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Wildlife Lives When Locals Are Paid

A sign publicizing the conservation effort in the Nam-Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area. July 2014 (Photo by David McKelvey / Wildlife Conservation Society)

A sign publicizing the conservation effort in the Nam-Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area. July 2014 (Photo by David McKelvey / Wildlife Conservation Society)

By Sunny Lewis

VIENTIANE, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, March 20, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – An ecotourism strategy based on “direct payments,” to local people for the amount of wildlife seen by tourists, has resulted in a reduction in illegal hunting and an increase in wildlife sightings in a national protected area in Laos, finds a new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Foundations of Success (FOS).

Scientists tested the new model in Lao People’s Democratic Republic’s Nam-Et-Phou Louey (NEPL) National Protected Area in northern Laos, covering 5,959 km² in three provinces. The park consists mainly of mountains and hills, and the area is the source of many rivers. It is named after the Nam Et River and Phou Louey Mountain, in English – Forever Mountain.

The protected area headquarters are located in the town of Viengthong.

The researchers used a direct payment approach to motivate villagers to reduce illegal hunting and trade, which is driving wildlife decline in one of the last bastions of habitat suitable for endangered and vulnerable species.

Nam Et-Phou Louey harbors one of the most important tiger populations in Indochina. It is estimated that there are seven up to 23 tigers in the area. Classified as Endangered, tigers represent the overall health of the ecosystem, as only the most healthy ecosystem can support enough deer, gaur and wild pigs to support this large carnivore.

Carnivores in NEPL include six cat species: tiger, leopard, clouded leopard, Asian golden cat, marbled cat and leopard cat; two species of bear: Asian black bear and Sun bear, classed as Vulnerable, and 11 small carnivores including civets, mustelids, and mongoose. A small elephant population persists along the Nam Et River.

Gaur are large herbivores that are the tigers’ preferred prey in NEPL. But guar are declining rapidly due to poaching for their gall bladders, which are sold at a high price on the black market.

NEPL has the largest population of the Critically Endangered white-cheeked crested gibbon, found only in Vietnam and Laos. Gibbons need large areas of primary forest with thick canopies to swing from and bamboo to feed on, thus their presence indicates healthy primary forests.

Sambar deer are very rare in Laos and are one of the tigers’ main prey. They prefer mixed deciduous forests, the predominant habitat of NEPL.

Three species of otters are found in NEPL, at least one of which is classified as Vulnerable to extinction. The presence of otters indicates the health of aquatic ecosystems, irreplaceable support systems for both wildlife and people.

The new compensation model included a contractual payment to villages that was directly tied to the numbers of wildlife seen by eco-tourists as well as a reduction in payments for occurrences of hunting violations.

The approach was designed to reduce illegal hunting pressure, increase wildlife sightings, and ultimately wildlife numbers, while generating ongoing economic incentives for conservation.

Scientists who implemented and then monitored this approach for four years found a three-fold increase in signs of hunting in the non-tourism sector of the National Protected Area but no hunting increase in the ecotourism sector.

An overall increase in wildlife sightings was observed. A wide range of threatened species benefited from the program, including Sambar deer, barking deer, primates and small carnivores.

“If eco-tourism or nature tourism is going to help increase these wildlife populations, there must be a direct link between the incentives for communities and the wildlife itself,” said Bounpheng Phoomsavath, director of Nam-Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area.

“Many projects claim to be benefiting wildlife but they often lack this direct link. Villagers get benefits but the wildlife populations continue to decline. The direct links are the key to our success,” Phoomsavath said.

In cases where ecotourism is used as a biodiversity conservation strategy, projects are often questioned for lack of resulting proof that threats to biodiversity have been averted or conditions for biodiversity have been improved.

“This study illustrates the importance of monitoring along a theory of change to evaluate if and how a conservation strategy is leading to expected outcomes and to inform adaptive management,” said WCS Lao PDR Deputy Country Director Dr. Santi (Joy) Saypanya.

The scientists say their study “provides key lessons on the design of a direct payments approach for an ecotourism strategy, including how to combine threat monitoring and data on wildlife sightings to evaluate strategy effectiveness, on setting rates for wildlife sightings and village fees, and the utility of the approach for protecting very rare species.”


Featured Image: A tiger in the Nam-Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area, Laos, 2011 (Photo courtesy Nam-Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area)

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Precious Sites Awarded World Heritage Status

Part of the newly inscribed World Heritage natural site Qinghai Hoh Xil on the Tibetan Plateau (Photo by Mark Meng) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Part of the newly inscribed World Heritage natural site Qinghai Hoh Xil on the Tibetan Plateau (Photo by Mark Meng) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

KRAKOW, Poland, July 13, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – The world has three new sites of outstanding natural value designated for protection by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, which just concluded a 10-day meeting in Krakow.

During the session, the Committee inscribed a total of 21 new sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List – the three natural sites as well as 18 cultural sites. The new inscriptions bring to 1,073 the total number of sites on the World Heritage List.

The new World Heritage natural sites are on the Tibetan Plateau; in an Argentinian national park; and landscapes shared by Mongolia and Russia.

The Committee also extended or modified the boundaries of two natural sites already on the World Heritage List. The Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe, spanning 12 countries, were expanded; and so was the W-Arly-Pendjari Complex in West Africa.

The W-Arly-Pendjari ecological complex is an expanse of intact Sudano-sahelian savanna, important for its wetlands and its bird habitat. The two core areas of the complex are the W Regional Park straddling the borders of Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger, and the Arly Total Faunal Reserve and Pendjari National Park in Benin and Burkina Faso.

During its 10-day session, the World Heritage Committee also approved the withdrawal two African sites from the List of World Heritage in Danger – the Simien National Park in Ethiopia, and Comoé National Park in Côte d’Ivoire.

One of the largest protected areas in West Africa, Comoé National Park, was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2003 due to farming, illegal gold mining, poaching and political instability.

Comoé National Park is the first World Heritage site to be removed from the Danger List in more than 10 years in West and Central Africa, a region where half the 20 natural World Heritage sites are considered to be in danger.

Now, species populations in Comoé National Park are on the rise for the first time in nearly 15 years, due to effective management of the park following stabilization of the political situation in 2012.

A field mission by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) earlier this year confirmed encouraging numbers of chimpanzees and elephants, which were thought to have disappeared from the park. Around 300 chimps and 120 elephants are believed to live in Comoé National Park today.

“Comoé National Park serves as an inspiration, and shows that the recovery of World Heritage sites impacted by civil unrest is possible,” said Badman.

Water buffalo in West Africa's newly expanded W-Arly-Pendjari Complex (Photo by Gray Tappan courtesy U.S. Geological Survey) Public domain

Water buffalo in West Africa’s newly expanded W-Arly-Pendjari Complex (Photo by Gray Tappan courtesy U.S. Geological Survey) Public domain

The three new natural World Heritage sites are:

Qinghai Hoh Xil on the Tibetan Plateau

In China, the committee inscribed Qinghai Hoh Xil, located in the far northeast of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, the largest and highest plateau in the world.

This extensive area of alpine mountains and steppe systems is situated more than 4,500 meters (14,763 feet) above sea level, where average temperatures never rise above zero.

More than one third of the plant species, and all the herbivorous mammals are endemic to the plateau, found nowhere else in on Earth.

The World Heritage designation secures the complete migratory route of the Tibetan antelope, one of the endangered large mammals endemic to the plateau.

Landscapes Of Dauria, Shared by Mongolia and Russia 

This site is an outstanding example of the Daurian Steppe eco-region, which extends from eastern Mongolia into Russian Siberia and north-eastern China.

Cyclical climate changes, with distinct dry and wet periods lead to a wide diversity of species and ecosystems of global significance.

