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 61 
 on: Sep 27, 2016, 05:53 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
China accused of defying its own ban on breeding tigers to profit from body parts

Beijing faces pressure at global summit to close 200 farms where tigers are bred for luxury goods and end its obstructive tactics

Nick Davies and Oliver Holmes
Guardian
Tuesday 27 September 2016 12.00 BST

China has been accused of deceiving the international community by allowing a network of farms to breed thousands of captive tigers for the sale of their body parts, in breach of their own longstanding ban on the trade.

The Chinese government has allowed about 200 specialist farms to hold an estimated 6,000 tigers for slaughter, before their skins are sold as decoration and their bones are marinated to produce tonics and lotions. Campaigners say this has increased demand for the products and provoked the poaching of thousands of wild tigers, whose global population is now down to just 3,500.

China is expected to come under pressure at this week’s Johannesburg conference of nations who have signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites). The Guardian has found that Chinese delegates have tried to obstruct debate at the conference by rewriting a critical report and questioning the wording of a key decision.

The Chinese say their domestic market is nobody else’s business since Cites covers only international trade. They also point out that by breeding 6,000 tigers in captivity they have significantly increased the population of the species, and question why western countries should be allowed to breed cattle and pigs for their own markets if they are to be criticised for doing so with tigers.

The argument gets to the heart of the debate about whether endangered species have an inherent right to exist in their own habitat, or should be allowed to survive only if they have some commercial value – “if it pays, it stays”. Some poorer nations are pushing hard for a legal right to kill and trade the parts of elephants, rhinos and tigers.

China’s State Council introduced its tiger breeding ban in May 1993 under intense pressure, with the Clinton administration in the US and Cites separately threatening trade sanctions. They closed down 200 factories that had been producing wine from marinated tiger bones. Chinese delegates told a subsequent Cites meeting that it had “banned all internal trade in tiger parts.”

Yet, four months later, China’s State Forestry Administration (SFA), which was responsible for enforcing the ban, approved the opening of the first tiger farm and even invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in its operation before going on to open up a network of similar farms, now estimated by NGOs to number 200.

John Sellar, then a law enforcement officer for Cites, later found that almost every part of the tiger’s body was being linked to some spurious medical benefit: the whiskers to deal with toothache; the eyeballs for malaria and epilepsy; the brain to cure laziness; the nose for childhood convulsions; the fat for haemorrhoids; the collar bone for good luck; the penis for sexual energy; the tail for skin cancer; the feet placed outside a house to frighten bad spirits. And, beyond traditional medicine, the skin had become a prestigious wall hanging for China’s new, wealthy elite.

In 2003, China marked the tenth anniversary of the ban by introducing a new sticker system for licensed animal products that were authorised for sale. A decade later, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) discovered that, having opened the farms, the SFA had been quietly issuing licences for the sale of skins from the tigers that were bred there. The SFA claimed that the skins were only sold to museums and universities for scientific purposes, but the EIA found at least half ended up in the plush apartments of China’s elite.

Facing exposure, the Chinese disclosed that the wording of the State Council’s 1993 ban had been much narrower than its public statements had suggested, and that it applied only to trade in products produced from tiger bones, primarily wine. But, as animal rights campaigners dug deeper, it soon became clear that the SFA were also licensing the sale of tiger bone products. And the profits were huge. The wildlife-tracking NGO Traffic found tiger bone wine selling at $257 for 500ml, while another group, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), found one farm alone had a cellar full of vats containing 1.2 million litres, worth an estimated $617m. Wine from marinated tiger penis was even more expensive, at $490 per 500ml. Meat was being sold at $100 a dish; teeth at $660 each; and whole skins for up to $22,000.


Inspired by China’s behaviour, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos also opened tiger farms, some of which were suspected to be not only breeding animals for body parts but also “laundering” wild tigers that had been captured. Wild tigers are close to extinction in Vietnam and possibly already extinct in Laos. China is believed to have only 50.

The issue came to a head in June 2007 at a conference at The Hague. Cites formally made a collective decision– numbered 14.69 – to go beyond its international remit, stating baldly that “tigers should not be bred for trade in their parts” and calling for all tiger farms to cut back their stock to the minimum needed for conservation of the species. Chinese delegates protested loudly that 14.69 was an intrusion in their domestic affairs, argued with the wording and formally noted their objection.

Meanwhile, staff at the Beijing office of IFAW, which had been particularly vocal, became aware of men ostentatiously following them in the street, and the director’s driver reported that some of the men had approached him and asked for detailed reports on the director’s activity.

Minutes from Cites meetings show that since 14.69 was adopted, China has repeatedly quarrelled with its wording; claimed that the decision was not made by consensus; and consistently failed to produce information demanded by Cites about its tiger farms. When 13 heads of government met for the Global Tiger Initiative in St Petersburg in November 2010, the then Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, called for an end to the tiger trade, yet his delegates joined with those from Thailand, Vietnam and Laos to ensure that the meeting’s final declaration was worded to allow their farms to continue trading.

The effect has been devastating. An analysis by the EIA found that in the 12 years from 2000, law enforcement agencies seized 1,031 tiger carcasses or skins – 90% of which were en route to China. Working on the standard police estimate that just 10% of illicit trade is seized, then somewhere in the region of 10,000 tigers were killed primarily for China’s consumers in this period.

In the buildup to this month’s Cites conference in Johannesburg – and in spite of its track record – China took over the chairmanship of the working group on big cats, and used its position to water down the findings of a report that Cites had commissioned from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The report, seen by the Guardian, embarrassed China by finding that they had “systematically exercised internal trading privileges for companies dealing in big cat skins and derivatives, produced mainly from captive breeding”. But the Chinese draft stated: “It appears that significant progress has been made by some parties in implementing legislative and regulatory measures to restrict trade in Asian big cat specimens.”

While the IUCN had called for urgent action to deal with “the growing use of tiger parts and derivatives as luxury items”, the Chinese draft reported that “the evidences and informations are not enough to demonstrate the growing use of parts and derivatives of Asian big cats as luxury items.”

The IUCN report noted that there was no evidence of China having restricted the sale of tiger products to scientific and educational outlets, as they had always claimed; that NGOs had found tiger wine on sale; and that there was some evidence that stockpiles of tiger bone were leaking on to the market. In spite of this and the work of other NGOs, the Chinese draft claimed there had been “no systematic and comprehensive investigation”.

Chinese delegates went on to claim that there had never been a consensus to pass 14.69 in 2007; that there was doubt about the definitions of “trade” and “internal trade”; and that Cites had merely “urged”, not “ordered”, Chinato destroy its stockpiles of tiger bone.

This was poorly received by other members of the big cats working group, and an alliance of the US, the UK and India succeeded in rewriting the draft. The argument is expected to continue in Johannesburg this week.

Meanwhile, in Harbin, north-east China, one of the biggest tiger farms has found a new loophole in the law by cross-breeding tigers with lions. The Chinese say that the sale of “liger” bones is not covered by the 1993 ban.

