Category: Poaching


Wow, I knew if I lived long enough I would agree with Prince Charles on something, and it seems we agree that there is an implacable war against animals, a world war on a global scale, starkly evident in the high-tech poaching industry that is wiping out species such as rhinos and elephants before our eyes (see, for instance, my posts here and here). It seems we also agree that the human assault on other animals ought to be viewed as and treated as a war in which we defend animals from attack by any means necessary on this dying planet (see, for instance, my posts here and here). 

Nice to be in agreement with you on these points, Prince Charles. Now how about putting the UK’s armed forces in the service of wildlife under attack?

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The Guardian, May 21, 2013

Princes Charles and Prince William

Prince Charles and Prince William examine confiscated items made from endangered animals at the conference.

Prince Charles has warned that criminal gangs are turning to animal poaching, an unprecedented slaughter of species that can only be stopped by waging war on the perpetrators, in the latest of a series of increasingly outspoken speeches about the environment.

Addressing a conference of conservationists at St James’s Palace in London, the Prince of Wales announced a meeting of heads of state to take place this autumn in London under government auspices to combat what he described as an emerging, militarised crisis.

“We face one of the most serious threats to wildlife ever, and we must treat it as a battle – because it is precisely that,” said Charles. “Organised bands of criminals are stealing and slaughtering elephants, rhinoceros and tigers, as well as large numbers of other species, in a way that has never been seen before. They are taking these animals, sometimes in unimaginably high numbers, using the weapons of war – assault rifles, silencers, night-vision equipment and helicopters.”

It is the second outspoken speech that Charles has made this month, at a time when he is taking on an increasing number of monarchical duties, after he told a group of forest scientists also at St James’s Palace that corporate lobbyists and climate change sceptics were turning the Earth into a “dying patient”. The Prince of Wales warned that iconic species – which could include rhinoceros, tigers, orangutans and others – could be extinct in the wild within a decade if efforts to protect them were not stepped up. “By urgent, I mean urgent,” he told the dignitaries, who included governmental and United Nations officials as well as NGOs and grassroots activists.

His son, the Duke of Cambridge, added to the plea: “My fear is that one of two things will stop the illegal trade: either we take action to stem the trade, or we will run out of the animals. There is no other outcome possible.”

Charles also stressed the need to deal with the demand for exotic species. In the past, much of the market for tiger parts, rhino horns and ivory was said to be driven by beliefs in traditional Chinese medicine, in which the rare animal parts were believed to have curative or aphrodisiac properties. But the prince dismissed such ideas, saying the trade was in fact about status symbols rather than belief systems. “The bulk of the intended use is no longer for products that can be classified as traditional medicines. Instead, many more people in rapidly growing economies are seeking exotic products that reflect their economic prosperity and status.”

The conference called for celebrities to publicise their outrage and opposition to the trade, and for young people in countries such as China to be educated to reject the demands of their parents for such status-fuelled goods.

A disturbing update from the front lines of the war on animals, with elephants and rhinos the principle targets, certainly in Africa, and headed rapidly for extinction. A new study described below confirms one’s fears that the inexplicable fetish for ivory, its high monetary value aside, still principally driven by Chinese market demand (the same country also in midst of revolutionary change in its views toward animals reflected in scores of liberations of cats and dogs headed for slaughter and rise in animal advocacy generally).

There is no measure too costly, no action too extreme, no coordinated effort too large to stop this escalating holocaust of  rhinos and elephants, It is clearly high time to defend these majestic animals by any means necessary by shutting down lines of demand and supply, through a ruthless counter-war on poachers, via draconian penalties for consumers and peddlers of ivory, through drone attacks on crime syndicates descending from helicopters for their unconscionable kill, and with crackdowns on state complacency or complicity anywhere in Africa and Asia.

This is a dramatic window into the sixth extinction crisis in the history of the planet unfolding before our eyes; may we do more than watch this continuing saga of rhinos and elephants dropped by guns and machetes until all are wiped off the continent, with nothing remaining of their millions of years of evolution but macabre carvings and statues and graveyards.

The articles linked below are well worth reading, and anyone who doubts the vicious and implacable greed and violence driving the war on elephants and rhinos should read through the valuable New York Times archives.

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Jaymi Heimbuch, Tree Hugger, January 17, 2013

If you’ve been following ivory poaching in the news lately, you may be wondering if there is any hope at all for elephants.

Just yesterday, the Washington Post reported, “Custom officials seized 638 pieces of illegal elephant ivory estimated to be worth $1.2 million at Kenya’s main port, evidence of what wildlife officials described Wednesday as a growing threat to East Africa’s elephants.”

And just two weeks ago, on January 5, eleven elephants were killed in one massacre by a gang of poachers at Bisadi area of Tsavo East National Park.

The problem is vast and complex, but part of the reason for the growing crisis is the booming economy in China. As the BBC reports:

“China is the main buyer of ivory in the world,” said Dr Esmond Martin, a conservationist and researcher who has spent decades tracking the movement of illegal ivory around the world. He has recently returned from Nigeria, where he conducted a visual survey of ivory on sale in the city of Lagos. His findings are startling.Dr Martin and his colleagues counted more than 14,000 items of worked and raw ivory in one location, the Lekki Market in Lagos.

