Tag Archive | Rhino

Western black rhino officially declared extinct


LONDON (CNN) — Africa’s western black rhino is now officially extinct according the latest review of animals and plants by the world’s largest conservation network.

The subspecies of the black rhino — which is classified as “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species — was last seen in western Africa in 2006.

The IUCN warns that other rhinos could follow saying Africa’s northern white rhino is “teetering on the brink of extinction” while Asia’s Javan rhino is “making its last stand” due to continued poaching and lack of conservation.

“In the case of the western black rhino and the northern white rhino the situation could have had very different results if the suggested conservation measures had been implemented,” Simon Stuart, chair of the IUCN species survival commission said in a statement.

“These measures must be strengthened now, specifically managing habitats in order to improve performance, preventing other rhinos from fading into extinction,” Stuart added.

The IUCN points to conservation efforts which have paid off for the southern white rhino subspecies which have seen populations rise from less than 100 at the end of the 19th century to an estimated wild population of 20,000 today.

Another success can be seen with the Przewalski’s Horse which was listed as “extinct in the wild” in 1996 but now, thanks to a captive breeding program, has an estimated population of 300.

The latest update to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reviews more than 60,000 species, concluding that 25% of mammals on the list are at risk of extinction.

Many plants are also under threat, say the IUCN.

Populations of Chinese fir, a conifer which was once widespread throughout China and Vietnam, is being threatened by the expansion of intensive agriculture according to the IUCN.

A type of yew tree (taxus contorta) found in Asia which is used to produce Taxol (a chemotherapy drug) has been reclassified from “vulnerable” to “endangered” on the IUCN Red List, as has the Coco de Mer — a palm tree found in the Seychelles islands — which is at risk from fires and illegal harvesting of its kernels.

Recent studies of 79 tropical plants in the Indian Ocean archipelago revealed that more than three quarters of them were at risk of extinction.

In the oceans, the IUCN reports that five out of eight tuna species are now “threatened” or “near threatened,” while 26 recently-discovered amphibians have been added to the Red List including the “blessed poison frog” (classified as vulnerable) while the “summers’ poison frog” is endangered.

“This update offers both good and bad news on the status of many species around the world,” Jane Smart, director of IUCN’s global species program said in a statement.

“We have the knowledge that conservation works if executed in a timely manner, yet, without strong political will in combination with targeted efforts and resources, the wonders of nature and the services it provides can be lost forever.”

Cites: bid to curb sale of ivory and rhino horn voted down

Proposal to include more countries in a pledge not to sell ivory stockpiles before 2016 seen as legally flawed. Efforts to curb the sale of ivory and rhino horns were voted down on Thursday at an international wildlife summit in Bangkok.

Photographs by Brent Stirton | National Geographic

Photographs by Brent Stirton | National Geographic

At the 178-nation Convention in Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) meeting, Burkina Faso and Kenya cited the “merciless slaughter of elephants” in their attempt to extend to a wider group of nations a pledge from some countries not to sell ivory stockpiles before 2016. But the proposal was seen as legally flawed by many delegates and failed to get support.

But Tom Milliken, head of the elephant and rhino team at wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic, , said he was more optimistic than ever that tough action would still be taken. “This time people are listening because everything is pointing in the same direction: poaching is up to a record high, as is illegal ivory trading and elephants seem to be down,” he said. About 25,000 elephants were killed by poachers in 2012.

At the Cites talks, 19 nations face bans on all wildlife trade unless they crack down on the poaching, smuggling or sale of illegal ivory. The summit is also considering compulsory forensic testing of seized tusks, so the criminal chain can be traced and compulsory reporting of stockpiles of ivory, to prevent corruption or thefts.

Separately, Kenya attempted to prevent the export of trophy-hunted rhino horns from South Africa. Vietnamese and east European gangs use the practice as a cover to feed the illegal Vietnamese market with the 1,000 horns a year it is demanding. But Milliken said that South Africa had already put an end to the “pseudo-hunting”. There are 20,000 white rhinos at present, he said, and despite more than 600 being poached in 2012, the population is rising.

Milliken said: “It is probably a good idea to keep these [trophy-hunting] incentives for private wildlife reserve owners at a time when they are having to spend more on protection from poachers.” He said, in contrast, Vietnam was doing extremely little to tackle rhino sales.

