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Tag: poaching

Follow the ivory

In January 2012 a hundred raiders on horseback charged out of Chad into Cameroon’s Bouba Ndjidah National Park, slaughtering hundreds of elephants—entire families—in one of the worst concentrated killings since a global ivory trade ban was adopted in 1989. 

Carrying AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, they dispatched the elephants with a military precision reminiscent of a 2006 butchering outside Chad’s Zakouma National Park. And then some stopped to pray to Allah. Seen from the ground, each of the bloated elephant carcasses is a monument to human greed. Elephant poaching levels are currently at their worst in a decade, and seizures of illegal ivory are at their highest level in years.

From the air too the scattered bodies present a senseless crime scene—you can see which animals fled, which mothers tried to protect their young, how one terrified herd of 50 went down together, the latest of the tens of thousands of elephants killed across Africa each year. Seen from higher still, from the vantage of history, this killing field is not new at all. It is timeless, and it is now.

~ Bryan Christy, Ivory Worship, National Geographic, October 2012

Protecting elephants is dangerous business in Africa. Elephants move. They migrate in search of fodder, they sashay across national borders and wander into danger. Into worlds where tusks are treasures and elephants are easy targets for desperate warlords armed to the teeth, stripped of conscience, and willing to do whatever it takes to finance their fights.

 

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Cry me a river…

On July 1, 2015, Cecil the Zimbabwean lion was killed by recreational hunter Walter Palmer. In the aftermath, Cecil earned himself a wiki page and iconic status, and will soon get a tote bag and beanie toy; Palmer became a universal hate object, the subject of death threats and target of vandalism;  a million people signed an online petition and Zimbabwe responded by banning trophy hunting.

 

Hang on a minute, though, says a young Zimbabwean studying in the US, in this NYT oped — are you sure you aren’t conflating Cecil with Simba the Lion King?

In a first-person piece that proves, yet again, that man-animal interactions are almost always nuanced, and rarely black on white, Goodwell Nzou calls out what he perceives as global hypocrisy:

The American tendency to romanticize animals that have been given actual names and to jump onto a hashtag train has turned an ordinary situation — there were 800 lions legally killed over a decade by well-heeled foreigners who shelled out serious money to prove their prowess — into what seems to my Zimbabwean eyes an absurdist circus.

We Zimbabweans are left shaking our heads, wondering why Americans care more about African animals than about African people.

Don’t tell us what to do with our animals when you allowed your own mountain lions to be hunted to near extinction in the eastern United States. Don’t bemoan the clear-cutting of our forests when you turned yours into concrete jungles.

And please, don’t offer me condolences about Cecil unless you’re also willing to offer me condolences for villagers killed or left hungry by his brethren, by political violence, or by hunger.

The oped is worth reading in full. Please do.

 

An Elephant & I

It was nearly dusk as we headed out of Yala National Park, Sri Lanka. It had rained leopards on us that day. Every Salvadora persica tree had a rosetted one under it. Every other large Arjuna tree had guldaar flopped astride a branch.

But the day’s gifts were not over. Not yet.

We had spent the whole day in the park and were exhausted. The normal whispered chirpiness had hushed to an occasional word here and a “look!” there.

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And still they die…

Writing for Scroll, Nidhi Jamwal tells the story of “a major success” that wasn’t.

Briefly, forest officials captured three wild elephants that had been causing crop damage in the Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra — another front in the ongoing conflict between man and elephant, that Kalyan Varma has been chronicling here.

“The best way to deal with the problem,” exulted local MP Vinayak Raut.

Indeed. And then, the sequel:

The euphoria was short-lived. After being captured, the wild elephants were kept in a wooden enclosure known as a ‘kraal’, in the Amberi area of Mangaon tehsil in Sindhudurg. The summer heat, with temperatures going to 39 degrees C, the absence of a veterinary doctor, insensitive training and possible negligence by officials lead to the death of two elephants, Ganesh and Samarth. Ganesh died within days of being captured, whereas Samarth collapsed on April 10.

It is no one’s contention that animals should be permitted to run wild in areas of human habitation. Capture and taming, or relocation, is at times the only available option. But surely it is not too much to suggest that the “problem” does not end with capture? That the post-capture scenario requires a tiny amount of sensitivity, empathy, care?

Nidhi’s story is rich in detail and nuance and, ultimately, sad in its overall implications. Meanwhile elsewhere, five more elephants have fallen prey to poachers, this time in Kenya’s Tsavo West National Park.

Also from Tsavo, this story of the search for one of the very few remaining 100+ pound behemoths. Read this bit — and weep:

Gradually, like in the opening scene from ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, their owner materialized through the shimmering haze.  A mirage from the Taru desert – a magnificent, dusty behemoth.

