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Found 123 results

  1. "A herd of endangered rhinos fleeing the deadly floods sweeping northern India now faces another threat, wildlife officials said on Monday: Poachers are stalking the animals in the few areas of high ground to which they have managed to escape. Severe flooding since June in Assam State has forced half a million people from their homes and left scores of animals in Kaziranga National Park in grave danger, said Pramila Rani Brahma, the state’s forest and environment minister. Some animals, including most of the park’s elephants, have managed to flee the flooding to areas near where park officials say they can provide them protection from poachers, but the rhinos have escaped to areas difficult for the rangers to patrol, said Satyendra Singh, the park’s director."
  2. we are truly turning nature into a commodity , something that I and many others profoundly regret here is an article which points the way to a decline in wildlife including elephants , tigers and orangutans due to deforesttion , which in turn is partly caused by palm oil production please see please also se D Gaveeau What a Difference 4 Decades Make: Deforestation in Borneo Since 1973, on deforestation , forest cover has gone from 61% in 1970 to 44% in 2010 for an international comparism please see from high quality imaging by region most forests have been replaced for palm oil in SE Asia ant South America , the largest areas of vulnerable forests are in Africa and Mesoamerica on agricultural expansion please see Proximate and Underlying Causes of Forest Cover Change in Peninsular Malaysia, by M Miyamoto and others
  3. I was very pleased to read the following story in the Daily Telegraph this morning, it would appear from looking up this story on their website that they are moving towards being a subscription only site so you may not be able to read the full story. However I have found the same story in the Sun so I will provide a link to that as well. British Army Gurkha 'super-tracker' hunting poachers in Gabon to save last remaining elephants The Gurkhas are extremely well trained in the art of jungle warfare mainly in Brunei but I presume also in Belize and when it comes to tracking Corporal Rai is clearly the best of the best, the British Army has actually been involved in ranger training in Gabon since 2015, I hope that the skills that Corporal Rai can pass on will really start to turn the tide. Forest elephants have been taking a real hammering in recent years and evidence shows that they reproduce very slowly and that the effect of poaching is even worse than it is for their savannah cousins and could cause their extinction and without intervention certainly will cause the extinction of some populations. Like the lowland gorillas that share these forests the forest elephant is a vital component of the ecology of the rainforests of Gabon and the wider Congo Basin distributing the seeds of many different tree species. Their loss would have a huge impact on the fauna and flora of this region. Besides the ecological impact, if Gabon is ever to seriously get its act together and develop a proper wildlife tourist industry then it needs to ensure that it's elephants are safe so that tourist will be able to visit and see them as I did. It is the sad reality of poaching in Africa that rangers need to have not only excellent tracking skills but also proper combat training to deal with the people that they are up against and I am extremely glad that the British Army is helping to provide the necessary training, in particular some of our Gurkha soldiers. ONE-MAN TUSKFORCE ‘Super tracker’ soldier deployed to Africa on a mission to save elephants from cold-blooded poachers
  4. Reports To read the full article click here.
  5. The first aerial assessment of the impact of Central African Republic's recent conflict on wildlife and other natural resources in the northern part of the country shows that wildlife populations have been depleted in large areas of their former range, yet there is hope as some populations of Kordofan giraffe, giant eland, buffalo, roan, and other key species that still survive in low numbers. report continues no elephants were found there is ongoing violence , with commercial poaching and trafficking , mining and cattle raising remains a challenge there are large areas of wildlife habitat intact but an urgent security scheme has to be implemented which cooperates with neighboring Chad, Cameroon, Sudan, and South Sudan. CAR is an area where armed militias attack each other and the ordinary people , Human Rights Watch reports on this the government is largely ineffective and not very stable
  6. Reports To read the full article click here.
  7. Reports To read the full article click here. Meru NP is truly a beautiful place as many Safaritalkers, including myself, are aware. It needs more visitors but how to encourage them?
  8. ~ This June, 2017 article in National Geographic explains that Egypt's unstable political and security infrastructure, and the corresponding decrease in international visitors has resulted in a marked increase in Nile crocodile poaching. Crocodile skin, meat, body parts used as aphrodisiacs, eggs and hatchlings are all used in commercial trade to supplement the dwindling monthly earnings of Egyptians.
  9. ~ This August, 2016 research article published in the Journal of Applied Ecology and the explanatory article from Nature present findings from a field study of Loxodonta cyclotis, African Forest Elephant, in the Dzanga Forest of the Central African Republic. Evidence is presented that African Forest Elephants are particularly vulnerable to poaching due to slow maturation and long inter-calving intervals.
  10. ~ This June, 2017 article from the U.K. Guardian explains the impact that traditional medicine is having in demand for elephant parts, leading to increased poaching within Myanmar. Inevitably much of the elephant trade is taken across the border to China, where the elephant trade continues to flourish.
  11. "When a poacher steps into a certain wildlife park in Kenya in the middle of the night, a thermal camera at the perimeter notices the action. Then an algorithm automatically identifies that the heat is coming from a person and not a giraffe, and a team of rangers gets an alert. The technology—which World Wildlife Fund started testing in two Kenyans parks in March 2016—has already led to more than 25 arrests. "It allows you to see in total darkness," says Travis Merrell, senior vice president of FLIR, the thermal technology company that donated the equipment to WWF. The cameras can also see through rain, smoke, and fog. In the Mara Conservancy—home to lions, rhinos, elephants, and other threatened or endangered species—the cameras are mounted on trucks. As rangers drive, a screen inside shows movement of both animals and poachers up to a mile away."