The Cites meeting did, however, unanimously raise the protection of the west African manatee to the highest level, overriding advice from officials that “scant” scientific data did not support the move.

The slow-moving creature, which can measure up to 4.5m long and weigh 350kg, is found in the coastal lagoons and rivers of 21 states, and can reach as far inland as Mali, Niger and Chad.

Illegal kills can raise $4,500 per animal and less than 10,000 remain. They are hunted for meat and oil, killed as by bycatch by fishermen and also suffer as their habitat is destroyed by mangrove harvesting, pollution and dams. The Cites conference also bid farewell to a series of extinct animals by removing them from protection lists, including Australia’s dusky flying fox, crescent nail-tail wallaby, buff-nosed rat-kangaroo and the pig-footed- and rabbit-eared bandicoots.


How To Save Rhino

The holocaust of the African rhinoceros is accelerating, with the very real possibility that both the continent’s species — white and black rhinos — could be extinct outside zoos in a matter of years. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were several hundred thousand rhinos in East and southern Africa. European settlers described the bush immediately outside Nairobi as stiff with black rhino.

Today, there are perhaps 5,000 black rhinos and 20,000 white rhinos left on the continent, but even these numbers must be considered optimistic; the killing has reached such a frenzied pitch that the only thing that’s certain is that the populations are in free-fall.

The root causes for the slaughter remain the same — demand for rhino horn in traditional Asian medicine,and to a lesser degree, the use of the horns for handles on heirloom-quality Yemeni daggers. But one big thing has changed: Asia has money now. Formerly impoverished factory workers and farmers are, by the metrics of the past, rich. Many can afford to buy rhino horn, even at the currently stratospheric price of$66,000 a kilo. Supposedly, interest in the horn is slackening in China and picking up in Vietnam; but by any measure, the demand continues to climb.

What to do? Right now, hand-wringing seems the fashion. Animal rights and conservation groups have sounded the tocsin as usual, pleading for still more money to “save the rhino.” But you can’t find enough donor money to counter the cartel-scale financing that’s driving the slaughter. Poachers suborn game scouts and rangers, who provide specific details on the location of the animals; kills are made from helicopters with muffled blades. In the face of such industrial poaching, a few more rehabilitation centers for orphaned rhino calves, a few more scouts patrolling the reserves, aren’t going to make a whit of difference. Nor will the tears of the myriad celebrities and animal lovers who dote on large, charismatic mammals, rhinos included.

Some people who actually work with rhinos on a daily basis, though, have a pretty good idea: sell horn from farmed rhinos through a legal and regulated market. Horns can be detached from tranquilized rhinos quickly, safely, and painlessly. This does two things: removes the poachers’ incentives for killing rhinos, and provides an extremely valuable product which can be sold to aid rhino conservation (Right now, of course, the sale of rhino horn is barred by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species; a variance in the CITES proscription will be necessary to allow legal trade.)

Rhinos are easily raised and bred in captivity, and their populations can be expanded relatively rapidly for introduction into the wild. Today, such endeavors are fruitless — the rhinos are killed almost as fast as they’re released. The dynamic must change at a very basic level, and this will require some deep and painful soul-searching on the part of conservationists. John Hume, the owner of the Mauricedale Game Ranch in South Africa, is the largest private rhino breeder in the country, and few if any people have a better grasp on this issue. He and his staffers observe there is a compelling precedent for changing the rules for rhinos:vicuña.

These wild relatives of the llama were hunted almost to extinction for their ultra-fine wool, which was — and remains — much in demand for luxury garments. From an estimated pre-European contact population of two million animals, vicuña had fallen to about 6,000 when they were first accorded some protection in the mid-1960s. They were listed under CITES in 1975, and all trade in vicuña products halted. Poaching, however, remained rampant, and the future looked bleak — well, non-existent — for this wild South American camelid.

In 1979, however, a conservation agreement was signed by Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Ecuador, and work began on several fronts — including the private sector. Most dramatically, Grupo Inca, a Peruvian textile manufacturer, began the “Shear a Vicuña, Save a Vicuña” campaign — the idea being, of course, that you can remove a vicuña’s wool without killing the animal. Several couture houses jumped on the bandwagon, including Loro Piana, which actively solicited local communities for sheared vicuña wool.

