On Sunday, the South African Minister of Environmental Affairs announced that rhino poaching in this country is set to reach a new, macabre record: 393 rhinos have been illegally killed so far in 2015, compared with 331 at the same time last year.
The increase in Kruger National Park, which has the world’s largest rhino population and the worst poaching problem, is alarming — 290 rhinos poached this year versus 212 at the same time in 2014.
Today, two days after the Minister’s announcement, I drove out with South African National Parks investigators, police and a small media contingent to a remote part of the Crocodile Bridge section in the southern part of Kruger, the crown jewel of South African national parks. WildAid is facilitating the visit of a Taiwanese film crew to South Africa, which is producing a Mandarin-language documentary on the poaching crisis.
Over the past three decades, China’s seafood consumption has more than tripled, surpassing both Japan and the United States as the world’s largest consumer, producer and importer/exporter of fish and shellfish. High demand among a growing middle class also has fueled illegal fishing and smuggling of many protected marine species.
Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province in southern China, is a key port for seafood shipments, and a primary market for such products as manta ray gill rakers and shark fin. Local customs officers are tasked with inspecting a high volume of shipments at ports as well as surveilling markets for illegal products. To help them improve detections of illegal wildlife species, WildAid, the Wildlife Conservation Society and Guangdong Fisheries Law Enforcement recently co-hosted a training for 80 customs and enforcement officers in Guangzhou.
The main purpose of this training was to help agents to quickly identify products from eight protected species, including manta gill rakers (known as peng yu sai), shark fin and the swim bladder of the totoaba — a critically endangered fish indigenous to Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. The totoaba swim bladders are smuggled from Mexico.
With Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visiting the US this week for White House talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership as well as other meetings and events around the country, WildAid has joined a global coalition of conservation groups in calling on the Japanese PM to ban the domestic elephant ivory trade.
Japan has faced criticism in recent years for weak controls over the trade and a proliferation of online sales, with evidence of illegal ivory laundered into the legal domestic market. “Demand for ivory from Japan continues to drive ivory poaching in Africa, and the government must do much more to reduce it," WildAid CEO Peter Knights said. "When the buying stops, the killing can too."
Here's the full coalition letter:
Re: Statement of Concern to Prime Minister Abe of Japan Regarding Japan’s Ivory Trade and the Decimation of Africa’s Forest and Savanna Elephants
Dear Your Excellency Prime Minister Abe:
As a signatory to the London Declaration and the Kasane Statement on Illegal Wildlife Trade, we the undersigned organizations are writing to request that Japan take a leadership role in the fight against the illegal trade in ivory. In light of the global elephant poaching crisis, we respectfully ask you to ban the domestic ivory trade in Japan with immediate effect in order to save Africa’s remaining wild elephants. Our concerns are as follows:
Since 1970, Japan has imported ivory from more than 250,0001 African elephants, much of this from tusks that were illegally acquired through the poaching of wild elephants. Japan has also twice been granted permission to buy ivory despite the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) 1989 ban on international commercial trade in African elephant ivory, which was adopted in response to the global elephant poaching crisis of the 1970s-80s.2 In 1997, Japan secured CITES-approved ivory sales of nearly 50 tonnes of ivory from Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia. In 2008, Japan was allowed to import a further 48 tonnes of ivory.
Good news: Last Days, Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow's short film on the illegal ivory trade's dark connections to terrorist groups and organized crime, has won a 2015 Webby Award in the Activism category.
Congrats to Kathryn Bigelow, Annapurna Pictures and the Last Days team! You can check out the film below.
Last Days also is a winner of The Humane Society of the United States' Genesis Award for Best Short Film.
Last year, officials on the small Caribbean island of Barbuda signed into law a sweeping set of regulations to protect its marine ecosystems. According to the Waitt Institute, on average 80 percent of Barbuda's coral reefs are covered in algae, with only 2.6 percent living coral. These new regulations established multiple new marine sanctuaries as well as a moratorium on catch of algae-eating species, namely parrotfish and sea urchins.
To assist in enforcement strategy of these protected areas, the Waitt Institute’s Barbuda Blue Halo Initiative recently invited WildAid to deliver a three-day seminar for 19 Antigua-Barbuda marine patrol officers, park rangers, police officers and Coast Guard staff. Training included in-class discussion, small group work and problem-solving activities built around operations planning, use of patrol assets/equipment and boarding exercises.