 62 
 on: Sep 27, 2016, 05:48 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
The crime family at the centre of Asia's animal trafficking network

Bach brothers based in Vietnam and Thailand are responsible for smuggling thousands of tonnes of elephant ivory, rhino horn and other endangered species

Nick Davies and Oliver Holmes
Guardian
Monday 26 September 2016 13.14 BST

There is a simple reason why there is always trouble in Nakhon Phanom. It is the reason why the US air force came here during the Vietnam war, and the reason why this dull and dusty town in north-east Thailand now serves as a primary gateway on the global animal trafficking highway. It is all to do with geography.

Nakhon Phanom, population 30,000, sits on the western bank of the Mekong river and is directly opposite the shortest route across Laos, on the other side of the river, and into Vietnam.

For the US air force it was the closest allied territory to Hanoi, 380km (236 miles) away as the bomber flies. For the wildlife traffickers, it is the perfect place for business. To the west, Thailand has some of the best air and sea connections in South East Asia; and to the east, across the narrow strip of Laos, are the markets of Vietnam and China, bursting with the wealth of their new economies and hungry for the flesh, skin, claws and bones of exotic wildlife.

Today the Guardian exposes the crime family that controls this gateway. And we name three mainstream Lao companies with powerful political connections as leading brokers in the global trafficking of wildlife. Together with other suppliers they have been trading many tonnes of elephant tusk, rhino horn and lion bone from Africa and truckloads of tigers, turtles, snakes, monkeys and pangolin anteaters from Asia. A substantial amount of their business is illegal. All of these traders earn a good living; the kingpins are millionaires. All the animals they handle lose their freedom; almost all of them also lose their lives. Some species are now facing extinction as they are shovelled relentlessly into this booming black market.

The investigation has been led by a counter-trafficking organisation, Freeland, which is based in Bangkok and has previously exposed key players in this trafficking network. But when law enforcement agencies failed to act, Freeland pushed deeper, working with a Thai government surveillance team, persuading some of the traffickers to talk to them and stepping round the corrupt public officials who guard the network to gather intelligence from reliable police sources in Africa and Asia.

Freeland has shared its evidence with the Guardian in the hope it will finally jumpstart cross-border police action against this and other networks. Over the past year, we have followed Freeland’s work, met key informants and the head of the surveillance team, and widened the investigation into other parts of the supply lines that link African bush and Asian forest to the plush new suburbs of Hanoi and Beijing. Told now in full for the first time, this is the story of the Asian connection.

The Asian connection

The secret life of Nakhon Phanom revolves around one crime family, the Bachs. Four wildlife traffickers, speaking independently, name two of the Bach brothers as the key players who control the smuggling gateway from Thailand into Laos: Bach Mai, known to his friends as ‘Boonchai’, 38; and his older brother, Bach Van Limh, 45. Although they are active in Thailand, the brothers are originally Vietnamese and have networks in both countries.

Boonchai runs the operation in Nakhon Phanom with a dozen men and a handful of women. The surveillance team has seen them meeting African wildlife traders, unloading meat from refrigerated trucks, loading cars with hidden compartments and delivering a package to local police. Bank records show Boonchai’s girlfriend, who acts as cashier for the business, has sent money to Asian wildlife suppliers. Apart from the export of wildlife through Laos, Thai police intelligence reports also link Boonchai with the importing of drugs from Laos into Thailand.

His older brother, Bach Van Limh, runs the Vietnamese end, from a town called Son Tay, which is strategically placed just inside the border from Laos and a few hours by road from Hanoi. He originally set up the family business in Nakhon Phanom some 15 years ago but recently left, allegedly after Thai police started investigating his involvement in the drugs trade. In Son Tay, according to Vietnamese police sources, Bach Van Limh is involved in running prostitutes and in smuggling cars as well as wildlife. He owns a hotel, a cafe and legitimate businesses trading gold and placing migrant workers.

The Bachs are key players in a busy market, buying from whoever will sell to them. Among numerous smaller suppliers, three Lao companies have been operating for as long as the Bach brothers. One is already notorious in the animal world: the Xeosavang Trading Company run by Vixay Keosavang, who has been hammered by a combination of policing and publicity, much of it organised by Freeland. But just as the Bachs, until now, have escaped public attention, so too have the other Lao companies. Vinasakhone and Vannaseng are big players – both breaking the law and both still enjoying one of the world’s most destructive trades.

All three Lao companies opened wildlife farms in the early 2000s. They imported tigers bred in captivity, which was legal so long as they were used for science and education, not for commercial trade. One of them – Vannaseng – illegally imported 2,000 macaque monkeys captured and sold by villagers in Cambodia, according to an internal Lao government report. All three companies went on to break international and Lao law.

At that time, the Bach brothers were already smuggling wildlife, primarily from a dealer widely known as ‘Fatty’, though his real name is Leuthai Tiewcharoen. He ran a farm in Nonthaburi, just outside Bangkok, where he stored and bred animals he had illegally smuggled into the country – tigers from Myanmar and Malaysia as well as bears, snakes and turtles. According to a source who worked at the farm, Fatty was earning 500,000 Thai baht ($14,400) a week killing these animals in a special slaughter area and shipping the carcasses eastwards to be used in food and medicine and as jewellery and home decoration.

Sometimes, he sent them across the Mekong himself. There was a standard technique that Fatty and other Thai traffickers used, according to the source. The trafficker would go to a remote spot on the Thai side of the river, signal to a contact on the Lao side and drop a carcass in a sealed body bag into the water. The Lao contact would row over, haul the bag back across the river, weigh it and then make a phone call to send money to the trafficker’s bank account. Some of these consignments would go straight into the farms set up on the Lao side of the Mekong by the three big companies. But, according to the source, Fatty also routinely sent carcasses direct to his best smuggling contacts – the Bach brothers.
The South African link

One day late in 2002 or early in 2003, Fatty came up with a new scheme. He had met an ambitious man called Chumlong Lemonthai, then aged 35, who had been earning a living selling fruit in a street market in Bangkok but who wanted to move into the wildlife trade. Chumlong reckoned he knew somebody who could provide rhino horn, originally sourced from Africa, and bones of big cats from the dry forests of central Thailand. Fatty set up a meeting between Chumlong and the Bach brothers at his farm, hoping to earn a commission as a middleman. At first, it went well. The Bachs brought with them a suitcase containing 40 million baht (about $1m), which impressed Chumlong. He agreed to supply the horn and bones. Then it went bad for Fatty: the Bachs cut him out of the deal.

Chumlong went on to thrive in the trade and, apart from selling to the Bachs, he made a connection to one of the big Lao companies, Xeosavang, owned by Vixay Keosavang, who was to become notorious as a wildlife trafficker. From his base in Paksan, western Laos, Keosavang was sucking in animals from all over Asia and illegally churning out body parts at up to ten tonnes a week, investing his profit in hotels and a transport business. By 2005, Chumlong was having trouble supplying his customers from the dwindling sources of wildlife in South East Asia, and he decided to move to the biggest potential source in the world, South Africa.

