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.

Southern-right-whales-Eub-001

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.

amur-leopard_87883936

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.

Amur_Leopard_10_7.30.2012_Camera_Traps

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.

AmurLeopard-1600x600px

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.

amur-leopard-threats-HI_107076

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

amur-leopard_hero99144569

Photo courtesy of WWF

amur-leopard_65513125

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.

4246852367_59051e7bf8_z

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.

black-rhino-and-baby-01301792b

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.

Mountain_Gorilla_Carousel_Image_48384

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.

congo-what-wwf-is-doingMID_55548

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.

video-still-ivory-articleLarge

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.

20130106_CHAD-slide-GICK-jumbo

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.

Should we bring extinct species back to life?

In May 1930, a Tasmanian farmer named Wilfred Batty shot at a thylacine.  The thylacine, commonly known as a Tasmanian tiger, was wrecking havoc in the henhouse and was dead within 20 minutes.  Soon afterwards, a photo was taken showing Batty, the stiffened carcass, a young man’s pride and a floppy hat. images

We cannot begrudge Batty for removing the threat and placing himself in the position of local hero to his chickens, however, he wouldn’t have known, and couldn’t have known that he had just documented the last kill of a wild thylacine, ever.  In the next six years, the largest marsupial carnivore would also be extinct in captivity.

could-de-extinction-occur-tasmanian-tiger_64943_600x450

The Thylacine, known as the Tasmanian Tiger, is one of the extinct species in the centre of the de-extinction debate.

The thylacine is just one of 795 extinct species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.  An endangered species is like a critically ill person, desperately in need of help.  An extinct species is like a dead person, beyond hope or beyond help.  Until now?

Humans, a species who have spent their existence sending those 795 species onto the extinct list, are now poised to bring some of them back.

Last year a group of scientists and conservationists met at National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C. to discuss the viability of the science, as well as the ethical arguement surrounding the “de-extinction.”  Top scientists will meet again on March 15 to discuss the bringing back of these species.

People have long been fantasizing the idea of bringing extinct species back to life.  However, “de-extinction” is highly problematic in the many questions that it faces: Is it really possible?  And if so, should it be done?  Do humans have an obligation to revive these life forms?

The first question does seem to have a straightforward answer.  Scientific developments in cloning technologies, and new advanced methods of not only being able to read DNA, but writing it as well, make de-extinction a definite possibility.  A genetic approximation can be conducted of an extinct animal, as long as DNA can be extracted from a preserved specimen.

It gets complicated from the perspective of trying to decipher what it really means to revive a species.  Is a genetically engineered specimen, although alike in every respect, really the same thing as the species that would have roamed the earth decades, or even centuries ago?

If a mammoth is born from an elephant, could it truly qualify as the species of Mammuthus primigenius?  Does it qualify as part of the species when it survives for more than a few minutes, or when it is introduced to another of its kind and is able to reproduce, or can it only be truly de-extinct when it is reintroduced to its natural habitat?  Also, mammoths have not been around for more than 10 000 years, would their natural environment even be the same?

01-tedx-rebirth-wooly-mammoth_64849_600x450

The weightier question is whether or not it should be done.  Arguments in favour of de-extinction state that we should do it because we can do it, and that we should not obstruct the progress of science, when unknown benefits could arise at a later stage.  They also argue that we have an obligation to do it, as if to correct the wrong of driving these species off the earth in the first place.

On the other side, some conservationists argue that we should not consider de-extinction when we do not have a clear notion of how to introduce them into natural ecosystems, and that there are already plenty of living species already endangered.  Why waste time and money trying to raise the dead, when we could be helping out the dying.

The issue of de-extinction does tend to lend itself to questions of humans wanting to play God.  What makes the concept so intrinsically exciting?  Perhaps it gives us a chance to travel back in time; to admire spectacular creatures from a by-gone era.  Perhaps there is a thrill and invincibility in being able to cheat death.  Death has always been final, ultimate, permanent.  And yet, humans are about to reverse the irreversible.

Click Here for information about cloning Dodo birds and other animals, and Here for more information about cloning and how close humans are to bringing extinct species back to life.

This video, courtesy of National Geographic, shows top scientists and questions surrounding the de-extinction debate:

Elephant poachers take advantage of turmoil in Central Africa

mid_296549_sm_430161

The African elephant is classified as endangered, and makes the ‘Red List’ of endangered species, as at least 50% of its population has been removed over the past 3 generations.  The hunting of African elephants is now banned in several countries, but the illegal poaching of these elephants for ivory is still a major threat.

