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Author Topic: For All Daemon Souls and Dog Lovers  (Read 82823 times)
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« Reply #345 on: Jun 24, 2014, 05:35 AM »

Backlash against annual Chinese dog-eating festival continues to grow

By Jonathan Kaiman, The Guardian
Monday, June 23, 2014 9:55 EDT

A southern Chinese city kicked off its annual dog-eating festival over weekend amid a fierce backlash by internet users and animal rights groups.

Activists estimate that about 10,000 dogs are slaughtered at the summer solstice event, in which thousands of locals and tourists consume barbecued, stir-fried and boiled dog meat served alongside lychees and grain alcohol.

This year, viral social media campaigns and a strong showing by a small, but dedicated band of animal rights activists have dampened the festivities in Yulin, Guangxi province. The local government banned its officials from openly participating in the event, according to Carrot Chen, a spokesperson at the Hong Kong-based NGO Animals Asia. Dog meat sales are down by a third on last year, Chinese media reported.

“My grandfather, my father and I all sell dog meat. I could sell dozens of dogs a day last year during this time, but I only sold a few this year,” Zhou Jian, a 55-year-old vendor, told China Daily.

While media reports counted only a few dozen activists at the festival, their presence precipitated a handful of dramatic scenes. One vendor held a live dog from a noose, threatening to kill it unless activists paid him an exorbitant ransom. A diner sustained injuries from a fight with an activist along a restaurant-lined road. Devout Buddhists from across China strolled through the city’s Dongkou wet market, performing a religious rite to “console the souls of the slaughtered dogs”.

Many locals resent the backlash as an unwarranted moral stand against a deep-rooted – and technically legal – tradition. They claim that eating dog meat on the summer solstice confers health benefits that last through the winter. Some held the event a week early to avoid the expected animal rights protests.

Animal welfare groups said the dog meat trade was inhumane and unsanitary. “It’s an industry characterised by criminality, cruelty and poor hygiene,” Animals Asia’s chief executive, Jill Robinson, said. “Dogs are stolen from their homes – increasingly by being darted and drugged in the street. Poisons that will find their way into the meals of the festival-goers.”

While dogs are still considered a delicacy in parts of southern and north-east China, they have also become popular pets among the country’s burgeoning middle class.

Protesting against the festival has become a cause celebre online. “Dogs are more loyal to people than I’d imagined – I think of dogs as friends, not meat,” the actor Yang Mi wrote to her 35 million followers. The message attracted more than 75,000 comments, most commending her for taking a stand.

The state newswire Xinhua urged opponents of the festival to remain level-headed and remember that dogs were prized for their meat in China long before they were considered friends.

“It might be difficult to draw a universally accepted line as to what animals should be eaten. But when there is already a vast variety of meat, maybe it is time to stop serving dog,” it said. “Maybe it’ s also time to take a less strident tone against the dog-meat lovers and to educate them to see a companion rather than a meal.” © Guardian News and Media 2014

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« Reply #346 on: Jun 25, 2014, 06:16 AM »

Monarch butterflies rely on sunlight, Earth’s magnetic fields for navigation, study finds

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, June 25, 2014 6:56 EDT

The North American monarch butterfly uses the Sun as well as Earth’s magnetic field as navigational tools for its famous long-distance migration, scientists said Tuesday.

The insects with their characteristic orange-and-black wings flutter thousands of kilometers each year from the United States and southern Canada to the Michoacan mountains in central Mexico, where they overwinter.

The butterflies, whose Latin name is Danaus plexippus, have long been known to use a type of solar compass in the brain.

Yet, curiously, they are also able to migrate when skies are heavily overcast, which suggested co-reliance on a magnetic compass.

Now, biologists from Massachusetts say they have found evidence for this, making the butterfly the first long-distance migratory insect thought to use magnetic navigation.

They placed monarchs in a flight simulator, which they surrounded with different artificial magnetic fields to test the insects’ directional sense.

Most headed equatorward in initial testing but turned north when the inclination angle of the magnetic field was reversed. The compass worked only in the presence of light at the upper edge of the visible light spectrum.

The butterflies’ antennae appeared to contain light-sensitive magnetosensors to make this all work, the team found.

The research, published in the journal Nature Communications, sees the monarch join a lengthening list of birds, reptiles, amphibians, turtles, and insects, including honeybees and termites, believed to use the magnetic field for navigation.

“Our study reveals another fascinating aspect of monarch butterfly migratory behavior,” the authors wrote.

“Greater knowledge of the mechanisms underlying the fall migration may well aid in its preservation, currently threatened by climate change and by the continuing loss of milkweed (plant) and overwintering habitats.

“Another vulnerability to now consider is the potential disruption of the magnetic compass in monarchs by human-induced electromagnetic noise, which can apparently disrupt geomagnetic orientation in a migratory bird.”

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« Reply #347 on: Jun 25, 2014, 06:31 AM »

Rajasthan moves to save the camel as population dwindles

Indian state expected to pass draft law giving camels same legal protections as cows after numbers almost halve in past decade

Maseeh Rahman in Delhi
The Guardian, Tuesday 24 June 2014 16.27 BST   
The dainty Chinkara gazelle may be the officially recognised state animal of Rajasthan, but it is the ungainly camel that is most commonly associated with the life and lore of India's desert province. But despite the romantic image of a camel ride through the Thar desert – which the Fodor's guide lists as "one of the most unforgettable experiences of a trip to India" – its population is declining dramatically, forcing the provincial government to plan emergency measures to save the hardy animal.

