By Charan Saunders
Last year the world reacted in shock when Namibia announced plans to auction off 170 live elephants to the highest bidder.
Despite criticism, the plans have continued to move forward — and that may just be the start. Tucked away in a Feb. 1 press release justifying the auction was a rehash of the country's oft-repeated desire to also sell ivory. The Namibian Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism's stated:
"Namibia has major stockpiles of valuable wildlife products including ivory which it can produce sustainably and regulate properly, and which if traded internationally could support our elephant conservation and management for decades to come."
Namibia is not alone in this desire to capitalize on its wildlife. In Zimbabwe's national assembly last year, the minister of environment valued the country's stockpile of 130 metric tonnes (143 tons) of ivory and 5 tonnes (5.5 tons) of rhino horn at $600 million in U.S. dollars. This figure, which would value ivory at more than $4,200 per kilogram, has since been seized upon by commentators seeking to justify the reintroduction of the ivory trade.
I'm an environmental accountant dedicated to ethical conservation, so I wanted to understand these numbers and how they motivate countries. In truth, I found not even full black-market value comes close to arriving at this figure.
Black-market values are, of course, often invisible to the general public, but the most recent data from criminal justice experts finds that unworked (or raw) elephant ivory sells for about $92/kg on the black market in Africa, while rhino horn is currently selling for $8,683/kg.
Therefore, a more realistic valuation of Zimbabwe's ivory stockpiles, using an optimistic wholesale price of $150/kg, would give a potential income of only $19.5 million in U.S. dollars.
This is a 30th of Zimbabwe's estimate.
And even then, those numbers fail to account for the disaster that would happen if ivory sales return — as we saw in the all-too-recent past.
The One-Off Sales
International trade in ivory has been banned since 1989, following a 10-year period in which African elephant numbers declined by 50%, from 1.3 million to 600,000. However, in 1999 and 2008 CITES allowed "one-off sales" of stockpiled ivory, to disastrous effect. The selling prices achieved then were only $100/kg and $157/kg, in U.S. dollars respectively, due to collusion by official Chinese and Japanese buyers.
Illegal ivory. Gavin Shire / USFWS
The intention of CITES in approving the one-off ivory sales was to introduce a controlled and steady supply of stockpiled ivory into the market. The legal supply, coupled with effective systems of control, aimed to satisfy demand and reduce prices. This in turn should have reduced the profitability of (and the demand for) illegal ivory. Poaching should have followed suit and decreased.
Instead, the sales led to an increase in demand and, consequently, an increase in elephant poaching. The 2008 ivory sale was accompanied by a 66% increase in illegally traded ivory and a 71% increase in ivory smuggling. An investigation in 2010 by the Environmental Investigation Agency documented that 90% of the ivory being sold in China came from illegal sources.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) comparison of elephant poaching figures for the five years preceding and five years following the sale showed an "abrupt, significant, permanent, robust and geographically widespread increase" in poaching.
The problem has not faded away. Most recently the two African elephant species (savanna and forest) were declared endangered and critically endangered due to their continued poaching threat.
Regina Hart / CC BY 2.0
Still, some African nations look fondly at the 2008 sale and have long hoped to repeat it. The Zimbabwe Ministry's 2020 statement follows yet another proposal to the 18th CITES Conference of the Parties (COP18) by Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana to trade in live elephants and their body parts, including ivory. The proposal was not accepted by the parties.
Why Didn't Ivory Sales Work?
The one-off sales of ivory removed the stigma associated with its purchase, stimulated the market demand, and increased prices.
The ivory that China purchased in 2008 for $157/kg was drip-fed by the authorities to traders at prices ranging between $800 and $1,500 per kilogram. This meant that the bulk of the profits went to filling Chinese government coffers — not to African nations — and in doing so, created a large illegal market which drove prices even higher.
Raw ivory prices in China increased from $750/kg in 2010 to $2,100/kg in 2014. The market had been stimulated, prices increased and the volume of legal ivory available was insufficient to meet demand as the Chinese government gradually fed its stockpile into the market.
Japan, the other participant in the one-off sales, has systematically failed to comply with CITES regulations, meaning that there were (and still are) no controls over ivory being sold, allowing the illegal markets to function in parallel to the legal one.
In a very short space of time, criminals ramped up poaching and elephant numbers plummeted.
What Has Happened to the Price of Ivory Since Then?
With no recent legal international sales, combined with the significant U.S., Chinese and United Kingdom domestic ivory sales bans, the price for raw ivory paid by craftsmen in China fell from $2,100/kg in 2014 to $730/kg in 2017. That's when China closed all of its official ivory carving outlets and theoretically stopped all official ivory trade.
