Friday, 4 January 2019

Chinese demand for prehistoric tusks fuels ‘mammoth rush’ in Siberia

Crouching near a wooden shed in his snowy backyard, Prokopy Nogovitsyn lifts up a grey tarpaulin and takes out a vertebra the size of a saucer – part of a mammoth skeleton.

“Some friends found this in the north and wanted to sell it,” says Nogovitsyn, who lives in a village in the northern Siberian region of Yakutia. “But it lacks tusks, so nobody wanted it.”

Mammoth bones are widespread in Yakutia, an enormous region bordering the Arctic Ocean covered by permafrost, which acts as a giant freezer for prehistoric fauna.

But over the last few years this part of the world has experienced something of a mammoth rush: after China banned the import and sale of elephant ivory, its traditional carvers turned to the tusks of the elephants’ long-extinct ancestors.

Mass poaching massacre: nearly 100 elephants slaughtered for ivory in Botswana

Russian exports amounted to 72 tonnes in 2017, with over 80 per cent going to China.

Some Chinese buyers come to Yakutia to buy tusks directly, while some Russians also export them.

Thousands of woolly mammoths roamed the Pleistocene-era steppe tens of thousands of years ago and their remains are preserved in Yakutia’s permafrost.

Authorities estimate that 500,000 tonnes of mammoth tusks – known as “ice ivory” – are buried here.

Local hunters and fishermen have long picked up mammoth bones along river banks and sea coasts but prices dramatically increased over the last decade, leading fortune-seekers on arduous Arctic quests.

The new industry has created a new source of revenue and led to an increase in paleontological discoveries.

While tusk hunters can obtain licences, the trade is still not fully regulated and some complain of pressure from the authorities and confiscation of their finds.

Collecting tusks is a complicated affair prepared months in advance. Equipment has to be shipped hundreds of kilometres to the north.

Yakutia covers 3 million sq km (1.2 million square miles), an area five times the size of France, much of which has no roads.

Collectors buy licences for particular areas. Some use powerful water jets to burrow prospecting tunnels into river banks, creating labyrinthine icy mines.

Good-quality mammoth ivory can sell in China for over US$1,000 a kilo and locals see it as the only way to achieve financial security in northern Yakutia, where jobs are scarce and the climate makes agriculture impossible.

“There is a mammoth rush now,” said one collector, who has worked with a licence for over a decade but requested anonymity due to the industry’s current vague status.

A bill to fully regulate prospecting and the trade in tusks was introduced in the Russian parliament in 2013 but inexplicably has still not been voted on, he complained.

China’s tug of war over tiger and rhino protection: did Trump’s trade war influence Beijing’s original decision?

Exporting tusks from Russia became more difficult recently.

“Ordinary people should know that they can pick something up off the ground, sell it, pay a tax, and live in peace,” he said.

Last year, collectors staged a protest in the region’s main city of Yakutsk, accusing authorities of confiscating their ivory haul even though they had the necessary permits.

They held up placards saying: “Return tusks back to the people!”

“The situation is at a dead-end” as long as Yakutia can’t persuade Moscow to pass the proposed bill, said regional lawmaker Vladimir Prokopyev.

He argued that while digging up the permafrost is harmful, 90 per cent of collectors simply pick up tusks from the ground and Yakutia’s proposed bill forbids the damaging use of water jets.

Collectors are especially worried after a recent documentary on state television painted them as millionaire poachers.

The documentary called Island of Skeletons accused Yakutia authorities of turning a blind eye to prospectors’ “criminal” trade.

Prokopyev claimed the film was “ordered by [Russian] mammoth oligarchs who used to be monopolists” in buying tusks from locals then selling to China, but have now lost out to Chinese dealers who come to buy them directly.

The film claims prospectors “barbarically” destroy archaeological sites.

But Valery Plotnikov, a palaeontologist at the Yakutia Academy of Sciences, said the mammoth rush benefited science by providing specimens the academy could not otherwise afford.

He was studying a rare prehistoric cave lion cub that a collector found last summer.

“We have a symbiosis with licensed collectors,” he said, adding that they provide researchers with valuable items for free but remain owners of specimens and stand to profit when their finds are exhibited abroad.

He also receives tusks confiscated from collectors who operate illegally, without a licence or in protected areas.

Those who have a licence and pay a customs levy should be able to export, he said.

Yakutia governor Aisen Nikolayev said he hoped the bill regulating tusk collectors would be finally passed in 2019, though he acknowledged “there is some resistance” to it.

Without a national law classifying mammoth ivory as a special natural resource, the trade is in a “grey zone”, he said.

For some in Yakutia, however, it’s a source of pride that the region helps stop the hunting of elephants for tusks.

“Our dead bones are saving living elephants,” said Nogovitsyn. “Being able to gather them is important both for us and for Africa.”

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Monday, 24 December 2018

British ivory bill is 'best Christmas gift' for threatened elephants worldwide

The British government last Thursday banned the sale of ivory, shutting down one of the world’s largest legal domestic ivory markets.

With the British ivory bill being granted Royal Assent, most ivory sales will now be treated as criminal offences in the UK.

Mary Rice, executive director UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), said: “Following on the heels of China’s closure of its own domestic ivory market at the start of the year, this is the best Christmas present the UK could have given the world’s threatened elephant populations in Africa and Asia."

She aded that the bill being made into law is "an important move which recognises the need to take firm action to protect elephant populations from poaching and ivory trafficking"

Rice also urged the British government to offer necessary resources for proper implementation and enforcement of the act. She also called on the EU and Japan, two of the remaining legal ivory markets, to ban domestic ivory sales.

In January 2016, EIA led 26 organisations to petition the British government to shut its domestic ivory market.

The agency's 2017 trade study revealed the UK to be the biggest legal importer of ivory in the world – and the largest exporter of legal ivory to the trafficking hotspots of Hong Kong and China. Between 2010 and 2015, the nation exported more legal ivory than any other country, highlighting the significant role it plays in the international ivory trade.

Moreover, a government’s subsequent public consultation on a proposed ivory ban resulted in the participation of more than 70,000 people and organisations - with more than 88 percent in favour of a ban.

The UK’s new Ivory Act is one of the strongest ivory bans in the world and covers the vast majority of items in trade, subject to certain narrow exemptions.

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Saturday, 22 December 2018

China Claims They Have Banned Ivory, But News That Just Leaked Is Very Upsetting

Considering the effects of the ivory bans, have elephants really been spared?

With huge tusks that got to the ground, Satao was head and shoulders above the others in is herd. The beast, which is considered one of the last great “tuskers” and is estimated to be about half a century old, was hailed as the biggest, oldest and arguably most iconic elephant in all of Kenya.

In his prime, tourists from all over the world would come in to see Satao. Sadly though, not even his celebrity status- as well as the added security that is got him- could save the most beloved elephant. He was found dead on the 30th of May 2014, and he was apparently a victim of poaching. His face was hacked off, and his ivory was gone.

Satao is just a single victim of the awful ivory trade that is decimating the elephant population of Africa. Currently, the ivory trade is costing the continent about 20 to 30 thousand elephants on a yearly basis. The population of elephants on the continent is about 415, 000; a decline of well over 100,000 in the past decade.

Sadly, this isn’t all the bad news.

On the 31st of December 2017, the elephant ivory trade in China was ground to a standstill. The country is seen as the largest consumer of ivory in the world.

This move is in accordance with the announcement of Former US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Both leaders committed to enact “almost complete” bans of ivory in their respective countries.

That of America came to effect in June 2016.

In November of 2017, the Trump Administration announced that the ban on importing elephant ivories from Zambia and Zimbabwe would be lifted, but the decision was eventually put on hold after a series of backlash.

Craig Millar, head of Security and Field Operations at the Big Life Foundation, said, “The rate of poaching hasn’t dropped since China’s ban on ivory, but prices of ivory have”

“The rate of poaching has been steadily declining in Kenya for the past three to four years, and it is hoped that the trend would continue”

Millar also added that this drop in prices is actually a good thing.

“As soon as the announcement was made, we witnessed the price of ivory drop by as much as 50 to 60 percent. This just means that the poacher on the ground here is getting much less than anyone else who is on the supply chain, so there’s even less of an incentive for him to keep on risking his life.

Apart from being faced with some brutal scenes, Millar and his colleagues place their lives in danger to protect the animal at Big Life. The foundation manages an area just over 2 million acres.

The biggest impact of this ivory ban, however, has been on the animals themselves. Millar says that Big Life’s elephant hides his tusks from humans by shoving his head into a bush.

“The animals are actually very clever. I’ve seen quite a few changes in the animals that we can attribute to poaching. The behaviors change drastically depending on the environment that they’re in. They know where they’re safe, and they’ll be more relaxed. If they feel threatened, they get nervous and unsettled”

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Saturday, 15 December 2018

2 arrested with 10.448 gram of elephant ivory in Siliguri

Siliguri (West Bengal), Dec 15 (ANI): After receiving secret information, Director of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) Siliguri unit seized 10.448 gram, six pieces of elephant ivory. Two accused have been arrested in the case. They were carrying ivories from Assam’s Nalbari which were supposed to be smuggled to Babubhai in Kolkata. Elephant ivory is having a huge demand in China and South East countries.