A draft law, which is expected to be passed by the state legislature, will give the camel the same protection as the holy cow – seven years in jail for slaughtering a camel, and three years for smuggling it across state borders. The state dairy will also get into the business of popularising camel milk, which is said to better than cow's milk nutritionally.

The latest camel census has yet to be published, but state officials acknowledge that numbers have fallen steeply, from about 500,000 in 2003 to fewer than 300,000 today.

"The situation is actually much worse," said Hanwant Singh Rathore, director of the League for Pastoral Peoples, which has long campaigned for the camel's protection. "Our estimate of the camel population today is around 200,000."

There are several reasons for the decline. Camels are bred by the Raika, indigenous pastoralists who believe they were entrusted with the task by the god Shiva. But Shiva has not been kind lately and breeding camels has become ever tougher. Grazing lands are disappearing fast, while young Raikas are more interested in urban jobs.

"Raika youth don't revere the animal anymore," said Rathore. "A village near Udaipur which had 10,000 camels a decade ago today has only 500."

Raikas never used to sell female camels, but today they do. As a result, camels are being herded out of Rajasthan in large numbers for the slaughterhouses of Uttar Pradesh and even smuggled into Bangladesh – the meat, it is alleged, is exported to the Gulf, while the skin is sold to leather factories.

But a ban on the export of camels from Rajasthan will create its own problems. "Who will come to Pushkar, the world's biggest camel fair?" asked Rathore.

But with modernisation, camels no longer have the same importance in the state's economy. For instance, the camel carts used for transporting goods and people are being rapidly replaced by mini-vans.

"The only solution is to protect the female camel and popularise its products," said Rathore. His group makes ice-cream from camel milk, paper from the dung and dhurries (rugs) from the wool.

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« Reply #348 on: Jun 27, 2014, 05:55 AM »

Scientists discover one-ounce mouse-like mammal related to elephants

By Reuters
Thursday, June 26, 2014 21:30 EDT

By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) – A new mammal discovered in the remote desert of western Africa resembles a long-nosed mouse in appearance but is more closely related genetically to elephants, a California scientist who helped identify the tiny creature said on Thursday.

The new species of elephant shrew, given the scientific name Macroscelides micus, inhabits an ancient volcanic formation in Namibia and sports red fur that helps it blend in with the color of its rocky surroundings, said John Dumbacher, one of a team of biologists behind the discovery.

Genetic testing of the creature – which weighs up to an ounce (28 grams) and measures 7.5 inches (19 cm) in length, including its tail – revealed its DNA to be more akin to much larger mammals.

“It turns out this thing that looks and acts like shrews that evolved in Africa is more closely related to elephants,” said Dumbacher, a curator of birds and mammals at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.
The findings, published in the Journal of Mammalogy, floored scientists, who said the only visible link between an African elephant and the diminutive shrew is its trunk-like nose.

An elongated snout is a common feature of various shrew species, many of which look like long-nosed mice externally, though shrews are not classified as rodents.
Dumbacher likened the newly discovered mammal to a small antelope in its physique and sleeping habits and to a scaled-down anteater in hunting techniques and preferred prey.
Like an antelope, the creature has long, spindly legs relative to its body size, and hunkers down next to bushes to sleep rather than burrowing. Like an anteater, it uses its extended nose to sweep the ground in search of ants and other insects.
The desert-dwelling shrew is prone to giving birth to twins, which hit the ground running like the calves of some types of African antelope.
Biologists plan to return to Africa in the coming months to outfit the new mammals with miniscule radio collars to learn more about their habits, Dumbacher said.

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« Reply #349 on: Jun 29, 2014, 05:55 AM »

Protestors gather outside of Yellowstone National Park to condemn wolf hunt

By Reuters
Saturday, June 28, 2014 20:15 EDT

(Reuters) – A rally to protest sport hunting and trapping of wolves in the United States drew about 150 participants on Saturday outside the gates of Yellowstone National Park, an organizer said.

Demonstrators at the event in Gardiner, Montana, at the northwest entrance to the park called for an overhaul of government wildlife management policies for the animals.

Thousands of wolves have been legally hunted, trapped or snared in the three years since the predators were removed from the federal endangered and threatened species list in the Northern Rockies and western Great Lakes.

“We need some places out West where wolves can be wolves without fear of being shot, trapped, strangled or beaten to death,” rally organizer Brett Haverstick said in a telephone interview.

Haverstick said roughly 150 people attended the rally, with participants coming from a range of U.S. states such as Idaho, Montana, California and Florida.

Wolves neared extinction in the Lower 48 states before coming under U.S. Endangered Species Act protections in the 1970s. Federal wildlife managers two decades ago released fewer than 100 wolves in the Yellowstone area over the objections of ranchers and hunters, who complained wolves would prey on livestock and big-game animals like elk.

Wolves in the park and its border states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming were estimated at nearly 2,000 at the time of delisting and now number about 1,700 due to liberal hunting and trapping seasons and population control measures by states such as Idaho.