The price currently paid for raw ivory in Asia, according to an investigation by the Wildlife Justice Commission, is currently between $597/kg and $689/kg, in U.S. dollars. Ivory sourced in Africa and sold in Asia has additional costs such as transportation, taxes and broker commissions. The prices paid for raw ivory in Africa have decreased correspondingly from $208/kg to $92/kg in 2020.
Those numbers pale in comparison to a living elephant. A 2014 study found that live elephants are each worth an estimated $1.6 million in ecotourism opportunities.
One half-truth is that the money earned from the legal sale will be used to effectively fund conservation.
One of the CITES conditions of the 2008 sale was that funds were to go to the conservation of elephants. South Africa placed a substantial portion of the income from its share of the pie in the Mpumalanga Problem Animal Fund — which, it turns out, was well-named. An internal investigation found the fund had "no proper controls" and that "tens of millions" of rand (the official currency of South Africa) had bypassed the normal procurement processes.
Ironically, proceeds were also partly used for the refurbishment of the Skukuza abattoir, where most of the 14,629 elephant carcasses from culling operations between 1967 and 1997 were processed.
All the while, Africa's elephant populations continued to decline.
How to Stop Poaching
In light of these deficiencies — and in light of elephants' recently declared endangered status — the very reverse of actual conservation can be expected if any nation is again allowed to sell its ivory stockpiles. The cost of increased anti-poaching efforts required from the consequent increase in poaching will outweigh the benefit of any income from the sale of ivory stockpiles.
To stop poaching, all international and local trade must be stopped.
John Culley / CC BY 2.0
Repeating this failed experiment will send a message that it is acceptable to trade in ivory. Ivory carving outlets in China will re-open and demand for ivory will be stimulated. The demand for ivory in an increasingly wealthy and better-connected Asia will quickly outstrip legal supply and poaching will increase.
Meanwhile, the management of a legal ivory trade requires strong systems of control at every point in the commodity chain to ensure that illegal ivory is not laundered into the legal market. With recalcitrant Japan continuing to ignore CITES, "untransparent" Namibia "losing tolerance" with CITES, and Zimbabwe ranking 157 out of 179 on the corruption perceptions index, not even the basics for controlled trade are in place.
Therefore, aside from the strong theoretical economic arguments against renewed one-off sales, the practical arguments are perhaps even stronger: If international ivory and rhino horn sales ever again become legal, the cost to protect elephants will skyrocket and these culturally valuable animals will plunge into decline — and possibly extinction.
Charan Saunders grew up in Cape Town and studied genetics and microbiology and then went on to qualify as a chartered accountant. She has worked in London in the forensic science field and was the chief financial officer of a major vaccine manufacturer for six years. She now serves as a financial director in the field of conservation.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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Africa's elephants are in trouble, and human activity is to blame.
For the first time, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List assessed Africa's elephants as two separate species: the African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) and the African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana). They found that both species are endangered, and the forest elephant critically so.
"Africa's elephants play key roles in ecosystems, economies and in our collective imagination all over the world," IUCN Red List Director General Dr. Bruno Oberle said in a press release. "Today's new IUCN Red List assessments of both African elephant species underline the persistent pressures faced by these iconic animals."
BREAKING NEWS: African elephant species now Endangered and Critically Endangered - IUCN Red List With today's upda… https://t.co/RXRmB10DBE— IUCN Red List (@IUCN Red List)1616677290.0
The last time that the IUCN assessed Africa's elephant population was in 2008, The New York Times reported. At that point, all of Africa's elephants were considered as a single species, and were listed as "vulnerable," one step better than endangered.
However, mounting genetic evidence indicates that there are two species of elephants on the continent. Africa's forest elephants typically live in West Africa and in tropical rainforests in Central Africa, IUCN pointed out. Savanna elephants prefer open areas like grasslands and deserts. The two species' ranges rarely overlap, and a 2019 study found that they rarely reproduce with each other.
There are also physical and life-cycle differences between the two species, according to The Guardian. Forest elephants are smaller, gestate longer, and have oval ears and smaller tusks. Savanna elephants live in larger family units, have larger ears and their skulls are shaped differently. Some scientists have questioned splitting them into distinct species, because they do sometimes cross breed. However, others say the new categorization is long overdue.
"The separation between them is probably greater than the separation between lions and tigers," Dr. Alfred Roca, a geneticist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told The New York Times.
The new categorization has important conservation implications. For one thing, it reveals how much trouble both species, but especially the forest elephants, are really in. The new assessment found that the population of forest elephants had fallen more than 86 percent in the last 31 years, while the population of savanna elephants has decreased by at least 60 percent in the last 50 years, according to the IUCN. As of 2016, there were 415,000 elephants of both species alive in Africa.
For both species, the main drivers of the decline have been poaching, which peaked in 2011, and habitat loss through the conversion of their homes for agriculture and other human uses.