The last survey, conducted at the same market in 2002, counted about 4,000 items, representing a three-fold increase in a decade.

It is enough to make us wonder if there is any possibility of saving elephants as a species in the face of such rampant killing and rising demand for ivory. Save the Elephants, a prominent nonprofit working to bring attention to poaching issues and Africa’s elephants, just released a 14-year study of elephants in northern Kenya, concluding that adult elephants are more likely to be killed by humans than to die from natural causes.

Science Magazine reports,

“Clearly it is the most detailed and comprehensive demographic analysis undertaken for any elephant population, and perhaps any wildlife population, at least in Africa,” says Norman Owen-Smith, an ecologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. It provides a base “for modeling the potential impacts of increased poaching” on other African elephant populations, which are also suffering from illegal killing.

The study notes that in 2000, there were 38 males over 30 years old in the study population, but by 2011 there were just 12, with seven males maturing into that age group. That means only five of the original 38 males over 30 years old were still alive 11 years after the study began. And by the same year, 56% of the elephants found dead (and few elephant carcasses are actually found) had been poached.

The rise in poaching is not only a concern of conservationists, but also tour operators. The loss of elephants in Kenya means a loss of revenue for people running sight-seeing and safari tours. And the businesses are responding to events like the massacre in Tsavo East National Park. AllAfrica reported this week, “The umbrella body Kenya Association of Tour Operators wants a new wildlife bill to be drafted and the government to take major steps to address the poaching menace.”


After National Geographic’s impressive expose, Blood Ivory, a renewed attention has been brought to the serious issue of poaching, a problem on the rise and reaching a disturbing level of intensity as Save the Elephants has proven with their study.

But there is a glimmer of hope. Elephants have proven that they can recover their numbers if given a chance. The elephants studied by Save the Elephants experienced a small baby boom after the intense poaching of the 70s and 80s lessened.

However, the renewed pressure of poaching has stopped that rebuilding of numbers, and could have a long-term impact on the species, with the loss of important information passed down from older generations of elephants to younger generations, including where to find water, food, and other vital resources in a harsh landscape.

In a recent conversation with National Geographic, Iain Douglas-Hamilton notes that losing older elephants means the loss of the “memory bank” and a lower potential for survival for younger elephants:

Studies elsewhere in Africa show that families which lose large numbers of matriarchs do much less successfully in later life. They have a low survival rate. In the time of drought, for example, the really smart and experienced matriarchs may take their families to a completely different place, only because they’re experienced. Maybe they remember their mothers took them to a place like that when they were young. That means sometimes that they have to take a counterintuitive decision. Like maybe in a really drought-stricken area you’d have to go deeper into the worst area to get through to the other side. That’s actually happened in Tarangire, as reported in a study which showed that the really old matriarchs knew what to do. Young elephants tend to have a higher rate of survival if they have good leadership.

So, are elephants doomed? The fact is, there is hope. There is always hope. But unless something changes, and fast, to protect elephants from poaching, that hope is dying with the older generations of elephants.

The New York Times has created a landing page for all their stories on the ivory trade, making it easy to explore the issue.

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Also see:

The Elephant Killing Fields

Vatican Stand on Religious Use of Ivory Would Help Slow Illegal Killings of Elephants

Environment News Service, January 14, 2013

CAPE TOWN, South Africa – Record rhino poaching death statistics released by the South African government Friday reveal a grim picture – 668 rhinos lost their lives to poachers in 2012 – up from 14 rhinos killed by poachers in 2005. Conservation scientists report that corrupt game industry insiders are now poaching rhinos alongside other criminal groups – all well organized, well financed and highly mobile.

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Rhino horns taken from a carcass

The 668 rhinos killed across South Africa in 2012 is an increase of nearly 50 percent from the 448 rhinos poachers killed in 2011. Five more rhinos were killed by poachers just since the beginning of this year.

A 2012 report by the international wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, calls these rhino killings “an unprecedented conservation crisis for South Africa,” which until recently has had a stellar rhino conservation record.

TRAFFIC is a strategic alliance of the global conservation group WWF and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN, which maintains the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The methods used in the most recent rhino killings show a new, very worrying dimension, says the TRAFFIC report, “The South Africa – Viet Nam Rhino Horn Trade Nexus,” co-authored by Dr. Jo Shaw, rhino co-ordinator with the South Africa chapter of WWF, and Tom Milliken of TRAFFIC.

“Typically, rhinos are killed by shooting with guns, usually AK-47 assault rifles. More recently, however, a growing number of rhinos have been killed by a single shot from a high-calibre weapon characteristically only used by wildlife industry professionals or, less frequently, have been darted with immobilization drugs and had their horns removed,” Shaw and Milliken report.

“The use of such equipment, and other evidence that has even suggested the presence of helicopters at crime scenes, represents a completely “new face” in terms of rhino poaching,” they write.

“Such developments underscore the emergence of corrupt game industry insiders into rhino poaching. Rogue game ranch owners, professional hunters, game capture operators, pilots and wildlife veterinarians have all entered the rhino poaching crisis and become active players,” write Shaw and Milliken.