Ranchers and sportsmen say wolf numbers must be kept in check to reduce conflicts.

“Livestock producers have made many concessions to accommodate wolves on the landscape and the result is we have a healthy wolf population and yet a decrease in cattle depredations,” said Jay Bodner, natural resource director for the Montana Stockgrowers Association.

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« Reply #350 on: Jul 03, 2014, 06:46 AM »

19-year-old Texas cheerleader criticized for endangered species ‘thrill kills’

By Arturo Garcia
Wednesday, July 2, 2014 18:25 EDT

A 19-year-old Texas woman has deleted online photos of herself with endangered animals she hunted and killed following increasing criticism, the Dallas Morning News reported on Wednesday.

Kendall Jones garnered attention from several outlets regarding her Facebook page, which featured images taken from several of her hunting trips to Zimbabwe and South Africa, where she has killed elephants, hippos, leopards, zebras and other animals. In one picture, Jones is seeing holding the head of a dead lion toward the camera.

Jones, a cheerleader at Texas Tech University who has hunted since she was 9 years old, has also signed a development deal with the Sportsman Network, which also features former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R).

On Wednesday, the U.S. Humane Society released a statement asking Jones to stop her big-game hunting activities.

“Many of the species that Ms. Jones has killed face declining populations due to loss of habitat and poaching,” vice president for wildlife protection Nicole Paquette said in the statement. “Amidst this crisis, trophy hunting only adds to the threats to the survival of these iconic species and is nothing more than a thrill kill.”

Jones told the Clebrurne Times-Review that hunters like herself actually benefit conservation efforts by helping African communities balance animal populations while providing needed revenue.

“There are many parts of Zimbabwe where there in an abundant population of leopard that wreak havoc on the livestock of the farmers in the village,” Jones said in an email sent from another hunting trip to Africa. “Instead of the villagers killing the leopards to prevent livestock damage, permits are sold to hunters to do this for them.”

She also said that she has received death threats and online bullying after her hunts gained more exposure.

“I knew when I posted these pictures that there would be people for and against my Facebook page,” Jones said. “I really am shocked at how rude many people are by name calling and swearing.”

At the same time, an online petition calling for her to be banned from hunting in Africa has amassed more than 60,000 signatures.

“She has publicly stated that she hopes to have a television hunting show and she is using endangered and helpless African animals as a stepping to further her popularity on social media platforms,” the petition stated.

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« Reply #351 on: Jul 05, 2014, 06:31 AM »

Top marine biologists urge end to Australia’s shark killing policy

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, July 4, 2014 8:40 EDT

Hundreds of the world’s top marine scientists have called for Western Australia to ditch its shark cull policy, arguing there is no evidence that it makes beaches safer, a report said Friday.

The controversial catch and kill policy was introduced as a trial this year around popular west coast beaches following a spate of fatal attacks.

More than 170 sharks, mostly tiger sharks, were caught during the 13-week summer season, with 50 of the biggest ones destroyed.

The state government has applied to national authorities to extend the policy, putting 72 baited hooks attached to floating drums one kilometre (around half a mile) off the busiest beaches between November and April until 2017.

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) is assessing the proposal, which has angered conservationists who say it flies in the face of international obligations to protect the great white shark.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation said it had obtained a submission to the EPA from more than 250 of the world’s leading marine biologists and researchers who said there was little science to back the policy.

hey included US marine biologist Elliott Norse, who worked for several presidents and was a key force behind the scenes in President Barack Obama’s recent push to preserve vast parts of the Pacific Ocean, ABC said.

“I think killing apex predatory sharks like tiger sharks is a terrible idea,” he said.

“Apex predators (animals at the top of the food chain) are really important in ecosystems and when we kill them what we often find is really bad things happen.”

Tiger sharks were not thought to be responsible for the six fatal attacks off Australia in the last two years, with great whites blamed. No great whites were caught in the trial.

Another scientist, Jessica Meeuwig, said Hawaii was an example of drum lines having no effect on safety.

“In Hawaii they spent 16 years killing tiger sharks through a hook and line programme very similar to what we’re doing,” she reportedly said in the submission that she coordinated.

“And it had no impact on the number of incidents with sharks.”

The state government has said its policy — which is based on the use of drum lines in Queensland, where there has been only one fatal attack at a beach using the baited hooks or nets since 1961 — had restored confidence among beachgoers.

However, the ABC said Western Australia Fisheries Minister Ken Baston was unable to point to any studies about the efficacy of drum lines.

Submissions to the EPA are due to close on Monday.

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« Reply #352 on: Jul 05, 2014, 06:33 AM »

Conservation experts to meet over upswing in animal poaching driven by demands of the rich

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, July 4, 2014 16:30 EDT

Hundreds of experts will gather in Geneva next week to discuss a “disturbing upswing” in the illegal wildlife trade, driven increasingly by ostentatious displays of wealth by the super-rich.

“We’re seeing a shift from health to wealth… a significant shift away from (demand for) traditional uses associated with health to uses associated with wealth,” said John Scanlon, head of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The rich increasingly like to show off, he said, by buying things like tiger wine — made by dumping tiger carcasses into vats of rice wine — while elephant ivory is increasingly seen as an investment by speculators.