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Friday, 14 December 2018

Excessive Poaching May Be Causing African Elephants To Evolve Without Tusks

While elephants born without tusks are not unheard of, they normally comprise just 2 to 6 percent of the herd population. However, that is not the case at Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park, where an astounding 33 percent of female elephants born after the country’s civil war ended in 1992, are tuskless. While that may appear to be just a coincidence, Joyce Poole, an elephant behavior expert and National Geographic Explorer, has another theory. The researcher thinks we may be witnessing an unnaturally induced evolution of the species due to the incessant poaching of the mammals for their valuable tusks.

Tusks are overgrown upper incisors which protrude from sockets in the elephant’s skull. Unlike our permanent teeth, they continue to grow throughout the animal’s life, becoming longer and thicker with age. While humans covet them for ornamental purposes, the teeth are an essential survival tool for elephants. The mammals use tusks for a variety of tasks including, extracting tree bark, digging for water or roots and, in the case of males, even fighting with one another. While poachers usually first target older males due to their impressive tusks, females are not spared either. As a result, in areas where poaching goes unchecked for extensive periods of time, the proportion of tuskless females increases. This allows them to gain a biological advantage, resulting in a larger than average population of female offspring with no tusks.

Poole, who also serves as scientific director of nonprofit ElephantVoices, believes this phenomenon explains the unprecedented rise in the number of tuskless females at Gorongosa National Park. The researcher, who has been studying the wildlife sanctuary’s elephant population for many years, says prior to the country’s 15-year-long civil war, the 100,000 acre-park was home to over 4,000 pachyderms. However, by the time the conflict ended in 1992, about 90 percent of the mammals had been slaughtered for ivory to help finance weapons and meat to feed the soldiers. Of the less than 200 survivors, over 50 percent of the females – 25 years or older – had no tusks. Hence, it is not surprising that the park’s tuskless elephant population has grown substantially.

This is not the first time researchers have observed a drastic change in the population of elephant herds who have suffered severe poaching losses. At the Ruaha National Park in Tanzania, an area which was heavily poached in the 1970s and 1980s, 35% of elephants 25 years or older and 13% of those younger than 25 are now without tusks. A 2008 study published in the African Journal of Ecology found that the number of tuskless females at Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park and adjacent Lupande Game Management Area went from 10.5 percent in 1969 to almost 40 percent in 1989, largely due to illegal hunting for ivory.

Thus far, the genetic consequence of poaching has largely impacted female elephants. Poole explains, “Because males require tusks for fighting, tusklessness has been selected against in males, and very few males are tuskless. For African elephants, tuskless males have a much harder time breeding and do not pass on their genes as often as tusked males.”

However, if the slaughtering of males with the most impressive tusks continues at this pace, it could result in a generation of elephants with much smaller tusks. Poole says, “Assuming that poachers select according to tusk size, they will tend to kill older males with very large tusks, thereby taking out of the population of breeding-aged males who also happen to have very big tusks. Those males then no longer pass on their genes for large tusks. In this manner, heavy poaching will select out genes for large tusks.”

The recent ban on ivory in both the US and China should help eliminate, or at least reduce, elephant poaching. However, scientists are not sure how long it will take for the herds with a higher rate of tuskless females, to reverse the trend.

The only silver lining is that the tuskless elephants look healthy, indicating they have learned to adapt without their all-important “tools.” To investigate how the pachyderms are able to thrive without tusks, a team led by University of Idaho researcher Ryan Long recently fitted six adult females, three with tusks and three without, with GPS tracking devices. The researchers plan to monitor the animals for a few years to document the tuskless mammals’ modified lifestyle and assess its impact on the surrounding environment.

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Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Understanding Local Impacts to Inform Wildlife Conservation

It’s 16:30 in rural Myanmar and my field crew, who had spent the day surveying for elephant dung, are racing our caravan of motorbikes back to the field camp before dusk descends. As the day fades tempering the oppressive heat, elephants emerge from the shade of the forest to begin foraging, sometimes in the sugarcane and rice paddies that are increasingly spreading across the country. Running into one of these giants as they too use the network of dirt roads to travel through the landscape can be fatal, necessitating a strict policy of returning to camp before dark for the safety of the team. While my field season lasts a short three months, this is one of many concessions residents are forced to make or risk their lives encountering an elephant as night falls.

It is unsurprising that most of the remaining endangered charismatic mega fauna are in some of the poorest areas on earth. It is in these areas where wildlands still exist, and the lack of economic development has prevented the boom of industry and infrastructure that could spell the end for remaining mega herbivores and carnivores. It is also in these areas where the people tasked with the burden of living with the species disproportionately bear the brunt of human-wildlife conflict. Though local community members indicate they value elephants for religious and cultural reasons, as well as the important role they play in the ecosystem, increasing human-elephant conflict may lead to a greater acceptance of elephant poaching as a way to prevent crop-raiding and reduce human injury and death from run-ins with their giant neighbors.

I began using satellite-GPS collars to monitor elephant movements in 2015 with the hope of using this data to inform conservation policy and develop ways to mitigate human-elephant conflict. Instead, these collars turned into beacons that allowed us to locate the carcasses of the elephants after they had been killed by poachers. Further groundwork revealed an astounding rate of elephant poaching occurring throughout Myanmar. And what’s more, poachers aren’t just killing elephants for their ivory- elephant skin, genitals, and other parts are increasingly being sought after for export into neighboring countries such as China.

To Chinese markets

Grey, dry, and wrinkled. Cut into palm-sized pieces, hard as a rock, yet lighter than expected. You would be forgiven to mistake it for any of the countless kinds of roots and herbs also laying on the table – if it weren’t for the thick black hairs sprouting out. This is what elephant skin looks like in a Chinese market. A few inconspicuous chunks nestled among dried seahorses, pangolin scales, muntjac antlers, and gibbon skulls. Typically, elephant skin is turned into a powder by mixing with talcum and applied externally to treat muscle soreness, ulcers, and open wounds. Of course, this is all very illegal. Elephant poaching and trafficking are prohibited and China’s recent decision to shut down its ivory trade was a milestone for the conservation community. But old habits are pervasive, and traditions die hard.

Traditional Chinese medicine has an extremely long history dating back thousands of years and its practitioners number among the millions, many of whom are old, live in the rural countryside and have relied on these sorts of medicines all their life. Never heard of aspirin, but a regular shot of snake wine to improve constitution is common knowledge. Chinese demand for exotic animal ingredients is a primary driver of illegal poaching, not just in China, but in other countries including bordering Myanmar. Exacerbated by the rise of the Chinese middle class, this demand has created a biodiversity crisis in Southeast Asia and is a direct threat to many protected and endangered species around the world. Fortunately, growing domestic environmental concerns and calls to protect natural resources have resulted in greater focus on these issues in recent years with China’s new wildlife protection law taking effect in 2017.

One popular form of traditional Chinese medicine involves steeping plant and animal material in high-proof alcohol for days to years. Steeping is thought to extract the medicinal properties into the liquor and often endangered animal parts are used including bear gall bladders and tiger bone. These ingredients can be degraded or removed prior to sale, which makes monitoring difficult. In collaboration with the Wildlife Forensics Center of the Yunnan Endangered Species Commission and the South China DNA Barcoding Institute at the Kunming Institute of Zoology, I am currently working to develop a genetic method to identify which animals are being used directly from the liquor itself.

Conservation is local first

Cultural attitudes, long-standing traditions, and the economic realities of life in rural developing nations contribute to the realities of human-wildlife conflict and the illegal wildlife trade. Conservation is inherently a multi-faceted, human issue that involves many kinds of stakeholders. Conservation policy doesn’t work when foreign scientists simply come in and tell the locals what they can and cannot do. In order to reduce conflict and achieve coexistence, scientists need to engage with local communities and include their input in wildlife management strategies. Scientists can gather the data needed to answer specific questions and develop methods to solve specific problems, but we need buy in from local communities to implement effective mitigation and anti-poaching programs. Successful conservation programs require sensitivity to local cultures and working with communities to fully understand the challenges they face when saving a species: whether it’s the danger wildlife pose while they are alive or the value they hold when they are dead. As conservation scientists, we need to be open to addressing the needs of people to ultimately protect the wildlife under our care.

Dr. Christie Sampson is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Clemson University, working in collaboration with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute to address issues of human-wildlife coexistence and poaching. More information about her work in Myanmar can be seen at: You can follow her on twitter at @WildEcology.

Charles C.Y. Xu is a Ph.D. student in the Redpath Museum & Department of Biology at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He is interested in using genetics to discover, study, and protect biodiversity. For more information visit his website or follow him on twitter at @CharlesCongXu or on instagram at @DRYBAR.

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

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Monday, 3 December 2018

Fence built along China-Laos railway to protect wild elephants

Builders are establishing a fence along a newly completed section of a railway to connect China with Laos in efforts to protect wild elephants. China Railway's Kunming bureau said on Monday that the fence will be extended to 36 km long in valley areas, where a tunnel group on the railway was completed on Friday in Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture of southwest China's Yunnan Province.

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Thursday, 29 November 2018

Elephant Crashes Chinese Inn Looking for Food

When an elephant in southwest China got hungry, it wandered into a local inn, lured there by the smell of corn and oranges. The Inn's owner also happens to be a part of an elephant patrol team. He ensured that no one, including the sticky fingered culprit, got hurt. The elephant originally arrived on Friday, rummaging through homes for food.