Other elephants stood sleeping, clustered in the shade of acacias, apparently unaware of the bull’s approach. He didn’t walk straight to water. It took him almost an hour to cover the final kilometer as he slowly zig-zagged from one bush to another. The glint I’d seen, came whenever he turned his head and appeared to bury it in a bush. Each time he did, he’d wait a few minutes, partially hidden, then continue zig-zagging upwind, scenting the air, to check there wasn’t a poacher hidden at the waterhole.

I was mystified at the bull’s poor attempt to hide – until it dawned on me that he wasn’t trying to hide his body, he was hiding his tusks. At once, I was incredibly impressed, and incredibly sad – impressed that he should have the understanding that his tusks could put him in danger, but so sad at what that meant.

It is, as Mark Deeble says, a sad world where one of the Nature’s truly majestic animals (the image above is of the tusker) is reduced to hiding his tusks because he instinctively understands the danger from rapacious poachers. Contrast that image with this.

 

Words, words, mere words…

…no matter from the heart.” Shakespeare could have been commenting on governments everywhere.

Guernica recently featured a Carly Nairn piece that made one central point: The rhino is poached for its horn, each of which can be worth up to $300,000. The conservationist is rapidly losing the war against the poacher, so perhaps the only option left is to domesticate this quintessential animal of the wild, and ‘benignly’ de-horn it so there is no reason for the poacher to kill. That is what the discourse around anti-poaching efforts has been reduced to — tame what we cannot protect.

Earlier this week, meanwhile, two poachers who killed a one-horned rhino in Assam’s Orang National Park have been found guilty — using, for the first time ever, evidence from camera traps — and sentenced to two years and a Rs 25,000 fine apiece. Good enough, as far as it goes — but it doesn’t go very far. The point of deterrence — and prescribed punishment is essentially about deterrence — is to deter. Compare the risk (two years in jail, and a penny-ante fine) against the reward (a potential $300,000 windfall), and it is apparent that the punishment — even on those rare occasions when a culprit is actually captured, brought to trial, and convicted — is nowhere near harsh enough to make the risk unacceptable.

Add official apathy to the mix, and you get the perfect storm. During an official visit to the Kaziranga sanctuary in Assam last year, Minister for Environment Prakash Javadekar announced a plan: the state government would create a Rhino Protection Force to patrol the 800-plus sq km park housing a rhino population of over 2400, and the Center would fund it. Submit a proposal, the minister told the state government.

And then, the sorry sequel: The Assam government estimated that it could recruit 1000 young men as the nucleus of the RPF, and submitted a proposal to that effect. You can have 100 people tops, Javadekar’s ministry has responded, and no more. Besides, the ministry has given the state no assurance that the Center will bless any future expansion.

“Undertaking piecemeal measures will not yield results,” Assam’s environment minister Atuwa Munda told The Telegraph.

Munda said Dispur has written to Delhi saying it would go ahead with the plan only if the Centre agrees to recruit a thousand personnel.

He hoped the Centre would reconsider its decision, going by the concern it has shown over rhino poaching.

Saying cheese (Image courtesy Indian Express)

Which brings you right back to Shakespeare. ‘Expressing concern’ costs nothing and buys cheap headlines, photo ops, and favorable media mentions.

But as he did with tigers recently, Javadekar seems only too happy to claim credit for ‘good news’ that had nothing to do with his ministry’s efforts, and move on to the next photo op and self-serving statement. Meanwhile, the situation on the ground worsens, as RTI activists discovered.

Javadekar maintains that the significant increase in the rhino population is an example of the “good success of conservation efforts”. The minister argues that while there were 20-odd rhino poaching cases, some 30-odd poachers were killed in encounters. However, to look for the silver lining in the incidents of rhino poaching in Kaziranga would be a terrible mistake, according to wildlife activists and experts.

The CAG’s performance audit on the Kaziranga National Park is categorical in its indictment of the manner in which the threat of poaching has been handled. While the audit highlights a number of good practices, it states that “most important aspect of wildlife management, that is the management of habitats, took a back seat”.

But hey — we have a Rhino Protection Force, no?

Elsewhere — remember the earlier post about money for tiger conservation in Karnataka’s forest reserves? Here’s an update from the MoE, who was responding to a Rajya Sabha question on the death of over 40 big cats in Gujarat over a two-month span:

He said that special tiger protection forces has been raised, armed and deployed in four tiger reserves – Bandipur (Karnataka), Pench (Maharashtra, Tadoba-Andhari (Maharasthra) and Similipal (Odisha).

So ok, we have a Tiger Protection Force, too. Moving on…

Also Read:

Inside Kaziranga’s one-horned dream by Urmi Bhattacharjee

In South Africa, a home for orphaned rhinos, via the LA Times