The different types of steppe represented, such as grassland and forest, as well as lakes and wetlands serve as habitats for rare species of fauna, such as the White-Naped crane and the Great bustard, as well as millions of vulnerable, endangered or threatened migratory birds.

It is also a critical site on the migration path for the Mongolian gazelle.

Argentina’s Los Alerces National Park

The Los Alerces National Park is located in the Andes of northern Patagonia; its western boundary is at the Chilean border.

Successive glaciations have moulded the landscape in the region creating spectacular features such as moraines, glacial cirques and clear water lakes.

The vegetation is dominated by dense temperate forests, which give way to alpine meadows higher up under the rocky Andean peaks.

This new World Heritage Site is vital for the protection of some of the last portions of continuous Patagonian Forest in an almost pristine state. It is the habitat for many endemic and threatened species of plants and animals.

Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe: Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Italy, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Ukraine.

This transboundary extension of the World Heritage site of the Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany stretches over 12 countries.

Since the end of the last Ice Age, European beech spread from a few isolated refuges in the Alps, Carpathians, Mediterranean and Pyrenees over a short period of a few thousand years in a process that is still ongoing.

This successful expansion of beech forest is related to the tree’s flexibility and tolerance of different climatic, geographical and physical conditions.

Yet another European forest is at great risk, the World Heritage Committee warned.

One of the few remaining primeval forests on the European continent, Bialowieza Forest was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1979 as one of the first World Heritage sites. The site was extended twice, in 1992 and 2014 until today it covers 141,885 hectares across the Polish-Belarusian boarder.

During its 2017 session, the committee adopted a decision urging Poland to immediately halt all logging in the old-growth forests of Bialowieza. These forests are inhabited by the European bison, more than 250 bird species and over 12,000 invertebrate species.

The committee’s warning follows the advice of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN, the official advisory body on nature to the World Heritage Committee.

“The old-growth forests of Bialowieza are one of the main reasons why it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list,” said Tim Badman, director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme. “It is critically important – and a global responsibility – that the Outstanding Universal Value of this ancient forest be preserved for future generations.”

Poland has been logging in Bialowieza Forest although the site is protected under the European Union’s Natura 2000 initiative. The forest was the subject of European Commission’s announcement of an infringement procedure against Poland, which declared that increased logging in Bialowieza is likely to cause irreparable biodiversity loss.

“IUCN remains concerned with the activity in Bialowieza and will work with Poland to find the right management solutions to preserve this unique European site,” said Luc Bas, director of IUCN’s European Regional Office.

IUCN plans to engage with Poland to carry out a monitoring mission to Bialowieza to assess the situation and identify and agree on adequate measures to conserve the site.

Should danger to the site’s Outstanding Universal Value be confirmed, the Bialowieza Forest will be considered for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2018.

UNESCO regards World Heritage sites as being important to the collective interests of humanity.

The sites are legally protected by an international treaty, the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on November 16, 1972, it came into force on December 17, 1975 and now includes nearly all countries in the world.

What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.

But the IUCN warns that illegal fishing, logging and poaching are affecting two-thirds of the 57 natural World Heritage sites monitored by the organization this year, putting some of the world’s most precious and unique ecosystems and species at risk.

“It is alarming that even our planet’s greatest natural treasures are under pressure from illegal activities,” says IUCN Director General Inger Andersen. “World Heritage sites are recognized as the planet’s most unique and valuable places, for nature and for people. If destroyed, they are lost forever.

“World Heritage status is designed to grant these places the highest level of protection, and we as the international community are responsible for the effectiveness of this protection,” said Andersen. “Only through strong international cooperation can we eliminate the illegal and unsustainable practices that are having such a devastating impact on these extraordinary places.”


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Featured Image: Lake Rivadavia is a lake of glacial origin located in Argentina’s Los Alerces National Park, a newly inscribed Worth Heritage site. Nov. 2016 (Photo by Linda De Volder) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Where Tourists Step Lightly, Biodiversity Flourishes

Rainbow lorikeets in Queensland, Australia, June 2013 (Photo by Dave Curtis) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Rainbow lorikeets in Queensland, Australia, June 2013 (Photo by Dave Curtis) Creative Commons license via Flick

By Sunny Lewis

MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada, May 23, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – “We share our planet with millions of species of wild animals and plants. They keep us alive through making fresh air, clean water and healthy soils; they are used every day to make medicine, food and furniture and they support cultural, recreational and tourism pursuits,” says John Scanlon, who heads the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

“While wildlife keeps all of us alive its future is squarely in our hands,” said Scanlon. “We alone will determine the fate of the world’s wildlife and in doing so our own destiny.”

Scanlon made these observations at the World Travel and Tourism Council’s 17th Global Summit in Bangkok, Thailand in late April, an event held in advance of the International Day for Biological Diversity, celebrated around the world on May 22.

In Monday’s global celebrations, held under the theme of Biodiversity and Sustainable Tourism, people enjoyed the benefits of ecotourism, but also examined the potentially negative impacts that tourism can have on biodiversity.

Dr. Cristiana Pașca Palmer, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity said, “As we celebrate the 16th edition of the International Biodiversity Day let us all remember that by celebrating and protecting biodiversity we respect and give consideration to all forms of life that exist on this beautiful planet and that support the very existence of humans.”

Opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) entered into force in December 1993. This international treaty governs the conservation of the many species of plants and animals, the sustainable use of the components of biodiversity and the equitable sharing of the benefits derived from the use of genetic resources. Based in Montreal, with 196 Parties to date, the Convention has near universal participation among countries.

Biodiversity and tourism are intimately linked. The travel and tourism sector is one of the largest and fastest growing global industries, accounting for 10 percent of global GDP and one in every 10 jobs.

And it’s growing quickly. The tourism sector grew by 3.9 percent in 2016, says the UN World Tourism Organization, with inevitable impacts on the animals and plants that visitors travel to experience.

About 40 million people are drawn every year to the Caribbean’s beautiful beaches and marine life, providing $25 billion of revenue annually, nearly half the region’s total income.

In Belize, which bridges the divide between the Caribbean and Central America and encompasses the world’s second largest reef, more than 50 percent of residents support themselves by income generated through reef-related tourism and fisheries.

Some 1.4 million people visit Australian parks every year to enjoy their natural landscapes and culture, contributing $23 billion a year to the economy.

“Tourism is like fi­re: you can cook your food with it, but if you are not careful, it could also burn your house down!” writes Jochen Flasbarth, director-general, nature conservation in Germany’s Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.

In his Forward to the publication “Managing Tourism and Biodiversity: User’s Manual on the CBD Guidelines on Biodiversity and Tourism Development,” Flasbarth details the risks.

“Risks include the immense volumes of traffic and waste and the huge land and resource consumption connected to travel. Sensitive ecosystems, especially those in coastal and mountain regions, are also the areas that are particularly interesting for tourism. For example, an estimated 71 percent of the dune landscapes that existed in the Mediterranean region in 1990 have now disappeared. At Germany’s coasts of the North and Baltic Seas, this ­figure is around 15 to 20 percent.”

The key is responsible travel to natural areas that conserve the environment and improve the wellbeing of local people who often act as stewards for the biodiverse areas.

“Many conventional businesses, such as hotels and tourism operators, have taken steps to ensure that they adhere to sustainable tourism principles and best practices in their day to day operations,” said Dr. Pașca Palmer.

She says many travellers are now making choices based on whether or not good conservation practices are followed by operators at their destinations.

Nepal’s Chitwan National Park is a great example of wildlife-based tourism generating local jobs, with government and operators engaging with and supporting local communities.