There, Chumlong rapidly made friends with Thai sex workers in the bars of Pretoria. Through them, he got to know white South African landowners who bred lions on their ranches. Chumlong commissioned the killing of hundreds of lions and supervised the boiling of their corpses to separate the bones from the flesh. He then parceled up the bones in ten-kilo bags - roughly one bag for each dead animal - and shipped them back to the Bachs and to Keosavang, who variously sold them onwards to Vietnam and China to be boiled and brewed as a cheap substitute for tiger bones in health tonics (although there is no evidence of its medicinal effect).

This was potentially illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), which allows commercial trade in lions only within set limits. The first two white farmers he dealt with had a licence to export a limited quantity of lion bone, which could be sent to Thailand under cover of official Cites paperwork. However, the evidence also suggests that some of Chumlong’s lion trade was illegal. Often, he would have the teeth and claws of lions smuggled out of South Africa by Thai sex workers; they were helped through Johannesburg airport by an airline worker whose identity is known to the Guardian. In Bangkok, a corrupt airport official guarded Chumlong’s packages as they arrived in Thailand.
The ‘pseudo’ hunt

With his lion bone business flourishing, Chumlong turned his attention to rhino horn, which was in huge demand in Vietnam after 2007 when a rumour spread that a government official had used it to cure his cancer. The international sale of rhino products is prohibited in Cites, but Chumlong and other Vietnamese traffickers now started to exploit a loophole which allowed hunters in South Africa to take home one set of rhino horns each year as a trophy. They set up “pseudo” hunts in which a willing stooge was paid to stand next to a professional hunter while a rhino was shot dead and had its horn removed. The stooge would then have a photo taken with the corpse and allow their name to be used on the paperwork to take the horn to Asia. There, instead of being displayed as a trophy, it would be sold and ground down for traditional medicine, although rhino horn is materially no different to fingernails and no more effective as medicine.

Chumlong started to import stooges from Thailand, paying them 5,000 rand (about $350) for their help. The Bach brothers sponsored some of these pseudo hunts. Paperwork seen by the Guardian shows that at least six members of their extended family travelled from Vietnam to South Africa to take part. Then in a neat money-saving manoeuvre, Chumlong substituted Thai prostitutes from his favourite bar in Pretoria, who played the same role for him without the cost of the international air fare. In this way, Chumlong arranged the killing of dozens of rhinos, earning himself $20,000 a time for their horns, which were shipped back to Keosavang and the Bachs.

All this was illegal, though the pseudo hunts gave him the bogus protection of Cites paperwork for their export as trophies. The evidence suggests that Chumlong was also trafficking rhino horn from poachers, whose killing of rhinos in southern Africa escalated fast from 2008 as the demand from Vietnam and China increased. By this time, Chumlong, the former street trader, had bought himself two new houses in Bangkok.

In June 2011, following work by Freeland and a Johannesburg private investigator called Paul O’Sullivan, Chumlong Lemtongthai was arrested by South African revenue officers in a high-profile operation. They seized his laptop, which contained commercial records and photographs recording the death of hundreds of animals and the despatch to Asia of millions of dollars worth of ivory, lion bone, and rhino horn.

During one six-month period, the laptop documents revealed, Chumlong had paid a total of $1,394,282.40 to a white South African hunter who was shooting rhinos in his pseudo hunts. The same documents show that Chumlong was paying $6,500 per kg for the horn – a tenth of the end-user price in China, meaning that for that six-month period his rhino traffic alone was potentially worth $13.9m to those involved. Invoices also revealed the rate at which he was commissioning the death of lions: 327 of them during one two-year period, roughly one every couple of days, for which he personally received some $350,000.
A kingpin falls, but the trade continues

In November 2012, a South African court jailed Chumlong for 40 years, though this was reduced to 13 years on appeal. Bach Van Limh tried to save him, offering $600,000 to a key official in Johannesburg to release him. Chumlong has since claimed that the official was willing to accept the bribe if his money could be paid into an offshore account, but that this alarmed Bach Van Limh, who feared that with no record of the payment, the official would renege on the deal. So Chumlong stayed behind bars.

Keosavang was hit hard by the documents in Chumlong’s laptop. A combination of publicity and pressure from the US government finally forced him to step back in early 2014. At the time, his fall was celebrated as a turning point; the removal of the kingpin from the global machine. But when Freeland followed up on their investigation, they found that the Asian connection was as busy as ever.

They started to focus on the Bach brothers, who had not been exposed, realising that they were key players. It emerged that Keosavang was not the only kingpin, that the other two Lao companies had been working alongside him for years and were still busy.

The Guardian has reviewed compelling evidence that since Keosavang’s decline, Vinasakhone and Vannaseng have been involved in the illegal trafficking of hundreds of tonnes of wildlife from Africa as well as Asia, following the same route used by Keosavang and the Bachs, through Laos and into Vietnam and China. During 2014 – the first year after Keosavang’s departure – the evidence suggests that between them they traded $45m of animal body parts including derivatives from three iconic endangered species: tigers, rhinos and elephants.

Other evidence separately suggests that both companies have been breaking the law on the farms they opened in Laos in 2002; that Vinasakhone has been illegally killing and selling tigers to order for buyers in Vietnam and China and also selling tigers to the notorious Golden Triangle area on Laos’s borders with Myanmar and Thailand where they are sold as meat, drink and decorative skins; and that Vannaseng, on one of its farms, has been breaching Cites by trafficking hundreds of tigers and bears.

Keosavang himself is not known to have been directly involved in wildlife trafficking since 2014. According to police sources in the region, he has switched his attention to smuggling cars across the border into Vietnam. But he is certainly close to the Bachs. Pictures obtained by the Guardian show him on holiday with Bach Vam Limh and stripped to the waist in a drunken embrace with both brothers.

The surveillance team have reported that the Bachs continue to trade from their base on the main street of Nakhon Phanom in a three-storey block of flats whose upper floors – unlike any other building in the street – are defended by security bars. The team have photographed multiple visits by two South African lion bone merchants with whom Chumlong was working. They have also identified one of Boonchai’s men as a Thai courier, known as ‘Jimmy’, who was caught at Johannesburg airport after Chumlong’s arrest and convicted of attempting to bring undeclared cash into the country.

Thai police have traced a sequence of payments from the Bachs to other animal dealers including a 40-year-old Thai woman, Jay Daoreung Chaimat, whose “zoo” was raided by Thai police in 2010. She was married to a police officer and was said to have other good police contacts. After the raid, she travelled to Bangkok and lobbied senior officials to sack the officer who had organised it. Following an inquiry by the Thai Anti Money Laundering Organisation, Amlo, a court in May 2014 ordered her to hand over $35.6m as the proceeds of crime. This year the order was revoked. Her Facebook page displays a photo of her smiling over a basket full of cash.

In a town with few sources of wealth, the surveillance teams have identified warehouses, apartment buildings and a nightclub as Bach properties and videoed the Bachs and their men driving a fleet of new high-end vehicles, some of which have had their licence plates changed. Members of the surveillance teams have backgrounds in military and police work and believe that some of the network are carrying firearms and using sophisticated anti-surveillance tactics, putting two or three people on their boss’s route to see if he is being followed.