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Tuesday, 27 November 2018

54-year-old elephant dies in Shanghai zoo

A 54-year-old Asian elephant Banna who has been living in the Shanghai Zoo for 46 years passed away quietly on Sunday, stirring mourning by animal lovers who had shared good times with this old friend.

Named after its hometown, Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture in southwest China's Yunnan Province, the elephant was regarded by many people as one of the animal stars in Shanghai.

As a senior inhabitant of the zoo, the wild female elephant first moved to Shanghai at the beginning of the 1970s and gave birth to eight baby elephants, the highest number of offspring bred by Asian elephant in Chinese zoos.

"We all hoped that Banna could have lived a longer life, she is a close friend of us," said Sha Bingfu, supervisor of the zoo's herbivore team, adding that other Asian elephants now in Shanghai Zoo are in good condition.

Over the past four decades living in the city, Banna has brought laughter and joyful memories to generations of local people and visitors.

"Thanks for having been to our world and life," reads a comment to Banna's obituary published by zoo's official Sina Weibo account. Many Weibo comments also suggest building a statue for the old friend.

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Saturday, 24 November 2018

Villagers bothered by male Asian elephant's frequent visits in SW China

Villagers are being bothered by a male Asian elephant making frequent visits to their villages. Since wild Asian elephants were found again in Pu'er in 1999, more and more elephants are migrating here, from forests to villages, putting much pressure on locals. There are around 300 Asian elephants living this area. Despite measures like building elephant-proof trenches and grids, dispatching observers, setting up infrared cameras, and offering food to them, some of the elephants have learned to avoid the set-ups.

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Friday, 23 November 2018

Odisha loses 24th elephant in 8 years on railway tracks

Railway tracks continued to be death traps for elephants in Odisha. On Wednesday night, a female elephant died after being hit by a train near Ramachandrapur village in Keonjhar district. This was the 24 such death in the state in eight years.

A herd of nine elephants were crossing the railway tracks when a goods train hit the 7-8-year-old animal, said Sandeep Tripathy, the state’s chief wildlife warden and principal chief conservator of forests.

After a survey a few years ago the state’s forest department identified sections of railway tracks in Jajpur, Keonjhar, Ganjam, Gajapati, Sundargarh, Balesore, Bhadrak, Puri, Jharasaguda and Cuttack as elephant corridors, Tripathy said. “We recommended some steps, including restriction of the speed of trains and increased alertness,” he added.

East Coast Railway official Nirakar Das, however, said, “it would be unjustified to blame the railways for the deaths. Forest department personnel must inform station masters to slow down or halt trains when elephants cross tracks.” Train engines stop only after take 750-1,000 meters after the brakes are applied, he added.

Tripathi claimed his department keeps nightly watches at “vulnerable” spots that elephants use to move forest to non-forest areas, especially between March and November in search of fodder and water.

Environmentalist and Wildlife Society of Odisha (WSO) Secretary Biswajit Mohanty agreed that the speed of trains must be restricted within elephant corridors. He sought training for railway engine drivers and said local eco-development committees should coordinate migrations to avoid man-animal conflicts.

On April 15, four elephants, including two female and a calf, were killed after being hit by a goods train near Bagdihi railway station in Jharsuguda district. Another female elephant, aged about five, was killed similarly near Pattasahi station (Sundargarh district) on April 14 last year.

On November 26, 2013, a female elephant was killed after being hit by the Gitanjali Express in the same district. On March 21 that year, two more succumbed similarly in Keonjhar. Six jumbos were mowed down by a passenger train at Rambha (Ganjam district) on December 31, 2012 while two more died near Champua, Keonjhar on August 15 that year.

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Elephants are evolving without their tusks due to poaching

African elephants are evolving by not growing tusks as they feel threatened by poachers.

Poachers shoot elephants for their ivory tusks, which are believed to have healing powers. Elephants are adapting to avoid danger, reports Business Insider. Those without tusks have a biological advantage as poachers do not target them.

According to National Geographic, tusks are essentially overgrown teeth that elephants use for most of their daily tasks, like digging for water or vital minerals in the ground and toppling trees to get fibrous food.

Almost a third of the female elephant population in Mozambique do not have tusks. Earlier, this number was between 2% and 4%.

Related: Islamabad zoo’s ‘isolated’ elephant may be released if found suffering from mental health problems

Apart from Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park, the tusk-less trend was seen in South Africa’s Addo Elephant National Park as well.

Ryan Long, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Idaho and a National Geographic Explorer, said, “The prevalence of tusklessness in Addo is truly remarkable and underscores the fact that high levels of poaching pressure can do more than just remove individuals from a population.”

In China, ivory is sometimes even more valuable than gold because it is considered a cure for numerous diseases. It is believed that it can increase strength and fertility. Ivory is still in demand in the country despite a ban being imposed in 2017.

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Thursday, 22 November 2018

Elephant poaching and the ivory trade: The impact of demand reduction and enforcement efforts by China from 2005 – 2017


African elephants are iconic species threatened by poaching and China was considered as one of the main destinations for illegally sourced ivory. In this article we combine two surveys of ivory carving enterprises with other data sets, including Chinese government seizure statistics, with market prices for illegal ivory and substitute goods, to understand the impact of enforcement and demand reduction measures on ivory prices and poaching. Our analysis indicates the strong enforcement measures to combat ivory smuggling, temporarily suppressed the tendency of illegal trade while stimulating a steep rise in illegal ivory prices thereafter. Peaking in 2012–2013, prices thereafter fell due to government measures to reduce demand under China's ‘Ecological Civilization’ programme and the announcement of ‘Eight-point Regulation’. Although our survey suggests that most Chinese carving enterprises were intending to close or to diversify their business activities away from ivory carving as a result of the total ban on domestic ivory trading by 31st December 2017 and China had banned domestic ivory trade for over half a year and all ivory carving enterprises closed their ivory business activities since this domestic ban. In order to prevent speculative demand in the world that may undermine Chinese efforts, we argue that other countries now also need to adopt multi-faceted actions to curtail their domestic ivory trade.

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Wednesday, 21 November 2018

China fans the threats to wildlife

New York: Many of the creatures that share this planet with us may not be around much longer.

Since 1970, populations of thousands of animal species around the world have declined 60 per cent on average, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Habitat destruction, climate change and pollution are all driving those losses.

But so is the global illegal trade in wildlife. For species like tigers and rhinos, poaching is a primary threat to survival.

"Very few ecosystems are not affected by wildlife trade," said Vincent Nijman, an anthropologist at Oxford Brookes University in Britain. "It directly impacts a very large number of species, and has a knock-on effect on many more species still."

But, as Nijman pointed out, any solutions for tackling illegal wildlife trade are unlikely to work without the involvement of one major player: China.

From ivory to pangolin scales, totoaba bladders to shark fins, the country has a ravenous appetite for wildlife products. As China's economy and population have grown, so, too, has demand for animals and their parts, which are sought worldwide: in South-east Asia, Africa, South America and the world's oceans.

"A lot of the species that are most threatened on Earth right now are threatened because of demand in China," said Chris Shepherd, executive director of Monitor, a non-profit group that works to reduce illegal wildlife trade. "China has to become a leader in fighting illegal wildlife trade, or else it's not going to be a pretty future."

Until recently, China seemed to have signed on to the cause. President Xi Jinping, who has pledged to turn the country into an "ecological civilisation", stepped up seizures of contraband animal products and created a new national park to provide a haven for Siberian tigers. In January, Xi banned the domestic trade in ivory.

But lately China has sent conflicting signals. To the shock of officials and conservationists around the world, China announced in October that it would reopen the trade in rhino horn and tiger bone, reversing a 25-year domestic ban.

"This development came as a surprise to us, because China, at the moment, is leading in so many ways on the environment," said Erik Solheim, executive director of the UN Environment Program. "We should be stepping up protection for tigers and rhinos, not lowering it."

China's State Council directed that rhino horn and tiger bone be limited to use in scientific research and in traditional Chinese medicine, practised by qualified doctors at certain hospitals.

Officials also pledged to strictly control trade, a reassurance that did little to assuage concerns that poaching was about to spiral even further out of control.

Indeed, just three days after China's announcement, Jose Louies, chief of the wildlife crime control division at the Wildlife Trust of India, received a call from an informant who said that tiger traffickers had begun anticipating a price increase.

"Poachers keep their ears to the ground — they feel everything that is happening in the market," Louies said. "It's not a secret for them that all the tiger materials are going to China."

Following a global outcry, the State Council this month reversed course and postponed implementation of the order. But the episode has left conservationists wary — not least because the history here is far from encouraging.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as CITES, banned the international commercial trade of rhinos and most tigers in 1975. But for decades afterward, China permitted domestic sales of products made from these animals.

Rhino horn and tiger bone were smuggled into the country from abroad, and tiger farms were set up in the late 1980s — some with government backing — to breed big cats for bones, skins and parts. (Wild tigers had been mostly poached in China years earlier.)

In 1993, under the Pelly Amendment, then US president Bill Clinton threatened China with sanctions for undermining the CITES treaty. China responded with a ban on rhino horn and tiger bone, and poaching declined significantly.