In Chitwan National Park on Monday, in the presence of the Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, ministers, representatives of local communities, international organizations, and media, Nepal destroyed confiscated stockpiles of wildlife parts. Parts of tigers, rhinos, leopards, pangolins, various reptiles and many other species were destroyed.

“Today’s event will not end wildlife crime,” said Scanlon, “but it does help to raise public awareness of the serious threats posed to wild animals and plants, people and economies by such crimes and it provides an ideal opportunity to make a very public expression of Nepal’s steadfast determination not to tolerate any poaching or illegal trade of its wildlife.”

“The strong measures being taken in Nepal not only benefits its extraordinary wildlife,” Scanlon said. “They are ensuring personal security, providing local jobs and community development, and supporting well-managed wildlife based tourism, and along with it the national economy.”

At Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, in Southwest Uganda, tourists arriving to see gorillas have increased from 1,300 a year in 1993 to around 20,000 today, according to Dilys Roe,a principal researcher in the Natural Resources research group of the Lond-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

International tourists pay US$600 each to track gorillas and the Uganda Wildlife Authority shares US$10 per permit sold with local people recognizing that their support is important for conservation. But local benefits from gorilla tourism are very limited.

“Relationships between local people and the park are poor, and poaching, snaring and other illegal activities continue,” wrote Roe on the IIED blog on Monday. “This poses a significant threat to the park and to the long-term conservation of the mountain gorillas. It also represents a missed opportunity for harnessing tourism as an engine for local economic development in this remote rural area of Uganda.”

To address these problems, IIED is working with the Institute for Tropical Forest Conservation, the Responsible Tourism Partnership and the International Gorilla Conservation Programme to develop new or improved local tourism products and services that meet the needs and interests of tourists, tour operators and lodges. This project is supported by the UK government’s Darwin Initiative.<

“We know that tourism impacts on biodiversity can be devastating,” said Inger Andersen, director general of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). “Land clearing for tourism infrastructure, pollution and uncontrolled numbers of visitors destroy critical ecosystems that are often home to threatened species and provide an array of benefits to both people and nature.”

“As the official advisory body on nature under the World Heritage Convention, IUCN sees these impacts first hand. Andersen says over a quarter of all natural sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List are negatively affected by tourism.

But, she says, the impacts of tourism on the natural world do not have to be so destructive, and, “The industry itself can directly contribute to preserving the very places it depends on.”

In 2014 IUCN launched a new global standard of excellence – the Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas, which recognizes and helps ensure success in managing some of the most valuable natural places on the planet. Sustainable tourism is an important element of this success.

Andersen points to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, a green-listed area inhabited by the world’s last three northern white rhinos. The Conservancy recently won the prestigious Tourism for Tomorrow award for its work to improve lives in surrounding communities. It supports six health centers serving 20,000 community members, supplies water, solar power and ICT equipment to local schools, and provides cook stoves and solar devices to households.

“So we all have a responsibility,” says Andersen. “The tourism industry needs to lean in to create sustainable solutions for the industry and the consumer. And we as consumers have to work on the demand side of the equation, by booking our vacations and trips to destinations that support sustainable tourism. In that way, tourists will return home refreshed, but will also have contributed to creating a fairer and healthier planet, proving that the tourist industry can thrive while contributing to the protection of the planet.”


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Featured image: Silverback mountain gorilla of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, May 2013. (Photo by Mahboobeh Shirkhorshidi) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Undercover Detectives Battle Eco-Crime

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An EIA photographer documents forest destruction in Southeast Asia, 2015 (Photo courtesy EIA from the “EIA Impact Report 2015”)

By Sunny Lewis

LONDON, UK, December 6, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – Despite its impressive name, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is not a government agency but a small nonprofit that has become one of the world’s most effective conservation groups.

Based in London, EIA conducts diligent, carefully planned undercover investigations that produce the credible intelligence and persuasive photos and videos necessary to catch criminals and bring them to justice.

EIA was formed in 1984 by environmentalists Dave Currey, Jennifer Lonsdale and Allan Thornton, three environmental activists in the United Kingdom. They immediately touched off an international outcry by documenting the annual slaughter of hundreds of pilot whales in Denmark’s Faroe Islands.

Since then, EIA employees have been carrying out research and analysis of trade incidents, trafficking hotspots, routes and methods, and patterns of demand for illegal animal parts and other evidence of illegal activity using databases and other information sources to investigate and expose crimes against wildlife and the environment.

EIA carried out its first pioneering undercover investigations into the ivory trade in 1987. Investigators travelled through parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia uncovering the true nature of a business that had reduced the population of African elephants from 1.3 million to only 600,000 in 10 years.

The international ivory trade moratorium, which took effect in 1989, would not have been in place without the EIA. Currey and Thornton received the Albert Schweitzer Medal for their work by the Animal Welfare Institute in the United States.

EIA investigators have uncovered more about some aspects of this trade, such as military involvement in South Africa and Zimbabwe, and ivory used as currency to buy arms in conflict areas.

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Tanzania sentenced four Chinese nationals to 20 years imprisonment for rhino horn smuggling and two other Chinese nationals to 30 years imprisonment for the possession of 706 elephant tusks, plus five years for attempted bribery. (Photo courtesy EIA from “Time for Action” report, November 2016)

Fast forward to this past October for evidence of EIA’s effectiveness.

EIA’s report “Collateral Damage,” launched during the 17th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CoP17) in Johannesburg, South Africa, provided much-needed information on the illegal totoaba fish maw trade in China.

People in Asian cultures use the swim bladder in a soup called fish maw,” says Erin Dean at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “It’s also reputed to have some medicinal value; it’s thought to boost fertility.”

What investigators found is that Mexican fishermen use giant gill nets to catch totoaba that incidentally snare and kill critically endangered vaquita porpoises. There are now less than 100 of these porpoises left on Earth. Both species are found in only one place – Mexico’s Gulf of California.

Vaquita die. Totoaba die. Totoaba bodies get tossed away; their bladders go to China. Vaquita bodies just get tossed overboard.

This activity is a violation of both Mexican and international law, since the totoaba and the vaquita are listed by international treaty as endangered.

The decision adopted at COP17 requires governments to curb the illegal catch and illegal trade in the totoaba fish. Countries must report their enforcement results next year.

China has now committed to collaborating and contributing to the conservation of totoaba, together with Mexico and the United States.

EIA’s media expertise is useful in helping the group shape world opinion. Films featuring the work of the Environmental Investigation Agency picked up top awards in 2012 at the 35th International Wildlife Film Festival in the United States.

EIA is no stranger to event, held annually in Missoula, Montana, after taking the award for Best News Programme in 2010 with “Eco Crime Investigators: Skin and Bones.

In 2012, three films featuring EIA operatives working undercover won awards at the festival: “Blood Ivory” and “Making a Killing,” both made by Red Earth Studio for National Geographic, and the BBC Natural History Unit’s “Madagascar, Lemurs & Spies.”

“Making a Killing,” about the exposure of Iceland’s hunting of endangered fin whales for export to Japan, was awarded Best of Category: News.

These films have been very useful in helping to spread the word to a wider audience of EIA’s unique and important work on the front lines of the fight against environmental crime,” said Executive Director Mary Rice.

EIA counts as its other major successes:

  • Playing a pivotal role in securing the worldwide ban on the trade in ivory in 1989;
  • Reducing the international trade in wild caught birds;
  • Uncovering the largest rhino horn poaching operation in the world;
  • Reducing the demand for whale and dolphin meat in Japan;
  • Raising more than £80,000 for Kaziranga National Park in India and providing equipment for the Kenyan Wildlife Service;
  • Turning global attention to the illegal trade in big cat skins and exposing the trans-Himalayan trafficking routes for big cat body parts;
  • Contributing to the closure of 53 illegal mines that were destroying prime tiger habitat in India;
  • Exposing elephant poaching in Tanzania and Zambia in 2010, thus defeating their bids to sell stockpiled ivory;
  • Playing key roles in achieving the amendment of the Lacey Act in the United States, the European Union’s 2010 timber regulation and the historic Voluntary Partnership Agreement between the EU and Indonesia in 2011 to help safeguard Indonesia’s forests.

