Wildlife Fund, as well as representatives from the United Nations Development Program.

The final declaration realised that national initiatives taken to combat illegal trafficking and poaching had failed.  It emphasized that countries involved in the ivory supply chain (whether in origin, transit, or destination) need to coordinate efforts so to stop the transnational, organized crime networks operating throughout the region.  The plan was adopted in extreme urgency to combat poaching.  It includes: the mobilization of military forces in Cameroon and Chad to support the anti-poaching brigades; the exchange of intelligence regarding the movement of the poachers; a mechanism for inter-state coordination and the initiation of national coordination units; an implementation of a tripartite agreement that allows for the intervention of multi-country brigades; and criminalizing poaching and the illegal ivory trade, so that penalties equal those of organized transnational crimes.

This is inside the CEEAC emergency meeting.  Photo courtesy of SOS Elephants.

This is inside the CEEAC emergency meeting. Photo courtesy of SOS Elephants.

Internationally, penalties for wildlife crimes are known to be especially low.  For example, in Ireland on March 19, two rhino horn dealers were each fined $650 for smuggling eight rhinos.  The horns themselves were valued at $650 000 on the black market.

This CEEAC meeting plan realises and acts for the larger actions taken against elephant poaching, namely: the need for transnational, coordinated efforts, the need to treat elephant and other wildlife killing and the illegal trade in ivory and other wildlife parts as severe crimes; and a call for effective enforcement through prosecutions, harsher penalties, and advanced operational techniques to curb the illicit trade.

There is still a need in financing the implementation of the CEEAC emergency plan, as well as for longer-term actions.  A $2.3 million budget and timetable of actions were laid out, however, there is still an unclear status of financial commitments.  The final declaration of the meeting was for a call for the global community and other partners to come forward and offer money.

There is still lingering political instability in the CAR.  Very recently, rebels seized the capital and President Francois Bozize` fled the country.  This turmoil implies that poachers would be able to continue to roam the CAR with freedom and a sense of immunity.

There have been sightings of the Sudanese poachers from the air and from the ground.  The poachers seem to have broken into smaller groups of 10 to 15 members each, and are widely dispersed.  However, the exact locations and particular movements of the poachers in Cameroon and Chad are unconfirmed, and the reports do not seem to be entirely accurate.  The Chadian troops have already been pursuing poachers.  The Chadian President has deployed a many troops to hunt the poachers, and is determined to catch them before they leave Chadian territory.  There has been a violent and vehement exchange of gunfire between the regular army in Loumobogo, near the CAR, and groups of poachers.  The authorities have seized 30 tusks, and Chad is reportedly ready to declare a total war on the poachers.

These are brave troops of the Chadian anti-poaching forces.  Photo courtesy of SOS Elephants.

These are brave troops of the Chadian anti-poaching forces. Photo courtesy of SOS Elephants.

Tens of thousands of elephants have become the victims to a storm of high ivory prices that are driven by a soaring Chinese demand.  The elephants are left to be even more vulnerable due to the low risk of traffickers getting caught, and menial penalties for those who are caught.  There is also a lack of priority at local and political levels to act seriously enough against elephant poaching.  Chad is encouragingly actively pursuing the poachers, however, the situation in the CAR and Cameroon remains less clear.  The bottom line remains as the Sudanese poachers still out there, and still relentlessly and ruthlessly hunting.

This picture was taken in the Zakouma National Park, which was once home to 150 000 elephants.  Today only 550 remain.  Image courtesy of

This picture was taken in the Zakouma National Park, which was once home to 150 000 elephants. Today only 550 remain. Image courtesy of

The face of Climate Change: the Polar bear

Classified as marine mammals, Polar bears spend most of their lives on the Atlantic Ocean’s sea ice.  Polar bears spend over 50% of their time hunting for food, however only 2% of their hunts are successful.  The biggest threat to the survival of Polar bears is the loss of sea ice habitat due to climate change.  Other important threats include over-harvesting, industrial impacts and human-polar bear conflicts.

Photo courtesy of WWF

Photo courtesy of WWF

The latest data from the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group shows that Polar Bears face a high estimated risk of future decline, because of climate change.  Climate change leads to the ongoing loss of sea-ice habitat, which resulted in Polar Bears being enlisted as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in May 2008.  Polar bears play a very important role in the overall health of the marine environments, as they are at the top of the food chain.  Their existence depends upon sea ice: they are then directly impacted by climate change. Polar bears therefore serve as an important indicator species.

Climate change forces polar bears to spend much more time onshore.  They then come into contact more regularly with Arctic communities.  Unfortunately, these interactions usually end in polar bear- human conflicts and sometimes end badly for both the bears and the humans.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

In the Arctic, most industrial development has only been on fairly small pieces of land.  A new ocean is emerging with the retreating of the summer sea ice, this allows for more opportunities of industrial development at sea and on larger sections of land.  However, the retreating sea ice causes polar bears to spend longer periods on land for denning.  This all places industrial activities and polar bears on a potential collision course.  Offshore petroleum operations and installations are predicted to increase in number.  It is highly likely that this will affect polar bears and their habitats in several ways.  This includes polar bears coming into contact with spilled oil (which would be fatal), an oil spill affecting the entire food chain, and there would be disturbance from noise generated from onshore and offshore oil operations.  An increase in Arctic shipping would also represent a threat to polar bears.  If traffic by oil tankers, cargo ships and barges increase in Arctic waters, so would the risk of oil spills and human disturbance increase.