"By banning those products, the Chinese government made a significant contribution to conservation of rhinos and tigers over the past 20 years," said Zhang Li, a field biologist at Beijing Normal University.

Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine quickly followed suit, replacing the banned materials with sustainable substitutes and removing tiger bone and rhino horn — which have no scientifically proven benefits — from textbooks and the pharmacopoeia.

"If the government's intention by lifting this ban is to support Chinese medicine, the result is the opposite," said Lixin Huang, executive director of the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in California.

She suspects that the decision was encouraged not by practitioners of traditional medicine, but by "those dealing in the business of profit-making"— tiger farmers.

Rather than shutter after the 1993 ban, tiger farms continued to grow and now house more than 6,000 captive animals. For more than a decade, China has expressed interest in domestic trade of its captive tigers' parts.

In September, CITES identified 36 Chinese tiger farms that seemed to be involved in illegal trade or held tigers in questionably excessive numbers.

But at a CITES meeting in Sochi, Russia, in October, Chinese officials strongly opposed the findings, according to Heather Sohl, a chief adviser at the World Wildlife Fund who attended the meeting.

Officials did not mention the country's impending decision to reopen trade.

"China has quite often restricted progress on tackling tiger trade discussions we have at CITES," Sohl said. The fact that officials questioned proposals to control tiger trade "wasn't unusual and didn't give us any insight that this was coming."

The Chinese focus has always been more on conserving a species as a resource.

Michael Sas-Rolfes, researcher

Michael Sas-Rolfes, a doctoral researcher at the University of Oxford who toured tiger farms at the invitation of the Chinese government in 2007, was not surprised.

"The only part of this that was completely unexpected for me was the timing," he said. "The Chinese focus has always been more on conserving a species as a resource, not on the Western focus of conserving a species in its habitat."

Even as Western countries have pushed for blanket bans on certain wildlife products, he continued, demand for those products in certain quarters of Asia has not fallen. Instead, illegal trade and the profits to be made from it have increased.

"I'm hoping that China's move may serve as a bit of a wake-up call that the 'just say no' approach doesn't work," Sas-Rolfes said.

"The conversation on drugs has evolved into something more sophisticated — smoking pot is not the same as shooting up with heroin. And we need to apply the same nuanced, evidence-based thinking to wildlife trade," he added.

Some are eager to see China's markets reopen.

"Rather than criminals coming here, wantonly killing our animals, we can now supply horn from stockpiles to meet the demand and take pressure away from wild populations," said Pelham Jones, chairman of the Private Rhino Owners Association in South Africa.

China's directive specified that tiger bones and rhino horns must come from farmed animals, but not that they be farmed in China. Conservationists believe the number of rhinos in China to be very small.

By contrast, more than 7000 rhinos live on at least 300 private ranches in South Africa. Nearly 90 per cent of rhino owners are keen to sell their animals' horns, which can be clipped every few years.

The profits, they say, will help cover the steep security costs of keeping poachers at bay.

"There's only one country in the world that can meet China's demand, and that's South Africa," Jones said.

Whether a proposal to reopen international trade of rhino horn could pass at CITES depends on a number of technicalities in the treaty and on whether proponents could rally enough support.

CITES states that countries should not breed tigers for their parts — only for conservation — and that they should reduce their use of rhino horn. But CITES governs only international trade, so provisions in the treaty about domestic trade do not carry the same enforceable legal weight.

The United States has started looking into options of its own for ensuring that China's domestic ban on tiger and rhino trade remains in place, said Christine Dawson, director of the office of conservation and water at the State Department. That includes the possibility of recertifying China under the Pelly Amendment, which would pave the way for sanctions.

"There's a lot at stake for these two major economies, and the leverage may never be better for the US to fold this issue into the broader trade issues going on right now," said David Hayes, executive director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Centre at New York University.

Sas-Rolfes pointed out, however, that the Pelly Amendment might have lost its potency in a China with rising influence on the world stage. In any event, officials now may simply decide not to follow through with the directive.

"Let us hope that China recognises the stark inconsistency of this decision with its laudable stance on ivory, and takes steps to ban the trade of rhino horn and tiger bones altogether," said Boris Johnson, former foreign secretary of Britain.

Whatever comes of the tiger bone and rhino horn controversy, Nijman emphasised that global collaboration — and perhaps compromise — with China might be key to solving the much bigger challenge of illegal wildlife trade.

"That means trying to better understand the Chinese way of thinking and working directly with them for solutions," he said. "The solutions may not be the ones we initially thought were perhaps best from our Western perspective, but ultimately they may be the only way forward."

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Thursday, 15 November 2018


Many of the elephants wandering Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park these days are tuskless.

From 1977 until 1992, the country underwent a brutal civil war. Due to the conflict, about ninety percent of the elephants that once existed there were poached for their ivory, which helped fund weapons and feed soldiers.

Gorongosa’s tuskless elephants developed a biological advantage as a result of the poaching. According to recent figures, one-third of the generation of females born after the war ended never grew tusks – something that would normally only occur in 2 to 4 percent of female African elephants.

Elephant behavior expert Joyce Poole, who studies the park’s pachyderms, says that decades ago, some 4,000 elephants lived in Gorongosa. Following the civil war, those numbers tragically dwindled into the triple digits. Yet-unpublished research compiled by Poole shows that 51 percent of the 200 known adult females (aged 25 or older) that survived the war are tuskless. Of the female elephants born since the war, 32 percent have no tusks.

Poole, who serves as scientific director of a nonprofit called Elephant Voices, explains that male elephants have bigger and heavier tusks than females of the same age. She continues: “But once there’s been heavy poaching pressure on a population, then the poachers start to focus on the older females as well.” The resulting older age population of elephants will, therefore, consist of a high proportion of tuskless females.

Elephant poaching remains a huge problem throughout parts of Africa – it’s estimated that on average, an African elephant is killed every 15 minutes. It’s no surprise, then, that similar shifts among female survivors and their daughters have occurred in countries other than Mozambique that also have a history of substantial ivory poaching. The effect has been particularly extreme in South Africa – in the early 2000’s, 98 percent of the 174 females in Addo Elephant National Park were reported to be tuskless.

In some heavily-hunted areas, such as southern Kenya, poaching has led to reduced tusk sizes. According to a 2015 study by Duke University and the Kenya Wildlife Service, male survivors of a period of intense poaching had tusks about a fifth smaller than average, while females had tusks about one-third the normal size. This pattern continued – offspring born after 1995 had tusks between 21 and 27 percent smaller than elephants in the 1960’s.

Elephants without tusks are surviving and appear to be healthy, according to Poole, but the work they do with their tusks is part-and-parcel to their everyday lives and vital to the well-being of many smaller species, who rely on elephants to dig holes for water and topple trees over for shelter.

While measures are being taken to reduce the global demand for ivory, such as ivory bans in the U.S. and China, it’s unclear how long it will take for elephants with high levels of tusklessness to recover. One thing remains clear: when it comes to saving these beautiful, gentle giants from extinction, time is of the essence.

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Sunday, 11 November 2018

'The brave ones': Women putting their lives on the line to end elephant poaching

Every day in Zimbabwe, a battle rages against wildlife poaching. The black and white Rhino has been
hammered, and the days of the worlds largest land mammal- the African Elephant, are numbered as
well unless the poachers can be stopped. Each year more than 20,000 elephants are killed.
It’s an insidious trade, the ivory tusks are hacked from a dead or dying elephant and sold for an
exuberant price before being carved into ornaments and jewellery, with China being the biggest
consumer market.

But now, in a determined fight to save the greatest creatures on earth, an unlikely band of female
rangers are putting their lives on the line on the frontline against wildlife poachers.
Tonight on 60 Minutes reporter Tom Steinfort travels to Zimbabwe to meet the incredible team of
warrior women and share their mission to save the African elephants.
The Akashinga women – ‘the brave ones’ – patrol and protect a 30,000 hectare reserve which
borders the word heritage listed Mana Pools National Park. They are the last line of defence between
the poachers and the elephants.
This revolutionary team was the brainchild of Damien Mander, a former Australian navy clearance
diver turned special forces sniper, who assembled this group of local women and started training
them to become rangers.
There was a lot of local opposition to this idea, mostly from men who believed the women weren’t up
to the job and didn’t belong in uniform.
Mander gambled that training and paying local women to protect wildlife could prove a master stroke in winning over the local community against the poachers.
So far so good. In the 15 months they have been operating the Akashinga rangers have made over 80 arrests and taken out some major crime syndicates. “This is the only reserve in this entire world that's completely managed and protected by women, and they are kicking arse” Mander tells Steinfort.

They’re smashing traditional gender roles in Zimbabwe, and in doing so, have earned the respect of
their communities.
“These women were ridiculed on the way to work, the first day they were told to go back to their
house, go back to the fields,” Mr Mander says.
“Those men ridiculed them on day one. But now, they've taken out hardened poachers so the men
respect it.”
The Akashinga women praise Mr Mander for changing their lives. Coming from backgrounds of
hardship and unimaginable trauma, the women have been able to built proud and successful lives
and careers, honouring their families and communities.

But the real object of their attention is the reserve’s elephant population. In the northern Zimbabwe
region alone, over 8,000 elephants have been killed in the past 15 years.

The female rangers are determined to see this number fall all the way to zero – and they’ll use
deadly force if they have to.