  12. with longer term safari hunting and ongoing serious poaching , the genetic diversity of black rhinos has greatly declined this has implication for how they will be able to adapt to future challanges including climate change very interestingly the historic range of the western black rhino , declared extinct in 2011, goes into southern Kenya, a few remain in the mara please see search black rhinos the piece is called rethink need to save critically endangered black rhinos , there is an article link at the end go to scientific reports , the article was published 9 FEB 2017 EXTINCTIONS,GENETIC EROSION AND CONSERVATION OPTIONS FOR BLACK RHINOCEROS DICEROS BICORNIS
  13. Own of my travel agent (Nickadventure) in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, just posted on his Facebook page comments from locals about a jaguar poaching increase, especially in Northern Bolivia, corresponding to the Beni Wetlands and Amazonian Forest, south to Tambopata reserve in Peru. I will quote his comments here: Note for those interested to discover wild Bolivia. The place I have seen a jaguar in Madidi (with another local agent) is the same Nick use to go. Nicks offers fantastic tour in the Bolivian Chaco, and reached really good results in tapirs and jaguars observations. Let's hope tourism will develop in there, I greatly admire Nick perseverance. If Kaa Iya is rather an expedition compared to Pantanal confortable lodges in Tres Irmaos region, Nick uses camera traps during the trip to show his tourists the most secretive wildlife he cannot guarantee to his clients, which I really appreciate. I really expect to visit KINP one day with Nick, as well as other new destinations I discovered a couple of year before: Reserva Barba Azul (Beni) to see the once thought extinct endemic macaw, Red front macaw in the upper dry valleys. He also offers tour in Noel Kempff, Pantanal and seems to have a new tour to see the andean cock of the rock...
  14. "I firmly believe that we are going to be able to prove that they can," said Kirsty Brebner, whose organisation Endangered Wildlife Trust had the idea of putting rats to work on the illegal wildlife trade. "They are clearly trainable, they clearly have a strong sense of smell," Brebner told Reuters from South Africa. She said the eventual aim is to train rats to find ivory and rhino horns, too. Pangolins, a mammal hunted close to extinction for the unique scales on its body, which find a ready market in Asia, are the first target because they have a stronger scent than ivory or rhino horn, giving the rats a better chance of success. The rats will be tested and trained by APOPO, a Tanzanian-based group that pioneered using the African Giant Pouched Rat to find landmines." -- After reading the article, I had to laugh at the first entry in the comments section.
  15. ~ This article from the U.K. Guardian explains how strong Chinese demand for the solid red beaks of Rhinoplax vigil, Helmeted Hornbill, is resulting in high levels of poaching. Carvers in China use the red casques to carve decorative trinkets for wealthy consumers. Poachers kill both juvenile and adult hornbills, decimating populations of the slow-breeding species.
  16. Today at 12:30 BST Prince William will be giving a keynote speech on wildlife crime at Tusk’s Time for Change event at The Shard anyone who wants to listen can do so via the Tusk’s Facebook page Tusk
  17. This article is about photographer Benjamin Rutherford's work documenting the bushmeat trade in Zambia: A web page displaying some of Mr. Rutherford's photos is here: I was sorry to read about the private wildlife conservancy that is selling its game animals, closing, and becoming a farm because of insurmountable poaching. But I was glad to read about a reserve along the Kafue River that was once heavily poached and now is a success story. Wish they said which reserve it was...
  18. Conservationist Mike Chase gave an interview to National Geographic about the results of the elephants survey of the South Eastern corner of Angola, one country we know is receiving the surplus of elephants from Botswana. The conclusions are alarming, depressing. But I have huge hopes things change in the future. Angola is the best place to receive the overcrowded elephants from Northern Botswana and from Hwange in Zimbabwe. Once home of an estimated 200.000 elephants before the civil war, the census determined that there are around 4000 elephants in this remote part of Angola. It is far less than what Mike Chase expected. Please see the details of the survey on:
  19. I've been making this point repeatedly in many discussions about legalisation of ivory and rhino horn trade. It's nice to see that proper research from two highly regarded university confirms my points. Prof Christopher Alden, at the London School of Economics, who is not involved on the new analysis, said: “The linkage [of the 2008 sale] with the surge in poaching is a sound one based on rigorous scholarly research.”e said it was true that the elephant poaching crisis in east Africa has yet to hit southern Africa as hard, but that it was very likely to do so if a new sale was allowed: “[The proposal] is deeply disingenuous and one which flies in the face of the contemporary moves by China and the US to shut down the market for ivory.” The new analysis was possible because poachers do not hide or destroy the carcasses of the elephants they poach. “It’s not worth the trouble,” said Hsiang. “So they’ve basically left us a complete and visible record of their activity.” The 2008 ivory sale also corresponded with a 70% rise in the seizures of illegal ivory. The surges in poaching and seizures occurred right across Africa and the researchers checked for other factors that might have been involved, such as an increase in Chinese workers in Africa or rising affluence in China or Japan. “We looked for alternative explanations in the data, but the best evidence still indicates that the legal sale exacerbated the destruction of elephant populations across Africa,” Sekar said. A guardian article about it, and a link to the original article.
  20. Tanzania's shame Tanzania turns a blind eye to poaching as elephant populations tumble
  21. Good luck to Kenisa Adrobiago and Park Manager Erik Mararv and peace for the 3 remarquable park rangers who passed away yesterday. APN shows a lot of courage to protect Garamba.