“This is a unique and devastating development in South Africa, severely tarnishing the image of a key stakeholder in the rhino equation even if the majority of private rhino owners and wildlife industry personnel remain committed to protecting rhinos and supporting rhino conservation.”

A majority of the 2012 rhino deaths, 425, happened in Kruger National Park, South Africa’s premier safari destination, the new government statistics show. Poaching incidents in this park rose sharply from 252 in 2011.

In the TRAFFIC report, Show and Milliken write, “…the complicity of South African national and provincial officials undertaking or enabling illegal trade has been documented.”

“In terms of killing rhinos, four government rangers were arrested in Kruger National Park in 2012 and, at the Atherstone Nature Reserve in Limpopo, the reserve manager committed suicide after allegedly being implicated in five rhino deaths. Provincial administrators have repeatedly turned a blind eye to “pseudo-hunting,” especially in North West and Limpopo provinces, and allowed rhino hunts to transpire that violate TOPS [Threatened or Protected Species] regulations,” the TRAFFIC report states.”

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A White Rhino, Ceratotherium simum simum, cow and calf

“The most shocking aspect of the illegal trade in rhino horn has been the poaching of live rhinos on a brutal scale. For 16 years, between 1990 and 2005, rhino poaching losses in South Africa averaged 14 animals each year.”

“In 2008, this figure rose to 83 and, by 2009, the number had reached 122 rhinos. In 2010, poaching escalated dramatically throughout the year, nearly tripling the toll and reaching 333 rhinos killed. In 2011, the total again climbed to a new annual record of 448 rhinos lost,” they report. Last year, 668 rhinos were killed across South Africa.

Arrests of suspected poachers and smugglers in South Africa also increased in 2012, with 267 people now facing charges related to rhino crimes.

In November, a Thai man was sentenced to a record 40 years in prison for conspiring to smuggle rhino horns to Asia.

Rhino horns are believed to have medicinal properties and are seen as highly desirable status symbols in some Asian countries, notably Vietnam, whose native rhinos have recently been pushed into extinction.

While rhino horn is composed entirely of keratin, the same substance as hair and nails, and no medicinal value has been proven, the increased commercial value placed on rhino horn has drawn well-organized, well-financed and highly-mobile criminal groups into rhino poaching.

“Vietnam must curtail the nation’s rhino horn habit, which is fueling a poaching crisis in South Africa,” said Sabri Zain, TRAFFIC’s director of advocacy.

“Viet Nam appears to be the only country in the world where rhino horn is popularly gaining a reputation as an aphrodisiac,” the TRAFFIC report states, adding that the use of ground powdered rhino horn by wealthy Vietnamese to detoxify after drinking too much alcohol is “probably the most common routine usage promoted in the marketplace today.”

“Rhinos are being illegally killed, their horns hacked off and the animals left to bleed to death, all for the frivolous use of their horns as a hangover cure,” said Zain.

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Vietnamese man drinks from a rhino horn grinding bowl

In December, Vietnam and South Africa signed an agreement aimed at bolstering law enforcement and tackling illegal wildlife trade, including rhino horn trafficking.

The agreement paves the way for improved intelligence information sharing and joint efforts by the two nations to crack down on the criminal syndicates behind the smuggling networks.

“Whilst we commend South Africa and Vietnam for signing a Memorandum of Understanding regarding biodiversity conservation, we now need to see a joint Rhino Plan of Action being implemented, leading to more of these rhino horn seizures,” said Dr. Jo Shaw, rhino co-ordinator with the South Africa chapter of WWF.

“There is also an urgent need to work closely with countries which are transit routes for illicit rhino horn, specifically Mozambique,” said Dr. Shaw.

Two Vietnamese men were detained in separate incidents earlier this month in Vietnam and Thailand for smuggling rhino horns, which were believed to have been exported from Mozambique.

Both Mozambique and Vietnam have been given failing grades by WWF’s Wildlife Crime Scorecard for failing to enforce laws meant to protect rhinos.

The TRAFFIC report explains that all animals alive today of the southern subspecies of White Rhinoceros Ceratotherium simum simum originate from a remnant population of 20 to 50 animals that have been protected in South Africa’s Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve since 1895.

South Africa now conserves 18,800 White Rhinos, which represents nearly 95 percent of Africa’s total White Rhino population.

“The remarkable recovery of the Southern White Rhino via Natal Parks Board’s “Operation Rhino,” which pioneered wildlife translocation and other important management strategies, remains one of the world’s greatest conservation triumphs,” write Shaw and Milliken.

The report credits the country’s private sector who account for a growing proportion of the national White Rhino population. Estimates from 2010 indicate that approximately 25 percent of all White Rhinos in South Africa are privately owned.

The Southern White Rhino is now listed in the IUCN Red List’s Near Threatened category and, although conservation dependent, the subspecies is no longer regarded as a threatened or endangered species.

But Africa’s other rhino species, the Black Rhinoceros Diceros bicornis, has been nearly wiped out. The estimated 100,000 Black Rhinos in Africa in 1960, before the first catastrophic rhino poaching crisis, were reduced to just 2,410 animals by 1995, the report explains.

Since then, numbers have more than doubled to 4,880 animals in 2010, but this species is still listed as Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List.