“If [the poachers] tamper with my elephants, I will catch them,” ranger Vimbai Kumire says

Their dedication to protecting the reserve’s wildlife is unwavering and passionate, and the strength
they’ve shown to get there is beyond expectations.

“I’m a strong woman, I’m strong enough,” Vimbai says.

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Friday, 9 November 2018

Under poaching pressure, elephants are evolving to lose their tusks

THE OLDEST ELEPHANTS wandering Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park bear the indelible markings of the civil war that gripped the country for 15 years: Many are tuskless. They’re the lone survivors of a conflict that killed about 90 percent of these beleaguered animals, slaughtered for ivory to finance weapons and for meat to feed the fighters.

Hunting gave elephants that didn’t grow tusks a biological advantage in Gorongosa. Recent figures suggest that about a third of younger females—the generation born after the war ended in 1992—never developed tusks. Normally, tusklessness would occur only in about 2 to 4 percent of female African elephants.

Decades ago, some 4,000 elephants lived in Gorongosa, says Joyce Poole—an elephant behavior expert and National Geographic Explorer who studies the park’s pachyderms. But those numbers dwindled to triple digits following the civil war. New, as yet unpublished, research she’s compiled indicates that of the 200 known adult females, 51 percent of those that survived the war—animals 25 years or older—are tuskless. And 32 percent of the female elephants born since the war are tuskless.

A male elephant’s tusks are bigger and heavier than those of a female of the same age, says Poole, who serves as scientific director of a nonprofit called ElephantVoices. “But once there’s been heavy poaching pressure on a population, then the poachers start to focus on the older females as well,” she explains. “Over time, with the older age population, you start to get this really higher proportion of tuskless females.”

This tuskless trend isn’t limited to Mozambique, either. Other countries with a history of substantial ivory poaching also see similar shifts among female survivors and their daughters. In South Africa, the effect has been particularly extreme—fully 98 percent of the 174 females in Addo Elephant National Park were reportedly tuskless in the early 2000s.

“The prevalence of tusklessness in Addo is truly remarkable and underscores the fact that high levels of poaching pressure can do more than just remove individuals from a population,” says Ryan Long, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Idaho and a National Geographic Explorer. The “consequences of such dramatic changes in elephant populations are only just beginning to be explored.”

Josephine Smit, who studies elephant behavior as a researcher with the Southern Tanzania Elephant Program, says that among the female elephants she tracks at Ruaha National Park, an area that was heavily poached in the 1970s and 1980s, 21 percent of females older than five are tuskless. As in Gorongosa, the numbers are highest among older females. About 35 percent of females older than 25 are tuskless, she says. And among elephants ages five to 25, 13 percent of females are tuskless. (Smit, a doctoral candidate at the University of Stirling, in Scotland, says the data have not yet been published, though she presented the findings at a scientific wildlife conference last December.)

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Sunday, 4 November 2018

Sonoma Stories: A new veterinarian and a rescued elephant, plucked rabbits and whale sushi

There’s a new veterinarian in Sonoma County, one who might take to treating pampered pets if she weren’t so busy advocating for caged backyard lions, chained and trained elephants and other animals whose suffering at human hands can be unspeakable.

Heather Rally always knew she wanted to work with animals.

“My mother will tell you I popped out that way,” said the 31-year-old transplant from Southern California and newcomer to Sebastopol.

She said her destiny as an animal welfare activist was sealed as she watched in anguish the 2009 documentary “The Cove,” which details the slaughter of dolphins in Japan.

Today, Rally works full time for the Foundation to Support Animal Protection, also known as the PETA Foundation. Her primary focus is advocacy for captive wildlife kept in roadside menageries, circuses and private homes.

She thinks most people would be surprised knowing how many lions and bears are detained as pets or in wildlife exhibits.

“There are states where you can literally have anything in your living room with zero regulation,” she said.

She and PETA get involved upon evidence the animals are suffering from abuse or neglect. In one case, Rally said, she documented the mistreatment and deteriorating health of Nosey, an African elephant long kept by a traveling circus. Last year, authorities seized Nosey and moved her from Alabama to a sanctuary in Tennessee.

Investigations and advocacy of that sort are what occupy most of Rally’s attention as the supervising veterinarian of the PETA Foundation’s Captive Animal Law Enforcement division. But a new PETA video features Rally taking up the cause of animals far different from a circus elephant.

Rally traveled to a rural area outside of Shanghai, China, on behalf of a global garment retailer that had been assured rabbits raised for angora fur were treated humanely. Rally documented the opposite.

She said she watched in revulsion as factory farm workers plucked the fur of tied rabbits in clear agony. “The scream these rabbits emit is just horrifying,” she said.

Shown video of the practice, the people running the clothing retail business halted its sales of angora and donated all of its angora products to Syrian refugees.

Rally’s video on angora is featured in a 10-part PETA series, “PETA Reveals: Everybody’s Got a Story.”

Rally said that though rabbits continue to be plucked in China, oftentimes right next to ones being humanely sheared, more than 300 retailers have agreed to no longer purchase and sell angora. Just last month, the luxury brand Coach announced its adoption of a fur-free policy.

Rally grew up near the ocean. Not surprisingly, she said, “Marine mammals hands down are my greatest passion.”

While studying veterinary medicine at the Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, she received hands-on training at the National Wildlife Health Center in Honolulu, the Fort MacArthur Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro and Marin County’s Marine Mammal Center.

In 2010, Rally joined up with activists who’d filmed “The Cove” to investigate a claim that a Japanese restaurant at the Santa Monica airport was serving whale meat in violation of federal law.

She recalled, “My first reaction was, ‘This isn’t real. Not at the Santa Monica Airport.’ ”

Working alongside investigators with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Rally and a second woman went into the restaurant — called Hump — and posed as diners interested in eating the most exotic seafood available.

Rally said the sushi chef was wily but she and the other woman were persistent. At last, she said, the chef left the restaurant, walked to a parked Mercedes and took something from an ice chest in his car.

Served the delicacy, the women secretly wrapped some in a napkin for testing.

“It ended up being an endangered species of whale,” Rally said.

Federal officers arrested the chef on suspicion of violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act by serving Sei whale. The story made the New York Times.

The next week, “The Cove” won the Academy Award for best documentary.

The story of the undercover operation that led to the shuttering of the Hump restaurant was included in the 2015 documentary by the Oceanic Preservation Society, “Racing Extinction,” which was nominated for an Oscar.

Rally completed her studies in 2014 and became a wildlife veterinarian. She was on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, becoming acquainted with the rainforest destruction caused by palm oil producers, when she met her future husband, conservationist Shayne McGrath.

It was his work that prompted the couple’s move to Sonoma County. Rally said she expects to become active in local animal welfare efforts once she becomes familiar with them.

As devoted as she is to working with animals, she said it’s also essential to help educate and galvanize humans to be more conscious of the impact their food, clothing and entertainment choices have on animals.

“Any time they pay for anything,” Rally said, “they are voting for the kind of future they want.”

You can reach columnist Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 or

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Tuesday, 30 October 2018

U.S., China weaken wildlife protections despite warnings of plunge in animal numbers

Animals in decline

Our natural world is shrinking by the day and the animals that inhabit it are dying at an alarming speed.

That's the grim conclusion of the World Wildlife Fund's 2018 Living Planet Report, which found a 60 per cent decline in the planet's populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians over the past four decades.

The survey is filled with troubling stats:

The loss of 50 per cent of the world's corals in 30 years.

The destruction of one-fifth of the Amazon rainforest in the past half century.

A prediction that the proportion of the planet still "substantively free" from the impact of human activities will decline from one-quarter to one-tenth by 2050.

And the animal news from elsewhere only contributes to the sense that the Earth is in crisis.

Yesterday, the Chinese government rescinded a 25-year ban on the "scientific and medical" use of rhinoceros horn and tiger bone, creating a quasi-legal market for the parts of two of the world's most-threatened species.

Under the change, researchers are only supposed to use the pieces of "captive" rhinos and "naturally deceased" tigers, but it's not clear how this will be enforced.

In Canada, the caribou are well on their way to extinction, an expert tells the Globe and Mail, with all 11 herd groups under threat and in decline, and half now firmly in the "endangered" category.

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that climate change is operating like "an escalator to extinction" for birds that live on Peruvian mountain sides, with the warming weather forcing them higher and higher up the hills until they reach elevations where they can't survive.

The India Times reports the country's endangered owls are falling prey to poachers and trappers who sell them on for sacrifice in "black magic" bids for wealth, knowledge and wisdom, especially during the festival of Diwali.

And new research from scientists in the U.K. and California finds that widespread spraying for mosquitos that might be carrying the Zika virus is in fact killing honey bees, with 13 per cent of U.S. colonies now in danger.

The common thread in all of this is, of course, the actions of another animal — humans.

In the United States, the Trump administration is moving to restrict how much information can be released about decisions taken under the Endangered Species Act.

This dovetails with a concerted push to open up more protected and public lands for resource extraction. Last week, the U.S. Interior Department granted its first approval for Arctic offshore drilling in federal waters.

The project, called "Alaska Liberty," will see the construction of a 3.5-hectare artificial island out of gravel, located a couple of kilometres off the coast, to house the drilling rigs. A half-dozen more such projects will soon follow in one of the world's most pristine wilderness areas.