In 2007, EIA was presented with two awards at the 20th anniversary meeting of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. The awards recognize the work done to expose and close down an illicit international trade in refrigerants known as CFCs and other chemicals that damage the ozone layer.

Having received the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Stratospheric Ozone Protection Award in 2006, the EIA was presented EPA’s Best-of-the-Best Stratospheric Ozone Protection Award, selected from more than 500 projects between 1990 and 2007. EIA received the award for “Leadership and Heroism in Preventing Illegal Trade.”

Since 2007, the EIA has been advocating for an amendment to the Montreal Protocol that would phase down refrigerants known as HFCs. These chemicals replaced CFCs but were later found to also be damaging to the ozone layer.

On October 15, 2016, 197 countries adopted such an amendment in Kigali, Rwanda. Countries committed to cutting the production and consumption of HFCs by more than 80 percent over the next 30 years.

The Kigali Amendment will cap and phase down HFC consumption starting in 2019, with developed countries taking action first.

Most developing countries, including China, by far the largest HFC consumer and producer, have committed to freeze HFC consumption in 2024. A second later schedule was agreed for a small number of countries including India, Kuwait, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

EIA UK Climate Campaign Leader Clare Perry said, “Compromises had to be made but 85 percent of developing countries have committed to the early schedule starting 2024, which is a very significant achievement.

According to our initial calculations this deal will avoid more than 70 billion tonnes of CO2e [carbon dioxide equivalent] emissions by 2050 – which will be close to avoiding a half a degree of warming,” she said.

EIA US Executive Director Alexander von Bismarck said, “The Kigali Amendment, with the Paris Agreement, gives 2016 the biggest one-two punch in the history of battling global warming. Still, with billions of tonnes of emissions left untouched, the ultimate power of the Kigali Amendment now depends on accelerating the removal of these industrial climate-killers in upcoming meetings.

EIA now seeks to apply its experience to other categories of controlled chemicals, which are harmful to the environment, such as hazardous waste and pesticides.

This project will conduct scoping research into the illicit trade in controlled chemicals and, using this information, prepare for a series of investigations to raise awareness and understanding of the issues at the governmental and institutional levels.

The group aims to achieve improved enforcement of international conventions regulating trade in harmful chemicals and to foster cross-border cooperation between nations.

Meanwhile, it’s the holiday season, and EIA suggests giving your loved one a compact camera to use for documenting illegal activity


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CITES CoP17: Elephants Win, Lions Lose

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Male lion rests in Addo Elephant National Park, just outside Port Elisabeth, South Africa, August 8, 2013 (Photo by Miran Hojnik) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

By Sunny Lewis

 GENEVA, Switzerland, October 11, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – World governments have adopted landmark decisions on shutting down illegal trade while regulating legal, sustainable and traceable trade in wild animals and plants.

The decisions affecting a large number of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, as well as an entire genus of trees including more than 300 species of rosewood, came at the 17th triennial Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

After two weeks of marathon negotiations, September 24 – October 4 in Johannesburg, South Africa, delegates to CoP17  increased protection for the African elephant, the pangolin and the saiga antelope, the African grey parrot, the critically endangered helmeted hornbill and the endangered Barbary macaque.

CITES Parties called for improved traceability of CITES-listed species such as sturgeon, prized for their caviar; luxury reptile skins; sharks, desired for their fins; and rosewood timber, used for furniture and musical instruments.

CITES regulates international trade in wildlife species with a licensing system of import and export permits.

Delegates of the 182 Parties vote to include species on one of three lists – Appendix I, II, or III – that divide the species according to the degree of protection governments agree that they need.

Commercial trade in Appendix I listed species is banned. Trade in species listed on Appendix II or III is legal as long as CITES procedures and domestic laws are followed.

The Johannesburg conference was the largest meeting of its kind, with 152 governments taking decisions on 62 species-listing proposals submitted by 64 countries.

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CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon addresses the opening session of CoP17, September 24, 2016 (Photo by Kiara Worth / Earth Negotiations Bulletin) Posted for media use.

In sum, 51 proposals were accepted, five were rejected and six were withdrawn.

In total, over 3,500 people attended the meeting, which also recorded the highest number of side events and attracted media interest from every region of the world.

The most critical meeting in the 43-year history of CITES has delivered for the world’s wildlife. CoP17 is a game changer for the planet’s most vulnerable wild animals and plants,” said CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon.

Elephants

Several decisions were adopted that support ending all ivory trade, at both the domestic and the international levels. The most important was adoption of a resolution that requires countries to phase out their domestic ivory markets.

Domestic ivory markets are the perfect system for laundering illegal ivory from elephants killed in Africa and Asia, and this has now been formally recognized within CITES,” said the observer team from the nonprofit Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), based both in London and Washington, DC.

 “It is now time that the UK and the European Union follow up on this and join the U.S., China, Hong Kong and even France in making time-bound commitments to phase out and eventually close their ivory markets,” the EIA said.

After intense discussion and dramatic voting on three proposals, CoP17 delegates rejected the development of a “decision-making mechanism for a process of trade in ivory” that would have facilitated a legal international ivory trade.

The proposal to list the four elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe on CITES Appendix I was rejected.

The National Ivory Action Plan was adopted, which establishes a mechanism to independently assess progress made by source, transit and destination countries implicated in ivory trafficking.

 Lions

The proposal to up-list African lions to Appendix I was rejected. While several decisions were adopted to improve lion conservation, and a zero quota on the export of wild lion bones for commercial purposes was adopted, Parties agreed that South Africa could have an annual export of farmed lion bones for commercial purposes.

Experts say that when lion bones hit the Asian markets they are sold as tiger, increasing demand for tiger parts in a rapidly expanding, unchecked market for tiger bone wine.

The EIA called this decision “a devastating blow for wild tigers as well as for other big cats poached for their bones.

With lion populations declining due to habitat loss, retaliatory killing from human-lion conflict, and unsustainable trophy hunting, “there is no excuse for the CITES parties allowing the lion bone trade to continue and most likely grow over the next three years,” blogs Jeffrey Flocken of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

According to the 2015 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, African lion populations have experienced an overall decline of 43 percent between 1993 and 2014.

While lion populations increased in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe by 12 percent over the same period thanks to good wildlife management, other sub-populations in the rest of Africa have plummeted by 60 percent.

Tigers

Tiger farming must end. This clear message came when China asked for support to delete a critical and historic decision which states that tigers should not be bred or trade in their parts and derivatives.

Not one single Party supported it when asked. Instead, a suite of decisions was adopted which, if funded and implemented, will lead to more country-specific time-bound actions to tackle trade in captive tiger parts.

Everyone was encouraged to hear Laos declare its intention to invite experts to help it phase out its tiger farms.

Also agreed at CoP17 were actions to improve international cooperation to combat trade in tiger and other Asian big cat parts.

These include a proposal from India inviting countries that seize tiger skins to share photos that can be cross-referenced in databases of tigers photographed in camera traps to help determine the source of the dead tigers, poached for their parts.

Rhinos

Swaziland’s proposal to allow a legal trade in rhino horn was overwhelmingly rejected by the parties with near 70 percent opposition. The global trade ban on rhinos and their parts is maintained.