Climate change poses the biggest threat to polar bears.  Polar bears rely on the sea ice, on which they can rest, breed and hunt seals.  The shorter sea ice season has reduced the length of time the bears can hunt for their prey.  Polar bears end up spending the summer without enough feeding, so they have to rely on fat stores from the previous summer in order to survive.  Many polar bears face malnutrition and possible starvation, particularly females with cubs.

Photo courtesy of DS World's Lands

Photo courtesy of DS World’s Lands

In order to effectively address and mitigate the effects of climate change on polar bears, there must be a strong global response to address the challenges of global warming.  WWF has successful instigated the creation of a global management plan for polar bears.  For more information about what WWF is doing, please click Here.

Many Arctic areas have effective polar bear monitoring and management plans.  However, unsustainable hunting still seems to be happening in some places.  Scientists are presently monitoring the movement and weight of polar bears in the Arctic.  They are working towards understanding the impact of different threats, such as the expansion of Arctic industry and climate change, and the effects that they have on different polar bear populations.  By tracking polar bears, scientists are able to map their range and observe how habitat may change over time concurrent to changes in sea ice, and therefore examine how polar bears change and adapt to this.

It must be ensured that whatever industrial development takes place in the Arctic is sustainable, and that it does not further damage ecosystems and wildlife populations.  Fortunately, there is collaboration between conservationists, scientists and local people in opposing gas and oil development in regions that are too ecologically vulnerable to be exposed to possible spill risks.  There is also work in preparing Arctic sensitivity maps, to help maritime vessels stay clear of ecologically vulnerable places.

Photo courtesy of DS World's Lands

Photo courtesy of DS World’s Lands

This video shows the Umky Patrol: Sharing knowledge about polar bears across the Arctic.

SA and Vietnam sign a deal against rhino poaching

This is a university assignment which involved analyzing three articles with topics that were high on the news agenda.  I chose to look at South Africa and Vietnam meeting to sign a deal which hopes to diminish the poaching of rhinos in South Africa.

Rhino poaching has been named South Africa’s top newsmaker for 2012.  The media has depicted Vietnam to be the main culprit in the slaughter of hundreds of these endangered species, because rhino horns are illegally traded for use in traditional Asian remedies.  The three articles, which this essay seeks to analyze, deals with the memorandum of understanding that was signed between Vietnam and South Africa.  This memorandum deals with efforts to diminish rhino poaching in South Africa.  This topic made major headlines, both nationally and internationally.

Article One: “Vietnam signs rhino-poaching pact with SA”

This article appeared on the IOL website on December 12, 2012.  IOL, or Independent Online news, is a news and information website based in South Africa, and reports on breaking news from across the country.  Independent Newspapers runs the IOL website, and controls several newspapers including The Cape Argus, The Star and The Cape Times; all included on the IOL website.  This is an example of synergy, where different parts of the same organisation collaborate in order to enlarge profit (Wasserman and Botman, 2008: 6).  However, this Independent Newspapers banner poses a problem for South African media, because it is able to monopolize the market by owning a number of newspapers.  This diminishes the opportunity for a broad range of opinion and news stories to circulate in the media, as each newsagent is expected to support the principle values of the monopoly that controls them.  Therefore, it raises the question of the possibility of a news source to be entirely objective (Boudana 2011: 385).

The article’s opening line reads as follows: “With SA having lost 618 rhinos so far this year, it is hoped that the signing of a memorandum of understanding with Vietnam could stem the poaching.”  This immediately places a large amount of blame and responsibility on Vietnam, as if Vietnam is the primary villain in rhino poaching.  Even if this is truthful, the audience is reading about Vietnam painted as the sole cause for the rhino deaths in South Africa.

South Africa’s Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, is importantly portrayed and seems to take an active, crucial role in the anti-poaching actions in South Africa.  However, the Vietnamese farms minister Dr Cao Duc Phat, the Vietnamese “counterpart” who signed the agreement, is not quoted at all.  The audience is unaware of his opinion, or of his stance in dealing with anti-poaching.  The only information we have from the Vietnam side is that of a spokesman stating the farms minister has proposed a ban on the import of all rhino specimens.  A quote in the article states: “demand in Vietnam is believed to be driving ‘the rapacious illegal trade in rhino horn'”.  The article also includes information of a “booming market” for luxury products and conspicuous consumption in Vietnam.  Agenda setting is the process regarding the angle at which issues are reported, or the issues that are portrayed as being the most important (Scheufele and Tewsbury, 2007: 297).  In this article, the news source has placed the issue of rhino poaching, and Vietnam’s role in this, on the media agenda.  This is indicative of priming, which is the effect that agenda setting has on audience perspective on topics that the media presents.  The audience will develop ‘activation tags’ effecting how the information is processed (Scheufele and Tewsbury, 2007: 298).  The audience will rely on previous activation tags about rhino poaching, which has been very prominent in South African news in recent years.

