Good News from the African Elephant Summit

It seems that all the conservation news is bad these days. Loss of habitat, climate change, poaching, etc. So occasionally when there is a bit of good news I like to celebrate it. After all, the subtitle for this blog is “Inform and Inspire.” Well we got some good news last week from the African Elephant Summit in Gaborone, Botswana. At the summit meeting governments of states where the illegal ivory trade occurs pledged to take “urgent measures” to try and stop the illegal trade and end poaching.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, “2011 saw the highest levels of poaching and illegal ivory trade in at least 16 years, with around 25,000 elephants killed on the continent, and it says 2012 showed no signs of abating.” Furthermore, “eighteen large scale seizures of more than 40 tons of ivory had been recorded so far this year, which represented the greatest quantity of ivory seized over the last 25 years.”

If not stopped, poaching will reduce elephant herds significantly in the next 10 years.

If not stopped, poaching will reduce elephant herds significantly in the next 10 years.

“Our window of opportunity to tackle the growing illegal ivory trade is closing and if we do not stem the tide, future generations will condemn our unwillingness to act,” Botswana President Ian Khama told the summit.

“Now is the time for Africa and Asia to join forces to protect this universally valued and much needed species,” he said.

The governments in attendance published a list of Urgent Measures to be taken in 2014. This list was agreed upon by key African elephant range states including Gabon, Kenya, Niger and Zambia, ivory transit states such as Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia, and ivory destination states, including China and Thailand, said the IUCN in a statement.

Probably the most urgent of the 14 measures classifies wildlife trafficking as a “serious crime.” According to the IUCN, this will unlock international law enforcement cooperation provided under the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, including mutual legal assistance, asset seizure and forfeiture, extradition and other tools to hold criminals accountable for wildlife crime. In other words, It won’t just be the Kenya Wildlife Service going up against international criminal cartels.

Will this action by the African Elephant Summit and IUCN put an end to poaching? Of course not. Poverty, greed and corruption, as well as increasing demand from Asia for ivory are strong motivators. But this action inspires hope that the number of needless deaths of elephants will decline. And that will be something to celebrate.

One of the victims of poaching are the baby elephants that are orphaned when their mothers are killed for their ivory. Without the protection of the mother the baby will die or be killed by predators.

One of the victims of poaching are the baby elephants that are orphaned when their mothers are killed for their ivory. Without the protection of the mother the baby will die or be killed by predators.

Side Note: When I was in South Africa in October I was reading an investigative article about the use of powdered rhino horn in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In this story the investigator made undercover purchases of powdered ivory at traditional ethnic pharmacies and chemists shops in Asia. He then had all the samples tested by DNA sequencing. The result – not a single sample was authentic. Elephants and rhinos are being killed for their ivory and yet what people in Vietnam and China are buying is fake. It would almost be funny if it wasn’t so painful.

Sources:

  1. Urgent deal reached for African elephants, Key states commit to urgent measures to half illegal ivory trade; By Ray Faure, Associated Press – Wed, Dec 4, 2013 12:28 PM EST
  2. African Elephant Summit; Gaborone, Botswana; 2-4 December 2013; Urgent Measures 3 December 2013; https://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/african_elephant_summit_final_urgent_measures_3_dec_2013.pdf
  3. Zambia Assents to Secure Elephants; http://www.lusakatimes.com/2013/12/04/zambia-assents-secure-elephants/

South Africa Safari – Day 7

When we rolled out of bed at 5:00 am on day 7 we had no idea what an exciting and  interesting day was in store for us. As usual, we were on the trail before 6 o’clock. It was a beautiful morning and the light was magnificent. We had barely gotten out of camp when we came across a small herd of impala. Even though we had lots of impala photos the light was so golden we had to stop and snap a few photos.

Click on any photo to enlarge

We left the impala behind and headed down to the river.  As we were crossing the river we spotted two saddle billed storks a couple hundred yards away. We had only seen these birds once before, and that was 2 years ago in Kenya. They are tall, colorful and spectacular. We watched and photographed them for over 30 minutes, although it seemed a lot longer. It was fascinating to watch them catch fish and then toss them down their throats. While watching the storks we also spotted some three banded plovers and Pied Kingfishers.

Leaving the storks behind we began to explore and see what else we could find. It was only 7 o’clock and the light was still good. As we drove under a tall tree a Vervet monkey issued warning calls. We drove through an area of rocky outcroppings hoping to spot leopards. Instead we spotted something ever less common, a Klipspringer (rock jumper). The Klipspringer is a very small antelope that has adapted to the rocky outcroppings as its home. He was very cute as he stood proud on the edge of a boulder surveying his domain.

Shortly thereafter we came across another pride of sleepy lions. We watched for a short time and realized that this group had no intention of moving anytime in the near future so we left. Our ranger Ross mentioned that a rhino had been killed by a poacher the day before and the rhino’s horn sawed off. We asked if the rhino was nearby and if we could see it. We took off for a short drive. We spotted conclusive signs that we were getting close.