"With persistent demand for ivory and escalating human pressures on Africa's wild lands, concern for Africa's elephants is high, and the need to creatively conserve and wisely manage these animals and their habitats is more acute than ever," Dr. Kathleen Gobush, lead assessor of the African elephants and member of the IUCN SSC African Elephant Specialist Group, said in the press release.
Viewing them as distinct species can help with these conservation efforts, Gobush further explained to The Guardian. So far, savanna elephants have dominated research and the popular imagination, while forest elephants are less studied.
"This reclassification allows dedicated attention to each animal – the forest elephant and the savanna elephant – and then to tailor conservation plans according to each species' needs, which are different," Gobush said.
One bit of good news from the assessment is that conservation can work when done right. Subpopulations of forest elephants are doing well in the most protected areas of Gabon and the Republic of the Congo, according to the IUCN. The same is true for the largest single grouping of savanna elephants, who live in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area.
However, the stakes are high. Elephants play an important role in their ecosystems, Gobush told The New York Times. Forest elephants are the sole dispersers of some tree species, while both create new habitats for other animals by eating plants and knocking down trees.
"Both of them really could be considered gardeners tending to the vegetation, more than probably any other animal," Gobush said. "We just can't afford to lose them, really."
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Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
In 2008, eBay conducted the vast majority of online trade in endangered animals, the New York Times reported. After intense pressure from conservationists over elephant poaching, the popular online shopping site banned selling ivory via its Animal and Wildlife Products policy, Yale Environment 360 reported.
However, illegal goods are still being trafficked on the website today through vague or mislabeled listings, researchers from the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent found. Code words like "bone" are used as a cover description to disguise and misrepresent illegal listings as non-restricted materials, the study noted. Also complicating enforcement is the fact that "ivory" can be used to describe the color of any product, making enforcement searches using the word unproductive, CNN reported.
Study co-author David Roberts is well versed in the illicit ivory trade. He previously developed an algorithm identifying illegal elephant ivory on eBay with a 93 percent accuracy, studied the behaviors of ivory sellers on the online platform and examined the use of code words across four European Union countries.
In his most recent research, published in the journal Tropical Conservation Science, Roberts and his team investigated the discrepancy between how vendors described the objects in their listings versus what the study's authors identified as the actual materials, which they achieved by studying the images provided in the listings.
The researchers focused on listings for netsuke, carved objects attached to the cord of Japanese kimonos, which are offered on eBay UK, a University of Kent statement said. Netsuke are often made of ivory, and the researchers found that authentic elephant ivory was most frequently — and misleadingly — described as bone in netsuke listings, the statement said.
The authors identified mislabeled ivory by looking for Schreger lines in netsuke listing images, Roberts told EcoWatch. Schreger lines are a unique overlapping pattern found in elephant ivory. This pattern allowed them to identify authentic ivory without having to obtain the physical items for analysis, which would be ethically undesirable, the Kent statement said.
According to Keith Somerville, a professor at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London and author of "Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa," certain elephant populations around the world are being hunted for their tusks. Globally, the world's largest land animal has also suffered due to habitat loss, poaching and confrontation with humans.
"Illegal ivory trade is a major threat," Somerville emphasized. There is no accurate estimate for how many animals are killed each year for ivory because "it is all underground." Somerville estimated that as many as 20,000 elephants might be killed annually for the black market.
"They have to kill the elephant. No other way to remove the ivory. They are shot or poisoned and the tusks hacked out," he told EcoWatch.
In late 2019, an eBay trader was jailed after being repeatedly caught selling ivory on the site, Lincolnshire Live reported. The trader shipped ivory products mislabeled as jewelry and wood carvings. During sentencing, the presiding judge said, "Without an illegal ivory market there would be no need for the capture of elephants in the wild. That market feeds the destruction of elephants," reported Lincolnshire Live.
In addition to ivory, Roberts' team also saw "all sorts of illegal wildlife or wildlife that violates their terms and conditions for sale on sites such as eBay, including a case of rhino horn, traditional Asian medicines, rare orchids and cacti, exotic skins, [and] shells to name a few," Roberts told EcoWatch. While ivory buyers and sellers use code words and disguise their trade with closed group communications, trade in "less charismatic species happens out in the open with no code words" on these websites, Roberts warned.
An eBay spokesperson told CNN that the company is a founding member of the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online and works with the World Wildlife Fund and the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
"We have global teams dedicated to upholding standards on our marketplace, and over a recent two-year period we blocked or removed over 265,000 listings prohibited under our animal products policy," the spokesperson told CNN.
Still, Roberts and fellow researchers returned to eBay a month after their initial search and found that only 1.3 to 6.9 percent of genuine ivory netsuke listings had been removed by eBay. More than half were already sold, and half of the unsold items were re-listed.