CITES is gathering some 400 experts and country representatives for a July 7-11 meeting.

“Among the high priority issues for discussion are the large scale killings of elephants for their ivory and rhinos for their horns, as well as a concerning increase in the illegal trade in Asian big cats,” said the wildlife regulator.

CITES, which regulates the trade of some 35,000 animal and plant species, will discuss what actions its 180 member states are taking to fight the problem. It has the power to suspend a country’s trade in one or more species if they breach treaty rules.

At a meeting of all CITES members in Bangkok in March last year, several shark species and the manta ray for instance won international protection.

“This is where the rubber hits the road,” Scanlon told reporters on Friday.

- ‘Industrial-scale poaching’ -

Next week’s gathering of CITES 19-member standing committee will be “the most significant meeting in addressing the illegal killing of the African elephant, and illicit trade in its ivory,” Scanlon said.

More than 20,000 African elephants were poached last year alone for their tusks, which rake in thousands of dollars a kilo in Asia, particularly from China, according to CITES.

That number is down slightly from a peak of some 25,000 in 2011, but still exceeds the natural birthrate of the world’s largest land mammal.

Today there are only about 500,000 elephants remaining in Africa, down from some 10 million at the beginning of the 20th century.

Next week’s meeting will evaluate the progress made by eight African and Asian countries identified last year as the leading sources and destinations of ivory and ordered to draw up action plans.

Scanlon said the “industrial-scale poaching” carried out by transnational organised criminal gangs needed to be “hit with the full force of the law.”

Rhinos are also being killed in huge numbers for the horns, prized for their supposed medicinal qualities in Asia and especially Vietnam, which will need to report next week on its efforts to fight the illegal trade.

CITES will also discuss measure to halt illegal trade in threatened plant species, with rosewood from Madagascar of particular concern.

More than 4,000 tonnes of rosewood suspected to have been illegally exported from the country has been seized in various countries since last November.

“Rosewood is being wiped out,” Scanlon said, adding that Madagascar?s environment minister would likely attend the Geneva meeting to explain what steps were being taken to halt the “outrageous plundering.”

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« Reply #353 on: Jul 05, 2014, 07:07 AM »

Researchers decoding mysteries of chimpanzee sign language

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, July 4, 2014 21:01 EDT

Chimpanzees use their hands to say “follow me,” “stop that” or “take this,” according to new research seeking to translate the sophisticated messages flowing back and forth.

Previous research had revealed that our nearest genetic relatives use gestures to communicate, prompting questions over whether the communication systems shared ancestry with the origins of human language.

The new study, published Thursday in the US journal Current Biology, created the first ever chimpanzee dictionary of sorts, deciphering just what the apes were saying to each other.

The researchers said the chimpanzee gestures — they decoded 66 in total — can be used in isolation or several can be strung together to create more complex exchanges.

And, importantly, the meaning remained consistent, regardless of which ape was making the gestures.

The messages ranged from “simple requests associated with just a few gestures to broader social negotiation associated with a wider range of gesture types,” said the authors from the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

The researchers studied more than 4,500 gestures within more than 3,400 interactions, all captured on film in Uganda between 2007 and 2009.

They determined that when a mother shows the sole of her foot to her baby, she means “climb on me.” Touching the arm of another means “scratch me” and chewing leaves calls for sexual attention.

The researchers said their observations revealed unambiguous links between some gestures and outcomes — like the seductive message of leaf-chewing.

Others seemed to convey more than one idea, like grasping another chimp, which sometimes seemed to indicate “stop,” and other times “climb on me” or even “go away.”

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« Reply #354 on: Jul 07, 2014, 06:36 AM »

Ukraine demanding return of combat dolphins from Russia

Trained to carry out military tasks, they were seized during the annexation of Crimea. Kiev wants them back – but Russia has plans for the cetaceans


It wasn't just the miles of gorgeous coastline, the plush dacha compounds of the Soviet elite and the naval bases of the Black Sea Fleet that Russia acquired when it annexed Crimea this year; it was also Ukraine's combat dolphins, part of a secret programme that trains sea mammals to carry out military tasks.

Now, however, Ukraine is demanding the return of the dolphins, who unlike the naval officers serving on the peninsula, were not given the choice of "defecting" to Russia or travelling to mainland Ukraine to continue serving Kiev.

The dolphins are still being held at an aquarium near Sevastopol, but Ukrainian authorities in a town across the isthmus from Crimea say they have a facility where the cetaceans could spend the rest of the summer before a new military home is found for them.

The Ukrainian military dolphin programme was born out of a Soviet-era scheme that, like much of the Soviet army, fell into neglect in the 1990s. There were reports in 2000 that the dolphins had been sold to Iran.

The programme was resurrected in 2012 by the Ukrainian navy, and the Crimean military dolphin centre is thought to be one of just two in the world, with the other in San Diego serving the US navy, where around 75 dolphins are trained, along with sea lions.

However, Ukraine's military infrastructure in Crimea was destroyed by Russia during the annexation of the territory. Russian troops surrounded military bases and demanded that the Ukrainians surrender or defect, a process that took several weeks but passed off without major bloodshed. Some military equipment was seized, while some was dispatched to the rest of Ukraine, which is what Kiev would now like to see happen to the dolphins.