Olive branches and excuses

Turkey will not forgive and forget the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

That was the message that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered to reporters in Ankara this morning. He called on Saudi Arabia to stop making "excuses" and hand over the 18 people it has arrested in connection with the Oct. 2 killing of the dissident journalist inside the Kingdom's consulate in Istanbul.

The investigation should be wrapped up swiftly, Erdogan said.

"Now we have to solve this case. No need to prevaricate, it makes no sense to try to save certain people. We cannot let this subject end midway."

The Turkish leader's remarks are being widely interpreted as a reference to the suspected involvement of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Khashoggi plot.

And Erdogan again turned up the heat on Saudi Arabia's biggest ally, the United States, divulging that he had shared key details about the case with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel this past weekend.

America is apparently busy trying to forge some sort of diplomatic end to the crisis, working behind the scenes to persuade the Saudis to end their feud with Qatar, a close Turkish ally, and stop the fighting and aid blockade in Yemen.

And this morning, the Saudi cabinet made a surprise announcement that the country will forgive $6 billion US in debt that it is owed by a number of countries in the developing world, as part of a UN initiative (details of the deal have yet to be released).

Such gestures and olive branches will not be enough to placate Khashoggi's loved ones.

Last night, the woman who waited in vain for him to exit the consulate — his Turkish fiancĂ©e Hatice Cengiz — said that she is "disappointed" in many world leaders and called on Donald Trump to help "reveal the truth" about the killing.

"He should not pave the way for a cover-up of my fiance's murder," she said during a memorial service in London. "Let's not let money taint our conscience and compromise our values."

Eight questions on ebola

The latest numbers from the World Health Organization are stark: 274 cases, 174 deaths.

Any ebola outbreak is cause for concern, but the current cluster in the Democratic Republic of Congo's North Kivu province is particularly worrisome. The area is densely populated, borders on several other nations including Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan, and is an active conflict zone, with up to 100 different armed factions battling the government.

The tense security situation has been further complicated by open hostility towards some of those who have arrived to help fight the virus, with aid workers coming under attack as they try treat victims or safely bury the dead.

Vancouver Island native Gwen Eamer has been working for the International Red Cross in the DRC as a Health Coordinator and Safe and Dignified Burials team leader. She spoke to the National Today about the unique challenges posed by this outbreak.

Q: Who volunteers for the safe burial squads?

A: These volunteers are community members, which I think is the most important aspect.

The Red Cross is able to do that work because of that trust. These are not outsiders. They are from down the road. They speak the same language. They're from the same community. And many have been Red Cross volunteers for years. They have previously brought assistance from floods or conflict, and they are known as sources of help — and sources of information that is useful to people.

Our whole approach is based on using local people to do local work. And that's all based on acceptance and trust. The fact that these volunteers still face resistance speaks to the level of difficulty.

Q: I imagine it must take an emotional toll ...

It's challenging, particularly for volunteers who are doing it day in and day out.

For that reason we provide psychological support to our volunteers, in terms of debriefings. It's very, very hard, especially when you're dealing with children or your community members. Ebola doesn't discriminate.

And we've had some volunteers who have had losses within their own families. And then three or four weeks later, after the quarantine period, they're back helping again, which is amazing — and I think so important, in terms of the empathy and compassion they can bring. To be able to say I was here a month ago, and I can tell you that we can help.

Q: You mentioned the children. The most recent statistics count 43 of the 70 dead since the beginning of October as having been under the age of 16. That has to be doubly difficult.

My sense is that the number of cases in children is increasing. I'm not an epidemiologist and I haven't seen a good explanation as to why.

Typically what we see in Ebola is that women tend to be infected more than men, because of their traditional role as carers both in health care facilities as nurses and at home. It's the mom and the wife who do the caring for a sick family member.

Q: You were in Guinea and Liberia during the big 2014 Ebola outbreak. How does the current crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo compare?

The response in DRC is much, much more complex.

In West Africa, those three countries that were most heavily hit are post-conflict countries. You do still have these elements of distrust, these elements of broken down systems. But the degree of difficulty and complexity in DRC is not something that I've seen before.

I really cannot stress enough how challenging it is as an operating environment, to do a job that is of high quality. You need to do a good job if people are to avoid infection. You need to take the time and create the space to do a good job, whether it's infection control or communications or safe and dignified burials. Creating that space has been very, very challenging.

Q: Is that primarily because of the security situation?

Yes, and I think from the social and cultural aspects that emerge from having had a generation of conflict that people don't trust each other. That people are scared. That people don't want to see outsiders coming in, necessarily, or they don't trust their purpose.

Yes, the security context is important, and it creates complexities. But it's almost more the impact of trying to carry out these operations in a population that has been affected by so much insecurity. A population that has experienced so much war.

Q: What about the health precautions that you have to take while you're working there? Do they just become second nature?

It's interesting how quickly it becomes ingrained. For us, we have what we call a "no touch" mission. The closest you come to human contact is an elbow tap, and that's if someone really, really needs human contact. It's amazing how deeply that becomes ingrained.

I just did two Ebola missions back-to-back — I was also leading the response in Equateur for the outbreak that ended just before this one was recognized. And the no-touch affects you. Humans are animals who touch. We are social creatures who shake hands, and kiss cheeks and high-five. I think it has significant impact in the field when you're having a really rough day, and I can't give you a hug any of that physical touching.

And when you come back, the first person that give you a hug, the first person that shakes your hand, there's this moment of freezing before you say, 'Oh,it's OK.' I've spent three out of the last four months in an Ebola context and I still get surprised when people shake my hand.

Q: This is the tenth ebola outbreak in the DRC since 1976, and the illness has been in the news so much in the past few years. What do you think Canadians still need to learn about the disease?

I would say it's the stigma, and how we treat people who come back.

One of the best things Canada can do is send resources; money equipment and people who know how to help. But if those people come home to Canada and are told 'you're a bad parent,' because you are putting your child at risk, or you can't possibly go back to work because you're going to infect everyone — neither of these things are true. That's not how ebola works.

We need to talk to people about where the risk is and where the risk isn't. And create an environment where if you go and help with ebola, you're doing a good thing — it makes you a good parent, a good citizen, a good employee. It does not bring a threat home to Canada.

Q: Do you feel like people treat you differently when they find out you work in ebola relief?

Yes. Those of us who came back from West Africa, when there was so much media hype and attention focused on the outbreak, I think many of us experienced a certain degree of stigma. People who didn't want to touch us, who didn't want to be near us, who thought that we were going to spread the disease in Canada.

And to be clear, to spread the disease you have to have active symptoms yourself. Essentially, if I'm not sick, I can't make you sick. It's not like measles or other diseases where you can spread it before you have symptoms.

There was so much hype and fear, and just so much panic around the virus, it actually prevented some people from going, because they didn't want to deal with the aftermath of coming home.

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Monday, 29 October 2018

China Changes Laws Regarding Trade Of Tiger, Rhino, And Elephant Parts

China has changed the rules regarding the trade of tiger and rhino parts as of 29 October. That means that rhino horns and tiger bones, which are used in Chinese medicine, will be allowed to be used on a limited basis.

This represents a significant change from their total ban on the trade of such parts that had been in effect since 1993.

The new legislation means that parts of animals that have been raised in farms in China can be traded to accredited doctors at certain hospitals.

Western medical experts say that both tiger bone and rhino horns have no medicinal benefits whatsoever, but they are still often ground into powders to be used in Chinese medicine.

As well as those parts, the controversial practice also uses the genitalia of deer, bulls, as well as parts from snakes and elephant tusks.

Many of the parts come from endangered animals, much to the dismay of conservationists and environmentalists.

There are less than 32,000 rhinos left - a statistic that covers all existing species - and around 3,900 tigers remain in the wild.

Nearly 7,000 tigers are raised in farms in China, however. It is not known how many rhinos are held in captivity in the country.

Margaret Kinnaird, from the World Wildlife Fund, said in a statement: "Not only could this lead to the risk of legal trade providing cover to illegal trade, this policy will also stimulate demand that had otherwise declined since the ban was put in place."

In another statement, Tanya Sanerib from the Centre for Biological Diversity, added: "China's rhino and tiger decision is a huge step backwards for these animals, which are already on the brink of extinction.

"In the midst of poaching crises, China should be working to stem demand, not condoning rhino horn and tiger bones in unproven medical treatments."

It is not known why the Chinese government has decided to change the rules on animal parts. However, it is thought that encouraging the massively lucrative Chinese medicine industry - thought to be worth more than $100 billion (£78.3bn) - could have played a role in the government's thinking.

Chinese state media claimed that the move would actually benefit animals by improving the monitoring of the trade.

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Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Thieving wild elephant steals rice from house in Chinese village

Mobile phone footage captured a wild Asian elephant stealing a bag of rice from a village home in southwestern China.

In the clip, shot in Pu’er City in Yunnan Province last Wednesday (October 24), an Asian elephant uses its trunk to steal a bag of rice from villager Yang Xuechang’s house and then runs away.

In another video, captured on October 25, the elephant can be seen sneaking into Yang’s house again, but villagers shout at it to drive it away.

Since Yang had since hidden all the rice, the elephant did not get anything the second time.