In South Africa, Black Rhino numbers have shown a steady increase since the 1980s. South Africa now conserves an estimated 1,915 Black Rhinos – more than any other range state – and nearly 40 percent of all wild Black Rhinos alive today. Again, the private sector has played a major role in Black Rhino conservation, holding approximately 22 percent of South Africa’s current population.

“But the country’s superlative conservation record of more than a century is under threat,” write Shaw and Milliken.

They recommend that South Africa ensure that those arrested for rhino crimes are prosecuted and punished.

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See Also:

http://sg.news.yahoo.com/kenyan-officials-impound-two-tonnes-ivory-police-185942068.html

http://www.bloodyivory.org

An informative and disturbing documentary on the war on South African rhinos and economic markets, mythologies, crime syndicates, government corruption, high-tech massacre technologies, and vicious mercenaries driving the immanent extinction of this magnificent species. The urgency of the crisis is vividly dramatized, as are the violent urges deep in the human condition, and the armed struggle taking place right now in Africa and elsewhere in the struggle to save animals from extinction and as a vital part of the politics of nature.

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Al Jazeera Correspondent

“It’s a creature from a bygone age, older than mankind itself. Greed and corruption, myth and superstition, had brought the rhino to the brink of extinction.

For millenia its best protection, the rhino’s horn is now its worst enemy. If the killing doesn’t stop than the last rhino in the wild could disappear in just a few years.

These days rhino poachers come by a helicopter armed with powerful tranquilizers and a chainsaw. The cruelty of the attack is just breathtaking. A philosopher once said that we can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals. If so what kind of men are doing this?

In 2010 more than 300 rhinos were killed for their horns. With acts of such heartless cruelty taking place every day now, that annual total will almost double in 2012. It amounts to the wholesale slaughter of one of this continent’s most praised natural assets, by means both crude and sophisticated.”

I never thought the day would come I could find a pretext to support to use of lethal US drone planes, but that day has arrived. Amidst the sixth extinction crisis in the history of the planet, this one entirely human-caused, as rhinos and elephants are being butchered into extinction for their lucrative horns worth more than gold on the international market, and as high-tech organized crime syndicates are leading the slaughter, only pacifist traitors to animals, deluded utopian fools, and rhino-killers themselves would take issue with Mr. Vivier’s point that “radical solutions are needed.”

Even armed struggle pitting anti-poachers against poachers has not done enough to stop the implacable slaughter of rhinos, a species expected to be extinct within two years. The war to save the rhinos therefore needs to escalate to another level. From armed struggle to rocket launchers to drone planes, these are means of extensional self-defense, tactics that rhinos themselves would use if they could. But dangerous creatures they are, they are no match for helicopters, mercenaries with machine guns and hatchets, and Asian markets driven by impotent men seeking penis power through the phantasmagoria of ivory aphrodisiac.

Animals under attack in a fierce war of extinction have to rely on human beings with enough sense to grasp the realities of commodified slaughter, merciless killers, and the utter irrelevance and treachery of pacifism in these apocalyptic conditions. But alas, the subjective and objective conditions of struggle are nowhere near advanced enough to take appropriate action and save rhinos, elephants, and countless thousands of other species from immanent extinction.

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Mail Guardian, December 26, 2012

A rhino farmer is planning to use surveillance drones designed for the US military to combat poachers who are driving the animals towards extinction.

Poaching-rhinos

Clive Vivier, co-founder of the Zululand rhino reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, said he was granted permission by the US state department to buy the state-of-the-art Arcturus T-20 drone.

He is now seeking clearance from local civil aviation authorities to put 30 of the drones in South African skies.

Radical solutions are needed, he argued, at the end of a year that saw a record of more than 650 rhinos slaughtered for their horns to meet demand from the Far East.

Vivier said the true figure might be closer to 1 000, a significant dent in a population of about 20 000.

“We’re now eating into our capital of rhino,” he said. “From here they are heading rapidly towards extinction. Despite all our efforts, we’re just historians recording the demise of a species. We don’t have the numbers on the ground to see people and stop them [from] killing the animals.”

Around 400 rhinos were killed this year in the world-famous Kruger National Park, which spans nearly two million hectares – impossible for a limited number of rangers to guard effectively. Vivier estimates it as the equivalent of a town with one policeman for every 100 000 houses, “all with the doors and windows and open and rhino horn inside”.

He continued: “We need to change the rules of the game. We need technology. The only thing that can see these people before they do the dirty deed is surveillance drones.”

The answer, he believes, is the unmanned Arcturus T-20, which, with a 17ft wingspan, can fly for 16 hours without refuelling at a height of 4572 meters. Its lack of noise and infrared camera would be invaluable for spotting poachers at night. “It can tell whether a man is carrying a shovel or firearm and whether he has his finger on the trigger or not,” said Vivier (65). “We can see the poacher but he can’t see us. We’re good at arresting them when we know where they are. Otherwise it’s a needle in a haystack.”

Vivier has spent two years in talks with civil aviation officials and is hopeful that he will soon get the green light for a six-month trial. He proposes 10 of the drones for Kruger park, and a further 20 for other vulnerable reserves in South Africa.

He estimates that each drone would cost roughly $300 000 (R2.5-million) to keep in the air for two years, making a total of around $9-million (R77-million).