The Russians, however, have big plans for their newest naval recruits. A source told Russian agency RIA Novosti back in March that with Crimea part of Russia, serious investment in dolphin preparation was now on the cards.

"Engineers are developing new aquarium technologies for new programmes to more efficiently use dolphins under water," said the source, telling the agency that dolphins and seals would search for sunken military equipment and detect enemy divers.

"Our specialists developed new devices that convert dolphins' underwater sonar detection of targets into a signal to the operator's monitor. The Ukrainian navy lacked funds for such know-how, and some projects had to be mothballed."

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« Reply #355 on: Jul 07, 2014, 06:54 AM »

Pangolin and porcupines on sale in Chinese market despite jail threat

Buying endangered species can land 10 years in prison, but Conghua market sells giant salamanders and other rare wildlife

AFP, Monday 7 July 2014 10.21 BST   
Porcupines in cages, endangered tortoises in buckets and snakes in cloth bags are among the rare wildlife on open sale at a Chinese market, despite courts being ordered to jail those who eat endangered species.

The diners of southern China have long had a reputation for exotic tastes, with locals sometimes boasting they will "eat anything with four legs except a table".

China in April raised the maximum sentence for anyone caught selling or consuming endangered species to 10 years in prison, but lax enforcement is still evident in the province of Guangdong.

"I can sell the meat for 500 yuan ($80) per half kilo," a pangolin vendor at the Xingfu - "happy and rich" - wholesale market in Conghua told AFP. "If you want a living one it will be more than 1,000 yuan."

The market was the subject of a Chinese media expose two years ago, when a local official told the state-run Beijing Technology Times that its role as a centre for animal trafficking was an "open secret".

The seller, who declined to be named, said making a living from his creatures was getting tougher. "Now it's governed very strictly," he said.

But on a recent morning traders were out in force, with hundreds of snakes writhing in white cloth bags and wild boars staring plaintively from wire cages.

Not all the produce is illegal but a huge sign touted giant salamanders, which are classed as critically endangered - one level below "extinct in the wild" - on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of threatened species.

Asian yellow pond turtles were up for sale beside porcupines, most likely from Asia where several species are also critically endangered.

Southern China has long been the centre of a culinary tradition called "wild flavour", which prizes parts of unusual wild animals including tigers, turtles and snakes as a route to health - despite the lack of orthodox scientific evidence proving such benefits exist.

Pangolins - scaly creatures which in the wild lick up ants with tongues longer than their bodies - are protected by the international wildlife trade treaty CITES, to which Beijing is a signatory.

But in parts of China they are prized by new mothers hoping to produce milk, and have become the focus of a vast smuggling industry stretching across Southeast Asia - estimated to traffic tens of thousands of the animals each year.

Beijing first enacted laws in 1989 forbidding trade in scores of creatures including the Chinese pangolin, but has long struggled to enforce the ban as a booming economy has boosted demand.

In April the country's rubber-stamp parliament approved a new interpretation of the 1980s law which could see jail sentences of up to 10 years for those caught eating endangered animals, as well as for sellers.

Meanwhile, state-run media have publicised huge hauls of smuggled animals - with border police in Guangdong province in May shown seizing 956 frozen pangolins, reportedly weighing four tonnes.

Jill Robertson, CEO of Hong Kong-based charity Animals Asia, described the enhanced penalties as a "positive step" but added that "enforcement must be strengthened, and public education and awareness greatly enhanced".

"The illegal wildlife trade in general has become a multi-billion dollar business in China," she said.

But there are signs the threats and increased penalties are having an effect.

Last year a chef surnamed Wang told AFP that his restaurant sold pangolin for 2,000 yuan per half kilo, adding: "We usually braise them, cook it in a stew or make soup, but braising in soy sauce tastes best."

But when AFP recently contacted around a dozen restaurants specialising in "wild flavour" none admitted to selling the meat.

But Tian Yangyang, a researcher for Chinese advocacy group Nature University, pointed out that Guangdong eateries do not generally advertise endangered species but offer them to trusted customers on secret menus.

Last year he sneaked into Guangdong restaurants where he found that eagle and swan were widely available.

"I am not optimistic the the rules will be enforced, because the legal system in China is still not very robust," he said, adding that the trade in protected animals "is getting worse, because it has been driven underground".

For other species, trade is unabated, and at a Guangzhou roadside establishment specialising in snake stew, live king cobras in cages were bestsellers.

The animals are classified as "vulnerable" on the Red List due to habitat loss and "over-exploitation for medicinal purposes".

"Eating this kind of snake is good for the throat and head," said a 17-year-old customer surnamed Wang, as white-hatted chefs decapitated and sliced them up behind a transparent plastic screen.

"I didn't know they were endangered," she added, before tucking in enthusiastically.

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« Reply #356 on: Jul 09, 2014, 05:57 AM »

Those ‘rescued’ Thai elephants tourists ride are actually trafficked

By GlobalPost
Wednesday, July 9, 2014 3:53 EDT

YANGON, Myanmar and CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The selfies show smiles, victory signs and slightly sunburnt skin.

Seated atop a rollicking elephant on a rudimentary platform strapped to the animal’s back, tourists in Thailand take happy snaps as a mahout edges one of Asia’s largest land mammals along with a stick.