  22. Lisa Hywood established the Tikki Hywood Trust in Zimbabwe in 1994 as a wildlife orientated not for profit organization. Targeting smaller and lesser known endangered animals, the Trust was established to address gaps in conservation left by the immense focus on larger and more charismatic wildlife. Such an enigma is the Pangolin, now a priority species for the Trust. From broad spectrum beginnings which involved translocation of elephants and rescue and rearing orphaned animals, to more specific conservation actions of addressing laws that protect wildlife and the environment, the Trust has developed a multifaceted approach to the preservation of our global heritage. Lisa Hywood has been at the helm since inception in the capacity of Founder and CEO. To find out more about the work of the Tikki Hywood Trust, visit the website at ------------------------------ Why has it taken so long for awareness of the pangolin’s conservation plight to reach mainstream media? Unlike your charismatic species, such as the rhino, elephant, tiger together with the cheetah, the pangolin sits in a unique niche all on its own. Firstly they are rather small, covered in scales, (so most people perceive them as reptiles), and they are mainly nocturnal so not easily seen. The pangolin has not been romanticized in novels or films and therefore most people are ignorant in the role that these truly amazing animals have to play in our ecosystem. When one thinks of TCM, rhino horn comes to mind and there is documented evidence of its use going back centuries. What is the history of pangolin body parts in TCM and how come the poaching of it in Africa has accelerated recently? There are eight species of pangolin four in Asia and four in Africa. The Asian species have been so severely poached over the past decade that now those numbers cannot supply the Asian demand and so the harvest grounds for pangolin have turned to Africa. With multiple trade agreements and investment coming into Africa from Asia, so to are the new cultures and TCM beliefs, which of course will affect all our African species including the pangolin. Pangolin TCM like with the rhino horn has been around for centuries in Asia and hence why it is so difficult to try and reduce the already existing demand. How concerned are you that pangolin is considered a delicacy in Chinese cuisine and how is this leading to increasing pressure on its numbers? It is a huge concern, as the socio-economics of Asia increase so to it seems does the demand on pangolin cuisine. Pangolin soup is considered a delicacy when finalizing a deal – “kind of sign on the dotted line and lets eat a pangolin!” These pangolin, are kept alive in cages and when ordered wheeled out to the customer prior to having his or her neck slit. Barbaric - cannot or does not even describe this activity. What is being done in Vietnam and China to engage consumers? To engage political support? One sees in social media the efforts with regard to elephant ivory and rhino horn, but what about the smuggling of pangolins for consumption and their scales for use in TCM? There are groups working in Vietnam and China in the fight to reduce demand, however as we know education takes generations and what might be the sad fact right now is we do not have this length of time to solve the issues facing pangolin. In China a law was passed stating that it was illegal to eat endangered wildlife. Pangolin are one of these species sited in this law, which carries a 10 year jail term if found guilty. Yet since the law was passed I am unaware of even one offender having been arrested. So to China I say – “in order for the law to serve as a deterrent, one has to enforce it.” One thinks of the huge sums of money involved with rhino horn, what are the monetary sums involved with pangolins? How are pangolins smuggled out of the country and what efforts to stop and search are made at border points, ports of egress etc? The value of pangolin, are up there with rhino horn – sad thing is that no one knows this except the criminals. Due to the ease of being able to capture pangolin, poachers can transport pangolin readily from country to country. Pangolin are smuggled on buses, in suitcases and cargo trucks. As of yet, all of the 8 species of pangolin are only listed on CITES Appendix II, therefore trade is still allowed and this is something we need to address and quickly. There is now a CITES agenda which does include the 8 species of pangolin and here’s hoping that by elevating the pangolin to an Appendix I listing not only will it stop all trade and therefore make monitoring the illegal trade slightly easier, but it will bring the plight of these animals into the light along side of the rhino and the elephant. Like the rhino horn, the use of pangolin in Vietnam is being linked to those with wealth willing to eat or use them as a demonstration as wealth and status, (source,, QUOTE, “The problem, Nguyen complained, was not Vietnam's poor and uneducated, but its wealthy elite - the senior government officials and the wealthy businessmen who ordered pangolin to flaunt their status or to celebrate a deal.” How can you ever hope to engage these people when the rarer something becomes, the more value it has to them? Likewise, how worried are you that a growing and more affluent middle class may seek to emulate them? If they don’t care about its conservation status, what hope is there of stopping the trade? Extremely worried and the only area which might be working in our favor here is that the elite are educated and will always want to save face. Should the Governments, Authorities and the youth of these countries stand up and make enough noise our hope is that those wealthy business men will also wake up and be forced to listen to the law. When, how and why did the trust begin focusing on the Pangolin? The Tikki Hywood Trust received the first pangolin in 1994. Nothing could have prepared me for that moment. A pangolin is like no other mammal – there are no books to read or information which has been past down through the ages as to how best to take care of this species. There in front of me was a sack and in a tightly rolled up ball was a pangolin. The stench that came from the sack was overwhelming, I opened the sack only to see the most beautiful eye staring back at me – terror was the first emotion I detected but besides that there was great wisdom I sensed and this only made me even more nervous. It was that single moment, that look that made me realize we have to do more for this animal and how can we be in 1994 and know almost nothing about how to care and save this animal. Over the past 20 years we have been involved with all aspects of the pangolin from rescue, rehabilitation and release together with working with our Authorities on improving the law involving the pangolin together with the enforcement of the law. We have become a voice for this otherwise silent, magical and prehistoric species around the globe. Why aren’t more NGOs involved in the Pangolin's conservation? One sees a multitude of organisations raising awareness and money for rhinos, elephants, lions etc., but which are the NGOs, including your own, focusing on the pangolin? I don’t know and cannot answer for other NGO’s and or groups – maybe the pangolin at this point is not sexy enough! Maybe size maybe ignorance – either way the Tikki Hywood Trust believes that all animals are equally and as important as the next, that we are all intricately intertwined and should one species perish then it will have a catastrophic knock on affect to yet another species. Please tell us about the African Pangolin Working Group. The Tikki Hywood Trust is a co founding member of the APWG and one of the main aims behind this group was to engage with like minded people around Africa so that we could come together and put multiple resources and