“The drones are economical to fly and will get us information at a very low cost. We need this technology to put us in a position to catch the guys. We need to do it before they kill rhino. The drone is, in my opinion, the only solution. It is highly sophisticated and can see things no other technology can.”

After the worst rhino poaching year on record in South Africa, air technology is seen as a crucial preventative step. Earlier this month, a reconnaissance plane with surveillance equipment including thermal imaging began patrolling over Kruger park.

But Vivier said such alternatives lack the Calfornia-built Arcturus T-20′s capability. “The smaller ones are like using a bucket to put out a fire at the Empire State building. We need fire engines. We’re now an inferno. If we don’t wake up and do something, the world will lose the rhino.”

He appealed to the US, United Kingdom and other countries to help raise the necessary funds. “The company making the drones has to be paid and we don’t have the money. We need the best technology because the criminals are sharp. We’ve had approval from the US state department and we’re trying to work with them. It’s a world problem and the rest of the world needs to help us.”

Vivier is among a group of rhino farmers who believe that legalising the trade in horn would thwart the black market and reduce poaching. Several conservation groups disagree and call for measures that will reduce demand in countries such as Vietnam, where horn is seen as a delicacy with health benefits.

Ike Phaahla, a spokesperson for South African National Parks, welcomed moves to put eyes in the sky. “In the past three months that is a strategy we have decided to use,” he said. “We are able to use the intelligence to intercept the poachers, although you can’t have a silver bullet for this kind of thing.”

Quammen’s article below provides a powerful and relevant example of the continued biological fallout of the revolutionary shift to agricultural society ten thousand years ago, and the decision to “domesticate” animal species to exploit for human purposes. Since that decisive historical watershed, human “evolution” in fact has been a long co-evolution with other animals. Animals shape our lives and history as we shape theirs. But as the victims of human domination, they have borne a tragic toll and catastrophic cost due to the implacably violent nature and hyper-alienated mindset of Homo rapiens. Yet in the vast web of ecology and the infinite dialectic of action-reaction, the debt of destruction is soon to be paid in even more astronomical terms. For all our scientific, technological, and cultural brilliance, humans have yet to learn that they can never overshoot their ecological boundaries, disrupt and destroy animal communities, or relentlessly assault the earth without catastrophic consequences. Here is just one such known example of biological “karma,” vividly demonstrating that hubristic humans have “mastered” nothing on this planet and that violating the laws of ecology carries the most severe penalties.

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David Quammen, Yale Environment 360, October 4, 2012,

The Next Pandemic: Why It Will Come from Wildlife

Experts believe the next deadly human pandemic will almost certainly be a virus that spills over from wildlife to humans. The reasons why have a lot to do with the frenetic pace with which we are destroying wild places and disrupting ecosystems.

Emerging diseases are in the news again. Scary viruses are making themselves noticed and felt. There’s been a lot of that during the past several months — West Nile fever kills 17 people in the Dallas area, three tourists succumb to hantavirus after visiting Yosemite National Park, an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo claims 33 lives. A separate Ebola outbreak, across the border in Uganda, registers a death toll of 17. A peculiar new coronavirus, related to SARS, proves fatal for a Saudi man and puts a Qatari into critical condition, while disease scientists all over the world wonder: Is this one — or is that one — going to turn into the Next Big One?

By the Next Big One, I mean a murderous pandemic that sweeps around the planet, killing millions of people, as the so-called “Spanish” influenza did in 1918-19, as AIDS has been doing in slower motion, and as SARS might have done in 2003 if it hadn’t been stopped by fast science, rigorous measures of public health, and luck. Experts I’ve interviewed over the past six years generally agree that such a Next Big One is not only possible but probable. They agree that it will almost certainly be a zoonotic disease — one that emerges from wildlife — and that the causal agent will most likely be a virus. They agree that sheer human abundance, density, and interconnectedness make us highly vulnerable. Our population now stands above seven billion, after all, a vast multitude of potential victims, many of us living at close quarters in big cities, traveling quickly and often from place to place, sharing infections with one another; and there are dangerous new viruses lately emerging against which we haven’t been immunized. Another major pandemic seems as logically inevitable as the prospect that a very dry, very thick forest will eventually burn.

That raises serious issues in the realm of health policy, preparedness, and medical response. It also suggests a few urgent questions on the scientific side — we might even say, the conservation side — of the discussion. Those questions, in simplest form, are: Where? How? and Why? Addressing them is crucial to understanding the dynamics of emerging diseases, and understanding is crucial to preparedness and response.

First question: From where will the Next Big One emerge? Answer, as I’ve noted: Most likely from wildlife. It will be a zoonosis — an animal infection that spills over into humans.

Everything comes from somewhere. New human diseases don’t arrive from Mars. Notwithstanding the vivid anxieties of The Andromeda Strain (1969) and other such fictions, lethal microbes don’t arrive on contaminated satellites returning from deep space. (Or anyway, knock wood, they haven’t so far.) They emerge from nonhuman animals, earthly ones, and spill over into human populations, catching hold, replicating, sometimes adapting and prospering, then passing onward from human to human.