One of the sources in the network says that they have been working on a new product: a pill made up of blood from a cobra mixed with powder ground from tiger bone. He says they reckon they can sell it for $300 a pill.

 63 
 on: Sep 27, 2016, 05:41 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Animal trafficking: the $23bn criminal industry policed by a toothless regulator

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species finds itself confronting powerful networks, but has no detectives, police powers or firearms

Nick Davies and Oliver Holmes
AFP
Monday 26 September 2016 14.52 BST

The illegal trade in wildlife is a most attractive crime. But it is highly destructive, and its scale is threatening the extinction of some of the world’s most iconic species.

It is also grotesquely cruel: poachers slice off the faces of live rhinos to steal their horns; militia groups use helicopters to shoot down elephants for their tusks; factory farmers breed captive tigers to marinate their bones for medicinal wine and fry their flesh for the dinner plate; bears are kept for a lifetime in tiny cages to have their gall bladders regularly drained for liver tonic. But for any criminal who wants maximum money for minimum risk, it is most attractive.

At every stage in the supply lines, the systems that are supposed to defend the animals against this global butchery are no match for the organised crime groups that dominate the trade.

This is a vast business, valued by the UN Environment Programme at $23bn (£18bn) a year – twice the gross domestic product of poached countries such as Tanzania or Kenya. The profit margins are enormous. The poacher in Africa sells ivory at up to $150 a kilo. At the other end of the supply line, in Beijing, it sells for well over ten times as much, with some sales reaching $2,025 a kilo, according to research by Chatham House. The markup is even bigger with rhino horn: from $1,000 for a pair of horns (average weight 6kg each) at poacher level to upwards of $66,000 a kilo in China.

Profits have increased dramatically over the past decade, driven by the wealthy new elites in Asia, accumulating ivory carvings and tiger skins as status symbols for their homes; buying ground powder of rhino horn and tiger-bone wine as traditional remedies for almost every ailment from hangovers to cancer, none of it based on any scientific evidence. This is a demand driven by two things: greed and superstition.

For a gangster, these animals are like bundles of cash lying almost unprotected in the wilderness. This is a profit-hungry global crime conducted by some of the same ruthless and violent groups that traffic drugs and guns. And up against this collection of highly organised and well-resourced criminals, we currently deploy some of the world’s weakest law enforcement.

The only global body tasked with protecting the world’s wildlife is a network of officials in each of the nations signed up to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), which is co-ordinated by a small secretariat in Geneva.

Cites was written in 1973 when the main threat to wildlife was the encroachment of human settlements on vulnerable habitat. Now it finds itself confronting these criminal networks, even though it has no detectives, no police powers and no firearms. In short, Cites is not a law enforcement agency. It is there to regulate trade. It can try to punish rogue governments by asking its members to stop trading Cites species with them, but it has no tools to punish the criminals who have already decided to defy those governments.

The global agencies set up to fight organised crime have bigger priorities: terrorists, arms traffic, narcotics, counterfeit goods. Other agencies try to fill the gap. Interpol distributes intelligence on the worst wildlife offenders; the UN Office on Drugs and Crime publishes research; the World Bank advises on the tracing of laundered money. None of them goes out to catch criminals. The few specialists who try to work internationally find themselves swimming against a tide of inertia.

A senior law enforcement figure in southern Africa who specialised in wildlife crime told the Guardian that the crime groups enjoyed far better international links than he does. “I have to rely on people I meet at conferences,” said John Sellar, who spent 14 years as enforcement support officer for Cites before he took early retirement.

“A major reason for that,” he told the Guardian, “was that I was fed up with the complete hypocrisy of people coming to Cites meetings and passing resolutions and then going home and, frankly, doing bugger all about them – politicians and law enforcement people.”

The few traffickers who are caught are dealt with by prosecution systems riddled with failure. When the international law firm DLA Piper in 2014 investigated criminal justice in ten countries on the frontline of wildlife traffic, it found “a host of weaknesses” including legal loopholes, chronic shortage of funds for prosecutors and courts, low rates of conviction, inadequate penalties and corruption. “The only consistent theme,” it concluded, “is that significant work needs to be done in every country in order to effectively tackle the illegal wildlife trade.”

Currently, the void is being filled to some extent by a loose network of volunteers, journalists and NGOs running their own investigations and attempting to get local law enforcement agencies to make arrests and prosecute. This includes NGOs like Freeland in Bangkok running long-term investigations of the kind whose results we are publishing today. That investigation was paid for by a small English charity that has sent tens of thousands of pounds across the world to pay Freeland to do the policing that was otherwise absent.

The effect of this law enforcement void is traumatic. From African bush to Asian jungle to Russian steppe, the valuable parts of animals are ripped and sliced from their skeletal sockets and shovelled onto invisible conveyor belts, almost all headed for the same destinations in South East Asia and China. They leave Africa by sea, most often from Mombasa, Kenya, where the Elephant Action League last year ran a 12-month undercover investigation, which concluded that “massive amounts of ivory continue to pass unhindered”; or by air, from Johannesburg, where the Guardian found a long-term airline employee who was part of a smuggling network, or through Maputo, Mozambique, which was described to us by a South African policing source as “a major security problem”.

There are only 30,000 rhinos in the wild, just 5% of the number 40 years ago. Several sub-species are already extinct. Others are officially ‘critically endangered’. The biggest surviving population is the 21,000 southern white rhino, most of whom are in South Africa. And that is where the rhino poachers are busiest: 88% of the rhinos killed last year were in South Africa.

The attack on elephants is even more frenzied. The conveyor belt to Asia sags under the weight of the ivory from something like 90 dead African elephants every day. In 2013, a single seizure in Guangzhou uncovered 1,913 tusks, the product of nearly 1,000 dead animals. The US National Academy of Sciences in 2014 found that in the previous three years poachers had killed 100,000 elephants, reducing the species to a total of only 450,000 in all Africa. And the numbers are still falling: the kill rate has exceeded the birth rate every year since 2010. Central Africa has lost 76% of its elephants since 2002. Tanzania has lost 66% in the last six years alone. Mozambique has lost 48% in five years.

The scale of ivory poaching is so colossal that the UN Office of Drugs and Crimethis year concluded that it could not be explained simply by looking at its sales, legal or illegal. In his time at Cites, Sellar speculated that financial and/or criminal elites were hoarding ivory as a long-term investment and method of laundering cash.

On the conveyor belt alongside these iconic creatures there are the remains of hundreds of other animals: paws for ashtrays; teeth for pendants; genitals for sex drive; the skins of snakes; the scales of pangolin anteaters to be roasted and chewed for a health fad, 275 of them a day, 100,000 a year. There is a steady flow of tiger corpses, sometimes whole, sometimes only the skin and bones. A hundred years ago, there were some 100,000 wild tigers spread all across Asia and into eastern Russia: now there are an estimated 3,500, only 2,200 of whom are in populations big enough to make breeding and survival viable.

This trade has been allowed to grow not only because of the failure of law enforcement but because it is inextricably linked with power.