energy into saving this species. The APWG attempts to monitor and launch research, rehabilitation, law enforcement and community projects on African pangolins across multiple African states. How easy is it to rehabilitate a rescued pangolin and release it back into the wild? What has been your success rate and what is the cost of doing so? Due to the lack of knowledge and understanding of these mammals I can readily say this is no easy task. One of the main factors that affect a pangolin is stress and one can only imagine how much stress these animals will endure from being captured and transported from pillar to post for who knows how many days and weeks, prior to being rescued. All pangolin that come through our center are invariably dehydrated and very under weight. Many of the pangolin have also been wounded and due to the stress they have endured, succumb to terrible infections, which are difficult to fight. The time to rehabilitate pangolin, vary from one individual to another as does the cost. As with any rehabilitation the injuries that have been inflicted will also determine the cost required. Rod Cassidy from Sangha Lodge in CAR has stated many times that local people also consume the pangolin: what affect has the illegal bush meat trade had on its numbers? What can be done to sensitize local communities to the conservation status of the pangolin, change their habits, when bush meat has always played a part in their diet? In Central and West Africa the bushmeat trade in pangolin continues consuming large numbers of pangolin. The obvious first step is through education in trying to sensitize the local population as well as Government, to the value of these wild animals. The pangolin in CAR is fully protected under their wildlife laws and hence I believe that enforcement of these laws will have the most effect when trying to stop the illegal use of pangolin. How these African countries are resource strapped and until this can be addressed there will be very little done to assist species such as the pangolin. How are you made aware of the pangolins’ plight in the area of the trust’s operation and what action do you take? How many times have you personally seen pangolins, whether dead or alive, for sale in bush meat markets and what do you do about it? How much are pangolins sold for in these markets? (Dead/alive?) In Zimbabwe when a pangolin is confiscated it goes directly to or through our Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authorities. We are then notified and the pangolin should it be alive is handed over to our care for rehabilitation. We then work with the Authorities on the necessary charges and action required to prosecute the poachers. Once we have successfully rehabilitated the pangolin they are then released into designated areas around the country. Each pangolin is micro-chipped and funding dependent where ever possible we use a tracking device to monitor the pangolin once released. We have been involved with more than 64 pangolin cases over the past five years. Whenever we hear about a pangolin in any situation we follow up with the Authorities. With rhinos, lions, elephants, cheetahs etc., there are estimated numbers, various counts and studies but what are the difficulties in trying to ascertain a reliable figure on the number of pangolins? Currently there are no true figures of pangolin numbers worldwide! This is a huge concern as well as a problem, as how do you try and protect a species that you cannot even see? We are fighting a silent enemy and we do not know other than by trade figures how severe this issue is. When you are dealing with tons of pangolin confiscated in Asia and now from Africa, and you do know that the pangolin only gives birth to one young once a year – you can start to understand that this species cannot sustain these figures. Aside from the poaching for bush meat and TCM, what are the other threats facing the pangolin? How are their movements affected by land subdivision and fencing? And talking of fencing, what is the impact of electric fencing on pangolin numbers and what can be done to mitigate loses caused by it? Electric fences, which are used for game ranches, are one of the greatest threats to pangolin in South Africa and due to this there is now a fence that has been designed to try and allow the free movement of pangolin from one property to another in South Africa. Agriculture and poisoning is also a factor but obviously nothing as great as the illegal trade in this species. But lets not forget ignorance – I do believe that this too needs to be mentioned. How seriously are government parastatals in Zimbabwe and other pangolin range state countries taking the threat and what are they doing on the ground? All Authorities have taken the conservation of pangolin within Zimbabwe, extremely seriously and I believe the conviction outcomes speak for themselves. Currently Zimbabwe is the most proactive country in pangolin conservation addressing all aspects from education to law enforcement as well as Zimbabwe having the stiffest penalties for the illegal possession of pangolin which is 9 years in jail and USD 5000.00 fine. I believe that other African countries can indeed learn from the proactive approach Zimbabwe has had with pangolin conservation. At this point it is important to note that for the law to act as a deterrent then one it has to be enforced but secondly it would be made that much stronger if neighboring countries carried a similar penalty making the poacher understand that he cannot poach from the country whose law is weaker and get away with the offence. Once again I believe that from informant to arrest and arrest to conviction Zimbabwe has had very positive outcomes. This year alone, (2015), has seen Zimbabwe prosecuting 22 pangolin poachers to the mandatory sentence of 9 years in jail. These results speak for themselves. And there has been more focus in the national Press, such as this article, which focuses on how the trust is working with the government. This is a paper I co-authored re Zimbabwe and the stance that it has taken through our work for pangolin protection. For many people, to see a pangolin on safari represents a “bucket-list” sighting and yet still there are many who don’t know what it is. So, what are the different African species and where can they be found? If planning a safari with the aim of, (hopefully), spotting a pangolin, where should one go to be in with a reasonable chance? The four species of pangolin in Africa are; The Giant Ground Pangolin – Central to West Africa The White- bellied Pangolin – Central to West Africa The Black-bellied Pangolin – Central to West Africa The Temminck’s Ground Pangolin – Southern and East Africa above 30degree latitude. One must always remember that pangolin are nocturnal and hence hoping to see one during day light hours you are less likely – perhaps my advice would be to go on a night drive or a very early morning drive in the hopes of seeing a pangolin. How would a 25 dollar donation help the Tikki Hywood trust in its objectives to conserve the pangolin and how can one make a donation? A USD 25 donation would go towards the rescue and rehabilitation of a pangolin in care. Should one wish to donate via credit card we have two facilities on our FACEBOOK page otherwise the bank details below: USD Bank Details Correspondent Bank: STANDARD CHARTERED BANK, NEW YORK USA Swift Code: SCBLUS33 Beneficiary Bank: Central Africa Building Society Head Office Northend Close, Northridge Park Harare Zimbabwe Swift Code: CABSZWHA Account Number : 3582-026441-001 Beneficiary Name : TIKKI HYWOOD FOUNDATION Beneficiary Acc No.: 9016337893 Photo Credits: courtesy and copyright Tikki Hywood Trust, images 1 and 7, @@Wild Dogger, images 3 and 4, @@pault. The views expressed therein are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Safaritalk.