"If eBay was effectively enforcing its policy... on ivory, these items would have been removed," CNN reported the researchers saying.
eBay is not the only commerce service facilitating online wildlife trafficking, but it is a major site on which ivory can be found relatively easily, Roberts told EcoWatch. "While detecting illegal sales of ivory items can be particularly difficult, companies like eBay have the resources and data that could be mobilized to tackle the challenge of illegal wildlife trade," Roberts said in the Kent statement.
He suggested tackling the illegal wildlife trade online by making items more difficult to find, removing illegal listings and enforcing existing bans. Ultimately, Roberts called upon eBay and other technology companies to help develop algorithms for automating illegal product identification, he told EcoWatch. He also advocated for better reporting mechanisms that result in illegal listings actually being removed.
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USO / Getty Images
By Rocky Kistner
Despite their massive size, African forest elephants remains an elusive species, poorly studied because of their habitat in the dense tropical forests of West Africa and the Congo.
But the more we learn about them, the more we know that forest elephants are in trouble. Like their slightly larger and better-known cousins, the bush or savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana), forest elephants (L. cyclotis) face rampant poaching for their majestic ivory tusks and the growing bush meat trade. More than 80% of the population has been killed off in central Africa since 2002.
Today fewer than 100,000 forest elephants occupy their dwindling habitat. Conservationists worry they could soon head toward extinction if nothing is done.
Richard Ruggiero / USFWS
And now a new threat has emerged: A study published this September found that climate change has resulted in an 81% decline in fruit production in one forest elephant habitat in Gabon. That's caused the elephants there to experience an 11% decline in body condition since 2008.
But other research, also published in September, suggests a possible solution to both these crises.
Elephants and Carbon
It all boils down to carbon dioxide.
Forest elephants play a huge role in supporting the carbon sequestration power of their tropical habitats. Hungry pachyderms act as mega-gardeners as they roam across the landscape searching for bits of leaves, tree bark and fruit; stomping on small trees and bushes; and spreading seeds in their dung. This promotes the growth of larger carbon-absorbing trees, allowing forests to sequester more carbon from the air.
A July 2019 study by ecologist Fabio Berzaghi, a researcher at the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences in France, estimated that if forest elephants disappeared African forests would lose 7% of their biomass — a stunning 3 billion-ton loss of carbon.
And they're not unique in this oversized role, although the closest equivalent lives in an entirely different type of habitat.
Last year a team of researchers led by Ralph Chami, an economist and assistant director at the International Monetary Fund, published a groundbreaking report on the monetary value of great whales, the 13 large species that include blue and humpback whales. The study accounted for whales' enormous carbon-capturing functions, from fertilizing oxygen-producing phytoplankton to storing enormous amounts of carbon in their bodies when they die and sink to the seafloor. After also including tourism values, Chami's study estimated each whale was worth $2 million, amounting to a staggering $1 trillion for the entire global population of whales.
Kaitlin Thoreson / National Park Service
"It's a win-win for everyone," Chami says of his economic models, which place a monetary value on the "natural capital" of wildlife, including the carbon sequestration activities of whales and elephants. "By allowing nature to regenerate, [elephants and whales] are far more valuable to us than if we extract them. If nature thrives, you thrive."
Soon after the publication of Chami's whale study, Berzaghi called and asked if the economist could run the numbers on forest elephants too. Chami agreed, and this September they published the results. The elephants, they calculated, are worth about $1.75 million each due to their forest carbon sequestration value alone.
Even more importantly, they found that if forest elephants were allowed to rebound to their former populations, their carbon-capturing value would jump to more than $150 billion.
And as climate change worsens, Chami says forest elephants will become even more valuable in terms of their carbon sequestration role — and as individuals. "The loss of their habitats has the impact of causing them more stress and to have fewer babies," he says.
Turning Numbers Into Action
Despite these stunning, if theoretical, numbers, the researchers knew they needed a financial plan that could be implemented and sustained in the real world.
That starts with keeping elephants alive.
Poachers receive pennies on the dollar for elephant tusks that, once they finally reach consumers, can fetch prices of up to $40,000 on the illegal ivory market.
Gavin Shire / USFWS
Chami says that pales in comparison to the $1.75 million an elephant could be worth for its carbon sequestration services, an amount that works out to roughly $80 a day over an elephant's 60-year average lifetime.
But how do you deliver that value to the people who live near elephants, including people who perhaps currently poach the animals? Chami turned to worldwide carbon markets, which encourage countries or companies to offset their greenhouse gases by investing in restorative measures in other parts of the world.
To activate that proposed value, Chami brought together a group of conservation, business technology and economic experts to develop a pilot project that could promote the protection of forest elephants in Africa. Together, they aim to create a legal framework and a secure financial distribution system that would use of carbon markets to pay local communities to protect forest elephants. Individual elephants would be tracked using satellite technology to ensure their safety. As long as the elephants remain alive, communities could receive regular payments from a carbon market funded by corporations, individuals and governments to offset their pollution. Elephants could become "living assets" for countries that protect them.