The wealthy elite in Asia that consumes illegal animal products overlaps with the political elite, and the commercial elite. The criminal entrepreneurs who run the supply lines are able to conceal their identity behind front companies, and hide their enormous profits by using the same secretive offshore jurisdictions exploited for tax avoidance by multinational corporations.

This week, the 182 signatories to Cites are debating the future of the animals currently being wiped out in their thousands by this criminal industry.

Cites secretary general John Scanlon knows the road ahead will be tough. “Cites sets the rules that these crime syndicates are trying to avoid. We do work with law-enforcement partners. I have told them: ‘This is crime, this is transnational, this is your core business.’

“They have now all bought into this. The good side is that we are in there with these agencies. The bad side is that they are not yet investing heavily in it.”

Additional reporting by Calvin Godfrey

 64 
 on: Sep 27, 2016, 05:37 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Revealed: the criminals making millions from illegal wildlife trafficking

Exclusive: Investigation uncovers the ringleaders profiting from $23bn annual trade in illicit animals after more than a decade of undercover surveillance 

Oliver Holmes in Bangkok and Nick Davies
AFP
Monday 26 September 2016 13.14 BST

A major investigation into global wildlife crime today names for the first time key traffickers and links their illegal trade to corrupt officials at the highest levels of one Asian country.

The investigation, published by the Guardian, exposes the central role of international organised crime groups in mutilating and killing tens of thousands of animals and threatening to eliminate endangered species including tigers, elephants and rhinos.

The in-depth reporting identifies suspected traders across several continents, from South Africa to Thailand and in the markets of China, where animal parts are used in traditional medicines.

For the past year, the Guardian has worked with independent investigators at Freeland, an anti-trafficking organisation that has been providing information and analytical support to a Thai government surveillance team.

In the absence of effective international attempts to block the business, Freeland has agreed to give exclusive access to intelligence it has accumulated over 14 years that identifies primary traffickers.
The crime family at the centre of Asia's animal trafficking network
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It points to two Vietnamese siblings, the Bach brothers, as key suspects who control a primary smuggling route for endangered animals.

Separately, the Guardian will on Tuesday report on evidence it has that suggests the industry has political support across several countries, and that one state even collects a 2% cut from the gross value of illegal wildlife imports.

The series is published during a crucial conference in Johannesburg, which opened on Saturday. The 182 nations who have signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) are debating the future of animals that are being wiped out by a criminal industry.

The global body is tasked with regulating international wildlife trade, but has no enforcement powers, meaning the slaughter of endangered species and their sale for profit continues unabated.

Worth $23bn (£17.5bn) a year, animal trafficking is the fourth most lucrative black market industry after drugs, people and arms smuggling. But in contrast to those industries, international law enforcement has proven inadequate.

Many iconic animals are heading toward extinction: only 30,000 rhinos are alive today, 5% of the number four decades ago. About 1,000 are killed by poachers annually – and that figure has risen each year in the last six.

Elephants are being killed in even greater numbers: 20,000 for their tusks last year alone. Tigers, currently numbering 3,500 in the wild, are also in imminent danger.

But smaller animals, too, are facing extinction. Scaly anteaters, called pangolins, are shipped live in fishnet bags across borders for their scales, which are believed by some to help mothers breastfeed. Several vulnerable sub-species of turtles, pythons, antelopes and birds are also in sharp decline.

Freeland’s findings, together with police documents and interviews as well as surveillance footage and bank transfer statements, show the Bach brothers have dramatically scaled up their operations in smuggling these animals during the past three years.

Until today, international attention had been focused almost solely on a Lao man called Vixay Keosavang, who was assumed to be the kingpin of the trade and known as the Pablo Escobar of wildlife trafficking.

But this week’s investigation reveals how Keosavang appears to have removed himself from the trade in 2014 after the US government put up a $1m reward to end his operations, the only monetary reward ever offered for a wildlife trader.

Meanwhile, the role of the Bach brothers has, until now, remained unexposed. And while running their operations discreetly from a Thai town on the border with Laos, they are gathering huge profits from the deadly trade.

Well-known locally for their criminal activities, which also include vehicle smuggling, the Bachs run legitimate businesses in wholesale agriculture and forest products, construction materials, electrical equipment, hotels, and food services.

The siblings base their operations in Nakhon Phanom, a rural region on the Thai side of the Mekong river that marks the border with Laos. They own multiple properties, including warehouses, apartment buildings, and a fleet of expensive vehicles. Their suspected headquarters is built like a fort, covered almost entirely in a cage of metal bars.

Their cars, which have their licence plates routinely changed, are moved across the border. One vehicle was filmed with a bespoke deep-set trunk that investigators believe provides hidden storage.

    Producing in-depth, thoughtful, well-reported journalism is difficult and expensive - but supporting us isn’t. If you value the the Guardian’s coverage of wildlife trafficking, please help to fund our journalism by becoming a supporter.


 65 
 on: Sep 27, 2016, 05:32 AM 
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CS Monitor

India to ratify Paris accord: What would Gandhi say about climate change?

On Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India will ratify the Paris climate agreement on Oct. 2 – Mohandas Gandhi's birthday.

By Joseph Dussault, Staff September 27, 2016

On Sunday, the Paris climate accord inched ever-closer to fruition with India’s support.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that India will ratify the agreement on Oct. 2 – Mohandas Gandhi's birthday. The deal, which must be ratified by 55 UN member nations accounting for 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions before going into effect, has been hailed as a turning point in international climate change policy.

At last count, some 60 countries representing 48 percent of emissions had ratified the agreement. India’s participation brings a considerable 4.5 percent to the table, but the country’s promise may reflect something loftier: Gandhi’s lesser-known legacy of environmentalism.

Mohandas Gandhi wasn’t considered an environmentalist in his day, at least not in the same way Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir were. The Indian independence leader almost never used the term “environment” explicitly, nor did he advocate for the establishment of vast nature reserves, as many early conservationists did.

That may be because, in the early 20th century, environmental issues simply weren’t at the forefront of global conversation. In Gandhi’s view, such concerns didn’t make up a separate discipline – they were interconnected with political, economic and moral issues. In a 1928 edition of the journal Young India, he linked the competitive economic behavior of western nations to the depletion of natural resources.

“God forbid that India should take to industrialism after the manner of the West,” Gandhi wrote. “The economic imperialism of a tiny island kingdom (England) is today keeping the world in chains. If an entire nation of 300 million (India) took to similar economic exploitation it would strip the world bare like locusts.”

Raised under British colonial rule, Gandhi was well aware of the relationships between rich and poor nations. He saw a vicious cycle, where nations depleted their own resources before moving on to extract from developing countries. Then, in the pursuit of industrial economy, those same developing nations would begin to do the same. The result? Deforestation, pollution, and loss of biodiversity.

In a paper for the World Wildlife Fund’s 1996 symposium “Gandhi and the Environment,” Triloki Nath Khoshoo argued that the same dynamic exists today:

    The present environmental mess, ranging from deforestation, soil and biodiversity loss, pollution, change in chemistry of air, and so on is not a disease by itself but only a symptom ... What then is disease in the present day environmentalism? The disease is the very concept and patterns of growth and development that are being followed in the resource-rich/technology-poor developing countries, and resource-poor/technology-rich industrial countries.