  23. Protecting endangered species such as the Mountain Gorilla, Elephants which are hunted on a daily basis for ivory, and other animals is not only a moral obligation but a responsibility that humanity needs to address. In December 2015, the Barcelona Legends football team visited Uganda, and played a charity match in Kampala with the Uganda legends (Retired national team stars), where Patrick Kluivert scored his best ever goal, according to his own admission. They visited the country’s top attractions, and ventured out to see the mountain gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Barcelona striker Patrick Kluivert fell in love with the country’s wildlife, “In the short time I have been here, I have no doubt that Uganda is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. We will give you good global coverage for both tourism and investment, because you have a lot to offer.” But while the team was visiting Bwindi Park, poachers killed five elephants in the country’s nearby Queen Elizabeth National Park. Although these two events appear unconnected, tourists like the Barcelona Legends might be able to help fight this poaching crisis indirectly. Hundreds of thousands of elephants have been killed in Africa over the last decade. In 2012 alone, 35,000 elephants – four every hour – were slaughtered across the continent. According to recent statistics from the Wildlife Conservation Society, about 5,000 elephants remain in Uganda today. Nevertheless, poaching is still a lucrative business, and although governments and conservation charities are trying to address the issue, but the current efforts have been slow and painful. A report by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) highlighted the scarcity of data on the economic value of wildlife tourism in Africa, but surveyed data from 48 government bodies and 145 tour operators from 31 African countries and concluded that poaching “threatened the tourism sector’s long-term sustainability”. However, only 50% of the operators were directly funding anti-poaching initiatives or engaging in conservation projects. Encouraging them, and getting tourist numbers back up is vital. Jonathan Scott, who presents the BBC’s Big Cat Diary and has lived in Kenya for 40 years, says: “If the world is serious about helping to prevent poaching, we need those tourist dollars.” Cavin Mugarura Director | Stride Safaris | Askay Hotel Suites Email: Website:
  24. BREAKING NEWS. The Ol Pejeta Conservancy ************************************************************************ The fight goes on, but if a sanctuary like Ol Pejeta, which has excellent security, all things considered, what hope for the rest. It is a little worrying that Ol Pejeta has now lost two Rhino in as many months. The poachers of the first were caught quickly, sadly it just shows there are always others to take their place. At the end of the day all that can be done is to tighten security where it can be tightened and soldier on. AJ
  25. Hardly a day goes by without another depressing story about the plight of Africa's elephants. Elephant numbers across Africa are declining at an alarming rate under the onslaught of ivory poachers yet one National Park, Zimbabwe's Hwange NP, faces an entirely different problem; its elephant population just keeps on growing. But what, on the face of it, might appear to be good news has become, in fact, an equally serious problem; one that is as much a threat to the elephants' long term survival as ivory poaching. To make matters worse, after successive years of poor rainfall, 2016 is shaping up to be an even drier year and Hwange is facing the very real prospect of drought. To get a better understanding of the situation facing this iconic Zimbabwean park I sought out someone who knows the park and its history better than most; Mark 'Butch' Butcher, Director of Imvelo Safari Lodges. Mark Butcher Butch’s wildlife career started in 1979, when he became a ranger for the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management. He completed a BSc in Zoology and Botany at Rhodes University, before moving on to work for Zimbabwe’s Forestry Commission. As Provincial Wildlife Officer, Butch was responsible for all the wildlife that roamed within 1.8-million acres of indigenous forest. Whilst undertaking this enormous task, he quickly discovered how essential the local people’s support was to the well-being of the estate. Butch began to develop programs that would both engage the people and benefit the natural ecosystems. He finally left the Commission to develop these initiatives from the other side of the fence. Butch’s lifelong passion for Hwange – it’s elephants, wildlife and communities – formed the cornerstone for Imvelo Safari Lodges to grow into what it is today. MD How many elephant are there in Hwange? MB There's 44,000 according to last year's aerial count done by Elephants Without Borders, using rock solid techniques and for the first time ever we counted at the same time as Botswana counted. MD So there was no chance of them being double counted if they moved between the two countries? MB Well, they don't move that much within a month but there was always that doubt. Anyway the number they came up with, rock solid, 44,000. In fact we, all the old Hwange hands said we had in the low 40's so it concurs with what we expected. MD The natural follow up question to that is: “How many should there be? How many can the habitat sustain? MB Every single person has a different theory about it. When Ted Davison came to work here - he came in 1928, prior to that the area had been hunted by informal ivory hunters - he said he had about 500 elephants. If you extrapolate the very good data that we have now, if you extrapolate backwards, we think that there were actually closer to 1,000 elephants when Ted Davison came to work here. So the question is, 'is that the number there should be here?' When I was a young ranger in the early 80's we used to have – don't quote me on the exact number – approximately 30,000 – 35,000 elephants here in Hwange. Heavy elephant culling in the early 1980's – for better or for worse that's what was done in the old days – got the numbers down to about 14,000. It was a massive programme; it was argued a lot but, right or wrong, that's what was done. Hwange used to work quite well when the numbers were between 14,000 and 20,000. I used to hang around water holes and the pumped water was enough: there wasn't congestion and the other animals used to flourish; we had a lot more sable and a lot more buffalo then. We had young trees, young acacia trees. Now, as you drive around the park you'll see, we have a lot of very big trees and a lot of very, very small ones and nothing in between. Our woodlands are in an absolute nose-dive. Back then I have heard it argued that we should have elephants at one per square mile, which would be 5,000 elephants because Hwange is 5,000 square miles, or one per square kilometre, which is 14,000 elephants. But clearly 44,000 is unsustainable. So what do we do about it? MD Hwange and its wildlife