Talks failed. War on extinction.150 wardens died..SAS veterans use guns to save elephants, rhinos & tigers from poachers
The battle to save some of the world’s most endangered species is turning bloody, with wildlife charities deploying guns and military vehicles to protect elephants, rhinos and tigers from a surge in poaching. "We have to keep talking but so far, against a backdrop of catastrophic population declines of key species, there is little to show for it,” said Dominic Dyer, chairman of CWI. “These animals are being wiped out by poachers who are increasingly well equipped with automatic weapons, GPS satellites, night-vision kit and heat-seeking telescopes to spot animals at night. That means we also need a more robust approach to enforcement."
At least one British organisation, Care for the Wild International (CWI), is buying military-style field equipment and supporting the deployment of armed guards, while the US-based International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has bought night-vision supplies, ammunition and light aircraft.
WWF, formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund, has hired former SAS soldiers to train African wildlife wardens, and the Zoological Society of London is funding elephant-mounted patrols to protect rhinos in Nepal. The trend towards militarisation follows an estimated 150 deaths among game wardens in Africa in gunfights with poachers.
The disclosures coincide with a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Qatar, which has dismissed proposals to protect bluefin tuna, and this week likely to approve plans to restart sales of ivory taken from African elephants.
“We have to keep talking but so far, against a backdrop of catastrophic population declines of key species, there is little to show for it,” said Dominic Dyer, chairman of CWI. “These animals are being wiped out by poachers who are increasingly well equipped with automatic weapons, GPS satellites, night-vision kit and heat-seeking telescopes to spot animals at night.
“That means we also need a more robust approach to enforcement, so we are supplying kit, ranging from boots and clothing to night-vision goggles and military-style vehicles. We are also deploying armed escorts. Wardens need that kind of support to go up against people with machineguns and assault rifles.”
The tough approach follows a sharp rise in poaching in Africa and Asia. In 1979 there were 1.3m African elephants, but recent counts suggest there are now just 400,000.
Just a few hundred Siberian tigers remain in the wild — leaving them so close to extinction that IFAW is supplying wardens with training and specialist equipment such as an ultra-light aircraft to spot poachers.
Chris Cutter, a spokesman for IFAW, one of the world’s largest conservation organisations, said it was planning a similar approach globally. “In Kenya, for example, the wildlife service is severely underfunded so we have built them barracks and are providing kit ranging from vehicles and radios to ammunition,” he said.
One of the animals most at risk is the rhino, largely because of surging demand for powdered horn in traditional medicine in Asia, where it is mistakenly thought to calm fevers such as malaria and even to cure cancer. There are now just 130 Javan rhino left in the wild, while the African black rhino is down to 4,200 animals.
In Nepal, where two national parks house 370 of the last few hundred one-horned rhinos left, WWF has been working with the army to train soldiers and has built an intelligence network based on paid informers in villages. Mark Wright, conservation science adviser for WWF, confirmed that it had introduced an ex-SAS trainer to Gashaka park, Nigeria, to teach rangers how to track and catch poachers. “The wardens in Gashaka park wanted to become more militarily efficient,” he said.
The slaughter of about 80 rhinos in South Africa since the start of last year has prompted a decision to deploy the first army patrols in the worldfamous Kruger National Park. David Mabunda, chief executive of South African National Parks, said: “These poachers are members of well-resourced syndicates and are also involved in chilling crimes like human trafficking, arms smuggling, prostitution and drugs. They are dangerous criminals.”
Many conservationists believe, however, that creating military-style protection forces for endangered species can only slow the slaughter. Wright said: “The long-term answer lies in educating people not to buy these materials and in bringing in serious fines and jail sentences for anyone caught in possession of them.”
For Release: Dec 16, 2008
WASHINGTON DC, December 16, 2008 – World Wildlife Fund today released its annual list of some of the most threatened species around the world, saying that the long-term survival of many iconic animals is increasingly in doubt due to a host of threats.
WWF’s list of “9 to Watch in 2009” includes such well-known and beloved species as polar bears, tigers, gorillas, pandas, elephants, whales and rhinos, as well as the lesser-known black-footed ferret and vaquita. WWF scientists say these, and many other species, are at greater risk than ever before because of poaching, habitat loss and climate change-related threats.
“If we don’t get serious about saving these spectacular species, it’s quite likely that many won’t be around in the years to come,” said Tom Dillon, WWF’s senior vice president for Field Programs. “The potential loss of some familiar and beloved wildlife should be a wake-up call that immediate action must be taken if we want to live in a world with wild elephants, polar bears, and tigers. At the dawn of the new year, our global resolution for 2009 should be to save these amazing species before it’s too late.”