In this way, Gandhi’s environmentalism was a form of social justice. In advocating against the caste system, he argued that humanity could thrive only if no person took more than they needed. That perspective lives on today in the ethos of sustainability.

“Gandhi’s ecologism (if we can call it that) was about rural peasants eking out their subsistence and necessities from a piece of land,” Pramod Parajuli, a professor of political ecology at Prescott College, wrote in 2002. “In short, he might not have theorized the mathematics of sustainability but he showed us how to pursue sustainable livelihoods…”

It is unclear how Gandhi might have dealt with the question of climate change, which is itself so intertwined with economic and political issues. As the UN pushes to ratify the Paris agreement, many developing member nations have expressed concern that their own growth would be stunted by strict emission limits. Fully industrialized nations, the say, have already reaped the benefits of environmental carelessness.

On that point, Gandhi would probably have agreed. In “Mahatma Gandhi and the Environment,” Khoshoo attributes a particularly eerie prediction to the late civil rights activist.

“A time is coming when those who are in mad rush today of multiplying their wants, will retrace their steps and say; what have we done?”

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

 66 
 on: Sep 27, 2016, 05:30 AM 
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CS Monitor

Eleven creative ways to reuse egg crates

Don't throw out your egg crates. You can save money and the environment by reusing them in a creative way!

By Ashley Marcin, Wise Bread 9/27/2016

I don't know about you, but I eat a ton of eggs. We have leftover crates upon leftover crates, and beyond reusing and recycling, I've started repurposing them in fun ways around my house.

1. Seeding Storage

I actually started all our seeds in egg cartons this year. They're the perfect size for germination. When the seedlings are ready for planting, just cut out the individual cups and plant directly into the ground. Of course, if you plan to try this one, use the paper cups versus the styrofoam ones.

2. Recycled Decor

Beautify your place on the cheap with this egg carton wreath. You'll cut flower shapes from the cups and fashion leaves from the cover. Then paint with bright colors and glue to assemble. Just don't hang this wreath outdoors — the moisture will ruin it.

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3. Jewelry Organization

Here's a cool jewelry organization project that might also make a great gift. Cut an egg carton in half and paint it with spray paint. Then fill with jewelry and other knick-knacks. This tutorial instructs you to cut the top off the carton, but I think it would be nice to keep it on.

4. Veggie Storage

Or store your vegetables in stacked egg cartons. This method will keep spoiled foods from leaking anything onto fresh ones. Bonus: If you have anything — like tomatoes — that need ripening in paper bags, they should mature perfectly in the cartons.

5. Scavenger Hunt

Send your kids on a fun scavenger hunt in the backyard. Print out what you want your child to find, stick it on the egg carton, and then hand it off. They can stick found items inside. The author of this activity provides a printout, but your yard might not contain the same stuff (depending on where you live).

6. Sewing Kit

Stow needles, thread, buttons, and more in this egg carton sewing kit. My favorite part is the personalized design. You can decorate it to suit your unique tastes. Or keep it basic. Whatever you do, don't forget the egg-shaped pin cushion.

7. Paint Palette

This egg crate paint palette is pretty easy to put together. Open the crate, squeeze paint inside, and get creative. You can leave some cups open for mixing of colors. Otherwise, when you're done, just let everything dry and use again the next time you want to make art.

8. Gift Wrap

Skip the pricey gift bags and use an egg carton to wrap instead. You can paint and decorate in whatever colors or prints that match your theme. Works wonderfully for small items like soaps, underwear, jewelry, chocolates, and more.

9. Mosquito Smoker

Don't let mosquitoes ruin your next backyard bash. You can smoke them out for free using an egg carton. Simply light one edge on fire and set somewhere safe to burn (like your grill top). Alternatively, you can try this same thing with one of those coffee to-go containers.
10. Bird Feeder

This quick and easy egg carton bird feeder project will please nature enthusiasts. Remove the lid from your egg carton. Then poke holes in each of the four corners. Thread a string through each hold, then gather together and knot. Fill with bird seed and enjoy.
11. Flower Vase

Create a quick centerpiece for your dinner table with this gorgeous egg crate vase. Line the cups with plastic eggs and add a little water. Smaller blooms work best, and I love how the author of this project used broccoli to add texture to her arrangement.

 67 
 on: Sep 27, 2016, 05:27 AM 
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CS Monitor

Could mealworms solve our plastic problem?

We might finally have an answer for all those Styrofoam coffee cups that get thrown away.

By Olivia Lowenberg, Staff September 9/27/2016

Researchers at Stanford University have finally figured out a partial answer to the world’s plastics problem: mealworms.

Mealworms, the larvae form of darkling beetles, can apparently subsist on a diet of foamed polystyrene, better known as Styrofoam, with no ill effects to their system, thanks to special bacteria in their guts. This could be very hopeful news in light of the amount of Styrofoam and other petroleum-based plastics we consume: Americans throw away 25 billion Styrofoam cups every year, and they will not decompose for thousands of years.

"Our findings have opened a new door to solve the global plastic pollution problem," said Dr. Wei-Min Wu, a lead researcher on the study, in a press release.

The scientists fed Styrofoam to a sample population of mealworms, while feeding their control group a normal diet of bran flakes, according to a study by the Stanford University and Beihang University research team in Environmental Science & Technology.

In the lab, 100 mealworms ate between 34 and 39 milligrams of Styrofoam – the weight of a few feathers – per day. The worms converted about half of the Styrofoam into carbon dioxide gas, as they would with any food source, and excreted the rest as biodegraded fragments.

After a month, the Styrofoam-fed mealworms were as healthy as those eating the bran flake diet, said Dr. Wu, and their waste appeared to be safe to use as compost for crops.

"There's a possibility of really important research coming out of bizarre places," said Craig Criddle in the release. Dr. Criddle is a professor of civil and environmental engineering who supervises plastics research by Wu and others at Stanford. "Sometimes, science surprises us. This is a shock."

In 2009, a Taiwanese high-school student named Tseng I-ching discovered the bacteria that enables mealworms to digest Styrofoam safely, but could not identify how the process occurs. 
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In the next leg of their scientific journey, the researchers at Stanford and Beihang will investigate whether mealworms and similar insects can consume polypropylene, microbeads, or bioplastics. In addition, they want to find out how the mealworms' Styrofoam-based diet affects animals further up the food chain.

Dr. Wu and his colleagues are also interested in finding a marine counterpart to the mealworm, to address the nearly 5 trillion tons of plastic floating on the world's oceans.

 68 
 on: Sep 27, 2016, 05:25 AM 
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CS Monitor

Haiti bans plastic bags and styrofoam containers

Haiti's government has announced a ban on importing, manufacturing, and marketing plastic and foam containers as of Oct.1 in an effort to do away with 'rivers of debris' across the country.

By Jacqueline Charles, McClatchy Curtis Morgan, McClatchy September 28, 2012

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Plastic and foam food containers. They're everywhere in this enterprising Caribbean nation, clogging canals, cluttering streets, and choking ocean wildlife.