depends on the pumps for water. When you drive around you see there's no vegetation close to the pumps, it's like little bits of desert. The pumps create an artificial habitat. If the pumps weren't there would there be any water? And if not, what would the animals do? MB I try to rationalise it a lot. I put myself in Ted Davison's shoes. If you read Ted Davison's book; here's a young ranger, one of Africa's five great rangers of the colonial period. When Ted Davison came to work here he had a couple of lines drawn on a map; this was his park. He walked around in here for donkey's years and he had the local San people - there were a couple of families of San people lived here - he had them show him around and what he found out within a few years of arriving here was that there was no permanent surface water in Hwange. So he had this huge “game reserve” with no year round water supply. So what used to happen was that the wildlife that was here during the wet season would migrate out of the park during the dry season. What started to happen for him in the early 30's as a young ranger he saw he was looking after his animals, he was stopping the uncontrolled hunting, he was getting on top of things but every year his animals would migrate out and when they migrated out the next rainy season when they came back there were fewer and there were lots of them wounded and there were all kinds of major issues because what was happening during the same period was that human populations were building up around the park. So, he decided to put some windmills in to pump water in the dry season so that his animals wouldn't have to migrate out and then he could look after them; they would be in his protection year round. It worked brilliantly, maybe better than he ever expected. He started putting windmills and, slowly but surely, elephants started staying and flourishing. Gradually they became sedentary. By the 1960's his windmills weren't keeping up; they weren't pumping enough water because the elephant population so increased. I say elephants but it wasn't just the elephants; elephants, buffalo, giraffe, all the wildlife flourished under his stewardship and he started pumping more and more water. Then his windmills couldn't keep up and he had to start using engines. By the late 1960's we had this huge conservation success story where the elephant population has been taken from between 500 – 1,000 up to 20,000. We've got people flying from all over the world to see Hwange's wildlife but it's essentially all artificial; it's all pumped. Fast forward now to the 1980's. The elephant population is still flourishing. When I was a young ranger here we had 60-70 water pumps and a huge elephant population. So back then, the powers that be and the ecologists said we needed to cull. So they culled the elephant population back down. Then the culling was stopped because by 1992 there was an ivory ban, no trade in ivory, ivory couldn't be sold to fund the culling, which was a good thing. We had the elephant population down to where we wanted it. Come back to the early 2000's and what we've got is an elephant population that has blossomed. Not only has our local population increased but we've drawn in elephants from Botswana and the population is back up around the low 30,000's and at the same time the Department of National Parks and Wildlife is going into a nose-dive financially because of the collapse of the Zimbabwe dollar. So now they can't fund their operations. By now we've already started Bomani Lodge which has been our pipe-dream to get lodges on the periphery of the park. We're in the south east corner of the park, we have a small waterhole by our camp, we have a couple of hundred elephant come to drink each day and the whole thing is starting to come together. Suddenly, in the dry season of 2002, probably about June/July of that year, I suddenly had a monstrous influx of elephants come pouring into our waterholes, literally thousands. I had 2 or 3 thousand elephants arrive to come and drink at a waterhole where previously we'd had a couple of hundred. Knowing what was going on in the park I said “I know what's happened, they've switched the water off inside the park.” I went deeper into the park, down along the old pumps runs I used to do as a young ranger and sure enough they'd all been abandoned. Clearly this wasn't something I could walk away from. I couldn't just let these animals die, nor could I let them devastate the area around our camp. I had to do something; so we started pumping the water to buy ourselves breathing space until we could get on top of things. I know full well that pumping water is not the answer, because we've created an artificial system. My problem today is that I've been handed this artificial situation and what do we do with it? People say “you should do this and you should do that”. One of the options that are on the table is to turn off some of the waterholes. Now I know from experience that turning off just a few of the waterholes doesn't achieve anything because the elephants just move. They just crowd the others, they go to waterholes that are being pumped. What you do kill is animals like warthogs and baboons that have become dependent on certain waterholes and don't know where the other waterholes are. They are not migratory. So, turning off a few waterholes doesn't work. What we're faced with is we have to turn off ALL the waterholes or nothing. MD Are there people who argue that would be a more natural state of affairs? MB Yes. What is interesting and which follows on from that is; we could recreate the old Hwange with 500 – 1,000 elephant, 2-3 prides of lions, half a pack of wild dogs, 2-3 cheetah, 10 sable, 5 giraffe. But what would happen is that there would be no tourism. Whether we like it or not, Africa's game reserves, National Parks and wildlife survive on the back of tourism. If there is tourism and tourism dollars coming into an area there is a moral justification to the people of Africa of why they should set aside land for wildlife. In the absence of the animals, why would people come to Hwange? They wouldn't come. So there would be no tourism dollar and people would think: “Why don't we just open up the area for grazing our cattle? Why don't we just kill those 5 sable because we're bloody hungry?” And we would lose Hwange National Park. The second thing is that we've spent a lot of time developing the communities around the park to become dependent upon the park. So if we turn off the water inside the park it will potentially kill off all the animals but we're also going to devastate the communities. MD How much impact does such a vast population of elephants have on other species? MB In my opinion we don't have enough scientific study done on the elephant in our park. People go for the sexy animals; the wild dogs, the lions; but clearly the elephant is the most important animal in our National Park. They comprise over 90% of the biomass but we don't really know what's going on. What we do have anecdotal evidence, from old men like myself. I remember we used