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3 arrested with elephant tusks worth over Rs 1 crore

Jaipur: The crime branch of Jaipur police claimed a major success after it arrested three persons and seized elephant tusks
worth over Rs one crore from them during a raid.

The crime branch led by ACP Mahavir Singh, arrested Kamlesh Sharma (35), a resident of Bassi in Jaipur; Amit Sharma (23), a
resident of Jamwaramgarh; and Vishnu Prasad Sharma (23), a resident of Andhi area.

The police said that they recovered six kg of elephant tusks from the trio. “They had been planning to sell them off in the illegal
market where there is a high demand for tusks,” an official said.

The police said that there is a thriving industry for illegal ivory in China, which often drives up demand in India.

The police had received a tip-off that three youths would be coming to a park to sell tusks, following which a team, which
included Mannendra Singh, Purshottam Sharma, Dwarka Prasad, Avinash and Bhura Ram, laid a trap and arrested the trio. The
accused were planning to sell these tusks to buyers, “We are now trying to find out who all were in their contact lists and where
did they get supply of so many illegal products from,” an official said.

The Jaipur rural police have not ruled out the possibility of an active, illegal wildlife trade racket operating in the city

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Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Elephant damages village huts in Jamuria, India

An elephant in musth is not a safe proposition as a neighbour.

He comes in from the forest, walks around the village, helping himself to banana trees, pots of water (spraying himself as he goes along) and generally pokes his nose into every village home helping himself to anything that smells good. A street dog comes to investigate but d

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Dasara Elephants were given a warm send off

Leaving memories lakhs of people during festivities and shoring up the events with their majestic presence, the Dasara Elephants from the jungle camps bid adieu to the city of Palace here Sunday.

The Dasara Elephants were given a warm send off.

The 12 elephants from various jungle camps, led by the Ambaari Aane (howdah elephant) 58 year-old Arjuna, camped in the city for the last 60 days for the festivities.

Having put up their best act and lived up to their formidable reputation as the cynosure of all eyes during the 'Jamboo Savari', the elephants relaxed in the ambience of the Palace grounds for three days before embarking on their return journey to the forests along with their mahouts.

The elephants were given a warm send off complete with prayers for their collective welfare and safety by Priests who performed 'Aarti' and applied kumkum and arshina to Arjuna and the other elephants. The Priests chanted 'Ashtottara' and garlanded the elephants while sugarcane and Jaggery were offered as a mark of thanksgiving for their splendid display during the Dasara procession.

The atmosphere on the Palace courtyard was one of excitement as the mahouts backed their belongings in a rush to get back home while the elephants seemed to revel in the ambience with which they are now familiar as most of them are veterans of Mysuru Dasara.

The elephants led by Arjuna was given a traditional farewell by District Administration and Forest officials at the Mysore Palace premises.

Arjuna will head towards Balle camp also in Nagarahole. While Balarama done his work as Pattada Aane (Royal Elephant', will be taken to K Gudi camp in Chamarajanagar, the other elephants also taken back to their respective camps in Mysore and Chamarajanagara forest ranges.

Ahimanyu, a tough task master and renowned to subdue rogue elephants in the wild, will head for the Moorkal camp in Nagarahole.

As a goodwill gesture, the district administration hosted a luncheon for 300 persons including 12 mahouts who looked after the Dasara elephants and 12 Kavadis apart from mahout families.

The Dasara elephants have gained weight substantially owing to the rich and nutrient food provided to them after their arrival from forest camps.

District Administration has given honorarium to all the 35 mahouts, Kavadis and others on the occasion.

Minister for Tourism Sa Ra Mahesh and Deputy Commissioner Abhi Ram B Shankar, speaking on the occasion, thanked the Forest Department and Police for the success of the Dasara festivities. Elephants Gopi, Vijya and Vikram will be remain in the city to participate in the royal family procession tomorrow.

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New research measures impacts of China’s elephant ivory trade ban

Research released last month by WWF and TRAFFIC, the wildlife monitoring network, found that there has been a substantial decline in the number of Chinese consumers buying ivory since the ivory trade ban went into effect on December 31, 2017. But there is still work to be done to diminish both the supply and demand for elephant ivory in China.

Of 2,000 Chinese consumers surveyed, 14 percent claimed to have bought ivory in the past year — significantly fewer than the 31 percent of respondents who said they’d recently purchased ivory during a pre-ban survey conducted in 2017. Some ivory sales have simply gone international, however: 18 percent of regular travelers reported buying ivory products while abroad, particularly in Thailand and Hong Kong.

TRAFFIC reports that all of the formerly accredited (i.e. legal) ivory shops the group’s investigators visited in 2018 have stopped selling ivory. But the illegal ivory trade has not been so thoroughly shut down. TRAFFIC investigators also visited 157 markets in 23 cities and found 2,812 ivory products on offer in 345 separate stores.

When China banned all commercial trade in elephant ivory and shuttered its domestic ivory markets at the end of 2017, conservationists applauded the measure. But they also warned that if China’s neighbors didn’t take similar action, the ivory trade would simply shift to those countries.

New research finds that those concerns were absolutely justified, though China’s ivory ban has had some decidedly positive impacts all the same.

Research released last month by WWF and TRAFFIC, the wildlife monitoring network, found that there has been a substantial decline in the number of Chinese consumers buying ivory since the ivory trade ban went into effect on December 31, 2017. Of the 2,000 Chinese consumers surveyed for a study titled China Ivory Consumption Research Post-Ban 2018, 14 percent claimed to have bought ivory in the past year — significantly fewer than the 31 percent of respondents who said they’d recently purchased ivory during a pre-ban survey conducted in 2017.

Chinese consumers overwhelmingly view the ban favorably, according to the survey, which found that 9 out of 10 respondents support it. Or at least, 9 out of 10 respondents said they supported the ban once they were made aware of it. Just 8 percent of respondents knew about the ban without having to be prompted, but that is twice the amount of awareness that existed pre-ban. These results suggest that, while word is slowly spreading, China needs to do more to increase public awareness around the ivory trade ban.

That’s especially true of the Chinese consumers who travel internationally, as the study found that 18 percent of regular travelers reported buying ivory products while abroad, particularly in Thailand and Hong Kong.

“We are seeing some positive trends in post ivory ban China that indicate the new legislative changes may be yielding positive results,” Margaret Kinnaird, Wildlife Practice Leader for WWF, said in a statement. “But persisting demand and a lack of awareness among consumers in some parts of the country as well as weak spots with insufficient regulation and enforcement means we need to redouble efforts in strengthening these areas.”

In another study, China’s Ivory Market after the Ivory Trade Ban in 2018, TRAFFIC reports that all of the formerly accredited (i.e. legal) ivory shops the group’s investigators visited in 2018 have stopped selling ivory. But the illegal ivory trade has not been so thoroughly shut down. TRAFFIC investigators also visited 157 markets in 23 cities and found 2,812 ivory products on offer in 345 separate stores. That’s 30 percent less ivory for sale than was found in a similar 2017 survey, but still a high level of trade considering that the sale and purchase of ivory is illegal.

Ivory trafficking hotspots identified by the WWF and TRAFFIC include a handful of provincial cities like Chengdu, Chongqing, Hangzhou, and Pingxiang, as well as the city of Dongxing, which sits on China’s border with Vietnam. In fact, according to the research, those five cities were the site of more than half of all the ivory products TRAFFIC found for sale.

Sales of illegal ivory online also have yet to be eradicated, though they do appear to be in decline as well. According to the study, the average number of new ivory advertisements have decreased by nearly 27 percent on websites and close to 11 percent on social media platforms since the ban went into effect.

“We are encouraged by the decline in both trade and consumer demand since the ban went into effect, but there’s still work needed to address the persistent demand and lack of awareness among consumers in some parts of the country,” Jan Vertefeuille, who oversees WWF’s ivory work, said in a statement. “And particularly concerning is the finding that people who regularly travel outside mainland China have actually shown an increase in intent to buy ivory this year.”

Xu Ling, who coordinated WWF’s and TRAFFIC’s research efforts in China, said that the findings support the call for China’s neighbors to take steps to outlaw the ivory trade in order to safeguard a future for elephants.

“Closure of the legal ivory market is a critical tool for Chinese government efforts and sets a benchmark for other countries and regions where domestic ivory markets remain active,” Xu Ling said in a statement. “Only a united global effort will achieve the goal of stamping out ivory trafficking for the benefit of elephant conservation.”

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Sunday, 21 October 2018


A video showing an elephant being hunted in Namibia has gone viral. The video features two men with rifles aiming at a herd of elephants. The video further shows one elephant being shot and others chasing the hunters.

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Watch: Wild elephant enters house in Coimbatore

The elephant probably came in search of food and ate rice and fertilisers kept in bags. The animal fled from the spot after several attempts made by the villagers.

Earlier on August 27, a 60-year-old man was trampled to death by wild elephants in Jharkhand's Giridih district. A Forest Department official said Dhaneshwar Rai was sleeping when a herd of 18 elephants entered Sabuatand village and attacked the villagers. Rai failed to escape and got killed.

In another incident a wild elephant which got stranded on a rock in a river in spate, was rescued on August 13 after sluice gates of a dam were closed briefly to allow water to recede in flood-hit Kerala's Thrissur district.

