Another hopeful sign of how moral progress and animal advocacy continues in the 21st century version of the “cultural revolution” in contemporary China.
MSN News, May 22
Courtesy of Peter Li. In China, bears are kept in tight cages and farmed for their bile.
More and more Chinese, especially young people, are calling out cruel practices, such as bear bile farming, in China.
Bile extracted from caged bears. Stray animals abused and neglected. Sharks‘ fins lopped off for soup.
Most people’s perception of China’s animal rights record is as grim as the fates of some of the animals living there. But a movement has quietly risen to challenge that.
In February, China Daily reported that the China Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine said at a press conference that “the process of extracting bear bile was as easy, natural and painless as turning on a tap. After the operation was done, bears went out to play happily.”
Bear bile is used in cosmetics and for medicinal purposes, such as preventing gallstones, but experts disagree over whether it works.
Courtesy of Peter Li. Young people in China have been particularly active in protesting animal cruelty.
After the association’s comments, a video went viral in China showing a much less sunny version of the bile extraction process. Animals Asia says the practice is cruel and invasive.
“Over the years, the campaign against bear bile farming has often been a sensitive one, but today it is clear that the issue is finally mainstream and even schools are engaged and involved, with support and numbers growing all the time,” Animals Asia Founder and CEO Jill Robinson said in a statement.
That response is one sign of a larger animal-welfare movement in China, Li believes. He said the country has “changed beyond recognition.”
According to Li, ordinary people in China, especially young people, are pressuring the government for anti-cruelty legislation. Even pet ownership has changed. Li said that regulations on pet ownership have softened and that dog culling has abated.
“The movement is strong and will grow stronger,” he wrote.
It’s not just young people motivating the changes. Animal rights in China has been endorsed by some of the country’s best-known celebrities.
“Jackie Chan . . . has been speaking for tiger protection and against cruelty to farm bears,” Li wrote. “Yao Ming . . . is a towering moral figure. He calls on the Chinese people to stay away from shark fin soup, from ivory products and bear bile products.”
Courtesy of Peter Li. Stray animals are often abused in China, but that is changing now.
Groups like Humane Society International and Animals Asia are still pushing, however.
“The explosion of newspaper, TV, radio and Internet stories in China about bear bile farming has seen a massive online outcry demanding justice for the bears,” Robinson said. She said in the statement that when Animals Asia was working on its campaign against bear bile farming, the group was “inundated by people who wanted to take part.”
But Li sees a lot more work ahead if things like bear bile farms and the hunting of endangered species is going to end.
“A lot needs to be done, admittedly,” he said. “But, today, it causes a strong reaction when animal abuse is exposed.”
(This piece was originally written for my good friend Adam, and earlier published on his blog, OccupyEssays)
“I’d like to share with you a revelation I’ve had, during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you aren’t actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with its surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply, and multiply until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague.” Agent Smith, The Matrix (1999)
This essay tells a story. It is more than a little story, it is one of the biggest stories of all — the story of how humans evolved from one of the weakest to the most dangerous animal on the planet, from hunted to hunter, from vulnerable prey to top predator. This is the amazing saga of how one species became the first and only global species and in a very short time built a vast empire that has colonized the planet for need and greed, has created a new geological epoch – the human-dominated Anthropocene Era — and is threatening to bring down the planetary house.
Like all empires, the human empire rose, had glorious triumphs, but ultimately was a decadent and unsustainable colossus; and thus it also dies, ebbs, declines, and falls like the rest. But much more is at stake in this drama than an imperialist state and its colonies, for here we are talking about the entire species of Homo sapiens and its impact on biodiversity and the ecological dynamics of the planet as a whole.
There is no scientific consensus to this story; there are, rather, a thousand narratives of the origins of Homo sapiens and the proper taxonomical tables and nomenclature. The prevailing cacophony of dispute arises partly for the empirical reasons (the science is uncertain and always changing), and also for political reasons (scientists, researchers, and historians have vested interests in challenging competing narratives and validating their own discoveries and narratives). Uncertainties aside, grasping the outlines of the human past are critical for understanding what kind of animal we are, illuminating the causes of current social and ecological crises, and creating viable future societies — if indeed such a project is still possible in a significant sense.
Out of Africa and Out of Control
Our earliest ancestors evolved from an independent branch of the primate tree some 5-7 million years ago. Pressured by climate changes, they moved out of the Eastern and Southern forests of Africa and into the savannas where for various reasons they stood up on two legs and evolved into bipedal animals. These Australopithecines were 3 feet tall, hairy, ape-men — like apes in their relatively small brain size, and like humans in walking upright. After 2-3 million years, various australopithecine types evolved into diverse variations of the Homo genus, including species such as Homo habilis, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalensis, and Homo sapiens, and Homo sapiens sapiens (behaviorally modern, language-speaking humans). Along this dynamic, variegated evolutionary path, hominid brains grew increasingly large; their technologies and cultures became ever more sophisticated; and their populations continuously expanded in size and geographical reach as their ecological impact became more and more severe.
There is no consensus on key questions, such as: What is the proper taxonomical language to characterize humans in relation to other primates? What alleged Homo types were true species rather than sub-species? What Homo species co-existed, and when? Did they evolve as one species in a linear fashion, as the “Out of Africa” thesis argues, or did various Homo types co-evolve and leave Africa at different times and in many migrations, as the “Multiregional” theory claims?
Whatever the diversity of human types and subsequent migration patterns, about 100,000 years ago (there is no consensus on this date either) Homo sapiens left the African continent to explore a vast, unknown world in which continents were conjoined by ice sheets. They migrated to Europe, Asia, Australia, Siberia, Indonesia, and into the Americas, establishing their empire throughout the globe. All the time multiplying, diversifying, and scattering across the continents, humans wasted no time in colonizing the world from north to south and from east to west.
Just one among tens of millions of existing animal species – many already dispatched to oblivion, thousands currently poised on the end, and thousands yet on the brink of extinction and some yet to be discovered – Homo sapiens has risen from humble mammalian and primate origins to become the most dominant, violent, predatory, and destructive animal on the planet. Nearly everywhere it journeyed and lived, Homo sapiens wrought social and ecological devastation, extinction crises, and chronic warfare. Continue reading
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.