Those assets could add up. Chami says the population of 1,500 elephants in Gabon's Loango National Forest would provide $2.4 million in annual revenue.
"We need to build a market around living elephants," Chami says. "The poachers can become the caretakers."
That's an exciting concept to wildlife experts, who have already had some success empowering communities through tourism. But for elephants that live in remote areas of African forests, tourism is less of an option. A market that places a value on elephants for their global carbon sequestration and climate contributions opens a new opportunity for support.
"It potentially changes how people think of the value of elephants," said Ian Redmond, a renowned African conservationist who's working with Chami and others to fund forest elephant protection efforts.
Redmond says he's thrilled about this new plan because it incentivizes locals to protect their natural resources, not exploit them.
"It's a gamechanger, not just for its ecological benefits, but for poverty reduction," he says. "It's a mechanism of change for people in the forest for people who before now only get money if they kill something. Now there's an economic incentive to protect the elephants and their carbon-rich habitat so everyone benefits, locally and globally."
The trick, the experts say, is getting money dispersed fairly and securely to local communities. Chami's team says the revolution in new secure financial networks such as blockchain, the building block of digital monetary systems like Bitcoin, can help establish a monetary system that can be more efficient and transparent than traditional banking systems. Africa's ahead of the curve when it comes to dealing in these new digital monetary technologies, which, though not perfect, can be a positive anti-corruption tool in the murky world of international carbon markets and debt swaps sometimes linked to fraud and influence peddling.
Walid Al Saqqaf, a startup founder and technology expert who produces the weekly podcast Insureblocks, is working closely with Chami and conservationists like Redmond to tap into global carbon exchange markets and create a framework for local funding efforts. Al Saqqaf says the secure nature of blockchain technology can attract international governmental agencies as well as private sector banks and insurance companies who will increasingly want to offset carbon footprints by investing in carbon-sequestering natural resources. "We take a toxic asset such as carbon and transform it into carbon for social good," Al Saqqaf says.
The group is setting up technology, legal and science working groups to develop a cohesive plan that could go into effect next year, although the conservation team says it's too early to announce specifics of the pilot program. They say they are in early discussions with African governments hoping to protect their elephants as well as private enterprises interested in offsetting carbon emissions.
A Ticking Clock, But Forward Motion
Meanwhile the threats from both climate change and poaching continue. A study published this June found that, despite efforts to reduce the ivory trade, elephant poaching rates remain "near their peak and have changed little since 2011."
The rapidly growing risks of extinctions, fueled in part by climate change, have pushed the team to quickly get their ground-breaking plan up and running. "We are in a race against time," Al Saqqaf says.
While the work on elephants remains on the drawing board, Chami's earlier study on the economic value of whales has already started generating real-world action. A G20 working group recommended this year that member countries take whales into account for their climate mitigation and ecosystem values. In Chile a national initiative is using Chami's economic model to help design a project called the Blue Boat Initiative, a sophisticated satellite and sea-based plan supported by the Chilean government to protect whales from ship collisions.
"The valuation of ecosystem services is very relevant because it allows us to show the oceans are not only a raw material," says Patricia Morales, general manager of Fundacion Cortes Solari, a private foundation that supports the Blue Boat Initiative and other climate and environmental issues. "We need to move from the current paradigm to the blue economy."
Chami says the positive global response to their work is rewarding, but it's far from complete. His team — which plans to apply this methodology to other species — knows the dire state of the natural world, and the challenges of creating new international funding and conservation models are huge. But Chami and his colleagues say that by "translating science into dollars," researchers can build a powerful market-based mechanism that can reverse society's incentive to destroy the natural world.
"We need to learn to live in balance with nature," Chami says. "Our sustainability depends on protecting our ecosystems."
Rocky Kistner is an environmental journalist and a former broadcast television and radio reporter and producer. He writes for a variety of online publications and lives near DC, raising two daughters and a beagle named Wilma.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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With help from music icon Cher, the "world's loneliest elephant" has found a new home and, hopefully, a new family.
The elephant, a 36-year-old male named Kaavan, has lived alone in a controversial zoo in Islamabad, Pakistan since his partner Saheli died in 2012, according to animal welfare group Four Paws International. But now, thanks to the efforts of Four Paws, Cher and her NGO Free the Wild, the Pakistani government and American businessman Eric S. Margolis, Kaavan has landed in Cambodia after a 10-hour flight, where he will enjoy a new life in a wildlife sanctuary.
"Kaavan was eating, was not stressed and he even slept a little bit whilst leaning on the wall of the crate!" Four Paws tweeted Monday of the successful flight. "He behaves like a 'Frequent Flyer.'"