Now those pesky black plastic bags made of polyethylene and polystyrene foam cups, plates, trays, and other containers that have become as ubiquitous as the vendors who peddle them in street markets are on their way out. Haiti's government has announced a ban on importing, manufacturing, and marketing them as of Oct. 1.

"This is a logical decision and makes sense," Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe said. "Importing, manufacturing bio-degradable items will benefit Haiti's short, mid- and long-term environmental interest."
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In Haiti the black plastic bags are the primary mode for transporting items among Haiti's poor who shuffle back and forth to open air street markets on an almost daily basis. They also are a key, but dangerous, ingredient in curbside cooking, helping food cook faster. The bags and containers are then dumped haphazardly into canals, turning them into rivers of debris several feet deep.

Environmental groups have been pushing plastic bag bans both internationally and in the United States for quite some time. The African nation of Rwanda became the first country to ban all plastics in 2008 while Mexico City, Bangladesh, and most recently Toronto are among the largest international cities that have imposed bans.

Argentina also is calling for all supermarkets to eliminate non-biodegradable plastic bags by October 2014.

In the United States, bans have been approved in cities and counties from Maine to Washington. Nearly 50 cities and counties in California alone embrace a celebrity-endorsed ban. In Los Angeles, the largest American city in the country to approve the ban, bags will be phased out at thousands of stores over the next year or so.

Meanwhile, in Florida, a 2009 attempt by the state's Department of Environmental Protection fell flat, thwarted by consumers.

Bill Hickman, who coordinates the anti-bag campaign for The Surfrider Foundation, one of the more active organizations on the issue, said he wasn't aware of any targeted effort in Haiti. He calls the proposal "great news."

Mostly cities and urban counties have adopted the ban, which targets the thin, lightweight plastic bags commonly used at grocery stores and convenience store check-outs. But some of the worst pollution from the bags occurs in poorer undeveloped nations, said Hickman.

"We see a lot of issues in the Third World," he said. "Some of the most shocking photos come from places like Indonesia and Central America. These items are very cheap and easy to litter and there is very little infrastructure to recycle them."

For environmentalists, the biggest problem is that many of the billions of bags used annually commonly end up in the ocean where they and other plastic debris kill countless sea birds, sea turtles and other marine life. The thin bags, which blow away with the slightest winds, also pose problems at landfills and in most cases aren't cost-effective for recycling.

"It's really kind of the tip of the plastic pollution iceberg," Hickman said. "Plastic does not biodegrade. It may (break down in sunlight) over time into smaller pieces, but it persists well past our lifetimes in the environment."

The Haitian crackdown was first announced last month in a presidential decree issued by President Michel Martelly. After initial confusion and public protests because it was assumed that plastic bags used for potable water were also being targeted – for now they are exempt – the crackdown appears to be winning public support.

For weeks, the government has been running TV spots informing the general public about the ban.

"If they tell us not to sell them, we won't," said Christine Resile, 39, a mother of three who began peddling plastic bags last year after losing her $50-a-month housekeeping job in the hills of Port-au-Prince. "We sell them because we don't have any alternatives; not because we love selling them."

Marguerite Etienne, who sells food on a congested curbside in downtown Port-au-Prince, said she's prepared to work with the ban.

"The clients will just have to come with their plates and bowls as they did before we started using the containers," she said, frying plantains and pork on a charcoal stove. To-go foam containers were stacked nearby. "These things litter the country. Haiti wasn't always this dirty," Etienne said.

But getting Haitians to adjust to the changes may be easier said than done. The imported containers, which come mainly from the neighboring Dominican Republic, have become an integral part of daily life. For instance, a day after Tropical Storm Isaac flooded the country last month, Martelly posted photos on his Facebook page showing his wife Sophia Martelly distributing hot meals to children on foam plates.

Environmental activists in Haiti say while they commend the government for being environmentally proactive, they do wonder how Haiti - a country that already struggles to control its porous borders and collect taxes - will police the ban.

"I would like to see it go through but I would also like to see them have a contingency plan if it doesn't," said Sam Bloch of Haiti Communitere, a nongovernmental organization in Port-au-Prince that promotes environmentally friendly projects among Haitians. "There is still plenty of trash in Haiti that is waiting to go into the ocean."

Earlier this year, Haiti Communitere, with the help of 20 women from the Cite Soleil slum, completed the construction of a hurricane and earthquake-resistant house. The tiny house is made from recycled plastic bags and 27,000 foam containers pulled from nearby canals. Bloch said the goal is to build more of the homes for Haiti's poor, with the help of a factory that can turn the containers into "blocks" for faster construction.

Sasha Kramer, a University of Miami professor, who co-founded SOIL, a US nonprofit that turns human waste into compost in Haiti, said it is difficult to imagine how the Haitian government's ban will be implemented.

"Banning widely used items can only be successful when viable alternatives are available," Kramer said. "Unless this ban goes hand-in-hand with a new product that can replace plastic bags and Styrofoam, it will not be successful, and is likely to heavily impact the poor who rely on these products to sell their goods on the informal market."

In Rwanda, parliament passed the 2008 ban after a four-year sensitization period and after a scientific study showed "an overwhelming negative impact of plastic bags on the environment" and the country's economy, the head of the African nation's environmental management authority said.

Rose Mukankomeje, director general of the Rwandan Environmental Management Authority, said the ban is part of an overall government strategy promoting good hygiene among Rwandans.

"The environmental impact of the plastic bag ban in Rwanda is huge," she said. "Rwanda is today an extraordinarily clean country. Tourism is increasing, which is very good economically for our country."

Still, success didn't come overnight, or with just a law. Campaigns promoting the ban targeted both the public and airline passengers, and the country has put an institution in charge of enforcement. It also has provided alternatives for packaging, and leaders lead by example. Each month everyday Rwandans join leaders in cleaning their respective communities.

"We work very closely with local government institutions, with police and others," Mukankomeje said. She noted that the government also contracts with a private company to help with enforcement.

"We package in bags done in cotton, biodegradable materials like banana, papyrus," she said. "Every country has to check the best option for its people and bring them on board."

Haiti's Environmental Minister Jean Vilmond Hilaire did not respond to questions on what alternatives the Caribbean nation is considering and how it plans to enforce the ban, other than notifying customs agents and importers about what products are banned.

Lamothe, the prime minister, said the crackdown is aimed at protecting Haiti's coastlines, shores and what's left of its mangroves. He acknowledges that the country has "a massive garbage issue" and environmentally toxic material clogs "95 percent of our sewage system, creating mass floods in poor neighborhoods ... that is costing the state more than $50 million a year if we had the means to clean up."

 69 
 on: Sep 27, 2016, 05:23 AM 
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CS Monitor

When will Dunkin' Donuts scrap its Styrofoam cups?

Six years after Dunkin' Donuts declared that replacing its Styrofoam cups is the company's top sustainability priority, efforts appear to have stalled.