According to one study, 58 percent of all pathogen species infecting humans are zoonotic. Another study found that 72 percent of all recently emerged zoonotic pathogens have come from wildlife. That list includes According to one study, 72 percent of all recently emerged zoonotic pathogens have come from wildlife. everything from Ebola and Marburg and the HIVs and the influenzas to West Nile virus, monkeypox, and the SARS bug.

In Malaysia, a virus called Nipah spilled over from fruit bats in 1998. Its route into humans was indirect but efficient: The bats fed in fruit trees overshadowing factory-scale pigsties; the bat droppings carried virus, which infected many pigs; the virus replicated abundantly in the pigs, and from them infected piggery workers and employees at abattoirs. That outbreak killed 109 people and ended with the culling of 1.1 million pigs.

Second question: How do such pathogens get into humans? The particulars are various but the general answer is: contact. Contact equals opportunity, and the successful pathogens are those that seize opportunities to proliferate and to spread, not just from one host to another but from one kind of host to another.

Wild aquatic birds defecate in a village duck pond, passing a new strain of influenza to domestic ducks; the ducks pass it to a Chinese boy charged with their care, after which the boy passes it to his brother and sister. A man in Cameroon butchers a chimpanzee and, elbow deep in its blood, acquires a simian virus that becomes HIV-1. A miner in Uganda enters a shaft filled with bats carrying Marburg virus and, somehow, by ingesting or breathing bat wastes, gets infected. Contact between people and wildlife, sometime direct, sometimes with livestock as intermediaries, presents opportunities for their infections to become ours.

Third question: Why do such spillovers seem to be happening now more than ever? There’s been a steady drumbeat of new zoonotic viruses We are interacting with wild animals and disrupting the ecosystems they inhabit to an unprecedented degree. emerging into the human population within recent decades: Machupo (1961), Marburg (1967), Lassa (1969), Ebola (1976), HIV-1 (inferred in 1981, first isolated in 1983), HIV-2 (1986), Sin Nombre (the first-recognized American hantavirus, 1993), Hendra (1994), the strain of influenza called “avian flu” (1997), Nipah (1998), West Nile (1999), SARS (2003), and others. These are not independent events. They are parts of a pattern. They reflect things that we’re doing, not just things that are happening to us.

What we’re doing is interacting with wild animals and disrupting the ecosystems that they inhabit — all to an unprecedented degree. Of course, humans have always killed wildlife and disrupted ecosystems, clearing and fragmenting forests, converting habitat into cropland and settlement, adding livestock to the landscape, driving native species toward extinction, introducing exotics. But now that there are seven billion of us on the planet, with greater tools, greater hungers, greater mobility, we’re pressing into the wild places like never before, and one of the things that we’re finding there is… new infections. And once we’ve acquired a new infection, the chance of spreading it globally is also greater than ever.

We cut our way through the Congo. We cut our way through the Amazon. We cut our way through Borneo and Madagascar and northeastern Australia. We shake the trees, figuratively and literally, and things fall out. We kill and butcher and eat many of the wild animals found there. We settle in those places, creating villages, work camps, towns, extractive Evolution seizes opportunity, explores possibilities, and helps convert spillovers to pandemics. industries, new cities. We bring in our domesticated animals, replacing the wild herbivores with livestock. We multiply our livestock as we’ve multiplied ourselves, operating huge factory-scale operations such as the piggeries in Malaysia, into which Nipah virus fell from the bats feeding in fruit trees planted nearby, after the bats’ native forest habitats had been destroyed. We export and import livestock across great distances and at high speeds. We export and import other live animals, especially primates, for medical research. We export and import animal skins, exotic pets, contraband bushmeat, and plants, some of which carry secret microbial passengers.

We travel, moving between cities and continents even more quickly than our transported livestock. We eat in restaurants where the cook may have butchered a porcupine before working on our scallops. We visit monkey temples in Asia, live markets in India, picturesque villages in South America, dusty archeological sites in New Mexico, dairy towns in the Netherlands, bat caves in East Africa, racetracks in Australia — breathing the air, feeding the animals, touching things, shaking hands with the friendly locals — and then we jump on our planes and fly home. We get bit by mosquitoes and ticks. We alter the global climate with our carbon emissions, which may in turn alter the latitudinal ranges within which those mosquitoes and ticks live. We provide an irresistible opportunity for enterprising microbes by the ubiquity and abundance of our human bodies.

For decades, deadly outbreaks of cholera were attributed to the spread of disease through poor sanitation. But recent research demonstrates how closely cholera is tied to environmental and hydrological factors and to weather patterns — all of which may lead to more frequent cholera outbreaks as the world warms.

Everything I’ve just mentioned is encompassed within this rubric: the ecology and evolutionary biology of zoonotic diseases. Ecological circumstance provides opportunity for spillover. Evolution seizes opportunity, explores possibilities, and helps convert spillovers to pandemics. But the majesty of the sheer biological phenomena involved is no consolation for the human miseries, the deaths, and the current level of risk.

There are things that can be done — research, vigilance, anticipation, fast and effective response — to stave off or at least mitigate the Next Big One. My point here is different. My point is about human ecology, not human medicine. It behooves us to remember that we too are animals, interconnected with the rest of earthly biota by shared diseases, among other ways. We should recall that salubriuous biblical warning from the Book of Proverbs: “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.” The planet is our home, but not ours only, and we’d be wise to tread a little more lightly within this wonderful, germy world.