Today, more than 30 years later, vicuñas number close to 350,000. CITES has lifted its ban on vicuña products from Chile and Peru. Haut couturiers have plenty of vicuña wool for their creations. And local farmers and pastoralists, who once poached the animals relentlessly, now utilize them for a sustainable income. Animals are captured, sheared, and returned to the wild

It may seem vicuña and rhinos are apples and oranges, but their situations are analogous. Both species yield products much in demand. In both cases, these products can be obtained without killing the animals. And the people who share the land with both species are the key players in the animals’ survival. Rhinos are not being wiped out in Africa because African pastoralists and petty officials are inordinately cruel. Rhinos are being killed because rural Africans are poor. Participation in a single rhino hunt can mean the difference between starvation and a modest degree of prosperity. The needs of rural communities must be taken into account if the rhino is to survive. That doesn’t mean hand-outs — it means incentives that make living rhinos valuable to local farmers, herders, and bureaucrats.

Similarly, private rhino breeders have the expertise and means to expand rhino numbers. They will do just that if they have the appropriate stimulus, i.e., profit. Private enterprise doesn’t always create a virtuous circle, but in this case it can: the rhino, rural communities, conservation NGOs and rhino breeders would all benefit. When there is plenty of rhino horn on the market, prices will fall, the incentives to kill rhinos will diminish, and the number of rhinos in the wild will increase.

Resistance to this idea will be reflexive. And yes, there is something repugnant about commodifying the African rhino. But we can’t afford normative thinking — yearning for what “should” be because it’s “right.” Things are what they are – and for the rhino, the situation is at DefCon One. Everything that has been tried to this point has failed miserably. We need a new plan.

Five enter guilty pleas in rhino horn trafficking


Five people, including a former rodeo cowboy from Hico, have pleaded guilty to federal charges of trafficking in black rhinoceros horns for the illicit Asian folk-medicine market, a U.S. attorney in Los Angeles said Friday.

“I wanted to make money like everyone else, but if I knew then what I know now, I’d never get into it,” said ex-PRCA steer wrestler Wade Steffen, 32, who disclosed that he changed his not guilty plea because he was remorseful and needs to support his family and pay $200,000 in hospital bills for a serious camel bite he got in Texas where he trained dromedaries along with horses.

But Steffen insisted that no endangered rhinos were killed for their horns. The horns came from antique trophy mounts, including a number bought in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the Hico cowboy said.

Last October, he was under surveillance by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents when he acquired three mounted rhino heads through a straw buyer in Fort Worth at the World Class Big Game Trophy Mount and Western Auction, said Tim Santel, a service enforcement official.

Santel said there would more arrests, including some in Texas.

“People think I went to Africa, shot rhinos and cut off [their horns]. Not true,” Steffen said in a telephone interview from Richmond, Ill., where he is visiting family. “Most were at least 60 years old. One was shot in 1900.”

His Chicago attorney, Michael C. Goode, said the maximum punishment is 20 years for Steffen, but he expressed hope the federal judge in Los Angeles takes into account extenuating circumstances. Steffen is sorry, has a 1 1/2 year-old child and he and his wife Molly are expecting another child, Goode said. His client wants to return to Texas to train horses.

Agents seized more than $337,000 in cash from Steffen, who said he was paid a 10 percent commission from smugglers. He paid as much as $70,000 for a horn, he told the Star-Telegram. “Prices started getting crazy at the end.”


Pair plead guilty in California to smuggling rhino horns


Mary Slosson | Reuters

SACRAMENTO (Reuters) – Two men involved in an international rhinoceros horn trafficking ring pleaded guilty in federal court in California on Friday to money laundering and smuggling charges, prosecutors said.

The men, 49-year-old Vinh Chung “Jimmy” Kha and 26-year-old Felix Kha, made the pleas as part of a deal in which they admitted to purchasing white and black rhino horns despite their protected status as endangered and threatened species, federal prosecutors said.

A guilty plea was also entered for the Win Lee Corporation, owned by Jimmy Kha, to smuggling and trafficking charges.