It was clear that a majority of the Parties did not wish to legalize trade in rhino horns to avoid repeating the tragedy experienced by elephants since CITES sanctioned the legal trade of ivory in 2007, masking the flourishing illegal trade.

 Pembient, a Seattle-based start-up company, proposes to flood the market with bioengineered rhino horn to the point where the poachers lose economic incentive and the product loses its luxury status.

Yet, the conservation community has many concerns about the introduction of synthetic rhino horn or powder into the world economy. Will it dramatically increase the demand for “wild” rhino horn and thus accelerate rhino extinction? Will the forensic challenge thwart law enforcement? Will it fuel illegal trade activities?

Those questions still remain to be answered.

Pangolins

In a rare example of global unity, all eight pangolin species were up-listed onto Appendix 1 and given the strongest possible protection under CITES.

Barbary Macaques

The Barbary Macaque is the only non-human primate living in Europe, where a small semi-wild population of about 200 animals inhabits the Rock of Gibraltar. An estimated 6,500 to 9,100 Barbary macaques survive in fragmented areas in Morocco and Algeria.

The species has been categorized as Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species since 2008. The CoP17 delegates unanimously voted to transfer these monkeys from Appendix II to Appendix I.

Rosewoods

 The historic proposal to list an entire genus of timber – more than 300 individual trees, shrubs and vines in more than 100 countries – was championed by Latin American parties, agreed by consensus by the CoP17 delegates.

 This decision was accompanied by a new, innovative annotation to ensure prized rosewoods of the genus Dalbergia are no longer open to illegal trade. They are all now listed under Appendix II.

 By exercising the precautionary principle, the adoption of this proposal marks an emerging collaborative effort between countries to make decisions not in the interest of trade but in the best interest of timber species and ecosystems under threat.

 African Grey Parrot

 With tens of thousands of African grey parrots captured and exported for the pet trade every year, and tens of thousands more dying in the attempt, CoP17 delegates adopted a proposal to list African grey parrots under Appendix I. This appendix offers the highest level of protection that CITES can give, and means that nearly all trade in the species will be prohibited.

 Helmeted Hornbill

The Critically Endangered Helmeted hornbill is listed in CITES Appendix I. The massive and increasing demand for helmeted hornbill casques, so-called red ivory, in the international market has led to rampant poaching of this species.

 The CITES Parties agreed to adopt a strong resolution and decisions calling for urgent and integrated conservation and law enforcement measures, as well as coordinated efforts on the part of both consumer and range States to prevent the species from going extinct.

This is a great victory for the helmeted hornbill that has been ruthlessly hunted for its red ivory as the elephant has been killed off for its ivory,” said Noviar Andayani, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society Indonesia Program (WCS). “Many have heard about the elephant ivory crisis, and now it is time to hear more about the helmeted hornbill ivory crisis and take swift action to save it.

The Helmeted hornbill only occurs in intact tropical forests in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand and Myanmar.

Helmeted hornbills mate for life, and each pair maintains a large territory, marked and defended by one of the most dramatic calls of any bird, a cackling laugh audible from a kilometer away through the forest.

Widespread clearance of much of the hornbills’ lowland forest habitat for oil palm plantations, is a major threat to the species. A dramatic rise in hunting has compounded the problem. The species is the only hornbill with a solid casque, also known as red ivory which is carved into artefacts, the demand for which drives the poaching pressure on the species.


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IUCN Conservation Congress: Planet at the Crossroads

HumpbacksBy Sunny Lewis

HONOLULU, Hawaii, September 6, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – “The IUCN Congress will set the course for using nature-based solutions to help move millions out of poverty, creating a more sustainable economy and restoring a healthier relationship with our planet,” said World Bank Group president Jim Kim, as the conference opened in Honolulu September 1.

 Based in Switzerland, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) holds a World Conservation Congress every four years. This year, over 8,300 delegates from 184 countries, including Heads of State of many Pacific Island nations, are in attendance at the Hawaii Convention Center.

 Key issues under discussion include: wildlife trafficking, ocean conservation, nature-based solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation, and private investment in conservation.

To address an estimated US$200-300 billion annual funding gap in conservation, civil society organizations, private and public sector financial institutions and academia joined forces Friday to launch the Coalition for Private Investment in Conservation during the IUCN World Conservation Congress.

The Coalition’s goal is to help preserve the world’s most important ecosystems by creating new opportunities for return-seeking private investment in conservation.

The Coalition includes Credit Suisse, The Nature Conservancy, Cornell University and the IUCN as the founding members. Participants plan to develop new investment models and funding pipelines that will help close the conservation funding gap and contribute to the global goals for biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.

We already bring a wealth of experience into this Coalition,” says Lynn Scarlett, managing director of public policy for The Nature Conservancy. “At the Conservancy, we have already facilitated six impact investment deals totaling $200 million dollars in marine conservation and agriculture, and this new coalition should help us bridge our largest challenge, which is a lack of investment projects in the pipeline. We’ll know we’ve reached success when the big banks have enough projects as options that they can pick and choose where conservation investment will have the most significant impact.

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Members of the Coalition for Private Investment in Conservation, launched at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, Honolulu, Hawaii, Sept. 2, 2016 (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin) posted for media use.

 This week, IUCN Congress delegates, meeting in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, will vote on a motion to increase marine protected area coverage for effective marine biodiversity conservation.

 Not far from where they are meeting, the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument covering the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was expanded last week by President Barack Obama to create the world’s largest marine reserve.

On Midway Atoll, scene of a WWII battle that was a turning point in the war, Obama designated the newly protected area, calling it, spectacular as an ecosystem.

 “And our ability to not just designate, but build on, this incredible natural beauty, which is home to 7,000 marine species that sees millions of birds, many of them endangered, sea turtles, the Hawaiian monk seal, black coral – all sorts of species that in many other places we no longer see – for us to be able to extend that 550,000 miles in the way that we’ve done ensures not only that the Midway Atoll is protected, but that the entire ecosystem will continue to generate this kind of biodiversity.”

Obama said it is “critically important for us to examine the effects that climate change are taking here in the Pacific Ocean, the world’s largest body of water.

He pointed out that some Pacific island countries are now at risk and may have to move as a consequence of climate change. “There are enormous effects of the human presence in the ocean that creatures are having to adapt to and, in some cases, cannot adapt to.

Anote Tong, former president of the Republic of Kiribati, the world’s lowest-lying island nation, confirmed that his people may become climate refugees, saying, “You worry about the polar bears; so do we. But nobody is worried about us, because we will lose our homes too with the melting ice and the rising sea level.

 From microorganisms to whales, ocean warming is affecting many species and its effects are cascading through ecosystems, as outlined in a new IUCN report released in Honolulu.

The report, “Explaining Ocean Warming: Causes, scale, effects and consequences,” reviews the effects of ocean warming on species, ecosystems and on the benefits oceans provide to humans. Compiled by 80 scientists from 12 countries, it highlights detectable scientific evidence of impacts on marine life, from microorganisms to mammals, which are likely to increase even if greenhouse gas emissions are kept low.

From the poles to the tropics, plankton, jellyfish, turtle, fish and seabird species are on the move, shifting by up to 10 degrees of latitude to find cooler habitats, while some breeding grounds for turtles and seabirds disappear,” says the IUCN.

In response, the IUCN Congress passed a motion that recognizes the important role of marine and coastal ecosystems in climate change, as natural carbon sinks; recognizes the role that marine protected areas play in both climate change mitigation and adaptation, and preserves marine ecosystems from climate change “by promoting the establishment of a coherent, resilient and efficiently managed networks of protected marine areas…

 Another motion to be voted on this week at IUCN Congress deals with advancing conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity on the high seas, which account for two-thirds of the world’s oceans.