Italian Facebook Steve Best Rome Lecture Tour Event Page

Per Animalia Veritas Steve Best Event Page

“Interview with Steve Best,” Asinus Novus

“Steve Best in Italy: From Philosophy to Action,” by the blog (and more), Asinus Novus. The writers provided a nice summary of my talks and main ideas.

A Key Meeting,” Arielvegangfashinblogspot.com; a refreshingly intelligent, fair, and incisive essay on my work, thank you Ariel.

“Now Enough,” Barbara Balsalmo

 

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I wish to thank everyone in Italy for inviting me to speak again this year, and for being such gracious hosts, fantastic activists. and amazing people. There are dozens, perhaps over a hundred of people who made this tour possible and joyful. I cannot possibly name them all. I do however, wish to offer a very special thank you to:

Kostia Troinia and Barbara Balsamo for inviting me and being the principal organizers of my talks in Rome. You are the best!

Marcos Aragao for your excellent photos.

VeggieChannel.com for your tremendous effort in interviewing me, taping my lectures in Turin, Rome, and Latina, and for having the courage to post my talks on your channel.

The kind women at Asinus Novus for showing enough interest in my work to summarize my talks and interview me; it was a pleasure, thank you.

Per Animalia Veritas; thank you for your activism, support, and bold defense of militant direct action!

The ReWild Cruelty Free Club; you guys rock and make the best vegan food!

Paolo Trono and his club, Vegan Città di Latina (a former abattoir transformed into a space for music, lectures, and culture!) in which I gave my final speech in the Rome area before moving north to Brescia; thank you for your kindness, the great audience, and the great free food and beer!

Piercarlo Paderno for inviting and hosting me in Brescia. You are a great new friend and did amazing work to help liberate the Greenhill dogs.

The Occupy Greenhill movement (see here and here) for their bold act of liberation that will go down in history as one of the most important actions of this century. In their post-Greenhill reorganization, the group is now called Animal Amnesty, and will keep opening chained fences and locked doors!

Amazing story! This speaks on so many levels: tool use and ingenuity, technological knowledge, foresight and anticipation of a future (of pain if they do not smash the traps), the recognition of humans as predators and enemies, and — haha! — destruction of property; they are their own ALF.
So what say you anti-ALF pacifists and cultist vegan abolitionists? Is this self-defense (or extensional self-defense… if human liberators were to do it)? Or is it eco-terrorism? Huh? Get the problem with your collaborationist pacifist arguments? Eh?! Any of you care to step forward and CONDEMN this action — in your usual bullshit terms of course — as “violent” and “counterproductive”?  Eh?
Oh yeah, but you’re right: what would public opinion say? They would surely condemn those criminal gorillas as the violent, terrorist thugs you say the ALF is. And the fucking  difference between what this action and what the ALF do for animals who cannot liberate or defend themselves …. is what please?!
************************************************************

gorillas picture: young gorillas dismantle poacher's snare

Wild gorillas Rwema and Dukore destroy a primitive snare in Rwanda earlier this week.

Just days after a poacher’s snare had killed one of their own, two young mountain gorillas worked together Tuesday to find and destroy traps in their Rwandan forest home, according to conservationists on the scene.

“This is absolutely the first time that we’ve  juveniles doing that … I don’t know of any other reports in the world of juveniles destroying snares,” said Veronica Vecellio, gorilla program coordinator at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund‘s Karisoke Research Center, located in the reserve where the event took place.

“We are the largest database and observer of wild gorillas … so I would be very surprised if somebody else has seen that,” Vecellio added.

(Also see “Dian Fossey’s Gorillas Exhumed for Investigation.”)

Bush-meat hunters set thousands of rope-and-branch snares in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, where the mountain gorillas live. The traps are intended for antelope and other species but sometimes capture the apes.

Adults are generally strong enough to free themselves. Youngsters aren’t always so lucky.

Just last week an ensnared infant named Ngwino, found too late by workers from Karisoke, died of snare-related wounds. Her shoulder had been dislocated during escape attempts, and gangrene had set in after the ropes cut deep into her leg.

The hunters, Vecellio said, seem to have no interest in the gorillas. Even small apes, which would be relatively easy to carry away for sale, are left to die.

(Related pictures: “Baby Gorilla Rescued in Armed Sting Operation.”)

Rube Goldberg, Minus the Complexity

Poachers build the snares by tying a noose to a branch or a bamboo stalk, Vecellio explained.

Using the rope, they pull the branch downward, bending it. They then use a bent stick or rock to hold the noose to the ground, keeping the branch tense. A sprinkling of vegetation camouflages the noose.

When an animal budges the stick or rock, the branch springs upward, closing the noose around the prey. If the creature is light enough, it will actually be hoisted into the air.

(See National Geographic magazinemountain gorilla pictures.)

Rwema and Dukore Save the Day

Every day trackers from the Karisoke center comb the forest for snares, dismantling them to protect the endangered mountain gorillas, which the International Fund for Nature (IUCN) says face “a very high risk of extinction in the wild.”