We arrived at the rhino carcass and got to witness first hand the horror of poaching. The rhino was killed, the horn sawed off and the animal left for dead. It also appeared that one leg had been cut off, for reasons unknown.

rhino carcass, poaching, dead, Mala Mala688 rhinos have been killed in South Africa in 2013, half of those were in the area of Kruger and Mala Mala.This one made it 689. To find out a bit more about this incident take a look at my blog of October 14th.

The rhino carcass had already been partially eaten by scavengers. When we arrived there were just a few vultures present. Then a leopard showed up to help himself to a piece of rhino flesh before heading off to the bush. With the leopard gone the vultures moved in with a fury. It was fascinating to watch nature at work. As the following photos show, there were times when so many vultures were fighting for food that you couldn’t see the carcass.

If you would like to really see what a feeding frenzy this was you can check out some video of the scene on YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbfbbSrrMJ4

We spent over an hour at the site. It was one of the most meaningful and relevant experiences of the trip in many ways. But it was time to move on.

As we started exploring again we came across a waterhole with an Egyptian goose and a hippopotamus immersed in green slime. Not real photogenic so we moved on. We also found some wildebeest, an elephant and a male and female kudu in the brush.

Our next discovery really impressed me. I am always astonished at how good our rangers and trackers are at spotting hidden animals. As we were driving along the trail at a pretty good speed, Ross all of a sudden pulls over by a tree and holds up his hand for silence. He takes out his binoculars and stares intently into the tree for a few seconds and then turns to us, points and says “white faced owl”. And sure enough, hidden in the branches of this dense tree was a smallish owl. The owl flew from place to place in the tree before settling down. It took us a bit of maneuvering to finally get in position where we could get a photograph of it. It was gorgeous with white and grey feathers and bright orange eyes

Southern White Faced Scops Owl

Southern White Faced Scops Owl

.As we started to make our way back to camp we came across a herd of Cape buffalo. These animals are interesting. In the two trips that I’ve taken to Africa the Cape Buffalo has shown the temperament of a cow, yet it is renowned to be among the fiercest of animals. I guess I should be happy I haven’t seen that side of their personality.

We had seen a record number of species during the morning drive. Fifteen different animals by my count. We had also seen nature in action as the vultures moved in to clean up the rhino carcass. Could the afternoon possibly keep pace?

Shortly after taking off we “bumped” into a grazing white rhino. You can get pretty close to these guys as long as they are not defending turf or females. This is why the recent announcement by the Dallas Safari Club that it was going to auction off the trophy rights to kill a black rhino (endangered, only 5000 left in the world) makes no sense. It takes no great skill to kill a rhino. You drive up to it and shoot it!

See also Black Rhino to be Killed by Dallas Safari Club

After leaving the rhino we sighted a herd of elephants in the river bed and headed off in that direction.

Elephant, Mala MalaThe herd included elephants of all ages and sizes. One was so young and small that it had not yet learned to fully control its trunk. Mom was going up the bank by the river and junior was trying to follow but couldn’t quite make it. Mom had to turn around and pull him up the bank with her trunk.

Mother pulls baby up the river bank with her trunk.

Mother pulls baby up the river bank with her trunk.

There were a number of large bulls that looked menacing and some teenagers that tried to look tough. We did see a couple of males fighting over a female. It wasn’t a death match but it wasn’t play time either.

After leaving the elephants we spotted a leopard, who for the most part was content to just lie in the grass. We watched and tracked it for about an hour before moving on.

Even though we had seen a number of male kudus we hadn’t yet captured a really great photo of one. It was just about 5 pm, an hour before sunset and the light was great, when we spotted a beautiful male. We started to follow him and managed to get a great shot that took advantage of the “golden hour” lighting. We also captured another lilac breasted roller in this same light.

In the morning we found a pride of sleepy lions. We decided to check up on them before returning to camp, hoping that they were awake and ready for action. While we caught a few nice portraits in the golden evening light, most of the lions were still catching zzz’s.

Thus ended day 7. As the sun went down we caught one last photograph in memory of a great day.

Sunset, silouette, Mala Mala

Are We All Poachers?

First of all, to those of you that follow this blog I apologize for my absence the past couple of months. I’ve been busy with a myriad of tasks but hope to settle back into a routine now.

0325-3735

What does the future hold for this young rhino?
Copyright Cathy Pemberton 2012

Are we all poachers?  This of course is, and was meant to be a provocative question. As many of you know I am extremely concerned about the rampant poaching that is occurring in Africa. Elephants are being slaughtered by the thousands for their ivory tusks[1]. Reports are now coming in about the killing of rhinos. Powdered rhino horn is a valued “male enhancement” and medicinal product in much of Asia. Just 2 weeks ago the western black rhino, a subspecies of the African rhinoceros last spotted in 2006, was declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.[2]  Those of us in the western world that would never consider purchasing artworks carved from ivory or consume powdered rhino horn to improve our sexual prowess are rightly offended by the killing of endangered species and the destruction of habitats that is occurring today in Africa.