A motion to achieve representative systems of protected areas in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean also will come up for a vote.

The Congress is also expected to decide on motions dealing with regional approaches to tackling the global problem of marine litter, and on the protection of marine and coastal habitats from mining waste.

But as important as ocean conservation has become, Congress delegates are spending most of their time grappling with the toughest land-based conservation issues.

 A total of 85 motions  have been put to the electronic vote by the IUCN Membership, who adopted all 85 motions, some with amendments.

Delegates Sunday considered guidelines on climate change best practices, the place of the law in the future of conservation, how to manage transboundary ecosystems through experiences in “hydro-diplomacy” and governance of shared waters, and ways of transforming Africa’s development through Chinese investments.

Our planet is most certainly at a crossroads,” declared IUCN President Zhang Xinsheng at the opening ceremony on Thursday.

The path we take as a global community, and how we choose to walk down that path in the next few years, will define humanity’s opportunities for generations to come. These decisions will also affect the boundaries of those opportunities,” said Zhang. “As we all know, there are limits to what our Earth can provide, and it is up to us to make the decisions today that will ensure those resources are still here tomorrow.

The latest update of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, released at the conference, indicates that many of the world’s gorillas may not be here tomorrow.

The Eastern lowland gorilla, called Grauer’s gorilla, Gorilla beringei graueri, is newly listed as Critically Endangered due to illegal hunting for bushmeat, which is taking place around villages and mining camps established by armed groups deep in the forests in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Gorillas are divided into two species, Eastern and Western, each with two subspecies. Both species and all four subspecies of gorilla are now listed as Critically Endangered.

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Inger Andersen, Director General, IUCN, left, and Hawaii Governor David Ige, at the World Conservation Congress, Honolulu, September 1, 2016 (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin) posted for media use.

To see the Eastern gorilla, one of our closest cousins, slide towards extinction is truly distressing,” said Inger Andersen, IUCN director general.

We live in a time of tremendous change and each IUCN Red List update makes us realize just how quickly the global extinction crisis is escalating,” said Andersen. “Conservation action does work and we have increasing evidence of it. It is our responsibility to enhance our efforts to turn the tide and protect the future of our planet.

The IUCN’s Red List update also reports the decline of the Plains Zebra, Equus quagga, due to illegal hunting.

The once widespread and abundant Plains Zebra has moved from a listing of Least Concern to Near Threatened. The population has reduced by 24 percent in the past 14 years from around 660,000 to a current estimate of just over 500,000 animals.

Three species of duiker, a small African antelope, also have been moved from a listing of Least Concern to Near Threatened.

Illegal hunting and habitat loss are still major threats driving many mammal species towards extinction,” says Carlo Rondinini, coordinator of the mammal assessment at Sapienza University of Rome “We have now reassessed nearly half of all mammals. While there are some successes to celebrate, this new data must act as a beacon to guide the conservation of those species which continue to be under threat.

The IUCN Red List update holds some good news for the Giant Panda and the Tibetan Antelope, demonstrating that conservation action can deliver positive results.

Previously listed as Endangered, the Giant Panda is now listed as Vulnerable, as its population has grown due to effective forest protection and reforestation.

The improved status confirms that the Chinese government’s efforts to conserve this species are effective. Still, climate change is predicted to eliminate more than 35 percent of the panda’s bamboo habitat in the next 80 years and as a result, the panda population is projected to decline, reversing the gains made during the last two decades.

Due to successful conservation actions, the Tibetan Antelope has been moved from a listing as Endangered to Near Threatened.

The Tibetan Antelope population crashed from around one million to an estimated 65,000-72,500 in the 1980s and early ’90s as a result of commercial poaching for their underfur, called shahtoosh, used to make shawls. Rigorous protection has been enforced since then, and the population is now likely to be between 100,000 and 150,000.

The IUCN warns of the growing extinction threat to Hawaiian plants posed by invasive species.

Invasive species such as pigs, goats, rats, slugs, and non-native plants are destroying the native plants of Hawaii. The latest results show that of the 415 endemic Hawaiian plant species assessed so far for the IUCN Red List – out of about 1,093 plant species endemic to Hawaii – 87 percent are threatened with extinction.

Perhaps the biggest jolt to the Congress occurred late last week when the Great Elephant Census was released showing that numbers of African savanna elephants have dropped 30 percent – 144,000 elephants – between 2007 and 2014.

The census is the result of a two-year-long study, the centerpiece of which was an aerial survey, the first in 40 years, that covered nearly 345,000 square miles over 18 countries. Pilots and census crews followed strict protocols to ensure they gathered consistent data.

The census was a collaboration between billionaire and Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen, his organization, Vulcan, and Elephants Without Borders, African Parks, the Frankfurt Zoological Society, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Nature Conservancy, the IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group and Save the Elephants, as well as a long list of conservation officials in the countries surveyed.

Even with this new hoard of data and examples of effective conservation practices across Africa, saving the elephants remains a challenge of continental dimensions,” said Allen. “Poverty and corruption still remain very serious problems in countries that are home to the worst killing grounds, and these factors continue to drive a thriving international ivory market – along with similarly voracious demand for horns from endangered rhinos.

As you’ve been reading this, poachers likely killed another African elephant for its tusks – an atrocity that takes place, on average, every 15 minutes,” said Allen.

A few hopeful signs emerged from the Great Elephant Census. Relative success stories include Botswana, South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, and the complex of parks spanning the border of Burkina Faso, Niger and Benin.

Allen says that in countries where poaching is still rampant, such as Tanzania and Mozambique, “...the survey’s alarming results have spurred officials to strengthen protections for their surviving elephants, and to crack down on the criminal networks that are driving the slaughter. Only time will tell, though, if they can arrest both the poachers and ivory smugglers and reverse the sharp decline of their elephant populations.”


 Header image : Humpback whales in the Pacific Ocean, July 21, 2014 (Photo by Sylke Rohrlach) Creative Commons license via Flickr

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World Environment Day Goes Wild for Life

WorldEnvironmentDayPosterBy Sunny Lewis,

NEW YORK, New York, June 8, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – The environmental concerns of the 1970s – industrial pollution of air and water, oil spills, toxic dumps, pesticides, loss of wilderness and biodiversity – inspired people to set aside two distinct days each year for activities aimed at saving the planet.

In 1970, environmental activists in the United States celebrated Planet Earth on April 22 and dubbed it Earth Day. Now, Earth Day motivates millions to take action in countries throughout the world, not just on April 22 but for weeks both before and after that date.

 Then, in 1972, the United Nations General Assembly adopted June 5 as World Environment Day with the goal of encouraging everyone to prevent the growing strain on the planet’s natural systems from reaching the breaking point.

On June 5, 1974 the UN held the first World Environment Day in the city of Spokane, in the U.S. state of Washington at Expo ’74, the first environmentally themed world’s fair.

Forty-two years later, the two separate days of environmental action reached harmony this year on April 22, Earth Day, at UN Headquarters in New York as the leaders of 175 countries signed the Paris Climate Agreement negotiated in December.

The event broke the record for number of countries to sign a UN pact in a single day. The Paris agreement moves the world toward what EU Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič told fellow signatories is “a fundamental and ground-breaking transition to a low-carbon economy and society.”

World Environment Day 2016 also has been dramatic. Hosted by the West African country of Angola, this year’s theme “Go Wild for Life,” is dedicated to conserving wildlife and stamping out the illicit wildlife trade.

The 2016 theme highlights the fight against the illegal trade in wildlife, which erodes precious biodiversity and threatens the survival of elephants, rhinos and tigers, as well as many other species.