WWF’s “9 to Watch in 2009” list:
1. Javan Rhinoceros
Population: Less than 60. Location: Indonesia and Vietnam.
This is probably the rarest large mammal species in the world and is critically endangered. Poaching and pressure from a growing human population pose greatest risk to the two protected areas where they live. WWF teams actively monitor these rhinos and protect them from poachers.
Population: 150. Location: Upper Gulf of California, Mexico.
The world’s smallest and most endangered cetacean, this tiny porpoise is often killed in gillnets and could soon be extinct. WWF is working with local fishermen, local and international non-profits, and private sector and government officials on an unprecedented effort to save the vaquita. This includes establishing a vaquita refuge, buying out gillnet fisheries and developing vaquita-friendly fishing gear and other economic alternatives for the fishermen and their families.
3. Cross River Gorilla
Population: 300. Location: Nigeria and Cameroon.
The few remaining forest patches of southeastern Nigeria and western Cameroon are home to the recently discovered Cross River gorilla, a subspecies of the western gorilla. But as its forests are opened up by timber companies, hunters move in. Conservation measures are urgently needed for this beleaguered animal, which is probably the world’s rarest great ape. In Nigeria, the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, a WWF Affiliate, is working with communities in the Cross River National Park to help save the Cross River gorilla.
4. Sumatran Tiger
Population: 400-500. Location: Sumatra, Indonesia.
Accelerating deforestation and rampant poaching could push the Sumatran tiger to the same fate as its now-extinct Javan and Balinese relatives in other parts of Indonesia. Tigers are poached for their body parts, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine, while skins are also highly prized. WWF is researching the Sumatran tiger population with camera traps, supports anti-poaching patrols and works to reduce human-tiger conflict as the cats’ habitat shrinks. Through the efforts of WWF and its partners, the Indonesian government in 2008 doubled the size of Tesso Nilo National Park, a critical tiger habitat.
5. North Pacific Right Whale
Population: Unknown, but less than 500. Location: Northern Pacific, U.S., Russia and Japan.
The North Pacific right whale is one of the world’s rarest cetaceans, almost hunted to extinction until the 1960s. It is rarely sighted and has a poor prognosis for survival due to collisions with ships, entanglement in fishing nets and the prospect of offshore oil and gas development in Alaska’s Bristol Bay. WWF is working to improve shipping safety to avoid collisions and trying to prevent oil and gas development in Bristol Bay, the whale’s primary summer feeding ground.
6. Black-Footed Ferret
Population: 500 breeding adults. Location: Northern Great Plains, U.S. and Canada.
Found only in the Great Plains, it is one of the most endangered mammals in North America because its primary prey, the prairie dog, has been nearly exterminated by ranchers who consider it a nuisance. Few species have edged so close to extinction as the black-footed ferret and recovered, but through captive breeding and reintroduction, there are signs the species is slowly recovering. WWF has been working to save the black-footed ferret and the prairie dog population upon which the ferrets depend.
7. Borneo Pygmy Elephant
Population: Perhaps fewer than 1,000. Location: Borneo, Malaysia.
These smallest of all elephants must compete with logging and agriculture for space in the lowland forests of Borneo. WWF is working to ensure protection of the “Heart of Borneo” and tracks the elephants through the use of satellite collars to learn more about these little-understood elephants.
8. Giant Panda
Population: 1,600. Location: China.
An international symbol of conservation since WWF’s founding in 1961, the giant panda faces an uncertain future. Its forest habitat in the mountainous areas of southwest China has become fragmented, creating small and isolated populations. WWF has been active in giant panda conservation for nearly three decades, conducting field studies, working to protect habitats and, most recently, by providing assistance to the Chinese government in establishing a program to protect the panda and its habitat through the creation of reserves.
9. Polar Bear
Population: 20,000-25,000. Location: Arctic.
The greatest risk to their survival today is climate change. Designated a threatened species by the U.S., if warming trends in the Arctic continue at the current pace, polar bears will be vulnerable to extinction within the next century. WWF is supporting field research to understand how climate change will affect polar bears and to develop adaptation strategies. WWF also works to protect critical polar bear habitat by working with government and industry to reduce threats from shipping and oil and gas development in the region.
(Photos of many of the “9 to Watch in ‘2009” are available for download at: www.worldwildlife.org/species/ninetowatch2009 )
Photos courtesy of WWF and thevagabondaddict.wordpress.com
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