By Gretel Kauffman, Staff September 27, 2016

Six years ago, Dunkin' Donuts declared replacing its Styrofoam cups its top sustainability priority.

Fast forward to 2016, and the majority of Dunkin' Donuts restaurants still serve their coffee in cups made of polystyrene. The company is "not prepared to transition fully out of foam at this time," Christine Riley Miller, Dunkin' Brands' senior director of corporate social responsibility, told Business Insider this week.

What happened since the report in 2010 that described its use of foam cups as "the most prominent sustainability issue we must deal with"? The report two years later that said the company hoped to find a more sustainable replacement for its cups within two to three years. An increasing number of fast food chains have, in the meantime, begun to adopt more environmentally friendly practices. But Dunkin' Donuts has not.

In recent years, as awareness of the importance of sustainability grows, a number of municipalities across the country have banned polystyrene foam because of its negative impact on the environment: Its production creates large amounts of greenhouse gas, and its non-recyclable nature means it is the main pollutant of oceans and other water sources, the primary source of urban litter, and can cause wild animals to choke and starve.

In places where foam is banned, Dunkin' Donuts has introduced cups made of a more recyclable plastic known as polypropylene.

The company has described polypropylene as "the best available alternative to foam," currently. But introducing recyclable cups in all restaurants would come with a number of unique challenges.

For one, Ms. Miller says, the recyclable cups are more expensive to manufacture than the current foam cups. Secondly, many Dunkin' Donuts restaurants are franchises, making it difficult for the company to implement widespread sustainability policies.

Nevertheless, other chains with a majority franchise restaurants have been able to make the move from Styrofoam cups to paper ones: McDonalds, which aims to have only 10 percent of its restaurants company-owned by 2017, phased out Styrofoam cups and replaced them with paper cups in 2013.
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McDonalds followed Starbucks, one of Dunkin' Donuts's direct competitors, which has used paper cups since the 1980s, as well as smoothie chain Jamba Juice, which announced in 2012 that it would end its use of foam containers and in 2013 introduced a more environmentally friendly cup.

But paper cups also have their drawbacks compared to foam cups. One study found that only 10 percent of paper food service containers are recycled in major American cities. Furthermore, the cup creates more solid waste.

"It takes two and a half times as much energy to make a paper cup as it does to make a foam cup," wrote Christopher Bonanos for New York Magazine. "Foam cups are also much lighter than paper cups, reducing the amount of fuel needed to ship them to the store and to cart them away as trash. Foam also produces a lot less manufacturing waste, because there are no paper offcuts to discard."

One possible solution to the Styrofoam conundrum, suggests chemist Martin B. Hocking in a study for Science, is simply to find better ways to recycle foam.

"An improved infrastructure," he writes, "is all that is required to make this option a more significant reality and convert this perceived negative aspect of polyfoam use to a positive one."

 70 
 on: Sep 27, 2016, 05:21 AM 
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CS Monitor

Pollinators need a cultural ambassador. Are butterflies up for the task?

Some conservationists hope to use the monarch butterfly's signature charisma to rally public support for bees and other less-loved pollinators.   

By Joseph Dussault, Staff September 26, 2016

It’s peak migration season for monarch butterflies, and rural communities are keen to aid them on their journey.

In the midwestern United States, the annual monarch migration is something of a cultural event. In Oklahoma, conservationists and students organize an educational – but festive – butterfly send-off. And from Nebraska to Texas, residents plant milkweed so that the winged travelers can lay eggs along the way.

Not all insects are so fortunate. Many other pollinators lack the cultural charisma which has made butterflies so popular with humans – you’re unlikely to find any pollen wasp festivals in the US, or any other country for that matter. But some experts say butterfly star-power could actually help those maligned bugs, even as it draws attention away from them.

Could the monarch butterfly be the cultural ambassador all besieged pollinators need?

Generally speaking, North American pollinators face many of the same environmental challenges. Agricultural land use has degraded habitats, and studies show that neonicotinoid pesticides have caused considerable damage to both bee and butterfly populations. Climate change has also been linked to shrinking geographic range for many pollinator species. And pollinators play a key role in human food production. 

But only butterflies have been able to inspire almost universal support.

“I’ve worked with butterflies for a long time, and there’s nothing people like better than a good butterfly restoration story,” Travis Longcore, an assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Southern California, tells The Christian Science Monitor. “There’s the iconography and the storytelling that centers around butterflies. They’re symbols in culture.”

Charisma is a major factor in how we perceive non-human animals. Psychologically, we’re always looking for connections – familiar patterns on a butterfly wing, metamorphosis as a symbol of resurrection – and when we find them, we tend to form a bond.

“Humans like to relate to animals,” Meredith Gore, a conservation social scientist at Michigan State University, tells the Monitor. “If they’re primates or mammals, if they nurse their young, if they have forward-facing eyes… those are all physiological characteristics that make it easier for us to identify with them and behave in ways that you might call ‘pro-environmental.’”

Monarchs have a lot of characteristics that make them charismatic. They flutter, rather than buzz, and they often display vibrant colors. People often see butterflies in their own backyards, and tend to associate them with flowers and their own homes.

Bees, while brightly colored, are faster moving, and aren’t quite as visually distinctive as butterflies. The average person can’t distinguish between species, because many of them look the same. That’s why bees are commonly confused with more aggressive wasps and hornets.

“You really have to catch them, and in some cases look under a microscope, to see the differences between species,” Tom Oliver, a landscape ecologist with the University of Reading in England, tells the Monitor. “That makes it hard to engage citizen scientists, as it were, who don’t necessarily have the time or equipment to look under the microscope at individuals.”

More obscure pollinators, such as bee flies and moths, have an even tougher time mustering public support. And since many pollinators are stinging insects, people generally feel less, well, warmly about them.

“When you start talking about the importance of the wasp and stuff like that, you run up against a bigger wall,” says Dr. Longcore, who is also science director of the Los Angeles-based Urban Wildlands Group. “But who ever said ‘no’ to helping out the butterflies?”

Many invertebrate conservationists argue that this dissonance is a problem. As we rally around pandas and tigers, we tend to neglect more important species which might not be considered “cute.”

Given the choice of motivating people around charismatic animals or not motivating people at all, Longcore would “take the motivation any day.” But conservation need not be an all-or-nothing game, at least in the case of bees and butterflies.

Monarch butterflies, experts say, can fulfill an important role in protecting other pollinators. As a so-called “flagship species,” they can draw public support and funding for broader environmental problems.

“Flagship species, like pandas and tigers, tend to be the big and beautiful creatures,” Dr. Oliver says. “But even though they’re just one species or a group of species, they can mobilize effort in terms of conservation. You could argue that butterflies might be like the pandas or the tigers of the insect world.”

Modern conservationists say that the link between organisms in an ecosystem may be even stronger than previously thought. In some cases, they find that the protection of one “umbrella species” can trickle down to benefit others in that same habitat. In recent years, conservationists have gravitated toward the idea of landscape conservation, which focuses on preserving entire habitats rather than single species.

“So monarchs may be a species that brings attention to a whole suite of issues, conservation problems and potential solutions,” Dr. Gore says.

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