Angola is seeking to restore its elephant herds, conserve Africa’s biodiverse wildlife, and safeguard the environment as it rebuilds after more than a quarter-century of a civil war that ended just 14 years ago.

“Angola is delighted to host World Environment Day, which will focus on an issue close to our hearts,” said Angolan Environment Minister Maria de Fatima Jardim.

“The illegal wildlife trade, particularly the trade in ivory and rhino horn, is a major problem across our continent,” she said. “By hosting this day of celebration and awareness-raising, we aim to send a clear message that such practices will soon be eradicated.”

The government of Angola recently launched several initiatives to enhance conservation and strengthen environmental law enforcement

To demonstrate its commitment to curb elephant poaching, Angola last year submitted a National Ivory Action Plan as part of its membership of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. This international agreement is designed to prevent trade in wild animals and plants from threatening their survival.

Angola’s plan includes stiff penalties for poaching and ivory trafficking and stronger policing, including more training for wildlife rangers and the posting of a wildlife crime unit to the international airport in the capital, Luanda.

In March, Angolan officials presented a draft law banning the sale of ivory, a move that would end the open sale of ivory artefacts at Luanda’s bustling Benfica market.

It is unclear how many elephants remain in Angola, but those that do are facing pressure from poachers seeking to profit from ivory sales and poor communities who rely on bushmeat to survive.

The nation is also a transit country for ivory, with carved goods coming over the border from the Democratic Republic of Congo for re-sale, largely to Asian nations.

The troubles facing Angola are part of a wider global problem. A new United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)-INTERPOL report, released on June 4, found that transnational criminal networks are making up to $258 billion per year from environmental crimes, including the illegal trade in wildlife – a 26 percent increase over previous estimates.

In response to its problem, Angola is introducing tougher penalties for poaching, shutting down its domestic illegal markets, and looking to provide alternative livelihoods for those at the bottom of the illegal wildlife trade chain. They are also training former combatants to become wildlife rangers.

“We have a big push to manage protected areas and create others for the benefit of our people,” said Abias Huongo, director of Angola’s National Institute of Biodiversity. “For us to survive, other species need to survive. Together with the tourism ministry, we are exploring the potential of ecotourism to address the economic deficit with biodiversity.”

In Cuando-Cubango, a key region for biodiversity, new lodges are opening. A collection of comfortable huts ranged along the leafy banks of a lazy river near Menongue, the Rio Cuebe lodge has been open for three years.

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UN Environment Programme head Achim Steiner argues the case for wildlife conservation on World Environment Day 2016. (Screengrab from video by UNEP) Posted for media use www.unep.org

Regional ministers and biodiversity experts packed the Rio Cuebe for a conference as part of World Environment Day celebrations, but most of the time it sits half empty. When guests come, they are usually expats working in the country.

But UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner believes this situation is about to begin changing.

 “Angola has, over many years, relied on its fossil-fuel economy, whereas the last year has shown that kind of dependence can be a risk,” he said. “So, as Angola is managing the fall-out from the drop in oil prices it is looking at diversifying. This is where the notion of the green economy becomes relevant.

Cuando-Cubango is a region that could provide an enormous opportunity for investment in terms of tourism,” said Steiner, “a unique area where in 20 years’ time the world will be paying thousands of dollars for an overnight stay.”

Angolans are also discussing the establishment of several vast trans-frontier conservation areas. One would cover the wildlife-rich Okavango Delta in Botswana, and another incorporates Namibia’s wild Skeleton Coast.

Whatever can be done to conserve biodiversity everywhere in the world, it must be done quickly, says Bradnee Chambers, the executive secretary of the United Nations Environment Programme’s Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

“Vulture populations in Africa are collapsing. One reason is that farmers lace carcasses with poison bait with the intention of killing predators such as lions or hyenas that take their livestock; vultures are the unintended victims. But more recently poachers have been trying to kill vultures by contaminating dead elephants slaughtered for their ivory, because by circling over the scene of the crime the birds reveal where the poachers are,” explains Chambers.

“There is a real risk that Africa will lose not only its iconic elephants but also some of its most important birds of prey, which play a critical role in human health as nature’s garbage disposers,” he said.

Wildlife crime also occurs at sea. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is tackling pirate fisheries through the new Port State Measures Agreement, which entered into force on June 5 on World Environment Day.

The new agreement among 29 countries and the European Union prevents vessels from selling their illicit catch and facilitates inspections by port authorities.

 Illegal fisheries not only take millions of tonnes of fish each year but are also responsible for by-catch, a driver in the decline of species such as the vaquita, a Critically Endangered marine mammal in the Gulf of California, and the harbor porpoise in the Baltic Sea.

Each UN agency has a different way of marking World Environment Day. UNESCO and Wiki Loves Earth have partnered to create Wiki Loves Earth Biosphere Reserves, a competition to create photographs free for everyone to use and to enrich Wikipedia. 10 winning images will be shared on the UNESCO website and social media and will be entered into the Wiki Loves Earth international competition. Wiki Loves Earth competitions around the world have created over 180,000 images of protected natural sites.

“On this World Environment Day,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “I urge people and governments everywhere to overcome indifference, combat greed and act to preserve our natural heritage for the benefit of this and future generations.”


Main Image: Kingsley Mamabolo, an official with the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur, plants a tree during World Environment Day ceremonies held at the Mission’s headquarters in El Fasher, North Darfur, June 5, 2016. (Photo by Mohamad Almahady, UNAMID) Posted for media use

Featured Image: Elaborately dressed, with faces painted white, Angolan girls dance to celebrate World Environment Day, June 5, 2016 (Photo courtesy UNEP) Posted for media use www.unep.org

Extinction Stalks Meat-Eating Carnivores

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Polar bears on thin ice near the North Pole, June 30, 2015 (Photo by Christopher Michel) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

HELSINKI, Finland, June 7, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – The African lion faces extinction by the year 2050, wildlife experts project, at risk due to indiscriminate killing in defense of human life and livestock, habitat loss, and prey base depletion from poaching and illicit trade.

While the number of tigers living in the wild this year increased by a few hundred to 3,890 animals, the first uptick in the global wild tiger population in 100 years, there are still more tigers in captivity in the USA alone than tigers surviving in the wild. Tigers face the same threats as lions, with the added threat of poaching for the Asian medicinal trade.

The most carnivorous species of bear, polar bears are newly threatened by pollutants and by the increase in resource exploration and development, ice-breaking and shipping in the Arctic, along with loss of sea ice brought on by the warming climate.

Other carnivores – jaguars, leopards, lynx, cheetahs, foxes, wolves, wolverines, civets, hyenas, mongooses, weasels – are also vanishing.

“It is well documented that we are facing the world’s sixth great extinction. And there is no doubt that this extinction event is caused by human activity across the globe,” says Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, UN Messenger of Peace, and IUCN Patron of Nature. “For many endangered species, the impacts of climate change, such as increases in extreme weather patterns and irregular seasonal changes, conversion of habitat, pollution, disease and trafficking, are just a few of the threats that impact their survival.”

While the decline of all animal species is of concern to Dr. Goodall, a new study confirms that the global conservation of carnivores is at greatest risk.

Published in the journal “Scientific Reports – Global priorities for national carnivore conservation under land use change,” the study models future global land conversion and estimates this will lead to range loss and conflict with local people in regions critical for the survival of these threatened apex predators.

The study, organized by researchers from the University of Helsinki in collaboration with an international team of conservation and land use change scientists, concludes that immediate action is needed.

Lead author Dr. Enrico Di Minin of University of Helsinki explains, “We assessed how expected land use change will affect priority areas for carnivore conservation in the future. The analysis revealed that carnivores will suffer considerable range losses in the future. Worryingly, it seems that the most important areas for carnivore conservation are located in areas where human-carnivore conflicts are likely to be most severe.”