to see herds of 100+ sable in the park; to see herds of 3,000 – 4,000 buffalo was not uncommon. We would see big herds of eland, 500-800. You just don't see that any more. When I go round with the young guys, guys like Vusa, and we see a herd of 70-80 eland Vusa jumps up & down with excitement. When we see a herd of 200 buffalo it's “Oh man, we saw 200 buffalo.” A massive herd of buffaloes look like ants when viewed from Sinematella I know a lot of that is down to competition with the elephant; because what is the single limiting factor on Hwange's wildlife is the water at the end of each dry season. Hwange is a paradise for 9 months of the year; for 3 months of the year it's a tough dry season environment with fantastic game viewing, but difficult if you're an animal trying to survive. Once every 5 years you get that dry season where we have drought and the last month of that dry season is incredibly tough. Let's say Hwange is down to around 40 functioning waterholes, with 44,000 elephants drinking there. By the time we get to the end of that season we've been working hard; all of our engines, all of our equipment tied together with pieces of string. We've got more and more breakdowns as you get later and later into the dry season so by the end of October you've often only got something like 15-20 functioning waterholes. By the time you've only got 15-20 functioning waterholes you've got something like 2,000 – 3,000 elephants trying to drink at each waterhole. When you have 100 elephants around each waterhole 24/7 the other stuff can't drink. That's when the sable herds get absolutely devastated and the buffalo are struggling and everything else struggles too. MD Because the elephants take so much of the vegetation other species that need food and water and can't really travel the distances between the two are going to struggle. MB Yes, absolutely. Elephants have got long legs, warthogs have got short legs. Elephants can walk 20-30 kilometres to feeding grounds and walk 20-30 kilometres back; warthogs can't. Warthogs die. MD How do you think the elephant population could, or should, be managed? MB I know how they used to do it in the old days. Clearly and critically that's not politically acceptable. I believe that if they tried to do it in the old dinosaur way of going and culling Hwange's elephant again the backlash from tourism would be massive. Our tourism dollar would collapse and Hwange would collapse anyway. So culling is not an option. We know that contraception is not an option. We know also that the old migration routes are essentially closed. The migration routes that are open have been occupied, the routes to the Chobe river, the Zambezi river are full up. Chobe's got as many elephant as we have, maybe more. There's a lot of talk about going back to the old way of migrating around the place, that's not going to happen. The migration routes that are open to elephant have already been taken up. When Ted Davison came to work here Zimbabwe had a human population of quarter of a million, we've now got 14 million people. We know that we can't just turn off some of the water, so we'd have to turn off all of the water. If we turn off all of the water there will be a collapse of tourism. I believe that there is no single magic solution. I also believe it may come down to some kind of a combination of different things; a whole different management regime. Now I do know that what I know is not enough. I really, really, really would like to see some serious science and some seriously big brains, and some serious dollars brought in Hwange to try and look at this problem. Because essentially we have one of Africa's greatest parks, we have one of Africa's greatest elephant populations in a continent where elephant populations are collapsing and we are faced with potential disaster. MD So even a partial cull, a small cull, is just too unacceptable to conservationists, even though it would be killing some to save the majority. MB I know that as a young ranger in the 1980's we were fighting and dying protecting elephants. I had friends that were killed fighting elephant poachers. We put our lives on the line frequently looking after these animals. We worked our backsides off pumping water for them. When I was a young ranger, if you let a waterhole go dry it was a dismissable offence, you got fired, your career was over. That's how seriously it was taken. Now, in that environment the ecologists came to us and said “Guys, we believe there are too many elephants and these are all the reasons. We don't know of anything else to do other than cull the elephants. We think that if we're wrong the elephant populations will bounce back quickly but if we leave it without doing anything the woodlands will take hundreds of years to recover. So we'll decide in favour of reducing the elephant population.” When those things were brought to us my bosses, I was a young cadet ranger, but my bosses almost had fist fights over going out and shooting elephants in those kind of numbers. Nobody wanted to do it, and everybody was dead against it, we thought they were wrong. But the ecologists convinced my bosses that that was the way to go. But it required a massive cull. I don't know what the western world, where our tourism dollar comes from, would say if they said that 20,000 elephants need to be shot. We know that 44,000 elephants increase at around 5% per annum, that's about 2,000 elephant a year. So we know that just to hold the population they would need to kill about 2,000. We do know that in very bad drought years we lose a couple of thousand but clearly some significant numbers would need to be culled and clearly that's not acceptable. Those days are gone now, we have to start looking for other solutions; I don't know what they are. I would love to see some science and brain power brought to this debate because I believe there could be something out there that we haven't thought of. MD How bad is poaching here in Hwange? MB We have two kinds of poaching. We have subsistence poaching: In a really tough year someone from one of the communities beside the park sneaks into the park and kills a duiker to feed the family. We have that level of poaching which I believe we can live with. When I was a young ranger if we saw that kind of thing going on we didn't necessarily go after those guys hot foot. The guys we went after hot foot were the commercial poachers. The commercial poachers were the guys who were stealing wire and putting up huge snare lines and killing big numbers of buffalo and wildebeest and damaging elephant and then of course the commercial ivory and rhino poachers who were coming in armed. Very few of them at that time were from Zimbabwe, most of them were coming from outside the country. Some from as far afield as the Congo and Sudan. And those were our major serious, serious problem. Now in Hwange today we've got a very similar meat poaching problem to what I remember from back in the old days. What we've also got is an upswing in elephant poaching, the likes of which we've never seen. The elephant