(Related: “Gorillas Extinct Within Ten Years in Central Africa?”)

On Tuesday tracker John Ndayambaje spotted a trap very close to the Kuryama gorilla clan. He moved in to deactivate the snare, but a silverback named Vubu grunted, cautioning Ndayambaje to stay away, Vecellio said.

Suddenly two juveniles—Rwema, a male; and Dukore, a female; both about four years old—ran toward the trap.

As Ndayambaje and a few tourists watched, Rwema jumped on the bent tree branch and broke it, while Dukore freed the noose.

The pair then spied another snare nearby—one the tracker himself had missed—and raced for it. Joined by a third gorilla, a teenager named Tetero, Rwema and Dukore destroyed that trap as well.

Gorilla Tactics

The speed with which everything happened makes Vecellio, the gorilla program coordinator, think this wasn’t the first time the young gorillas had outsmarted trappers.

“They were very confident,” she said. “They saw what they had to do, they did it, and then they left.”

Silverbacks in the Kuryama group have occasionally been caught in the snares, so Vecellio thinks the juveniles would have known the traps are dangerous.

“That’s why they destroyed them,” Vecellio said.

(Related: “Gorillas Seen Using ‘Baby Talk’ Gestures—A First [With Video].”)

“Quite Ingenious”

Despite the unprecedented nature of the event, Vecellio said she wasn’t surprised by the reports. “But,” she said, “I’m always amazed and very proud when we can confirm that they are smart.”

Veterinarian Mike Cranfield, executive director of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, also said he wasn’t shocked by the news.

Chimpanzees are always quoted as being the tool users, but I think, when the situation provides itself, gorillas are quite ingenious,” he said.

Cranfield speculated that the gorillas may have learned how to destroy traps by watching the Karisoke center’s trackers.

“If we could get more of them doing it, it would be great,” he joked.

Karisoke’s Vecellio, though, said actively instructing the apes would be against the center’s ethos.

“No we can’t teach them,” she said. “We try as much as we can to not interfere with the gorillas. We don’t want to affect their natural behavior.”

The New York Times, June 1, 2012

Rhino poaching is a war of extirmination that will continue until the last rhino is gone, unless the violence is stopped by counter-violence and by any means necessary.

OVER the past 20 years, chimpanzees, gorillas and other great apes have declined the most in areas lacking a security force to protect them. Conversely, parks and protected areas with armed guards and anti-poaching patrols — places like Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of Congo, Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda — have not only retained their ape populations, but have seen population increases.

 
This connection extends beyond great apes. The Albertine Rift in Central Africa has over the past 50 years demonstrated the benefits of a close tie between law enforcement and the survival of diverse species. In Asia, the government’s training and deployment of park guards in Thailand’s most important reserve, the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, has led to seven years of population stability in tigers and other wildlife, in contrast to dramatic declines in nearby unprotected parks.

This only makes sense. We don’t leave our valuables unprotected. Guards patrol art galleries and museums to secure our cultural heritage. We should be taking the same approach to safeguarding our natural heritage.

The urgency for the training and deployment of guards to protect wildlife across the globe could not be greater. Only last November, Africa’s western black rhino officially became extinct. Wild tiger numbers are down to 3,200 from over 100,000 a century ago. Roughly half of Africa’s elephants have been killed for the ivory trade since 1987. Sadly, the list goes on.

The most effective protection inevitably involves the long-term efforts of committed park rangers patrolling protected areas with the endorsement and support of local communities. Wildlife guards are deployed by the national governments, which gives them the legal authority and mandate to operate and, in some cases, the core financing to do so. Other agencies work in partnership with those governments to give them both technical and financial support to combat poaching.

Nevertheless, for many poorer governments striving against the odds to protect their wildlife, outside support for salaries, vehicles and equipment is crucial. At present, support (not including weapons) comes largely from nongovernmental organizations, with their generous private donors, and from national government agencies like the United States Agency for International Development and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. More money — and the resulting increase in the number and effectiveness of guards — is crucial to the survival of many species targeted by poachers.

Fortunately, relatively small investments can have big impacts. In Thailand’s Huai Kha Khaeng reserve, 200 rangers cover an area of 1,073 square miles for an annual cost of under $5,000 per ranger. The government pays salaries and, with assistance from the Wildlife Conservation Society, provides rations, equipment and training. Two poachers were sentenced last summer to the longest prison terms to date in Thailand for a wildlife crime — one for four years and the other for five. No high-value poaching episode has occurred in the reserve since.

In the Republic of Congo’s Ndoki National Park, the conservation society’s support for ecoguards over two decades has been essential for the protection of what is arguably Africa’s most pristine rain forest — home to critical populations of gorillas, forest elephants and chimpanzees so unacquainted with humans that they approach their fellow primates with no fear. Rangers in Ndoki also enforce agreements that the government has made with logging companies to ensure that hunting and the bushmeat trade do not follow.

These rangers toil in landscapes that are frequently remote, physically tough and dangerous.

Until we provide the resources and security to safeguard the world’s great natural treasures, populations of great apes and countless other species will slowly wink out across the world, and our awe-inspiring natural heritage, the product of millions of years of evolution, will continue its slide into oblivion.

 
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