Di Minin said, “Presently, South American, African, and South East Asian countries, as well as India, were found to contribute mostly to carnivore conservation. While some of the most charismatic species, such as the tiger and giant panda were found to be at high risk under future land use change, smaller, less charismatic species, with small ranges were found to be equally threatened by habitat loss.”

Lions once ranged from Northern Africa through Southwest Asia, where it disappeared from most countries within the last 150 years, west into Europe, where it became extinct almost 2,000 years ago, and east into India.

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Wild tiger and photographers in India’s Ranthambore National Park (Photo courtesy Girish Arora)

Tigers once lived across Asia, from Turkey in the west to the eastern coast of Russia. Over the past 100 years tigers have disappeared from southwest and central Asia, from two Indonesian islands, Java and Bali, and from large areas of Southeast and Eastern Asia. Tigers inhabit less than six percent of their historic range, with a 42 percent decline since 2006.

Dr. Luke Hunter, president and chief conservation officer of Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, and a co-author of the paper, said, “Carnivores like big cats have been squeezed out of their ranges at alarming rates for decades now, and we can now see that habitat loss and its shock waves on wildlife are only on the rise.”

Hunter says part of the answer to the carnivore extinction crisis is money. “In order to protect our planet’s landscape guardians, a far greater financial investment from the international community is needed for range-wide conservation approaches, both within and outside of protected areas where carnivores roam,” he said.

Co-author Professor Rob Slotow from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa says another crucial part of the equation is reducing conflict with humans outside of protected areas.

“Most priorities for carnivore conservation are in areas in the global south where human populations are increasing in size, agriculture is intensifying, and human development needs are the highest,” Slotow said. “There is need to implement conservation strategies that promote tolerance for carnivores outside protected areas and focus on the benefits that people derive from these species.”

Carnivores include some of the most iconic species that help generate funding for biodiversity conservation and deliver important benefits to humans. Conservationists argue that protecting carnivores will conserve many other bird, amphibian, reptile and mammal species that live in priority areas for carnivore conservation.

To prevent the sixth mass extinction, humans need to understand the threats to biodiversity, where they occur and how quickly change is happening. We need reliable and accessible data, but a separate study published in the journal “Science” shows we are lacking key information on important threats to biodiversity, such as invasive species, logging, bush meat harvesting, and illegal wildlife trade.

Over the past two years a consortium of 18 organizations, including: the University of Helsinki, UNEP-WCMC, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Luc Hoffmann Institute, a research hub at WWF International, and BirdLife International, compiled global data on biodiversity threats.

They reviewed nearly 300 data sets and marked them on five attributes required for conservation assessments. Datasets should be freely available, up to date, repeated, at appropriate spatial resolution, and validated for accuracy. Only five percent of the datasets satisfied all five attributes.

“We were surprised that so few datasets met all of the five attributes we believe are required for a gold standard of data,” says Lucas Joppa, who leads environmental research at Microsoft and was lead author on the data study. “We live in the age of Big Data, but are effectively flying blind when it comes to understanding what is threatening biodiversity around the world.”

One thing is for certain, the value of environmental crime today is 26 percent larger than previous estimates, having grown to US$91-258 billion today compared to US$70-213 billion in 2014, according to a rapid response report published June 4 by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the international police force INTERPOL.

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Lionskin rug covers a floor at Werribee Mansion near Melbourne, Australia, 2010 (Photo by Rexness) Creative Commons license via Flickr

The Rise of Environmental Crime,” released ahead of World Environment Day, June 5, finds that weak laws and poorly funded security forces have been unable to prevent international criminal networks and armed rebels from profiting from a trade that fuels conflicts, devastates ecosystems and is threatening carnivores and other species with extinction.

“Environmental crime is growing at an alarming pace,” said INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock. “The complexity of this type of criminality requires a multi-sector response underpinned by collaboration across borders. Through its global policing capabilities, INTERPOL is resolutely committed to working with its [190] member countries to combat the organized crime networks active in environmental crime.”

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner is grateful for the police support, saying, “The rise of environmental crime across the world is deeply troubling. The vast sums of money generated from these despicable crimes are fueling insecurity and keeping highly sophisticated international criminal gangs in business. It is essential the world acts now to combat this growing menace before it is too late.”


 

 

 

Wildlife Pays the Price for Ecotourist Fun

LOS ANGELES, California, November 16, 2015 (Maximpact News) – Drawn to the beauty of natural landscapes and the exotic animals that live there, ecotourists leave money behind when they go home, but they may also leave the wild animals they have enjoyed viewing more vulnerable because of their presence.

Protected areas around the world receive a total of more than eight billion visits each year. Ecotourism is supposed to enhance conservation through ecologically responsible travel.

But after analyzing over 100 research studies on how ecotourism affects wild animals, an international team of scientists in the United States, France and Brazil has concluded that such visits can be harmful to the animals.

When wild animals are habituated to the presence of humans, their behaviors may be altered in ways that put them at risk, the researchers have found.

When animals interact in seemingly benign ways with humans, they may let down their guard, said Daniel Blumstein, the study’s senior author and professor and chair of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“This massive amount of nature-based and ecotourism can be added to the long list of drivers of human-induced rapid environmental change,” said Blumstein.

As animals learn to relax in the presence of humans, they may become bolder in other situations, he said. If this transfers to their interactions with predators, they are more likely to be injured or killed.

The presence of humans can also discourage natural predators, creating a kind of safe haven for prey animals that may make them bolder.

For example, in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park, elk and pronghorns in areas with more tourists are less alert and spend more time eating, Blumstein and his colleagues report.

Interacting with people can cause a change in the characteristics of various species over time.

“If individuals selectively habituate to humans – particularly tourists – and if invasive tourism practices enhance this habituation, we might be selecting for or creating traits or syndromes that have unintended consequences, such as increased predation risk,” the researchers write.

“Even a small human-induced perturbation could affect the behavior or population biology of a species and influence the species’ function in its community,” they write.

Ecotourism has effects similar to those of animal domestication and urbanization, the researchers point out.

Research has shown that domesticated silver foxes become more docile and less fearful, a process that results from evolutionary changes, but also from regular interactions with humans, Blumstein said.

Domesticated fish are less responsive to simulated predatory attacks.

Fox squirrels and birds that live in urbanized areas are slower to flee from danger than their wild counterparts.

Blumstein hopes the new analysis will encourage more research into the interactions between people and wildlife.

“It is essential,” he said, “to develop a more comprehensive understanding of how various species in various situations respond to human interaction and under what conditions human exposure may place them at risk.”

This research is published in the current issue of the journal “Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

The study’s co-authors are Benjamin Geffroy, a postdoctoral researcher with France’s Institute National De La Recherche Agronomique in Rennes; Diogo Samia, a postdoctoral researcher in the department of ecology at the Federal University of Goias, in Brazil; and Eduardo Bessa, a professor at the State University of Ponta Grossa, also in Brazil.


 

Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

Featured image: Tourists wait to photograph orangutans during feeding time at Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, Sabah, Malaysia. March 17, 2014 (Photo by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) under creative commons license via Flickr)
Slide image 01: Ecotourists stop a jaguar from crossing the river to reach a mate, Brazilian Pantanal, Aug. 22, 2011 (Photo by Paul Williams under creative commons license via Flickr)
Slide image 02: In Rwanda’s Virunga National Park a mother gorilla and her baby relax although a photographer is near. May 22, 2013. (Photo by Kwita Izina under creative commons license via Flickr)
Slide image 03: Ecotourists snorkel with fish in Brazil. (Photo by Benjamin Geffroy courtesy UCLA)