poisoning incident in 2013 was the worst case of elephant poaching we've ever had in the history of this park. We put paid to those guys, most of them went to jail, we stopped the situation. We've opened our camp down at Jozibanini, the old ranger station there and we're kind of keeping a lid on it. But now there's an influx of armed poachers into Hwange. What is interesting is that this year more elephants will die of starvation in Hwange National Park than will be poached in Hwange National Park and yet we got more elephant poaching going on in Hwange than we've ever had. But it's not nearly the problem that it is in East Africa. MD Is it local now, or are the poachers – the commercial ones – still coming from outside? MB We've got two kinds coming here. We've got the guys coming from outside who we call Zambians because they are coming from Zambia but they're not necessarily always Zambians and then we have out of work, often military types, from Zimbabwe who know how to handle themselves, how to handle weapons in the field, they're getting involved in it. Before, in Zimbabwe it wasn't that easy for a guy with a set of ivory to get rid of it. You can't walk into Bulawayo or Harare with a set of 50 pound tusks and wander round trying to sell them. It's not an easy thing to hide. In East Africa the guys used to just take down to the coast and slip it onto a dhow and move it out. That's why there was so much poaching there. What has happened in recent years is we've had a big influx of companies, mainly coming from China, a lot of them involved with mining etc, and now suddenly there is a source market for ivory here. So we have two issues: There's been an increase of experienced men with guns within the country and now they've got a way to move ivory. That I believe is what's fuelling our current ivory problem here. MD In general, how supportive of the park and its wildlife are the communities that live on the periphery? Here at Ngamo you are in one corner of the park and you have excellent support from the local communities, how is that replicated in other areas of the park? MB If you put communities on a scale of 1 to 5; where a community that does not poach, works really well with the parks people, the guys are involved with the safari lodges, they've got an income from tourism would be a 1. At the other end of the scale a community that dislikes the national park, hates living next to it, hates wildlife; if they had a chance to vote they'd say 'let's kill all elephant, all the lion because we don't like them' – would be a 5. I would suggest the communities around our park, on the Zimbabwean side, only 10% of them are a 1. I would say probably 20% -30% are a 5 and the rest are intermediate. We have shown with some of the communities around us what can be done; our challenge over the next 5-10 years is to expand that model all the way around the boundary of Hwange National Park. We don't have communities living on the park boundary all the way around but certainly on our most problematic boundaries, particularly the southern boundary, we do. MD Does that mean other operators would have to adopt a model similar to yours or is that something that National Parks would have to get behind? MB It think it is a combination and I strongly think it is something driven by the tourism dollar. If you are a responsible tourist you should make sure that at least one of stops on your itinerary is one of those peripheral lodges – at any of the parks in Africa – that are supporting local communities and are involved with the local communities. I think we need the tourism dollar to be behind it, I think we need operators to be behind it and I think we need National Parks and government to be behind it. I know from our own experience at Bomani, Camelthorn and Gorges that we can make it work when everybody gets behind it and we can push it forward. MD Given that they are badly underfunded, is there much initiative coming from the Parks Department to try and involve communities and deter them from working with poachers? MB On the ground, the guys I work with give me a lot of support and I think that given more resources they would give us more support. I know that the responsible rangers and managers on the ground within the park here are more than happy to help us out wherever they can but their hands are pretty full just looking after their park. I think there's a lot of synergy needed; where they've got their hands full responsible operators should be picking up the ball where our parks department can't. I obviously would like more support from parks department but there is a limit to the support they can give us. MD Your prediction for the next five years for Hwange? MB I think Hwange is under the biggest threat it has ever been under. Firstly from our massive elephant population. Secondly from the massive threat of elephant poaching that is looming. But I really am a glass half full guy; I really am quietly confident that this is a fight we can win. We've got a lot of good responsible operators on the ground here, we've got a lot of communities that are coming onside and we've got tourism dollars. Responsible tourism is really beginning to understand this kind of thing and responsible tourism is getting behind Hwange again. I really am quietly confident. I think we'll take some knocks, it's going to be hard and there will a lot of ups and downs but I'm quietly confident that Hwange is still going to be a place that you'll want to come to 5 or 10 years from now. MD Presumably with tourism to Zimbabwe regaining popularity that position should strengthen? MB Yes. I think as people understand more and more what is going on in Zimbabwe and understand more and more what is going on in Hwange they understand how abandoning Zimbabwe is not the answer. Particularly if you are concerned about the wildlife, because if you abandon Zimbabwe you are abandoning the wildlife. The amount of resources I can throw at looking after elephant and looking after communities and looking after poaching problems become less and less if I have less tourism dollars to work with, it's very simple mathematics. As more people look to visit Zimbabwe it gives us more clout. It gives us more clout with government too. Suddenly if we are a bigger industry than we were five years ago we can go to government and say “Hey guys you need to listen to us, this is how we need to do it.” And they do listen. They don't always listen to everything we say but they do listen, which gives us more confidence for the future. Our interview with Mark Butcher was conducted in Hwange in September 2015. At that time the park had experienced 2 successive years of lower than average rainfall and needed the 2016 rains to be good. Sadly, at the time of going to print (Feb 2016) those much needed rains have not yet materialised and Hwange's wildlife is facing tough times ahead. Want to know more about Hwange National Park? Check out these links: Friends of Hwange Trust Imvelo Elephant Trust Hwange's Dilemma

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