But Kaavan's journey to Cambodia was much longer than the 10 hour flight. Kaavan, an Asian elephant, was first gifted to Pakistan from Sri Lanka in 1985 and found his first home at the Marghazar Zoo, according to Four Paws. From 1990 until 2012, he shared his enclosure with Saheli. But then she died after an infection turned gangrenous, The Associated Press reported. Her body was left in the enclosure for several days after she passed away, Four Paws veterinarian Dr. Amir Khalil said Kaavan was heartbroken by the experience.
Even before Saheli's death, the Marghazar Zoo was not a pleasant place to live. Kaavan spent most of his 35 years there in chains. But his condition deteriorated after his partner passed away, and wildlife advocates dubbed him the "world's loneliest elephant."
Cher learned about his case on Twitter and decided to get involved, according to CNN.
"I thought, 'how can I fix this? How can I save an elephant who's been shackled to a shed for 17 years and who is a thousand miles away?'" Cher told CNN.
Kaavan's relocation to Cambodia marks the first big rescue for Free the Wild, which Cher co-founded. It is also the first time Four Paws has moved an elephant by plane, the organization said.
Khalil spent three months preparing Kaavan for the journey, The Associated Press reported. At the start of the process, Kaavan was both malnourished and overweight, and suffered from behavioral problems because of his time spent alone. He started shaking his head for hours, and his nails are cracked and overgrown because the flooring in his enclosure harmed his feet.
Khalil put Kaavan on a diet of fruit and vegetables and helped him to lose a ton before the flight. He also helped him to get more relaxed before the journey, which Kaavan undertook with only mild sedation, according to Free the Wild.
"Kaavan quickly gained confidence in us and made great progress in a short time. In his case it not only took a village but a whole country to transfer Kaavan to Cambodia," Khalil told Four Paws.
Cher was both in Pakistan to see Kaavan off and in Cambodia to greet him on his arrival. She sang "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes," to him before he left, according to CNN. In Pakistan, she also met with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday, according to The Associated Press.
"Just Came From Meeting To Thank Prime Minister Imran Kahn For Making It Possible For Me To Take Kaavan To Cambodia," she tweeted Friday.
She also said that Kaavan's story would be told in a Smithsonian documentary.
🐘Kaavan's journey to freedom from captivity in Islamabad to Cambodia will be a 2021 @SmithsonianChan documentary ❤️… https://t.co/zgESUUzD9x— Cher (@Cher)1606513533.0
"The goal is to socialize him," Bauer said. "It will take a while because he has lived on his own for such a long time. But yes, ultimately the goal is to bring him together with other animals because that's what elephants want. They're herd animals, they always form families, and that's also what we plan for him."Kaavan is not the only animal who suffered at the Marghazar Zoo. The Islamabad High Court ordered its closure in May because of cruel conditions. Four Paws is also helping to relocate other zoo animals. It has found new homes for three wolves, some monkeys and all of the zoo's rabbits, the organization said. It will rehome two Himalayan brown bears in December. Margolis, the U.S. businessman, is helping to fund the rescue of the animals, including the bears, and paid for half of Kaavan's flight.
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By Bob Jacobs
Hanako, a female Asian elephant, lived in a tiny concrete enclosure at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo for more than 60 years, often in chains, with no stimulation. In the wild, elephants live in herds, with close family ties. Hanako was solitary for the last decade of her life.
Kiska, a young female orca, was captured in 1978 off the Iceland coast and taken to Marineland Canada, an aquarium and amusement park. Orcas are social animals that live in family pods with up to 40 members, but Kiska has lived alone in a small tank since 2011. Each of her five calves died. To combat stress and boredom, she swims in slow, endless circles and has gnawed her teeth to the pulp on her concrete pool.
Unfortunately, these are common conditions for many large, captive mammals in the "entertainment" industry. In decades of studying the brains of humans, African elephants, humpback whales and other large mammals, I've noted the organ's great sensitivity to the environment, including serious impacts on its structure and function from living in captivity.
Hanako, an Asian elephant kept at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo; and Kiska, an orca that lives at Marineland Canada. One image depicts Kiska's damaged teeth. Elephants in Japan (left image), Ontario Captive Animal Watch (right image), CC BY-ND
Affecting Health and Altering Behavior
It is easy to observe the overall health and psychological consequences of life in captivity for these animals. Many captive elephants suffer from arthritis, obesity or skin problems. Both elephants and orcas often have severe dental problems. Captive orcas are plagued by pneumonia, kidney disease, gastrointestinal illnesses and infections.
Many animals try to cope with captivity by adopting abnormal behaviors. Some develop "stereotypies," which are repetitive, purposeless habits such as constantly bobbing their heads, swaying incessantly or chewing on the bars of their cages. Others, especially big cats, pace their enclosures. Elephants rub or break their tusks.
Changing Brain Structure
Neuroscientific research indicates that living in an impoverished, stressful captive environment physically damages the brain. These changes have been documented in many species, including rodents, rabbits, cats and humans.