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Ivory BAN will not be enough to STOP elephant extinction in our lifetime

AN IVORY ban being pushed through Parliament this week by the Government will not be enough to stop elephants becoming extinct in our lifetime, the founder of a wildlife charity has warned. Dane Waters, who has worked for five Presidential campaigns including for the late Senator John McCain, has founded the Elephant Project which creates sanctuaries across the world for endangered animals.

He claims that 100 elephants are being killed every day for their ivory and the number of deaths has for the first time outpaced the number of baby elephants being born.

While there were 5 million African elephants at the turn of the 20th century and 100,000 Asian elephants, their numbers are now believed to be just 450,000 African elephants and 30,000 Asian elephants.

Speaking to the Sunday Express, Mr Waters praised the UK Ivory Trade Bill, which comes to its report stage in the Lords this week, but he warned that the British ministers need to persuade the Trump administration in the US and the Chinese to change their policies.

Mr Waters, who as a close friend of the late Senator McCain’s has already had rows with President Trump, hit out at the administration’s decision to allow the import of ivory and other elephant trophies and encourage US citizens to go big game hunting in Africa.

He said: “The decision by President Trump to allow for the import of elephant trophies into the United States will increase the senseless killing by big game hunters of this threatened and vulnerable keystone species.

“It also signals to China that the US is abdicating its long-standing commitment to lead the world in elephant protection and conservation.

“This sends a message to China that they are free to not enforce their ban as well as takes pressure off the European Union to act to enact laws to end domestic ivory markets.”

He went on: “Additionally, the Department of Interior under President Trump established the International Wildlife Conservation Council (IWCC).

“The mandate of this Council, whose majority is comprised of trophy hunters or groups that advocate for the hunting of elephants, is to increase awareness of the ‘economic benefits that result from US citizens travelling abroad to hunt.’

“One of the members co-owns a hunting preserve with Trump’s son Don Jr – who is an avid big game hunter and killer of elephants.”

He said that the ivory ban is a “good thing” but “only if it is enforced”.

And he noted that while there is a ban in China it is still the leading black market for ivory goods in the world.

He said: “Enforcement is critical and countries like the US and UK must lead.

“The US has abdicated that role and leadership and so now the UK has the chance to be the world's leader both from a moral and practical standpoint.

“It is also a good way for the UK to thumb their nose to the EU since they are behind in tackling this issue.”

The ivory ban in Britain is meant to be the toughest in the world.

A limited number of items are due to be given exemptions from the ban.

These include items comprised less than 10 per cent ivory by volume and made before 1947, musical instruments made before 1975 and comprised of less than 20 per cent ivory, rare or important items, at least 100 years old, and portrait miniatures painted on thin ivory bases and for commercial activity between accredited museums.

When he launched the bill, environment secretary Michael Gove used it as an example of how Britain would lead the way with tougher animal welfare regulations and laws after Brexit.

He sadded that the new law would "reaffirm the UK's global leadership on this critical issue, demonstrating our belief that the abhorrent ivory trade should become a thing of the past".

He said: "Ivory should never be seen as a commodity for financial gain or a status symbol."

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Saturday, 20 October 2018

Mysuru Dasara elephant march enthrals lakhs

The Navarathri festival in the Southern city of Mysuru concluded on Friday with the world famous Jumboo Savari witnessed by lakhs of people. The celebration of victory over evil draws devotees from around the world to this place. Mysuru Dasara, now the nada habba (state festival), represents various streams of cultural heritage.

The Vijayadashami festivity which marks the jumboo savari (elephant march) also showcased Karnataka's cultural heritage resplendent with folk art forms, as 'Arjuna' led other richly embellished elephants through the more than 5-km route from Mysuru Palace to Bannimantapa.

The majestic pachyderm Arjuna carrying the idol of goddess Chamundeshwari, placed in a 750-kg golden howdah, found its way from the grand Mysore palace to the cheers of lakhs.

The "Jumbo savari", observed in the royal style since the days of the erstwhile Mysuru Maharajas, began with Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy along with his wife Anita showering petals on Goddess Chamundeshwari, the presiding deity of the historical city.

Armed contingents, including the mounted police, are part of the procession that conjures up images of a bygone era when the maharajas used to celebrate Dasara and cap it with the victory procession.

Yaduveer Krishnadatta Chamaraja Wodeyar, the scion of the erstwhile Mysuru Royal family, also offered puja to the Goddess. Pramoda Devi Wodeyar is the widow of Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, the last descendant of the Wodeyar dynasty. Srikantadatta Narashimharaja Wodeyar had died of cardiac arrest on December 10, 2013.

This will be followed by the torchlight parade at the Bannimantap Grounds, which includes equestrian events besides a display of synchronised exercise and motorcycling by police personnel. The torchlight parade will officially bring down the curtains on the 10-day festival, popularly termed the 'Naada Habba', which is also a celebration of the State's and the country's diverse culture.

The Dasara festivities began with the Vijayanagara Kings as early as the 15th Century. The festival played a historical role in the 14th-century at Vijayanagara empire where it was called Mahanavami and the festivities are shown in the relief artwork of the outer wall of the Hazara Rama temple at Hampi, the world heritage site.

After the fall of the Vijayanagar to Deccan Sultanates, these celebrations came to an end under Muslim rulers. The Wodeyars of Mysuru formed a kingdom in Southern parts of the Vijayanagara Empire and continued the Mahanavami (Dasara) festival celebration, a tradition started initially by Raja Wodeyar I (1578-1617 CE) in the year 1610 at Srirangapatna near Mysuru.

Mysuru is a great tourist destination attracts thousands to the ten day festivities in Navaratri. The city is also known as cultural capital of Karnataka has many tourist destinations around the city which include Chamundi hills, Krishnaraja Sagara Dam, century old zoo garden, Srirangapatana and other places.

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Friday, 19 October 2018

Zoo euthanizes adored elephant

SANTA BARBARA — The Santa Barbara Zoo had to euthanize one of its most beloved and
oldest residents, a 47-year-old Asian elephant named Sujatha, officials said Wednesday.
Sujatha was euthanized Tuesday in her enclosure, surrounded by caretakers.

Zoo Chief Executive Rich Block said in a video posted on Twitter that Sujatha’s death was
“perhaps the most difficult moment” in his 20 years at the facility.

“And I know for the people that care for the elephants this may be the toughest moment in
their entire career,

” Block said. “There is no way to describe the sadness that is felt.”

Sujatha had been in declining health for the last few years, but lived comfortably with
treatment, Block said. Her well-being had declined precipitously in recent weeks and she
stopped responding to treatment, he said.

Sujatha and her female companion, Little Mac, arrived at the zoo from India in 1972 when
they were only 11/2 years old, and they’d lived together ever since.

After Sujatha was euthanized, zoo officials allowed Little Mac to visit her in hopes of helping
the grieving process.

Zoo officials said that elephants are known to grieve for their companions and that if Little

Mac is too distressed about losing her best friend or would like to be around other elephants,
she could be moved to another facility.

“From 1972 until last night, they were together,

” Block said. “Best friends is probably a
good way to categorize it. These were two remarkable animals.”

Block praised Sujatha and Little Mac for being “ambassadors for Asian elephants in Santa

Barbara for 46 years.”

“Children who rst
met them in the 1970s have brought their own children, and some even
their grandchildren, to meet these wonderful creatures,

” Block said in a statement. “We
are grateful to Sujatha and Little Mac for how they have enriched all our lives.”

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Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Human-elephant conflict in Xishuangbanna Prefecture, China: Distribution, diffusion, and mitigation


The conflict between humans and wild animals is a special type of phenomena between human development and wild animal conservation, not only leading to massive economic loss to local residents, but also imposing severe impacts upon the production and living activities and even personal safety of the residents. Human-elephant conflict has existed as a phenomenon of human settlement development for more than 20 years in Xishuangbanna, China. There are periodic incidents of wild elephants hurting/killing people as well as feeding on and destroying subsistence and cash crops. It is an increasingly urgent and important issue for China to resolve while protecting and managing Asian elephants. Our study employed an Ecological-Niche Factor Analysis model to perform a risk assessment of areas where the Asian elephant currently is distributed and to predict future risks. It employed a Circuit Theory model based on random walk theory to predict multiple potential movement or migration pathways of Asian elephants within Xishuangbanna. The results indicated that: (1) the regions with human-elephant conflict risk in Xishuangbanna Prefecture had an area of about 4349.08 km2, accounting for 22.77% of the total prefecture area, with the risk regions primarily present in the middle and north parts of Menghai County and Jinghong City and in Mengla County in which there was a wide geographical distribution covering from the south to the north; (2) The regions of agriculture and garden that were close to Asian elephant distribution and roads were likely occurring risk; (3) There were more potential movement paths of elephants within Mengyang and Menghai distribution regions, which indicated that the connection of these areas was better. While the potential movement paths of elephants within Mengla and Shangyong were little; (4) There were some potential movement paths between different distribution areas of Asian elephant, but the migration possibility of elephants in different distribution areas was decreasing due to natural barriers (Mengyang-Menghai has Lancang river) and discontinuous potential paths between Mengla and Shangyong. Additionally, we discussed that created ecological corridors between different natural reserves to allow more dispersal and gene flow of elephants and diminish conflict between human and elephant. We also put forward compensation suggestions in different risk area. We hope our analytical methods can be applied, improved and expanded to other areas with similar wildlife damage.

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