How the story is organised, and the meanings that are imagined around it, is how the story is framed (Scheufele and Tewsbury, 2007: 306).  There are media frames and audience frames.  How the journalist frames the article is the media frame, and how the audience processes the received information is the audience frame (Scheufele and Tewsbury, 2007: 306).  This article is obviously not told from a personal or intimate account, yet it is quite emotional in its portrayal of the rhinos being poached and slaughtered.  Vietnam is portrayed as being rather relentless and ruthless in its consumption.  The diction includes ‘rapacious’, ‘illegal’, ‘unprecedented’, ‘conspicuous consumption’, ‘criminal syndicates’, ‘end-use market’, ‘tarnishing’, and ‘unmitigated tragedy’.  This all frames Vietnam’s role in rhino poaching in South Africa in a very specific manner, and guarantees the audience framing the ordeal in a very particular manner.

Article Two: “South Africa signs rhino deal in Vietnam”

This article appeared in the Mail and Guardian on December 10, 2012.   The Mail and Guardian is an important and trusted South African newspaper.  This article reads very similarly to the IOL news article.  A large focus is again placed on Edna Molewa.  It highlights her hope for both countries to come together and work towards a memorandum.  The opening line reads; “Edna Molewa, minister of water and environmental affairs, has finally signed a memorandum with her counterpart in Vietnam.”  The use of the word “finally” suggests that there has been some kind of a delay or postponement in the action against rhino poaching.  It is unclear whether the blame is placed upon South Africa or Vietnam, until further on in the article where it explains how Molewa had tried other attempts that were “turned down” because Vietnamese officials were “not available”.  The article’s format emphasizes the story’s typical hard news feature (Bull, 2010: 330).  It is written in the ‘inverted triangle’ format, with the most pressing questions being answered first: the memorandum itself and the agreement between the two countries, as well as what South Africa is doing in particular against the rhino poaching scourge.  The peripheral information comes towards the end of the article: information about Vietnamese cooperation in the middle of the article, and concluding with wildlife monitoring groups, and their role in the issue of the signing of the memorandum.

The sources for this story come mainly from quotes from the prominent people involved in the memorandum.  This is namely, Edna Molewa, Dr Cao Duc Phat and Dr Naomi Doak, the coordinator of Traffic (a wildlife trade monitoring group) of Southeast Asia.  It is crucial to look at the issue of objectivity when analyzing news pieces.  Objectivity is not necessarily about detachment or neutrality, but it concerns the truth, and cooperation between reality and thought (Boudana, 2011: 385).  In this particular article, we can see that the reporter seems to have tried to be objective and fair.  The reporter has included information from the South African side, the Vietnamese side, and even peripheral groups.  Vietnam is given more of a chance at an explanation, and their thoughts and goals are able to come through in the article.  However, it still seems as though Vietnam is framed as somewhat of a villain in this article.  The audience is invited to view South Africa and its rhinos, Vietnam, and outside wildlife monitoring groups in a triangular relationship.  The audience can then construct opposing relationships, trustworthy versus unreliable sources, and ultimately good versus evil.

Agenda setting in this article again shows how the issue of rhino poaching in South Africa has been engaged on the media agenda.  This agenda setting is part of priming the audience to view the issue of poaching of one of South Africa’s “treasures” as a major problem.  This is not inevitably a biased point of view, as there does not have to be bias involved in order for the audience to be primed in a particular way (Boudana 2011: 392).  Even in the absence of bias, priming will always occur.

Article three: “Rhino poaching: South Africa and Vietnam sign deal”

This article is sourced from BBC News Africa.  BBC news has a global network of journalists reporting on regional and current world news.  This is very different from the first two articles which both came from South African news sites.  It is clear that the issue of rhino poaching, and the memorandum that was signed between South African and Vietnam gained international attention and is globally newsworthy.  This article includes more information about rhino poaching statistics, the demand and value of rhino horn for use in Asian remedies, the profits urging Vietnamese hunters and general information about the effects and results that this new memorandum could lead to.  This article seems to be more objective to the previous two, perhaps because the reporter and news site is further removed from the issue at hand, and is reporting from a peripheral point of view.  The agenda seems to include broader issues, as that of rhino slaughtering in recent years, the consequences for the conservation and the issue of traditional remedies that exploit this endangered species.  In this article, the audience is primed to see South African and Vietnamese authorities as equals as they sign the deal to curb rhino poaching, this is particularly evident in a quote which is used in the article: “The deal could mark a turning point in efforts to protect rhinos because it represents the first official pact signed by both countries”.

In general, one can conclude that the media has largely casted Vietnam as a major cause and felon of rhino poaching in South Africa. These three articles all focus on the same issue, yet the different strategies that are applied by the news sources all foreground different views.  One can take a part and analyze the articles by looking particularly at the newsworthiness, objectivity, news-site ownership and monopoly, framing, priming and agenda setting of the articles.