But at the end of this stick glints the curve of a blade. Underneath the platform, the elephant’s back is blistered and raw — apt metaphors for the dark underbelly of Thailand’s elephant rides.

The Asian elephant is endangered, and demand by tourists for elephant rides in Thailand is fueling a system of abuse that compounds the threat to its survival, according to a new report from TRAFFIC, a leading international wildlife trade monitoring network.

Tourists often feel good about the elephant rides, having been told that the beasts have been “rescued” for “conservation,” and that the fees they pay will help the animals. Yet watchdogs say young elephants from neighboring Myanmar are being illegally captured and trafficked to Thailand under the protection of legal loopholes for sale into the tourist trade there.

The once-prolific population of wild elephants in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has dwindled to between 4,000 and 5,000 in recent years. Development and deforestation are partly to blame, but capturing wild elephants, previously for logging but now increasingly for tourism, has played a key role in population declines and is now considered a major threat to wild elephants, the report argues.

“In Myanmar, domesticated elephants are used to corral wild animals into pit-traps where older protective members of herds are often killed and the higher value, younger animals taken,” the report reads. “The young are then transported to Thai-Myanmar border areas and then mentally broken and prepared for training before being sold into the tourism industry in Thailand where they are put to work at tourist camps or hotels.”

Thailand has no legislation that specifically addresses this type of animal trafficking, although some efforts have been made in the past to authenticate the origin of tourism elephants. One of the Thai legislation loopholes is the requirement that tourism elephants be registered only after they reach eight years of age, leaving young elephants from Myanmar highly vulnerable to being laundered into the Thai tourist trade.

TRAFFIC’s report recommends urgent reforms so wild and domesticated animals are governed under one law, clarifying responsibilities for management, enforcement and ownership of the animals, including mandatory DNA registration and use of microchips for tracking.

This week CITES, the international body concerned with protection of animals, meets to discuss the progress Thailand has made for protection of elephants.

“The Asian Elephant is the forgotten elephant; it needs government support now more than ever. If the capture and smuggling of calves is not stopped, some of the last great wild populations of the species are at risk of extinction," said Joanna Cary-Elwes, campaigns manager for wildlife NGO Elephant Family.

Travel for Wildlife zoologist Cristina Garcia said that the demand to ride elephants by tourists visiting Thailand underlies systematic abuse of the animals. The price of a young elephant has risen fivefold in recent years to $33,000. Mistreatment of the animals continues once they enter the tourist trade, Garcia said.

“Elephants used in the trekking industry suffer physical effects as they spend their lives carrying people on their backs. Their spines were never designed to carry people, and the weight of the chairs leads to long-term damage,” Garcia said. “Furthermore, the trekking platforms rub on their backs all day long, causing blisters and infection. Not to mention broken legs and foot damage.”

Despite this, wildlife experts say boycotting elephant tourism altogether is unnecessary. Instead they recommend tourists in Thailand and Myanmar wishing to interact with elephants do so through programs that offer ethical opportunities to feed, bathe or walk with the elephants instead of using the animals as a ride.

“If you still want to ride an elephant, you can look out for signs of mistreatment. If the elephants are chained and the mahouts use bull hooks, this is a sign of serious abuse,” Garcia said. “The bottom line is, taking a wild animal and using it for human entertainment is inherently not caring for it appropriately.”

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« Reply #357 on: Jul 15, 2014, 05:51 AM »

Cheetah smuggling driving wild population to extinction, report says

Rising demand for luxury pets in the Gulf states taking gruesome toll as two-thirds of snatched cubs are dying en route

Damian Carrington, Tuesday 15 July 2014 07.00 BST      

The rising trade in cheetahs for luxury pets in the Middle East is helping to drive critical populations of the wild cats to extinction, according to new research. The report also reveals the gruesome toll of the trade, with up to two-thirds of the cheetah cubs being smuggled across the war-torn Horn of Africa dying en route. However, the nations at both ends of the trade have now agreed that urgent action is needed.

Cheetahs, famous as the world’s fastest land animal, have lost about 90% of their population over the last century as their huge ranges in Africa and Asia have been taken over by farmland. Fewer than 10,000 remain and numbers are falling. There is an ancient tradition of using trained cheetahs as royal hunting animals in Africa but, more recently, a growing demand for status-symbol pets in the Gulf states has further reduced populations.

Cheetahs are unusually easy to tame, especially as cubs, and the report found instances in Gulf states of the big cats riding as car passengers, being walked on leashes and even being exercised on treadmills. Other evidence showed cheetahs pacing around living rooms and tussling with their owners, including young children.

“This whole trade had not been appreciated by the public or by the conservation world,” said Nick Mitchell, who contributed to the report for the Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), the first comprehensive overview of the cheetah trade. “If we do not act now on the trade and land-use change, then we can be certainly losing sub-populations in a few years.”

Cheetahs do not breed easily in captivity and the Gulf pet trade is supplied by animals snatched from wild in the Horn of Africa. The distinct sub-species living there numbers about 2,500. The animals are trafficked by boat from Somalia to Yemen and then by road into the Gulf states including Saudi Arabia. “Huge number of cheetahs appear to die in transit,” said Mitchell, who is the eastern African co-ordinator of the Rangewide Conservation Programme for Cheetah and African Wild Dogs, a joint project of the Zoological Society of London and the Wildlife Conservation Fund. “For sure, we are talking about very poor people in the Horn of Africa and they are not too worried about the welfare of the animals.” Seizures of cheetah cubs often number 30 cubs, with 50-70% dying en route. There is also a demand for cheetah-skin shoes in Sudan, where they are considered to confer high-status.

Even more threatened is the cheetah sub-species in Iran, where just 40-100 survive and may also be endangered by the pet trade. Another seriously threatened sub-species lives in north and west Africa, numbering fewer than 250. Here the main threat is from demand for skins for clothing and for bones and body parts used in traditional medicine and magic rituals.

The largest surviving cheetah population - about 6200 - is in Southern Africa. Trophy hunting, costing $10,000-$20,000 (£6,000-£12,000) per animal, is allowed in Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, totalling over 200 kills per year. In South Africa, about 90 live captive-bred cheetahs are exported a year to zoos, although conservationists worry that illegal animals could be passed off as these legally-traded cheetahs.

. The South African government says it is moving towards creating cheetah stud books to enable DNA profiling.

Mitchell said he was “cautiously optimistic” that a new Cites working group, set up in reponse to the report’s revelations, would curb the illegal trade in cheetahs with better law enforcement. “The countries were told ‘you cannot ignore it: this is being monitored’,” he said

David Morgan, head of science at Cites, said: “Middle eastern countries spoke up very clearly and this has been a positive development. Qatar, the Emirates, Kuwait all recognised the problem.”
Cheetah An Asiatic cheetah in Miandasht wildlife refuge in Jajarm, northeastern Iran. Fewer than 100 Asiatic cheetah remain in the wild. Photograph: Vahid Salemi/AP

Morgan said the demand for endangered species, including big cats, was showing a trend from “health to wealth”, ie a growing emphasis on status symbols over traditional medicines. “Many Asian countries still want the trade in medicinal products, but the more show-off element seems to be rising,” he said. “It comes with the rising economies of these countries and that drives up demand. But there are so very few animals left in the wild that they cannot afford a big rise in demand.”

The recent Cites summit, which ended on Friday in Switzerland, also acted on the elephant poaching crisis. “Thailand has been given a last warning.” Morgan said. “They have been put on notice that they have to put their house in order or there will be consequences.” Unless it acts on its domestic ivory trade, a key part of the ivory chain from Africa to China, Thailand will be barred from trade in all wildlife covered by the international Cites agreement, including the lucrative orchid and cacti trades.

Interpol estimates the illegal wildlife trade to be worth $10-20bn a year, the fourth most lucrative black market after drugs, people and arms smuggling. It is already at a scale where it harms people and nations, especially in Africa, with Cites secretary general John Scanlon telling the Guardian in 2013: “It increasingly involves organised crime syndicates, and in some cases rebel militia. This poses a serious threat to the stability and economy of affected countries and robs them of their natural resources. They must be stopped.”

He said: “The UN security council have linked the Lord’s Resistance Army to ivory smuggling in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, while al-Qaida’s al-Shabaab group has been linked to illegal ivory in Somalia.”

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« Reply #358 on: Jul 21, 2014, 06:29 AM »

Delhi’s 30,000 unruly monkeys steal stuff, terrorize people and even kill

By GlobalPost
Sunday, July 20, 2014 13:10 EDT

 So residents have concocted creative (and sometimes nasty) ways to combat them.

NEW DELHI, India — Madi is a bully. He has three-inch canines that glisten when he snarls.

And that’s a good thing, says his owner, Niraj.

Madi is a langur — a large, grey monkey with a black face and ears, endemic to South Asia.

Big and menacing, he’s able to scare off this city’s 30,000 smaller, red-faced rhesus monkeys, to protect the local human population from their naughty and dangerous antics.

Niraj earns his living hauling Madi around India’s capital on his bicycle to scare away monkeys that hang around parks, rob offices (really) and terrorize people.

It’s hard to over-emphasize this point: India’s rhesus monkeys are derelicts. They regularly steal food, alcohol, glasses, medical equipment, and clothes. They even break into cars.

To combat them, the langur men used to be a common sight around Delhi’s political and diplomatic areas, especially during visits by high-ranking foreign officials.

The problem is, it’s illegal to keep langurs. They are a protected species, and in November 2012, the environment ministry cracked down. The ministry told government departments and agencies that langurs are covered by India’s Wildlife Protection Act, and that people who own, trade or hire out langurs face up to three years in jail.

The New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) duly canceled its contracts with around 30 langur men, who were paid about 10,000 rupees (about $165) a month to patrol the city.

A langur rides on an NDMC truck in 2010, when the Delhi authorities deployed a contingent of the large monkeys to chase smaller simians from venues for the Commonwealth Games. (AFP/Getty Images)

Yet Niraj and the other langur men haven't gone away. They still operate, in secret, relying on a black market wildlife trade.

Business is booming.

Many people feed monkeys on Tuesday and Saturdays — days associated with the monkey-faced Hindu god Hanuman. This practice means that people carrying food at other times risk being bitten. Around 90 percent of the monkeys carry tuberculosis.