However, reality is seldom so neat and clean. Saturday’s issue of the San Francisco Chronicle contained a front page article by Meredith May titled “PAWS helps aging elephants.” [3] This article describes the work of Pat Derby (dec. Feb. 15, 2013) and Ed Stewart in operating the Performing Animal Welfare Society. Today PAWS operates three animal sanctuaries in Galt, Rancho Seco and San Andreas, California. Pat and Ed were originally animal trainers and created PAWS as a rescue sanctuary for abused performing animals.

mercury-cougar-1a

Mercury – Sign of the Cat

I first met Pat in the mid 1980s shortly after she opened the first sanctuary in Galt, just outside of Sacramento. As a trainer she had worked on television shows such as Daktari, Gunsmoke, Lassie, Gentle Ben and Flipper. She also trained Chauncey and Christopher, the cougars that starred in the Lincoln Mercury “Sign of the Cat” car commercials. The facility in Galt was small, only a few hundred acres, but it was clear that Pat was passionate about correcting the abuses of animals that she had seen and giving them a place to peacefully live out their lives. She campaigned relentlessly until the time of her death to eliminate the abuses of performing animals that were (are?) rampant in the industry. Does public demand for animal entertainment represent a form of “poaching”?

Jack Hanna

Jack Hanna

The article in the Chronicle got me thinking about the role of zoos in the world today. Most people will attend a zoo and find it to be a very enjoyable experience. And there is no question that seeing an elephant up close is infinitely more impressive than seeing one on television. In fact, zoos today pride themselves on their scientific breeding programs, their educational programs and their wildlife conservation efforts. We even have celebrity zookeepers such as Jack Hanna, Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, with their own TV shows proclaiming the value of zoos in promoting environmental awareness and conservation.

Paul Chinn - SF Chronicle

Paul Chinn – SF Chronicle

Yet I’ve always had an uneasy feeling that such proclamations contained a good deal of self-serving  rationalization. Zoos are centers of civic pride in many communities. We remember catch phrases such as “the world famous San Diego Zoo”. Are we really maintaining zoos to educate our populace and preserve the species? Or are the educational programs simply there to justify what already exists. Zoos have dramatically improved over the years, eliminating the confined metal cages and replacing them with simulated natural environments. Yet these are still woefully short of what wild animals, such as elephants, need and would experience in a natural environment. While there are still some animals captured in the wild and placed in zoos, most of the animals are bred in captivity and transferred between zoos. But as Ed Stewart of PAWS stated “Each time I hear another baby elephant is born in a zoo, I think, “That’s another 50-year jail sentence.'” 3 Some zoos have in fact shut down their elephant programs. The latest to do so is the Toronto Zoo. With a donation of $800,000 from game show host and well know animal rights activist Bob Barker the last 3 elephants will be transferred from Toronto to PAWS Ark 2000 facility in San Andreas. Is it time we shut down all of them?

Hence our ethical dilemma. Is the keeping of wild animals in zoos the ethical equivalent of poaching? In terms of numbers of animals certainly not. And the fact that the zoo animals are alive while the poached animals are dead is an important difference. Even though I can’t help but feel that the promotion of zoos perpetuates the acceptability of captive wild animals, at the end of the day, I must reject my conjecture that we are all poachers for enjoying the captive animals in the zoo. However, we must be cautious. We must continuously examine our actions and motives and make sure they withstand rigorous ethical scrutiny. At the first whiff of rationalization we must sound the alarm and take action. You can start by checking to see if your zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) by clicking here:
http://www.aza.org/current-accreditation-list/

A list of non AZA accredited facilities can be found here:
http://www.zoology.msu.edu/uploads/documents/nonAZAaccredited2012.pdf [4]

If you are interested in supporting conservation and efforts to prevent poaching there are many fine organizations. If you are interested in PAWS their website is: http://www.pawsweb.org/index.html

A few of my other  favorites are:

World Wildlife Fund,
http://worldwildlife.org/

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust,
https://www.facebook.com/thedswt?hc_location=stream


[1] Record poaching drives African elephants into decline
For Release: Jun 21, 2012
Jennafer Bonello
jenna.bonello@wwfus.org

[2] Western black rhino officially extinct
By William Holt | Yahoo! News – Thu, Jun 27, 2013
http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/news/western-black-rhino-officially-extinct-150259423.html

[3] PAWS helps aging elephants, Meredith May, San Francisco Chronicle, July 6, 2013

[4] The presence of a facility on this list does not assure that the facility is inadequate or non-compliant. It is a starting point for investigation.