Friday, October 26, 2012

Poachers Decimate Tanzania's Elephant Herds

Taken in the Ngorongoro crater, Tanzania
Taken in the Ngorongoro crater, Tanzania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by ,

"The word 'ivory' rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it" - Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness.
Conrad wrote more than a century ago, when there were no laws against shooting elephants. If anything, today's restrictions on the ivory trade have only increased its value.

The slaughter of elephants and the seizure of illegal ivory have soared to their highest levels in decades. A voracious market in Asia and chaotic wildlife protection in much of Africa have put elephant herds at risk throughout the African continent, particularly in Central and East Africa. Poachers are gunning down whole families, oblivious to game scouts.

A key battleground is Tanzania, one of the world's last great repositories of elephants. Perhaps 70,000 to 80,000 elephants roam this nation's immense sanctuaries, amounting to perhaps a quarter of all African elephants.

In colonial times, the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar held the largest ivory auctions in the world. Today Tanzania has regained that infamy. Those public auctions have been replaced by underground networks of smugglers, but Tanzania remains a leading source of ivory.

From 2009 to 2011, the country was the leading exporter of illegal ivory in the world. Thirty-seven percent of all elephant tusks seized by law enforcement came from Tanzania, with neighboring Kenya a close second.

On Saturday, customs officials in Hong Kong announced the seizure of nearly 4 tons' worth of ivory hidden in two containers shipped from Indian Ocean ports in Tanzania and Kenya. Whether the ivory is merely transshipped through Tanzanian ports or plundered from its parks is a point of contention.

Few Protections For Elephants

Conservationists say Tanzania has for years been one of Africa's worst elephant slaughterhouses. They blame authorities who are unable or unwilling to control poaching and trafficking. The government acknowledges there is a problem and says reforms are under way.

"There's an enormous slaughter of elephants going on in Tanzania right now. Things are out of hand," says Iain Douglas-Hamilton, who has been studying and protecting elephants in Africa for 47 years. "There's no protection in numbers for elephants any more than there was for bison in the last century when they were all wiped out in America. So people shouldn't kid themselves."

Wildlife rangers in Tanzania came across this elephant that had been killed for its ivory. Tanzania says it wants to prevent the slaughter of elephants, but rangers are poorly paid and are responsible for monitoring vast game reserves in the East African country. Tanzania had been curiously mute over the massacre of its elephants. But recently, an avuncular, white-haired member of Parliament offered this grim assessment.

"Thirty elephants per day. At the end of the year, you're talking about 10,000 elephants killed," says James Lembeli, chairman of Parliament's Natural Resources Committee and a former National Parks official. "Move around this country where you have populations of elephants: carcasses everywhere."

In Search Of Dead Elephants

I decided to go see for myself. Two Masai tribesmen in tire-tread sandals use elaborate whistling to herd their cattle. They know this landscape of dry thorn brush and tawny grass intimately. So they lead us to a recent elephant kill on the Tanzania-Kenya border.

We walked up on the carcass of a dead elephant. It was killed sometime last month. All that's left is a great leathery hide, gray on the outside, pink on the inside, decomposing on the savanna. The poachers hauled off the tusks. The villagers came and cut away all the meat, and took the head and bones. The scene is being repeated again and again across Tanzania.

The poachers come in all types in Africa these days. The Democratic Republic of Congo recently accused Ugandan soldiers of machine-gunning elephants from a military helicopter. Some poachers track jumbo elephants on foot for days like big-game hunters. Others use high-tech shortcuts.

Robert Waltenburg manages Lake Chala Safari Camp, a small, private game reserve where we found the carcass. It's one of eight elephants killed here in recent weeks.

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Climate Change is Placing Increasing Pressure on Queensland’s Ecosystems

Mountain-top ecosystem. Kara Brugman
by Dr Kristen Williams, Research Scientist in Ecological Geography at CSIRO and Dr Michael Dunlop, Senior Research Scientist: land-water-biodiversity-climate at CSIRO, The Conversation:

Climate change will place increasing pressure on Australia’s natural environments in the future. Queensland is no exception.

CSIRO and the Queensland Government recently conducted an in-depth review and synthesis of the existing scientific literature.

The resulting report shows that climate and ocean changes will affect Queensland’s marine, terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in ways that are more widespread and, in many situations, more extreme than currently recognised.

Even under a moderate global emissions scenario, there are likely to be very significant ecological changes at most locations in Queensland by 2070.

It is impossible to predict exactly how ecosystems will change, but our models indicate that in any affected location more than half the plant species in that location in 2070 could differ to those there today.

This example provides an indication of the magnitude of the environmental change that ecosystems may face. Actual levels of change at any location could be higher or lower depending on how individual species respond and interact with each other.

These findings mirror CSIRO’s Australia-wide assessment of the impact of climate change on biodiversity conservation and the National Reserve System. Species and ecosystems will be very sensitive to anticipated levels of future environmental change, and existing pressures greatly reduce their ability to adapt to those changes.

Some areas of international significance are particularly at risk, such as the Wet Tropics and the Great Barrier Reef. The Wet Tropics was identified as a global climate change “hot spot” by the IPCC in 2007. Our report found that the entire region is expected to experience significant environmental change; some mountain top ecosystems may disappear entirely.

The Great Barrier Reef is expected to face the combined influences of warming, ocean acidification and storm activity. It is generally expected to have its mix of species altered, be prone to disease and bleaching, have reduced coral cover, and become more dominated by algae.