Although researchers have directly studied some animal brains, most of what we know comes from observing animal behavior, analyzing stress hormone levels in the blood and applying knowledge gained from a half-century of neuroscience research. Laboratory research also suggests that mammals in a zoo or aquarium have compromised brain function.
This illustration shows differences in the brain's cerebral cortex in animals held in impoverished (captive) and enriched (natural) environments. Impoverishment results in thinning of the cortex, a decreased blood supply, less support for neurons and decreased connectivity among neurons. Arnold B. Scheibel, CC BY-ND
Subsisting in confined, barren quarters that lack intellectual stimulation or appropriate social contact seems to thin the cerebral cortex – the part of the brain involved in voluntary movement and higher cognitive function, including memory, planning and decision-making.
There are other consequences. Capillaries shrink, depriving the brain of the oxygen-rich blood it needs to survive. Neurons become smaller, and their dendrites – the branches that form connections with other neurons – become less complex, impairing communication within the brain. As a result, the cortical neurons in captive animals process information less efficiently than those living in enriched, more natural environments.
An actual cortical neuron in a wild African elephant living in its natural habitat compared with a hypothesized cortical neuron from a captive elephant. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND
Brain health is also affected by living in small quarters that don't allow for needed exercise. Physical activity increases the flow of blood to the brain, which requires large amounts of oxygen. Exercise increases the production of new connections and enhances cognitive abilities.
In their native habits these animals must move to survive, covering great distances to forage or find a mate. Elephants typically travel anywhere from 15 to 120 miles per day. In a zoo, they average three miles daily, often walking back and forth in small enclosures. One free orca studied in Canada swam up to 156 miles a day; meanwhile, an average orca tank is about 10,000 times smaller than its natural home range.
Disrupting Brain Chemistry and Killing Cells
Living in enclosures that restrict or prevent normal behavior creates chronic frustration and boredom. In the wild, an animal's stress-response system helps it escape from danger. But captivity traps animals with almost no control over their environment.
These situations foster learned helplessness, negatively impacting the hippocampus, which handles memory functions, and the amygdala, which processes emotions. Prolonged stress elevates stress hormones and damages or even kills neurons in both brain regions. It also disrupts the delicate balance of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that stabilizes mood, among other functions.
In humans, deprivation can trigger psychiatric issues, including depression, anxiety, mood disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder. Elephants, orcas and other animals with large brains are likely to react in similar ways to life in a severely stressful environment.
Captivity can damage the brain's complex circuitry, including the basal ganglia. This group of neurons communicates with the cerebral cortex along two networks: a direct pathway that enhances movement and behavior, and an indirect pathway that inhibits them.
The repetitive, stereotypic behaviors that many animals adopt in captivity are caused by an imbalance of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin. This impairs the indirect pathway's ability to modulate movement, a condition documented in species from chickens, cows, sheep and horses to primates and big cats.
The cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdala are physically altered by captivity, along with brain circuitry that involves the basal ganglia. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND
Evolution has constructed animal brains to be exquisitely responsive to their environment. Those reactions can affect neural function by turning different genes on or off. Living in inappropriate or abusive circumstance alters biochemical processes: It disrupts the synthesis of proteins that build connections between brain cells and the neurotransmitters that facilitate communication among them.
There is strong evidence that enrichment, social contact and appropriate space in more natural habitats are necessary for long-lived animals with large brains such as elephants and cetaceans. Better conditions reduce disturbing sterotypical behaviors, improve connections in the brain, and trigger neurochemical changes that enhance learning and memory.
The Captivity Question
Some people defend keeping animals in captivity, arguing that it helps conserve endangered species or offers educational benefits for visitors to zoos and aquariums. These justifications are questionable, particularly for large mammals. As my own research and work by many other scientists shows, caging large mammals and putting them on display is undeniably cruel from a neural perspective. It causes brain damage.
Public perceptions of captivity are slowly changing, as shown by the reaction to the documentary "Blackfish." For animals that cannot be free, there are well-designed sanctuaries. Several already exist for elephants and other large mammals in Tennessee, Brazil and Northern California. Others are being developed for large cetaceans.
Perhaps it is not too late for Kiska.
Bob Jacobs is a Professor of Neuroscience, Colorado College.
Disclosure statement: Bob Jacobs does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
Toxins in water produced by cyanobacteria was likely responsible for more than 300 elephant deaths in Botswana this year, the country's wildlife department announced on Monday.
Elephants mysteriously started dying in the country's vast inland Okavango Delta from March this year, alarming conservationists and sparking an investigation. Some 330 elephants have died in the region.
Officials ruled out killing by poachers who hunt elephants for their ivory, because they died with their tusks intact. They also ruled out anthrax poisoning.
How Did Cyanobacteria Poison the Elephants?