Both defendants told prosecutors they purchased the horns to ship them overseas, where they would be sold and made into libation cups or traditional medicine, and bribed Vietnamese customs agents to do so.

“These individuals were interested in one thing and one thing only – making money,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said in a statement about the pleas.

“They didn’t care about the law or about driving a species to the brink of extinction. We will continue to aggressively investigate and pursue traffickers who threaten the future of rhinos and other imperiled species,” he added.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, of which the U.S. is a signatory, bans virtually all trade in rhino horns – often used in traditional medicines – to try to save them from extinction.

Vietnam was listed earlier this summer by conservation group World Wildlife Fund as one of the countries that does the least to crack down on illegal trade in animal parts.

Jimmy and Felix Kha are scheduled to be sentenced in December. Attorneys for Jimmy and Felix Kha did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


Priceless or Worthless? The Fight for Earth’s Most Endangered Species

If some smidgen of bacterial goo was found on a faraway asteroid, it would be the discovery of the year, perhaps the century. Life on Earth would not be alone! Yet when it comes to the life that surrounds us, people can be remarkably cavalier, even downright callous: What’s another frog species more or less? What’s it do for us, anyways?

Indeed, many conservationists have renounced the species-saving approach to nature, instead embracing the notion that nature is best preserved when it provides people with some tangible economic benefit. Creatures that don’t have an obvious utilitarian value are out of luck.

Some conservationists are fighting back. In “Priceless or Worthless?,” a report issued Sept. 11 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Zoological Society of London, a desperate plea is made on behalf of Earth’s 100 most threatened species — creatures that, without direct and immediate human action, will cease to exist.

Among the menagerie of the endangered are rhinos and rats, turtles and birds, even insects and plants and fungi. These last are hardly charismatic, and not the sort of species typically associated with inspirational calls to protect life, yet they make the essential moral question all the more striking: What has a right to life?

“While the utilitarian value of nature is important, conservation goes beyond this. Do these species have a right to survive, or do we have a right to drive them to extinction?” said Jonathan Baillie, the ZSL’s conservation director, in a press release.

On the following pages, Wired looks at a few of the imperiled species described in “Priceless or Worthless?” Each represents a singular form of life in the universe, and each is literally irreplaceable.

Will 6 Species Perish? Asia’s Conservation Crossroads



On Sept. 1, 1914, the last passenger pigeon on earth died in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo. The species, once numbering in the billions, had been hunted to extinction.

Around the same time, another iconic North American species, the bison, was also being hunted past the point of no return. But the bison didn’t die off steadily until the last one perished in an enclosure. The species rebounded, and today shaggy herds meander through Yellowstone National Park, blissfully unaware of how close they came to being wiped out.

This week, the story of the passenger pigeon and the bison is being highlighted halfway across the globe, at a conference organized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Jeju, South Korea. The Wildlife Conservation Society has circulated a list of Asian species that are at a “conservation crossroads” and are desperately in need of the sort of concerted effort that prevented the bison from going the way of the passenger pigeon.

The list includes the tiger, orangutans, Mekong giant catfish, Asian rhinos, Asian giant river turtles, and Asian vultures. Some of the biggest threats to those species are the conversion of land to palm oil plantations and poaching for the illegal wildlife trade.

Joe Walston, executive director of Asia programs for the Wildlife Conservation Society, said the conference comes at a critical moment for the region. “Asia is going through many of the changes that took place in North America a century ago and is fast becoming a global economic powerhouse,” he said. “But along with that comes the impacts of development.”

Action by governments will be critical to success, he added. “As a region, Asia now really has total control over what happens to the species in the area. Governments finally have the capacity and financial means to turn the tide on extinctions, if they choose to accept the responsibility,” he said.

India is receiving recognition at the conference for an explicit high-profile commitment that it made in 1972 to protect wild tigers within its borders. “India took full responsibility for the fate of its wild tigers,” Dr. Walston said. “As a result, India is now the global center of tiger conservation.”

What conservation officials long for are parallel commitments from other countries in the region, including tough crackdowns on the illegal wildlife trade.

“Currently, Asia is one of the leading consumers of wildlife and wildlife products,” Dr. Walston said. “Asia will thus define not only the destiny of local species but species from around the world.”