The report indicates that, under a scenario of two degrees increase in average global temperature, ocean acidification will be severely affecting reefs by the mid century.

Last month’s Climate Commission report, The Critical Decade, said future operations of the agriculture and tourism industries will be significantly affected as climate change alters the ecosystems on which they rely.

The cultural identity of North Queensland’s tourism sector relies heavily on the integrity of the ecosystems and biodiversity of the Wet Tropics and Great Barrier Reef. CSIRO’s report describes how climate change could cause disruptions and significant economic losses while the tourism industry adjusts.

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Rapid Demise of The African Elephant: Can This Massive Slaughter Be Stopped?

Men with ivory tusks, Dar Es Salaam
Men with ivory tusks, Dar Es Salaam (Wikipedia)
by J Delms


Because of the huge demand for ivory-carved religious artifacts in Asia, the African elephant is being decimated by highly paid well-armed poachers and smugglers.


According to reliable sources like the National Geographic magazine (Ivory Worship, National Geographic, October 2012, p.32), these underground operations have been going on for several years.

During the 1980's, for example, about half of this nation's elephants were killed by hunters and poachers. To slow down this killing, several countries agreed to ban imported ivory in 1989.

However, this ban caused the value of ivory to skyrocket. Today, one 11-lb tusk can be worth $7500 or more on the black market. Thus, the poaching-smuggling trade flourishes. Also, some of the African countries who had previously banned elephant killing are now dropping their bans to thin out their so-called over-populated herds. In 2011, more than 25,000 African elephants were murdered.

Poaching methods used

The poachers are well-armed and organized. This year alone, they have killed several African park rangers who tried to protect these herds. Otherwise, they murder entire herds with AK-47 rifles and propelled grenades. Lately, they have shot down herds from helicopters.

To speed-up the tusk removal itself, they saw out the entire snout areas of the dying elephants with chain-saws. In other instances, poor groups of natives set out poisoned pumpkins and watermelons to kill the elephants for the poachers.

Underground systems deeply entrenched 

1. The religious sectors in question see the ivory (and nothing but ivory) as giving the proper adoration to their gods. Any substitute material is unacceptable.
2. To transport this large amount of contraband ivory across Africa, and then, to smuggle it by boat or plane into Asia requires massive illegal organization. In one article, one interviewee claimed the only time this contraband is officially seized is when a payment is missed.
3. Currently, the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda and Sudan sees this illegal trade as a revenue source. This rogue army is the same one that raids native villages, captures its children, and then forces them to kill their own parents before trafficking them abusively.

Can anything be done about it?

One source predicts the African elephant will be gone by 2020 at the present rate of poaching. That's only seven years away from now. Making a difference in this savage travesty will require more police action than is currently available. The bribes and payoffs go well beyond poorly trained inspectors and customs agents. They creep into the upper reaches of several governments.

One thought is to stop these mass killings in Africa. However, the enormity of this cause will require much more than poorly equipped park rangers. Cooperating multinational military action will be needed. Such action could mean having

  • United Nations oversight
  • spies and armed military personnel
  • heavily armored vehicles and helicopters to offset the poacher's armament
  • extensive radio, camera and video communications
  • continuous flyovers of suspect regions
  • satellite surveillance
  • improved port detection and inspection


Although the African elephant also faces natural habitat losses, poaching remains the biggest cause of their rapid disappearance. When this immoral illegal trade is stopped, it will have to make-do with the ivory it already has on hand in its own way. For more detailed information on this subject, see the following reference.

Poaching Frenzy --

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Friday, October 5, 2012

Crown of Thorns is a Symptom of Reef Decline: Let’s Address the Cause

English: Striped Surgeon (Acanthurus lineatus)...
Great Barrier Reef (Photo: Wikipedia)
by Dr Terry Hughes, Federation Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, The Conversation:

A recent report on coral loss from the Great Barrier Reef has pointed the finger at cyclones and Crown of Thorns starfish.

The real culprit is human activity, and until we reduce port activity and pollution, coral will be unable to bounce back.

Three recent studies, published in 2004, 2007 and this week, have shown that at least 50% of the corals on the Great Barrier Reef have disappeared in recent decades.

Last year, another report claimed the declines were more modest and the result of a natural cycle. But the latest report, from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, confirms earlier studies - the Great Barrier Reef is in trouble.

Corals are the backbone of the reef, providing habitat for many other species. Measuring coral cover on a reef is the simplest way to monitor its condition.

But other metrics - like counts of sharks, dugongs and turtles - also show alarming downward trajectories. The decline in coral cover highlights UNESCO’s concerns about the dwindling Universal Heritage Values of the Barrier Reef.

The key question now is, what are we going to do about these losses?

First, we need to consider why coral cover changes. The amount of coral goes down when they reproduce less, grow more slowly or die more frequently. Even under ideal conditions, about one-quarter to one-third of a coral population dies each year from background mortality.

They can die from old age, disease, predation, competition with a neighbour, erosion of their skeleton, smothering by sediment, severe coral bleaching, and from storms.

On a healthy reef, loss of cover is balanced by new recruitment of young corals and by new growth. It’s just like a human population - we measure births, deaths and net migration to track demographic changes. Measuring mortality alone won’t help us to plan for schools or new roads.

Next consider where the loss of coral cover is greatest. The 50% decline in coral cover is averaged over the whole Great Barrier Reef (GBR). However, there has been no net loss of coral cover in the remote north beyond Cooktown or on reefs far from shore. Consequently, most reefs that are close to the coast (and to people) have lost far more than 50% of their cover.

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