The Central African Republic (CAR) is one of the poorest countries in the world.  It is known to be a nation that is constantly ravaged by coups and brutal conflict.  In December 2012 and January 2013, rebel forces threatening to overthrow government succeeded in capturing one-third of the country.  It is through this turmoil and disorder that poachers are able to capitalise.

Poachers have appeared to be freely moving in their search for elephants.  A group of up to 200 well-armed Sudanese poachers was seeing traveling across northern CAR toward Cameroon and Chad late last year.  These poachers have been traveling back-and-forth between Chad and CAR.

In CAR, the poachers were reportedly on horseback or with camels in the western parts of the county, including in the Dzangha-Sangha National Park.  Fresh elephant carcasses have been found at four separate locations; however, these killings could just be used as a sort of test to analyze the alacrity of troops and anti-poaching forces.

Elephants

Elephants (Photo credit: @NonprofitOrgs)

The European Union has funded a program called Project Ecofaune, which reported a massacre of elephants in southwestern CAR on January 30th.  On February 5th, Ecofaune reported that 24 Sudanese poachers were in the peripheral zone of a National Park, and 10 men were carelessly poaching around Ngotto, which was less than 40 miles away.  With several of them injured, the elephants had panicked and sought refuge in and around the village.  There have also been indications of the poachers becoming aggressive towards people.

The poachers have also intruded into Chad, and it seems that in both countries the village people are giving information about the elephants’ whereabouts to the poachers in exchange for meat.

The Cameroonian government has utilized its special forces military unit: the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR).  In Chad, the army has been active in pursuing the poachers, and has hounded them to the border.  However, with the disarray that is taking place in CAR, the government is seriously battling to deal with this, or any other threat, which is proving to be a severe weak link in the fight against the poaching.  The CAR government is unable to resist the rebels, and President Francois Bozize has pleaded for military assistance.  Chad has sent forces, which were soon joined by troops by South Africa and other central African countries, as well as France supporting these efforts.  The United States has reacted to the security situation by temporarily closing its embassy and evacuating its staff.  On January 11, a peace plan and cease-fire were agreed upon and President Bozize was granted to remain in power until 2016, when his term ends.  However, the Voice of America has reported that the rebels have broken this agreement and the political situation remains in a situation of unrest and instability.

BLOG ELEPHANTS 2

This show Chadian soldiers on patrol for poachers. Photograph courtesy of SOS Elephants

The CAR government is not under capacity to deal with the dangerous upheaval of poaching.  However, even if this capacity did in fact exist, it seems that there is a lack of political will to address the poaching situation.  After President Bozize signed the peace deal in January, he declared that he would work on strengthening ties with China, and to promote oil exploration and development.  SOS Elephants, a Chadian non-governmental organisation, has stated that the Chinese have a large role in promoting the illegal ivory trade, as Chinese nationals working for the China National Petroleum Company have been smuggling ivory through the oil pipeline project.

BLOG ELEPHANTS

A Chadian soldier pictured with the president of SOS Elephants, Stephanie Vergniault. He was shot in the leg in August 2012 while fighting poachers in the Mayo Lemie region. Photograph courtesy of SOS Elephants.

The EU Ambassador wrote a letter on January 30th to Cameroon’s prime minister where he expressed concern for the elephants being under imminent threat due to the movement of armed groups in surrounding countries.  This was in response to movement of poachers from Sudan across CAR and to then to the Chadian border.  In response to this, the Chadian President, President Idriss Déby sent military aircraft to patrol the regions under threat.  Elephant numbers have increased to around 700, whereas they were lying at just 300 at the start of 2012.  Last August, President Déby also launched an immense search that saw the capture of five poachers who were responsible for a massacre of 63 elephants in that area.  February 5th saw the arrival of 100 soldiers in five trucks ready hunt down poachers.  President Déby has a personal concern for elephant poaching, this is well known and admired.

BLOG ELEPHANTS 3

The Chadian army unit that is in running the anti-poaching movement. Photograph courtesy of SOS Elephants

CAR remains to be a weak link.  The poachers appear to have run towards the Cameroon away from the Chadian soldiers, however, the Cameroon has implemented anti-poaching units that are after them.  The only option left for the poachers is the CAR.

The role of government and international politics has come to take a pinnacle role regarding elephant poaching.  This case shows that the safety and wellbeing of elephant populations in Central Africa, and largely endangered animals in general, has come to depend upon the stability and diplomacy of countries, both internally and also with regard to international politics and relations.  If the atrocity of poaching is ever to be diminished, governments need to work to react quickly and firmly to illegal poaching, regardless of internal dispute.

For more information on elephant poaching in Africa and anti-poaching initiatives, you can look at Born Free and A Voice for Elephants.

I definitely recommend watching this clip, as it offers a wealth of insight into elephant poaching in the Cameroon: