Others, like around 55 percent of the people who hit the streets for 2014's People's Climate March, are anonymous (s)heroes. In between these extremes are many women who have made a significant individual difference as scientists, inventors or activists and who deserve more recognition for their inspiring efforts.
Here are five women using their unique talents to protect the planet that we at EcoWatch think you should know about.
1. Miranda Wang, Inventor and Entrepreneur, Canada and U.S.
Only nine percent of the world's plastic is actually recycled. The rest is landfilled, burned or discarded into the environment, where it risks joining the eight million metric tons that pollute the world's oceans every year. But Miranda Wang is working to change that.
Together with her high school friend Jeanny Yao, Wang developed a method of using chemicals to break down unrecyclable polyethylene film plastics — such as the infamous plastic bag — into reusable compounds, The Mercury News explained. In 2015, the pair co-founded the company BioCellection when they were just 21 to put their invention into practice.
Wang and Yao first met in their Vancouver, B.C. high school's recycling club, where they visited waste plants.
"[W]hen I visited my first waste plant, the scale of the problem hit me," Wang told UN Environment. "All that waste."
She is now tackling the problem full time as CEO of BioCellection, which is based in Menlo Park, California. She is working on a pilot program with the city of San Jose and its waste handler GreenWaste to integrate her and Yao's innovation into its preexisting system.
"The long-term goal is to be able to recycle all of the city of San Jose's — and other cities' — polyethylene plastic," Wang told The Mercury News.
2. Dr. Paula Kahumbu, Conservationist, Kenya
Dr. Paula Kahumbu, who has been called the "life force" behind Kenya's conservation movement, has been working to protect elephants since she was in her early 20s. She and a group of friends measured every piece in Kenya's ivory stockpile to create an ivory "bonfire" in 1989, The Independent reported.
Since then, she has gone on to earn a Ph.D. at Princeton in ecology and evolutionary biology, to serve as the CEO of Kenyan conservation nonprofit WildlifeDirect, and to launch the successful Hands Off Our Elephants Campaign with Kenyan first lady Margaret Kenyatta in 2014.
"From spending so much time with [elephants], I know they are not just another animal," she told The Independent. "They are beings with personalities; with families; with feelings. It is such a horrendous injustice to allow them to be slaughtered."
Hands Off Our Elephants works to tackle the poaching crisis in Kenya by enacting new laws and making sure they are enforced, working directly with communities to develop conservation strategies that benefit humans and wildlife and building public support in Kenya for elephant conservation. Since it was launched, elephant poaching in the country has decreased by 80 percent and rhino poaching by 90 percent. One of Kahumbu's key insights has been the importance of engaging Africans, and particularly African women, in protecting their continent's unique animals.
"It can be hard for Africans, and especially African women, to be heard in this male-dominated world of Western scientists and academics," she told The Independent. "Maasai women, who have been studying elephants for 20 to 40 years each; should have Ph.D.s [by now], but they don't. There has been a real failure to develop the capacity of the people who are instrumental on the ground."
3. Artemisa Xakriabá, Indigenous Activist, Brazil
The election of right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was a blow to climate action and indigenous rights. So far, he has overseen historic wildfires in the Amazon rainforest and pushed to open indigenous forest reserves to the mining and fossil fuel industries. But indigenous women are fighting back.
Among them is 19-year-old Artemisa Xakriabá, a member of Brazil's Xakriabá tribe. In August, she participated in the first Indigenous Women's March in Brasilia to protest Bolsonaro's anti-environment and anti-indigenous policies, HuffPost reported. She was then chosen by a coalition of South American and East Asian indigenous youth groups to represent their cause at youth climate strikes in New York and Washington, DC last September.
"We, the indigenous peoples, are the children of nature, so we fight for our Mother Earth, because the fight for Mother Earth is the mother of all other fights," she said in New York, as Democracy Now reported. "We are fighting for your lives. We are fighting for our lives."
Xakriabá's activism predates Bolsonaro, however. When she was only seven, she helped her classmates reforest 15 riverside areas near their traditional territory in Minas Gerais in southeast Brazil, according to HuffPost.
In New York, she spoke of the common struggle of all women to protect the earth.
"I am also here as a young woman," she said, as Democracy Now reported, "because there's no difference between an indigenous young female activist like myself and a young indigenous female activist like Greta. Our future is connected by the same threads of the climate crisis."
4. Dr. Maria Caffrey, Scientist and Whistleblower, U.S.
Dr. Maria Caffrey is another woman who stood up to a climate denying administration.
In 2012, the National Park Service (NPS) funded a project she had designed to estimate future sea levels and storm surges at 118 coastal national parks based on different levels of greenhouse gas emissions, as Caffrey wrote for The Guardian. She completed the first draft in the summer of 2016, but then President Donald Trump took office, and the report was delayed. Finally, a colleague told her that all mentions of climate change had been edited out of her report. Senior officials wanted her to approve the changes, and, if she refused, threatened to release the report without climate references, to delete her name or not to publish it at all.
"Each option would have been devastating to my career and for scientific integrity. I stood firm," she wrote. "And I prevailed."
The report was published, but Caffrey paid for her persistence. She received pay cuts and demotions and then, in February 2019, NPS refused to renew her funding, leading Caffrey to file a whistleblower complaint against the administration.
Caffrey also sued the administration and testified before Congress in an attempt to raise awareness about the silencing of scientists.
"Money was never really the point of the lawsuit," Caffrey told Colorado Matters. "The point of the lawsuit is to get on the record and show what the Trump administration is doing to scientists and that that's not OK. And so I think it's important that we stand up and we fight back."
5. Nirupabai, Activist, India
In India, the expansion of coal doesn't just hurt the global climate. Government-owned Coal India and its subsidiaries have bypassed local and international law in evicting people from their homes in order to expand mines in the states of Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh, according to a 2016 Amnesty International report publicized by The Guardian. These evictions particularly target indigenous Adivasi communities, including a woman named Nirupabai whose home was bulldozed in 2014.
"I cried, I screamed, trying to save it," she told The Guardian of the eviction. "All my things, my son's school books, a year's worth of rice, everything was scattered, everything in ruins."
But Nirupabai has gone on to fight the coal company with every means at her disposal, Elle reported. She has picketed company offices, spoken at environmental hearings and she spoke in The Cost of Coal, India's first VR film to be acquired by the UN. What she wants is for Coal India to stop expanding until people like her are compensated for the land they have lost.
"You tell me what will grow on this poor land? Coal is the heart of the earth, but they remove it and say we are the sarkar. What is it that you have in your pocket that you didn't take from our land?" Nirupabai said, according to Elle.
Nirupabai has won one important victory. Coal India usually does not let women who have been displaced by its activities work in the mines because it deems the work unsafe. But a court order filed by another woman, Ratthobai Rathia, has given her the right to work for the land she has lost. Nirupabai isn't done fighting, however.
"I will fight for every last inch," she told Elle.
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By Sara Amundson
Every year, fins from as many as 73 million sharks circulate throughout the world in a complex international market. They are the key ingredient in shark fin soup, a luxury dish considered a status symbol in some Asian cuisines.
The global trade in shark fins is contributing to a crisis among shark populations worldwide. Sharks are being killed 30 percent faster than they can reproduce, and the fin trade is one of the main culprits. Up to one-quarter of all species of sharks and their relatives are at risk of extinction. Some shark populations have declined by nearly 90 percent in recent decades. The disappearance of sharks can harm fragile ocean ecosystems, because as top predators, sharks help balance the populations of species below them in the food chain.
Additionally, many of the fins traded are obtained through the brutal, inhumane practice known as finning, in which fishers at sea catch sharks, slice off their fins and throw the animals — usually still alive — back into the water. Unable to swim without their fins, the sharks drown, bleed to death or are eaten alive by other fish. Because space on boats is limited and fins are by far the most valuable part of the shark, fishers have an incentive to use this cruel method to get fins.
However, the tide is turning against the shark fin trade.
In November 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives issued a resounding bipartisan "no" to this cruel practice, voting 310 to 107 to pass a bill banning commercial trade of shark fins and products derived from shark fins in the U.S. The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, led by Representatives Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-Northern Mariana Islands) and Michael McCaul (R-Texas), would prohibit all purchase, sale and possession for commercial purposes of these parts and products. The legislation builds on previous laws passed by Congress — the Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000 and the Shark Conservation Act of 2010 — which banned the act of shark finning in U.S. waters and the transport on U.S.-flagged vessels of shark fins not naturally attached to a shark carcass.The action has now moved to the U.S. Senate, where a third of the members have sponsored a parallel bill, S. 877, introduced by Senators Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia). Already the Senate Commerce Committee has cleared this bill for potential floor action.
States are also taking up the fight. In January, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill into law that bans the sale and trade of shark fins in the Garden State. The state's general assembly had approved the bill by a vote of 54 to 19, and the state's senate passed its version of the bill by a vote of 33 to 6. These vote tallies reflect the will of the state's constituents: In a recent survey, a majority of New Jersey voters said they would support a prohibition on the sale, possession and trade of shark fins.
New Jersey now joins 13 other states, including all of its coastal neighbors, and three U.S. territories that have passed legislation to ban or limit the sale of shark fins — American Samoa, California, Delaware, Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, the Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington.
The current to stop the shark fin trade is also flowing internationally. In June 2019, Canada, the largest importer of shark fins outside Asia, passed a bill that includes measures to prohibit that country's trade in shark fins as well as the act of finning in Canadian waters. Worldwide, nearly 60 airlines and container shipping companies — including Air China, Eastern Air Logistics (the parent company of four major Chinese airlines) and Maersk, the world's largest shipping line — have banned the transport of shark fins. Many high-end restaurants and hotel chains in Asia have also stopped serving shark fin soup. Demand for the soup is declining but not quickly enough to save sharks on its own.
While finning in U.S. waters is already prohibited, current law is not enough because once shark fins are on land, they can be sold. Furthermore, U.S. participation in the global fin market continues to fuel the practice in places that lack shark-finning bans or adequate shark management and conservation policies.
It is impossible to guarantee that shark fins are humanely and sustainably sourced. That is because once a fin is detached, it is impossible to know where it was obtained, or whether it was sliced off a shark at sea or removed after the shark was brought to shore. It is also difficult to determine the species of the shark. For the most part, shark fins sold in the U.S. do not come from U.S. fishers. Because of this, fins sold here can come from sharks that were finned, or from endangered or threatened shark species.
Our role is magnified by the fact that the U.S. is a major transit hub for international shark fin shipments. Latin America is one of the most significant shark fin-producing regions, and many of these countries transport shark fins through U.S. ports. Some Latin American nations ship as much as one-third to one-half of all their shark fin exports through the U.S. In fact, on February 3, almost 1,400 pounds of dried shark fins worth around $1 million were found by wildlife inspectors in Miami. The shipment is believed to have originated in South America and was likely headed to Asia.
Still, banning the shark fin trade in the United States has its opponents. They argue that U.S. shark fisheries are already well managed. In reality, however, fewer than 20 percent of U.S. shark stocks are considered sustainable. They also argue that it is wasteful for fishers to land a shark and not be able to sell its fins. By that standard, not selling the ivory from a dead elephant is wasteful, too — but as a nation, we have decided that the broad well-being of all elephants supersedes that pernicious use of their tusks.
Fishing industry advocates claim that banning the fin trade would have harmful economic impacts. The truth is, though, that sharks are worth much more alive than dead. In 2016, shark-related diving in Florida produced more than $221 million in revenues and more than 3,700 jobs. Moreover, fishers would still be able to sell the meat and other products from the sharks they land. In states where the shark fin trade has been banned, there is no evidence of negative impacts to the commercial fishing industry.
Finally, some believe we can address the shark crisis not by changing our own practices, but simply by requiring other countries to improve their shark fishing methods. The latter is an unrealistic goal. The low percentage of U.S. shark stocks known to be sustainable underscores how difficult fisheries are to manage, even here in one of the world's richest and most technologically advanced nations. Additionally, when the U.S. leads, other countries follow. After we banned commercial trade in ivory, many other nations followed suit, including China, the European Union and Australia.
Simply put, the U.S. must remove itself from the cruel and ecologically damaging global shark fin trade. Americans overwhelmingly oppose it, and we are in a position to set an example for the rest of the world.
Join the wave for a U.S. shark fin ban. Call your two U.S. senators and ask them to support S. 877, the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act.
Sharks are worth more alive than in a bowl of soup.
Sara Amundson is the president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the 501(c)4 legislative and political organization affiliated with the Humane Society of the United States. In this capacity, she manages political and legislative activity for the organization. She has testified before the U.S. Congress and in various state legislatures on a variety of animal protection legislation.
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Throughout Texas, there are a number of solar power companies that can install solar panels on your roof to take advantage of the abundant sunlight. But which solar power provider should you choose? In this article, we'll provide a list of the best solar companies in the Lone Star State.
Our Picks for the Best Texas Solar Companies
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Sunpro Solar
- Longhorn Solar, Inc.
- Solartime USA
- Kosmos Solar
- Sunshine Renewable Solutions
- Alba Energy
- Circle L Solar
- South Texas Solar Systems
- Good Faith Energy
How We Chose the Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
There are a number of factors to keep in mind when comparing and contrasting different solar providers. These are some of the considerations we used to evaluate Texas solar energy companies.
Different solar companies may provide varying services. Always take the time to understand the full range of what's being offered in terms of solar panel consultation, design, installation, etc. Also consider add-ons, like EV charging stations, whenever applicable.
When meeting with a representative from one of Texas' solar power companies, we would always encourage you to ask what the installation process involves. What kind of customization can you expect? Will your solar provider use salaried installers, or outsourced contractors? These are all important questions to raise during the due diligence process.
Texas is a big place, and as you look for a good solar power provider, you want to ensure that their services are available where you live. If you live in Austin, it doesn't do you much good to have a solar company that's active only in Houston.
Pricing and Financing
Keep in mind that the initial cost of solar panel installation can be sizable. Some solar companies are certainly more affordable than others, and you can also ask about the flexible financing options that are available to you.
To guarantee that the renewable energy providers you select are reputable, and that they have both the integrity and the expertise needed, we would recommend assessing their status in the industry. The simplest way to do this is to check to see whether they are North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certified or belong to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) or other industry groups.
Types of Panels
As you research different companies, it certainly doesn't hurt to get to know the specific products they offer. Inquire about their tech portfolio, and see if they are certified to install leading brands like Tesla or Panasonic.
Rebates and Tax Credits
There are a lot of opportunities to claim clean energy rebates or federal tax credits which can help with your initial solar purchase. Ask your solar provider for guidance navigating these different savings opportunities.
Going solar is a big investment, but a warranty can help you trust that your system will work for decades. A lot of solar providers provide warranties on their technology and workmanship for 25 years or more, but you'll definitely want to ask about this on the front end.
The 10 Best Solar Energy Companies in Texas
With these criteria in mind, consider our picks for the 10 best solar energy companies in TX.
SunPower is a solar energy company that makes it easy to make an informed and totally customized decision about your solar power setup. SunPower has an online design studio where you can learn more about the different options available for your home, and even a form where you can get a free online estimate. Set up a virtual consultation to speak directly with a qualified solar installer from the comfort of your own home. It's no wonder SunPower is a top solar installation company in Texas. They make the entire process easy and expedient.
Sunpro Solar is another solar power company with a solid reputation across the country. Their services are widely available to Texas homeowners, and they make the switch to solar effortless. We recommend them for their outstanding customer service, for the ease of their consultation and design process, and for their assistance to homeowners looking to claim tax credits and other incentives.
Looking for a solar contractor with true Texas roots? Longhorn Solar is an award-winning company that's frequently touted as one of the best solar providers in the state. Their services are available in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio, and since 2009 they have helped more than 2,000 Texans make the switch to energy efficiency with solar. We recommend them for their technical expertise, proven track record, and solar product selection.
Solartime USA is another company based in Texas. In fact, this family-owned business is located in Richardson, which is just outside of Dallas. They have ample expertise with customized solar energy solutions in residential settings, and their portfolio of online reviews attests to their first-rate customer service. We love this company for the simplicity of their process, and for all the guidance they offer customers seeking to go solar.
Next on our list is Kosmos Solar, another Texas-based solar company. They're based in the northern part of the state, and highly recommended for homeowners in the area. They supply free estimates, high-quality products, custom solar designs, and award-winning personal service. Plus, their website has a lot of great information that may help guide you while you determine whether going solar is right for you.
Sunshine Renewable Solutions is based out of Houston, and they've developed a sterling reputation for dependable service and high-quality products. They have a lot of helpful financing options, and can show you how you can make the switch to solar in a really cost-effective way. We also like that they give free estimates, so there's certainly no harm in learning more about this great local company.
"Powered by the Texas sun." That's the official tagline of Alba Energy, a solar energy provider that's based out of Katy, TX. They have lots of great information about solar panel systems and solar solutions, including solar calculators to help you tabulate your potential energy savings. Additionally, we recommend Alba Energy because all of their work is done by a trusted, in-house team of solar professionals. They maintain an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, and they have rave reviews from satisfied customers.
Circle L Solar has a praiseworthy mission of helping homeowners slash their energy costs while participating in the green energy revolution. This is another company that provides a lot of great information, including energy savings calculators. Also note that, in addition to solar panels, Circle L Solar also showcases a number of other assets that can help you make your home more energy efficient, including windows, weatherization services, LED lighting, and more.
You can tell by the name that South Texas Solar Systems focuses its service area on the southernmost part of the Lone Star State. Their products include a wide range of commercial and residential solar panels, as well as "off the grid" panels for homeowners who want to detach from public utilities altogether. Since 2007, this company has been a trusted solar energy provider in San Antonio and beyond.
Good Faith Energy is a certified installer of Tesla solar technology for homeowners throughout Texas. This company is really committed to ecological stewardship, and they have amassed a lot of goodwill thanks to their friendly customer service and the depth of their solar expertise. In addition to Tesla solar panels, they can also install EV charging stations and storage batteries.
What are Your Solar Financing Options in Texas?
We've mentioned already that going solar requires a significant investment on the front-end. It's worth emphasizing that some of the best solar companies provide a range of financing options, allowing you to choose whether you buy your system outright, lease it, or pay for it in monthly installments.
Also keep in mind that there are a lot of rebates and state and federal tax credits available to help offset starting costs. Find a Texas solar provider who can walk you through some of the different options.
How Much Does a Solar Energy System Cost in Texas?
How much is it going to cost you to make that initial investment into solar power? It varies by customer and by home, but the median cost of solar paneling may be somewhere in the ballpark of $13,000. Note that, when you take into account federal tax incentives, this number can fall by several thousand dollars.
And of course, once you go solar, your monthly utility bills are going to shrink dramatically… so while solar systems won't pay for themselves in the first month or even the first year, they will ultimately prove more than cost-effective.
Finding the Right Solar Energy Companies in TX
Texas is a great place to pursue solar energy companies, thanks to all the natural sunlight, and there are plenty of companies out there to help you make the transition. Do your homework, compare a few options, and seek the solar provider that's right for you. We hope this guide is a helpful jumping-off point as you try to get as much information as possible about the best solar companies in Texas.
Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. He covers natural health, nutrition, supplements, and clean energy. His writing has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.
The United Nations famously protects cultural heritage sites, but for the first time it has recognized the unique culture of animals.
At the 13th Conference of Parties (CoP) to the United Nations Environment Program's (UNEP) Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), which took place recently in India, the conference attendees agreed to protect the ability of West African chimpanzees to crack nuts, according to Down to Earth magazine.
The CMS recognized the unique learned ability of chimpanzees to use stone hammers and bits of wood to crack nuts, making this the first time, it seems, that one species has formally recognized the value of another's learned customs, according to The Times of London.
The proposal recognized that there are 39 cultural variations that are recognized in chimpanzees across various regions of Africa, but it said, "[a]mong these, the clearest instance was nut-cracking, common in the West, yet absent elsewhere despite the availability of the necessary raw materials."
The CMS is looking to create something similar to a cultural heritage site, where chimpanzee nut-cracking is protected. The CMS said it highlights the chimpanzees' "unique technological culture," as CNN reported.
The ability to use stone and wood as a hammer and anvil is only observed in chimpanzees in West Africa. The CMS said that chimps in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Ivory Coast have the ability, but those in other parts of Africa do not, according to CNN.
"In different parts of western Africa, scientists noted that chimpanzees interacted with each other and used tools, so their behaviors are different from other animals. It becomes apparent when you watch them for a while," said Ian Redmond, a CMS tropical field biologist and conservationist, to Down to Earth. "You can tell where a chimpanzee is from by looking at its behavior in a way similar to when you recognize which tribe a human comes from through her clothes, dancing and mannerisms."
The need to protect chimpanzees is particularly pronounced now that their habitat is rapidly changing due to the climate crisis and industrial nut farming.
"[We] must expect [nut cracking culture] to suffer a high degree of threat, a situation that is reminiscent of cultural extinctions among humans, such as of relatively rare local languages and other customs," the CMS wrote in its proposal. "Alternatively, such behavioral plasticity could enhance survival prospects of chimpanzees in marginal habitat or subject to climate-induced changes to vegetation."
Ian Redmond also touted the unique ability to crack nuts as fundamental to survival during the climate crisis. Recognizing that ability and protecting it is a novel method of conservation. He told Down to Earth, "The ability to crack nuts means chimpanzees can survive in forests which in dry seasons don't have much other food. So it becomes a survival skill. Because of climate change, there are longer dry seasons. So these chimpanzees have a better chance of survival. We need to know which tribes behave like this. It is also an issue of competition. If local human communities harvest the same nuts or fell trees for timber, we lose chimpanzee culture. So it becomes a novel criterion for conservation."
The CMS also noted that the primitive tools of the chimpanzees provide a window into our own evolution. The CMS wrote in its proposal:
"Moreover, the culture of nut-cracking merits conservation for reasons beyond that focused only on the species and the activity itself. One major value is that it shares many features with percussive stone tool making that occupied over three million years of hominin evolution, and it has accordingly offered insights into potential evolutionary foundations of this aspect of our human past."
Redmond also noted to Down to Earth that recognizing a learned, cultural behavior will change conservation moving forward, since the skills the elderly chimps teach the younger ones are critical to the survival of the culture.
"So, one potential conservation implication might be that in populations of species that have cultural knowledge, you actually want to target your conservation actions at elders, contrary to usual practice which suggests that post-reproductive animals are not useful anymore," he said.
The death echoes the infamous killing of "Cecil the Lion" by an American hunter in Zimbabwe in 2015, Reuters pointed out. Cecil was also a research animal who was supposed to be off limits to hunters. The incident also comes around six months after Botswana lifted a five-year ban on the hunting of elephants.
"We wish to re-assure the public that the Ministry will work with the hunting industry to ensure that the necessary ethical standards are upheld at all times," the Botswana government wrote in a statement Saturday.
The statement identified the hunters as Michael Lee Potter and Kevin Sharp. Potter is a professional hunter while Sharp held a citizen's hunting license, the government said in an earlier statement. Saturday's statement said the two hunters had voluntarily surrendered their hunting licenses to the Department of Wildlife and National Parks. Sharp's suspension will last three years while Potter's is indefinite. The two hunters will also replace the collar.
Neither Reuters nor BBC News could determine the hunters' nationalities, and neither was able to obtain a comment from the two men.
The government first announced the news of the killing on Friday. It said that the incident occurred Nov. 24 in a controlled hunting area, and that the hunters claimed not to have seen the collar.
"They allege that one of the bulls approached them and they shot at it. The professional hunter claimed that the collar was not visible as the elephant was in a full-frontal position. Once the animal was down, they realized it had a collar on it placed for research purposes," the statement said.
"The government should investigate this incident and send a strong message to professional hunters. His license should also be revoked," Fitt said at the time.
When Botswana lifted its elephant hunting ban, it said it would put quotas in place for certain areas and issue around 400 licenses a year. It said the decision was made because of an increase in conflict between elephants and humans, BBC News explained. Elephants can damage crops and sometimes kill people if they enter farms or villages.
But conservationists spoke out against lifting the ban, and some argued that hunting would only stress elephants and make them more dangerous to humans.
Almost one third of Africa's elephants live in Botswana, according to The Independent. In the country, the number of elephants has risen from 80,000 in the late 1990s to 130,000 today. But elephants on the rest of the continent have not been so lucky. Their numbers have fallen from more than one million in 1980 to slightly more than 300,000. This is mostly due to poaching for ivory. Around 40 elephants are killed for it every day.
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By John R. Platt
Earlier this month a team of scientists announced they've developed a high-tech way to help save rhinos from poachers: They propose fabricating fake horns out of horse hair (which is also composed of inert keratin, like human fingernails) and then flooding the illegal market with their products, thereby lowering the price of powdered rhino horns so much that no one will ever want to kill another rhino again.
This isn't the first time someone's come up with the well-intentioned (yet illogical) idea of creating fake rhino horn, and it probably won't be the last. But it should be the last, because there are several reasons why this concept, no matter how it's executed, is doomed to fail.
Let's explore them.
Perhaps most obviously, selling fake rhino horn doesn't do anything to address the end-user demand for these illegal products, which are driven by either fortunes or phony medicinal claims. These are ultimately the reasons rhinos and many other species are poached in the first place. As a result the best way to eliminate the financial incentive to sell these wildlife products is to get consumers to understand why they shouldn't be buying them in the first place. We've already seen this work; conservationists have finally started to make headway on curbing the shark-fin trade in China after extensive public-awareness campaigns called attention to the dangers the practice poses to people and marine ecosystems. Similar initiatives have started to help chip away at consumer demand for rhino horns there as well (thanks, Jackie Chan).
Progress still needs to be made on reducing the market for products from those species, as well as with other heavily trafficked animals such as pangolins, but that's another reason why purposefully selling fake rhino horns is wrong: The more you say that any aspect of the market for rhino horn is okay, which is what happens when you put these fake products (or limited real products) up for sale, the more it will expand the market. We've seen this before in the surge of elephant poaching after a one-off sale of ivory tusks in 2008, which was meant to flood the market and reduce the profitability of poaching but horrifically backfired. Elephants had begun to recover before that, and now they're in crisis. Rhinos are already in crisis — do we want to make things even worse?
On a broader and similar note, creating fake substitutes ignores a major aspect of what drives sales of many of these wildlife products. In traditional Asian medicine, "wild" products are considered more potent — and therefore more valuable — than anything that comes out of a lab or from a farm. That's why China still has trouble commercializing its vast network of tiger farms (yes, you read that right). Consumers want wild products, so even if you do succeed in commercializing "fake" or farmed products, it will tend to normalize demand for all these biological byproducts and further drive desire for "prestige" animals poached from their native habitats.
Meanwhile some well-healed people are actually investing in the possibility of extinction. Rich consumers in China and other countries have been known to buy rhino horns, tiger bones, live tortoises and other species in anticipation that a species will become rarer or even go extinct in the wild, therefore making their assets even more valuable. That threat will never evaporate through the addition of fake products on the marketplace — because, yes, extinction is profitable.
Confiscated rhino horns about to be burned.
Joanna Gilkeson / USFWS
Let's get to the ethical aspects of this trade in fakes. For one thing many consumers — those who actually use powdered rhino horn as "medicine" instead of holding on to it for eventual sale — are already being exploited. They're buying into false claims that rhino horn has curative qualities, including the recent and spurious assertion that it can treat cancer. By selling fake rhino horns, you become complicit in that lie and directly harm people who could, and should, seek more appropriate and effective medical care.
Another ethical quandary: How are you going to get these products into the black market without putting your undercover operatives in direct harm from the violent criminals who run wildlife trafficking networks? And do we really think anyone's going to be able to squeeze these products into the same illegal market that professional law-enforcement operations haven't been able to shut down? The chances of success there seem slim — and potentially dangerous.
Finally let's address the invisible gorilla in the room: Selling fake rhino horn doesn't do anything to resolve the inequality that inspires poaching. More often than not, people hunt illegally to support their families. The monies they get from poaching may mean the difference between comfortable living and going hungry. Sure, their pay comes from the people higher up the clandestine ladder — and sure, some poachers are more criminally minded themselves — but if we want to solve the problem of poaching, we always have to factor in the fate of people on the ground.
Having said all this, I have to point out that the current idea to sell fake rhino horns is just lab science. The researchers fully acknowledge that they don't have an actual initiative to get these products into the market. They say it's up to someone else to actually figure out how to make their idea a reality — so for now it's basically a thought exercise, not a concrete plan.
I have a better idea: Let's leave this fake horn concept in the lab where it belongs and commit to more practical initiatives to help rhinos — and people — in threatened habitats, where real assistance is desperately needed. With poaching and illegal trafficking still running rampant, rhinos don't have time left for anything less.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
Typically, conservationists use a methodology called population viability analysis (PVA), a species-specific risk assessment that considers when a particular population will go extinct given certain perimeters. A new study published in the Journal of Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution suggests that basing conservation decisions simply on low population counts in slow-breeding animals could cause irrevocable decline.
"Critical thresholds in so-called vital rates — such as mortality and fertility rates among males and females of various ages — can signal an approaching population collapse long before numbers drop below a point of no return," said lead author Dr. Shermin de Silva, adding that conservation efforts for megafauna should be aimed at maintaining their "demographic safe space." That is, a combination of key vital rates, such as offspring survival rate and habitat loss, that support population increases rather than short-term trends in population size and distribution
To come to this conclusion, de Silva and her team analyzed endangered Asian elephants as a case study, whose populations are thought to have been halved in less than a century. Today there are fewer than 50,000 wild Asian elephants, in part because they breed extremely slowly — oftentimes just one calf every six years or more. Mathematical modeling of near-optimal reproduction and high survival rates for calves determined that Asian elephant populations cannot tolerate losing more than 7.5 percent of females annually.
It leads to something de Silva calls a "demographic tipping point," the combination of vital rates that helps us understand how populations are impacted by a variety of environmental and human influences.
"Even large populations, if in decline, will eventually pass a point of no return that is difficult to predict in advance. Rather than wait for this eventuality, we suggest that demographic tipping points, and the corresponding safe spaces they define, can offer impetus to act early even when data are scarce," write the authors. Basing conservation approaches off of current trends in population and range is misleading for these types of animals because "short-term fluctuations may mask long-term trends" and even decisions made with the best of intentions may be ill-informed.
Their large body size makes the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) an influential and vulnerable member of the ecosystem whose threats include overharvest, habitat loss and their time-consuming lifecycle. These megafauna need "proactive management" well before their numbers become critically low.
"But while the attention of the world has been focused on the ivory trade, for critically endangered Asian elephant populations the greatest threat is habitat loss — followed by illegal trade in live animals and parts," said de Silva, adding that habitat loss creates an "extinction debt" that slows down birth rates and increases mortalities. For these long-living species that are slow-to-breed, even small changes can make a profound difference.
This application of conservation could also be applied to other keystone species like giraffes, rhinos and eastern gorillas.
U.S. officials have announced that giraffes may qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act following a lawsuit filed by conservation groups at the end of last year. https://t.co/iNWSKOcqAl#EndangeredSpeciesAct #Giraffes #ESA #Conservation— Faunawatch (@faunawatch) May 14, 2019
Correction: An earlier version of this story inaccurately referred to de Silva as a "him" instead of "her." The story has been corrected
By Jason Bittel
Authorities in Hong Kong intercepted some questionable cargo three years ago — a rather large shipment of shark fins that had originated in Panama. Shark fins are a hot commodity among some Asian communities for their use in soup, and most species are legally consumed in Hong Kong, but certain species are banned from international trade due to their extinction risk. And wouldn't you know it: this confiscated shipment contained nearly a ton of illegal hammerhead fins.
But all that hammerhead contraband should never have made it to China in the first place. Because after the cargo left Panama, it made a stop in Houston, where trade in shark fins of any species, endangered or not, is forbidden. And while the ship's bill of lading didn't specify any illegal species onboard, it did note the presence of dried seafood, including fish maws, shark fins, and shark tails. U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials in Houston could have inspected such cargo to ensure it complied with state, federal, and international regulations — but nobody did. (We'll get to why in a moment).
This isn't a problem only in Houston. That 2016 Panama shipment is just one of dozens discovered by NRDC (onEarth's publisher) in a recent report titled, Unintentional Partner: How the United States Helps the Illegal Shark Fin Market.
In their research, the report's authors made Freedom of Information Act requests; sought information from foreign conservation partners such as OceanaPeru and Costa Rica–based MarViva; and conducted interviews with various U.S. agencies, including Customs and Border Protection, the Food and Drug Administration, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. They learned that shark fins move through the U.S. by air, land, and sea. They pass through huge international ports like Los Angeles, Miami, and Seattle as well as landlocked airports like those in Atlanta and Memphis. They even make pit stops in places like Pipersville, Pennsylvania. The smuggled fins tend to come from the waters off Central and South America, and most are destined for Hong Kong.
From 2010 to 2017, the U.S. unintentionally played middleman to somewhere between 650 and 772 tons of shark fin exports, accounting for as many as 1.29 million sharks. (The exact number of sharks is difficult to determine, since most of the records NRDC managed to obtain expressed shipment size by weight, not individual parts, and different conditions translate into different weights per piece. Frozen fins weigh more than dried fins, for example).
"When we let these shark fin shipments pass through our borders without monitoring them, the U.S. becomes a weak link," says report coauthor Elizabeth Murdock, director of the NRDC's Pacific Oceans Initiative.
It doesn't have to be this way. The U.S. has a stronger legal framework and more regulatory resources than most of the world. If anything, we should be one of the strongest links in the fight against a black market trade that threatens marine biodiversity.
Back in 2000, the U.S. banned shark finning, the practice of cutting a shark's fins off and then dumping the animal back into the ocean. But it is still legal in many states to catch a shark, bring it back to shore, and cut it up into parts including fins, steaks, and other marketable items. (Possessing or selling shark fins is not always illegal — just when the fins come from species protected by the Endangered Species Act or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).
Each year, tens of millions of sharks wind up on hooks and in nets, many of which belong to Americans. According to NRDC's report, the number of sharks we land each year makes us the seventh-largest shark-fishing nation in the world. Still, scientists seem to agree that the U.S. is doing a pretty good job of managing its shark populations. A study published in 2017 in the journal Current Biology listed America's Alaskan skate, blacktip shark, and spiny dogfish fisheries (among others) as "bright spots of sustainable shark fishing." Indeed, countries such as the U.S., Australia, Canada, and New Zealand are leading the world when it comes to harvesting sharks in ways that don't drive them toward extinction. However, the unfortunate fact remains that the vast majority (91 percent) of the world's shark fisheries are unsustainable.
Silky shark. NOAA / Teachers at Sea Program
For instance, a study of Hong Kong's market, published last year in Conservation Letters, found that silky sharks were the second-most commonly sold species there from 2014 to 2016. The animals are considered vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. And close behind the silkies, ranking fourth and fifth, were scalloped hammerheads (endangered) and smooth hammerheads (vulnerable). All three species are listed under Appendix II of CITES, which strictly regulates their trade. The study also found evidence of illegal hammerhead fins in 46 out of 46 sampling events in Hong Kong.
The U.S. obviously can't control what happens in every market all over the world. But we could be doing more to watch over what's moving in and out of our own ports.
Part of the answer is logistics, says Murdock. Better communication among agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Customs and Border Protection, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration could help. Some budgetary improvements could also be made — currently, wildlife shipments are mandated to funnel through just 17 U.S. ports that have the appropriate inspection personnel.
But honestly, a lot of the problem comes down to wording.
As cargo, shark fins are not required to route through one of those 17 ports if they are not "unloaded." If that's the case, those fins can move along without a second glance. At the same time, products that qualify as "seafood" are also exempt from special port inspection unless the species involved requires a permit under the Endangered Species Act (which lists only the two hammerhead species mentioned above) or CITES (which lists only 14 of the more than 400 shark species known to science). The hammerhead fins in Hong Kong were listed as "dried seafood," which is one of the reasons why they were able to pass through Houston without closer inspection.
Murdock says sharks slip through a legal loophole because they qualify as both wildlife and seafood. This makes shark products even more difficult to regulate than, say, elephant ivory or rhino horn. "It's not a new problem," says environmental consultant David Shiffman, a marine conservation biologist at Arizona State University, "but it's one that doesn't get a lot of attention."
"One of the things is just how it's coded," Shiffman says. "In some countries shark is counted as 'seafood, frozen,' and in some cases it's 'shark fins,' and in some cases it's shark fins from a particular species. But it's not consistent from country to country, and it's not necessarily consistent from year to year, and that makes it really hard to keep track of this stuff."
So how do we help close these loopholes? Murdock says routing all shark fin shipments through the ports where officials have capacity to inspect them properly should become standard operating procedure. (This measure alone wouldn't stop every illegal wildlife shipment; Houston, after all, is one of those ports). A full-on federal ban against the shark fin trade wouldn't hurt either, she says. (Twelve states, such as Texas and California, have so far banned the shark fin trade within their borders). Other recommendations from the report are more international in scope, including ratcheting up the existing CITES resolutions; improving enforcement of fishing laws in nations where the shark products typically originate; and generally more, more, and still more partnerships between countries.
"It's clear that it's only going to get solved through international collaboration, because some of the countries from which these shipments are coming have a lot less capacity for law enforcement and inspections and monitoring than the United States does," says Murdock. So by stepping up efforts on our own shores, we can also help keep things on the up-and-up all over the world.
Shiffman says the report "has some excellent recommendations of what we should do about this," but he'd really like to see more data on how prevalent the problem is. And so would Murdock. She and her colleagues have had to scratch and claw for roughly two years to bring as many cases to the surface as they have.
"We're confident that this is just the tip of the iceberg," says Murdock. "It's just hard to know how big the iceberg is."
- Sea Shepherd Uncovers Huge Shipments of Shark Fins - EcoWatch ›
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Six months: That's how much time Mexico now has to report on its progress to save the critically endangered vaquita porpoise (Phocoena sinus) from extinction.
It's a time-sensitive deadline. After years of decline, as few as 6 to 19 vaquitas survive in their only home, the Gulf of California. Also known as the Sea of Cortez, the gulf lies between mainland Mexico and Baja California — and the porpoises' population there has slowly but steadily been wiped out over the past decade. First these gentle, blunt-faced porpoises were killed by shrimp fishermen, who accidentally caught the "sea cows" in their large gillnets. More recently they've fallen to poachers seeking a rare fish called the totoaba (Totoaba mcdonaldi).
Totoaba swim bladders sell for up to $20,000 each in China, where they're considered a delicacy and are used in traditional medicine. The bladders are frequently smuggled through the U.S. before heading to Asian consumer markets.
With transnational criminal cartels leading the totoaba poaching and distribution, and with time running out for vaquita, the future for both species "looks very bleak indeed," says Richard Thomas, global communications coordinator for TRAFFIC, an NGO focusing on wildlife trade.
Conservationists have urged Mexico to protect the vaquita for years, and the country and its allies have taken many steps along the way, but the species' population has continued to decline. As a result the international community has now finally put a bit of real pressure on the Mexican government. According to an agreement established this August at the 18th triennial meeting of the member parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Mexico, in collaboration with the U.S. and China, must now work to eliminate both the supply and consumer demand for totoaba and support a program to remove destructive gillnets from the fishery in the Gulf of California. The three nations promised to meet about these goals in the next few months.
"Urgent measures include maintaining net-free zones, round-the-clock patrolling of these areas with removal of all gillnets — and protection for those carrying out these tasks — and arrest and prosecution of illegal fishers," says Thomas.
Mexico, meanwhile, must improve its enforcement of existing laws by Nov. 30 and report on its progress to the CITES Secretariat every six months. The first report will be due in early 2020.
#Vaquita & #Totoaba #CITESCoP18 Mexico US & China agreed Parties would eliminate supply & demand & support gillnet… https://t.co/aOWfSJ5wsa— Ivonne Higuero (@Ivonne Higuero)1566860314.0
"Mexico took this, I think, with a lot of commitment, but also wanted the other parties to recognize the efforts that have been done in the country as well," says Adrian Router, Latin American wildlife trafficking coordinator at the Wildlife Conservation Society. "It's not that Mexico had done nothing — there's a long, long list of things they have done — but obviously it's been insufficient."
If these new efforts don't roll out fast enough, or if vaquita continue to die, Mexico could conceivably face international sanctions that would prevent it from exporting some of its most profitable native plants or animals, specifically those species currently listed on what's known as CITES Appendix II.
CITES, an international treaty covering wildlife trade among 183 member nations, protects threatened species by placing them on two lists that regulate trade. The first, Appendix I, bans all international trade in endangered plants and animals. The second, Appendix II, allows trade, but only of specimens from proven-sustainable populations.
Blocking Mexico from legally exporting its Appendix II species — a step advocated for by several conservation organizations in the lead-up to CITES — is actually a pretty significant threat. More than 2,300 Mexican plants and animalsappear on CITES Appendix II, including some coveted species and products such as bighorn sheep hunting trophies, mahogany wood and shark fins.
Other species on the list include boa constrictors, iguanas, corals, spider monkeys and dozens of kinds of orchid.
CITES sanctions, however, don't happen very often. One of the few noteworthy examples occurred in 2013, when CITES threatened to sanction Thailand if the country didn't reduce the amount of illegal ivory for sale there. (The threat worked, by the way. The amount of ivory available in Bangkok markets dropped 96 percent by 2016.)
But progress for the vaquita will be much tougher to achieve because of the violent cartels dominating the trade. "The vaquita and the totoaba are a good example of how things can go really, really bad for biodiversity when the commodity is really high-value and organized crime gets involved," says Reuter.
"It's a big, big challenge," he adds. "As we know, the totoaba bladder trade involves transnational, highly organized networks. It's a high-value commodity. It requires actions being taken like for addressing any other serious crime committed by organized cartels and organizations. Sometimes that's difficult because it requires lots of resources, staff and coordination that — in many instances, not just in Mexico but in many other countries in the region — are not available to tackle environmental crimes."
With the time for action growing increasingly tight, will we see any progress on saving the vaquita from extinction? Reuter says he'll be watching to see what happens by the end of the year, especially to find out if the proposed meeting between Mexico, the United States and China actually takes place. "If it does, it would be a very good forum to follow up on what happened," he says.
Meanwhile there's both good news and a stark reminder about the need for action. Last month the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society reported that scientists had, over the course of a few weeks, observed six vaquitas in the Gulf of California, an important confirmation that the animals still exist. "It is excellent to see these vaquitas are well fed, plump and healthy looking," vaquita researcher Barbara Taylor said in a press release. "This invigorates the resolve for Mexico to protect their species."
Demonstrators with The Animal Welfare Institute hold a rally to save the vaquita, the world's smallest and most endangered porpoise, outside the Mexican Embassy in DC on July 5, 2018.
SAUL LOEB / AFP / Getty Images
Next, 600 Mexican antipoaching troops are scheduled to arrive in the region soon to enforce a "zero tolerance" fishing policy in the vaquita's habitat.
But those troops may find themselves in the midst of a renewed struggle with local fishermen. Mexico has paid shrimp fishermen to stay out of vaquita habitat since 2015, but those compensation funds reportedly stopped arriving last December, after President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office. With fishermen now struggling to feed their families, their leaders say fleets could resume operation any day. "We know about the vaquita, and we've done what we can, but we have needs and we have to work," Lorenzo Garcia, president of the region's largest fishermen's federation, told Fronteras.
Even with the imminent arrival of Mexican soldiers, the resumption of gillnet shrimp fishing in the Gulf of California represents a major shift in vaquita conservation efforts. Will it push the tiny porpoises closer to disappearing? The world will be watching.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.
- Just 'Days' Left to Save 6 to 19 Remaining Vaquitas - EcoWatch ›
- Vaquita Still Doomed Without Further Disruption of Totoaba Cartels ... ›
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The deaths occurred in Zimbabwe's largest national park, Hwange National Park, a game park. Some died while searching for water, others by residents of nearby communities where the elephants strayed in search of food, said Tinashe Farawo, spokesman for Zimbabwe's Parks and Wild Life Management Authority said, as CNN reported.
The game reserve has the country's largest population of elephants with nearly 50,000. Investigations showed that at least 55 died from food and water shortages in the park, according to Reuters. Several of the deceased elephants were found within 50 meters of water pans, which suggests that traveled long distances and died just before reaching the water, according to the BBC.
"The problem is real, the situation is dire," said Farawo, as the AP reported.
Farawo said that the park, which does not receive funding from the government, has been trying to drill watering holes, but it has run out of money to continue, as the BBC reported.
The BBC also reported that the water shortage is not the only problem. The park has too many elephants, which has caused fierce competition for limited resources, massive destruction to the park's vegetation and forced many elephants to stray into nearby communities. Officials say that elephants have killed more than 200 people in the last five years and 22 local villagers this year.
"Hwange was meant for 15,000 elephants but at the moment we are talking of more than 50,000," Farawo said, as the AFP reported.
Hwange's overpopulation problem stands in stark contrast to the rest of Africa where the ivory trade has decimated the number of elephants on the continent. Africa's elephant numbers have fallen from near 415,000 to 111,000 in just the past decade, according to according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as the AFP reported.
Farawo said an elephant mauled a man to death after the villager tried to chase the animal, which stepped into his garden to drink water.
"That's why we are saying allow us to trade in these animals, and we can raise funds for their security and food. But the so-called conservationists condemn us," said Farawo as CNN reported.
However, that often shadowy practice, received criticism from wildlife experts who say young elephants have been torn from their families, traumatized and sent to unsuitable Chinese zoos, as the BBC reported.
Critics have blamed the government for exacerbating the water crisis in the park.
"The government has over the years been allowing mines to develop in Hwange and that's reducing grazing land, and those operations have impact on water. Even polluting the water. So the government is squarely to blame for all this," said Lenin Chisaira, director of Advocates4Earth, which challenges selling elephants to Asian countries, to CNN.It's not just Hwange that needs water. The area around the park desperately needs rain. The AFP reported that the UN has warned that more than five million rural Zimbabweans — nearly a third of the population — are at risk of food shortages before the next harvest in 2020. That is in a addition to the two million people in Harare, the nation's capital, which is facing a crisis of clean water that may lead to disease outbreak, as EcoWatch reported.
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From bee-killing pesticides to single-use plastics, we can usually rely on the European Union to ban substances and activities that harm wildlife. That's why it's shocking and saddening to learn that the European Commission is walking back a commitment to end its domestic ivory trade, as The Independent reported early Thursday.
The EU banned raw ivory exports in 2017, but many rightly argue that this is not enough to discourage poachers from targeting elephants and slipping illegal items into the EU's legal trade. The U.S., China and the UK have all moved forward with full bans, so the EU is uncharacteristically behind the times on this one.
But it looked like that was thankfully about to change. In 2017, the commission held a public consultation for a new report on efforts to curb EU wildlife trafficking. In a draft of that report leaked in July, the commission wrote that a "large majority" of the 90,000 comments it received at the consultation wanted stricter controls on the trade. In response, the commission wrote it "intends to further restrict ivory trade in and from the EU. The commission intends to discuss the content of such restrictions with their member states and stakeholders in the coming months."
Then, in a shocking reversal, in a final draft of that report released at the end of October, that language disappeared. It was replaced by a line saying that "other respondents opposed further limits on elephant ivory trade to and from the EU, especially for antiques".
Member of European Parliament (MEP) and chair of MEP's for Wildlife Catherine Bearder said on Twitter she had called for a meeting with the commission "to find out what happened."
I have asked for a meeting with the EU Commission to find out what happened. We banned seal products entering the s… https://t.co/07qtEqF5Pl— Catherine Bearder 🔶🕷 (@Catherine Bearder 🔶🕷)1541660539.0
"The European Parliament, the citizens of Europe and thirty-two African states want a complete ban on ivory sales. What's stopping the commission?" Bearder spoke for all of us when she asked The Independent.
The group bought 100 supposedly antique ivory items and had them radiocarbon dated at Oxford. Three-fourths of them turned out to be modern ivory. One came from an elephant killed as recently as 2010.
"It's sick," said Bert Wander, who bought the items for Avaaz, talking to BBC News. "I'm looking at the trinkets we bought on my desk, and to think that an elephant with all the things we are learning about them, about their cognition and their advanced societies, and to think that one of them has died for this bracelet I'm holding now, it makes you sick to your stomach."
The killing of elephants has decreased, but 55 are still being killed every day, enough to decimate the population in some areas if that pace continues. The European Commission needs to watch this video of a mama elephant looking out for her baby before telling us these amazing animals aren't worth protecting:
Mother Elephant Protects Calf From Tourists www.youtube.com
The Parties to CITES agreed to list giraffes on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) today at the World Wildlife Conference or CoP18 in Geneva. Such protections will ensure that all giraffe parts trade were legally acquired and not sourced from the poached giraffes trade and will require countries to make non-detriment findings before allowing giraffe exports. The listing will also enable the collection of international trade data for giraffes that might justify greater protections at both CITES and other venues in the future.
Giraffes are undergoing a "silent extinction," declining by 40% in the past 30 years. With fewer giraffes than elephants left, they face many threats, including habitat loss, disease, poaching for bushmeat, the international giraffe parts trade, and trophy hunting. Their populations are, for the most part, small, fragmented, and widely scattered. For example, while giraffes used to range throughout much of West Africa, their only remaining population in the region consists of 425 giraffes in Niger. As such, seven of the nine giraffe subspecies have been classified as threatened with extinction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
With six giraffe range states — Central African Republic, Chad, Kenya, Mali, Niger and Senegal — submitting the proposal, and support from the U.S., EU, 32 African nations and leading giraffe scientists, the proposal seemed like a sure winner. However, giraffe protections weren't guaranteed until late in the game due to a suggestion from Botswana that instead of listing all giraffes, the Parties only list the populations of 13 of the 21 giraffe range states — exempting the populations of Botswana, Eswatini, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia. This kind of proposal — referred to as a "split listing" — is frowned upon by CITES as law enforcement can't tell between illegal and legal species in trade, making enforcement impossible.
Fortunately, the global community rejected this suggestion — and supported the listing of all giraffe species. A great deal of Latin and South American countries, New Zealand, and the U.S. spoke in support of the proposal. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave a great statement on how U.S. import data indicates giraffe parts are coming into the U.S. and that we need more data to discern how much this threatens giraffe populations.
While we have lacked international trade data for giraffes since they weren't previously listed under CITES, U.S. data reveals trade in giraffe parts is soaring with almost 40,000 giraffe parts imported to the U.S. between 2006 and 2015—the equivalent of at least 3,751 giraffes. The most common giraffe parts seen in trade are bone carvings, raw bones, and skins. Further, a 2018 undercover investigation of the U.S. giraffe parts market found a variety of products, including many knives with giraffe bone handles — which have become common in the wake of the ivory ban — and taxidermied trophies.
As a next step, we hope the U.S. — which supported the CITES giraffe proposal — will list giraffes under the Endangered Species Act, which they are currently considering after a lawsuit from NRDC and our partners.
With the Amazon burning and the IPBES Report finding that one million species face extinction, we need all the good news we can get — even if it seems relatively small. Today's decision is just that.
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By Marlene Cimons
Mother Nature has it figured out. She's designed a master scheme that connects plants and animals, all working in concert to keep every living thing in balance. Imagine a stack of dominoes — knock down one of them, and the rest will tumble. The same can happen in nature.
This is especially evident in places like central Africa and in South American tropical rainforests where certain animals — from the world's largest to its smallest — help keep trees safe and healthy, which is critical as trees absorb vast amounts of planet-warming carbon pollution.
Recent research warns that losing the creatures that nurture trees puts forests in danger. This, by extension, is helping to accelerate dangerous climate change.
In central Africa, for example, elephants eat fast-growing trees, making room for those that grow more slowly. The slow-growing trees — with their very dense wood — store more carbon than their thinner, faster-developing counterparts. Without elephants, more carbon would accumulate in the atmosphere, worsening climate change, according to a new study that used computer models to project what could happen if elephant populations continue to dwindle or become extinct.
An elephant fuels up.
"Africa may once have contained 10 million elephants from the Mediterranean to the Cape, in every habitat except extreme desert. In 1970, there may have been a million left. By the end of the 1980s, there were half that number, mostly killed for the ivory trade," said Stephen Blake, assistant professor of biology at St. Louis University, and author of the study, which appears in the journal Nature Geoscience.
Despite an international agreement created to protect them, they face extinction as hunters persist in illegally killing them for ivory. Blake said that the price of ivory is so high that poachers will kill elephants of any size for their tusks, and go to gruesome lengths to remove them.
"How many cuddly [elephant] toys will be purchased this Christmas around the world?" Blake said. "Children everywhere will take them to bed, play with them, love them and be enchanted with the notion of these massive, gentle, humbled, wrinkled old animals… How many hearts touched?… Yet, as we do all these things, we live at a time when the last members of a once global and diverse lineage of these huge animals are being slaughtered."
By killing elephants, poachers rob slow-growing trees of their guardian. They also slow the growth of new trees. Elephants blaze trails and disperse seeds as they forage. "Elephants are basically the gardeners of the forest," Blake said. "They disperse over 100 species of seeds, and disperse more of them over longer distances that other dispersers."
"Without the restorative powers of the elephants, the forest becomes a broken shadow of its former glory," he added.
Similarly, some of the world's littlest creatures also help replenish forests, although they don't face the grave risks that elephants encounter. Tiny tamarins that live in Peruvian rainforests eat fruits from trees, then poop out the undigested seeds in degraded former pastures — land cleared by humans for grazing water buffalo — effectively planting trees.
A female emperor tamarin.
Scientists showed that two types of these squirrel-sized monkeys — moustached and black-fronted tamarins — are seeding new forests. This is vital because — like the forests of central Africa — tropical rainforests also store carbon, and are home to a vast number of plants and animals.
The scientists tracked seeds from the animals' feces deposited in the new forest and identified eight different plant species found in the main rainforest. "Tamarins can play a role for the natural regeneration of disturbed areas," said Eckhard W. Heymann, a scientist at the German Primate Center, who reported his findings in the journal Scientific Reports.
However, their contribution, while important, usually isn't enough to regenerate large tracts. "So it is better to protect the forests — which also protects the animals living there — than to rely on the services [of tamarins]." Moreover, climate change may be altering the plants that tamarins eat, changing when they produce leaves, flowers and fruits. This could limit tamarins' ability to seed new forests.
A baby tamarin.
Tamarins do not face extinction, like elephants, but are not without their own risks. While hunters usually reject them because they are too small to provide meat, "they are sporadically hunted or captured to obtain infants as pets," Heymann said. There is also the fact that forests are shrinking, meaning tamarins could lose their home. "The more serious threat at the moment comes from increasing deforestation," he added.
Blake, who has spent nearly 20 years in Africa working in elephant research and conservation, laments their fate, describing them as "a complex society of intelligent, caring, emotional animals who respect their grandmothers and mourn their dead," and condemns those who neglect their duty to save them.
"We will go to Mars — there is no doubt — humans are too smart not to," he said. "Yet we do not have the wisdom to protect elephants and their forest environment that do so much for our physical, spiritual and emotional well-being."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
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