Children are often more vulnerable to attack, and people have even died as a result. In 2007, New Delhi’s deputy mayor, Surinder Singh Bajwa, perished after being attacked by monkeys at his home. He fell from his terrace, causing a serious head injury.

Since the ban on langurs, government officials have complained that monkeys have wrought havoc by getting into their offices.

So Delhi continues to rely, unofficially, on its langur patrols.

When I met Niraj, he was cycling to a school in Chanakyapuri — the heart of Delhi’s diplomatic district — with his assistant Suraj and his langur, Madi, who was perched on the back of the bike, a rope around his neck.

“They slap the red-face monkeys and scare them away,” Niraj said. “We work for politicians, at their bungalows, everyone. But if you need one on private property, you can.”

When challenged about the langur ban, Niraj claimed there was nothing illegal about owning a langur. He insisted on performing a parody of a traditional Indian greeting, by touching Madi’s feet as a mark of respect. In response, the langur touched his head. Niraj’s assistant held the leash warily.

“The government makes sure we take care of the monkeys so they have injections and medicine and proper care,” he said. “Not anyone can keep a monkey, only with permission of the NDMC.”

Anil Kumar, deputy director of NDMC enforcement, was surprised at this claim.

“We don’t have any langurs. We have monkey catchers. [The monkeys] are taken to a sanctuary in south Delhi. The catchers have a rope in a loop and put it round the monkeys.

“About six months ago we were doing it. Now we do not keep any langurs, nor do we have any private companies working for us.”

When a Hindi-speaking colleague called Niraj back, posing as someone who wanted to buy a langur, Niraj told a different story.

He admitted that he knew the trade was illegal and said that the langurs were kept in secret, often taken undercover in cars to prevent them being spotted by police.

He repeated his claim that Indian politicians flout the ban by hiring him, and he hopes that Narendra Modi’s newly elected Bharatiya Janata Party government might relax the rules and allow langurs to be used again.

Until then, Niraj doesn't advertise his services. Instead he relies on an unofficial network of domestic servants and gardeners employed by Delhi’s richest residents.

Although monkeys are most visible in central Delhi, they are also common in the so-called “farmhouse” areas of south Delhi where expats, politicians and high-ranking Indian executives live.

One executive who lives in a farmhouse spoke to GlobalPost on condition of anonymity.

“We had lots of problems with monkeys,” the executive said. “We had to take steps after my maid’s young daughter was bitten by a monkey. People said to get a langur. But the monkeys mobbed the langur and beat it up. They’re not stupid — they outnumber the langur. We tried all sorts of things and the only thing that really works is a man with a big stick.”

Langurs may be the "good" monkeys, but they still beg. (AFP/Getty Images)

The NDMC and the Delhi government are taking other measures too. The handful of monkey catchers employed by the council round up about 500 a year with their lassos.

India’s Central Zoo Authority has been working with the National Primate Center in California to reduce the monkey population by using contraceptives left in food and sterilization of captured monkeys. A pilot program is taking place in the northern state of Uttarakhand.

And the NDMC has been negotiating with an Indian company to supply electric shock tape for government buildings. The makers of Avi-Simian Shock Tape, which runs off a simple main socket, claim monkeys and birds receive a small electric shock when touching the aluminum wires in the tape.

But for now the monkey population remains in complacent control of New Delhi.

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« Reply #359 on: Jul 22, 2014, 07:26 AM »

South Africa considers plan to move rhinos to protect them from poachers

Kruger national park says goal is to 'spread the risk' because it has been heavily targeted, but no guarantee other parks safer

Associated Press in Johannesburg
The Guardian, Monday 21 July 2014 19.02 BST   
South Africa's Kruger national park is considering a plan to move some rhinos out of the wildlife reserve in an attempt to protect them from poachers.

The goal is to "spread the risk" by evacuating rhinos to other game reserves because Kruger park is heavily targeted by poachers, park spokesman William Mabasa said on Monday. No decision has been made on the proposal and there is no guarantee that other parks are safe, as "poachers are going everywhere", he said. Many poachers cross into Kruger from neighbouring Mozambique, and they are often able to elude ranger teams that operate with limited aerial surveillance across the vast park of 19,485 sq km (7,500 sq miles).

About 560 rhinos have been poached in South Africa so far this year, and well over half were killed in Kruger, in the north-east of the country, the national parks service said earlier this month. About 160 suspected poachers have been arrested in 2014.

South Africa, which has 70% of the world's rhinos, lost a record 1,004 of the animals to poachers in 2013, according to government figures. Conservationists warn that a "tipping point" could come as soon as next year, when rhino deaths exceed births and the population goes into decline.

International criminal syndicates are said to be involved in poaching rhinos, whose horn is worth a fortune on the illegal market in parts of Asia. Some Vietnamese and Chinese view it as a status symbol and a healing agent.

Kruger park, a popular destination for international tourists, has borne the brunt of rhino poaching for years despite international efforts to help conservation efforts there. In March, US philanthropist Howard Buffett, a son of investor Warren Buffett, pledged nearly $24m (£14m) for protecting rhinos, earmarking the money for ranger teams, sniffer dogs and other security measures in one-third of the Kruger park.

Mabasa, the Kruger spokesman, did not say how many rhinos might be moved. The evacuation proposal is being discussed at board level.

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