Cyanobacteria are microscopic organisms common in water and sometimes found in soil. Some cyanobacteria produce neurotoxins.
The cyanobacteria "was growing in pans" or watering holes, the principal veterinary officer of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Mmadi Reuben, told reporters.
Reuben said the deaths had "stopped towards the end of June 2020, coinciding with the drying of pans."
"However we have many questions still to be answered such as why the elephants only and why that area only? We have a number of hypotheses we are investigating," added Reuben.
Similar elephant deaths have also been recorded in neighboring Zimbabwe.
Climate Change to Blame?
Not all cyanobacteria are toxic but scientists say varieties dangerous to humans and animals are occurring more frequently as climate change drives up global temperatures.
Southern Africa's temperatures are rising at twice the global average, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Africa's overall elephant population is declining due to poaching. But Botswana, home to almost a third of the continent's elephants, has seen numbers grow to around 130,000.
Botswana's government said it was continuing studies into the occurrence of the deadly bacteria. In the winter, elephants hydrate themselves mainly by eating roots and bark, especially of the baobab tree.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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Thailand has a total population of 5,000 elephants. But of that number, 3,000 live in captivity, carrying tourists on their backs and offering photo opportunities made for social media.
With the corona crisis, tourism revenues have plummeted, and those who make a living from elephants' tourism appeal are struggling even to cover their costs. A single elephant needs up to 250 kilograms (551 pounds) of food a day, costing around €25 ($29.50).
That's where Lek Chailert steps in. She's buying up elephants and rehousing them at the Elephant Nature Park reserve in Chiang Mai. To provide and care for them properly, she founded the Save Elephant Foundation.
An elephant usually sells for around 2 million baht — about €54,000, or $64,000 — with young animals fetching the highest prices. But since their income from tourism has dried up, plenty of owners are ready to sell their animals for less. Chailert paid just 7 million baht for seven elephants from a riding center in Chang Puak.
The Elephant Nature Park now has 91 elephants, which live alongside horses, buffalo, dogs and cats, and are cared for by a human staff of 200. Sadly, it isn't possible to simply release these magnificent beasts into the wild because their natural habitat has long since been destroyed.
Reposted with permission from DW.
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Coronavirus Shines Light on Zoos as Danger Zones for Deadly Disease Transmission Between Humans and Animals
By Marilyn Kroplick
The term "zoonotic disease" wasn't a hot topic of conversation before the novel coronavirus started spreading across the globe and upending lives. Now, people are discovering how devastating viruses that transfer from animals to humans can be. But the threat can go both ways — animals can also get sick from humans. There is no better time to reconsider the repercussions of keeping animals captive at zoos, for the sake of everyone's health.
COVID-19, the illness that's caused by the novel coronavirus, is the result of human contact with animals, though the exact source remains a subject of debate. The risk of such zoonotic disease transmission drastically increases in any setting where wild animals are confined in close proximity to humans, including public display facilities like zoos. Unfortunately, the risks posed by zoonotic transmission go beyond COVID-19. A recent study found that more than 40 percent of zoo animals in Spain were infected with a parasite that can be passed to humans and causes a disease known as toxoplasmosis, which can lead to damage to the brain, eyes and other organs in human beings. Across the U.S., another dangerous zoonotic disease has long been lurking in our midst at zoos: tuberculosis (TB).
TB is a deadly, highly infectious disease that has long existed in captive populations of African and Asian elephants in zoos and circuses across the U.S. According to the World Health Organization, TB is one of the top ten causes of death worldwide, killing millions of people each year. Although TB rates have been on the decline for decades in the U.S., captive elephants represent a persistent reservoir of the virus. Incredibly, "licensees and registrants who own elephants" are not required to test elephants for the virus. Even if they were, these tests, known as "trunk washes," are difficult to conduct and can be unreliable. This means that zoos may be bringing the unsuspecting public into contact with infected elephants. Because TB is no longer common in the U.S., children are not vaccinated against it, making them particularly susceptible.
The risk of elephants transmitting TB to humans is generally greater among those who work closely with elephants, though it is thought that TB can spread from elephants to humans through air also. The risk of wider contagion, especially to zoo guests, is therefore a possibility. Many zoo exhibits bring people through indoor barns where elephants spend much of their time, separated only by bars and a few feet of space. Even more intimate encounters, such as rides or feedings that enable people to come into direct physical contact with elephants, are particularly concerning given their amplified transmission opportunities.
TB has long been known as a potentially serious issue in U.S. zoos. Many people have been infected over the years, including, as recently as 2019. In 2013, seven staff members were infected at the Oregon Zoo in Portland, following an outbreak among three bull elephants. Elephant infections persisted there into 2019. Also, last year, some staff members tested positive for latent TB at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington. Both the Bronx Zoo in New York City and the Saint Louis Zoo in Missouri also have had elephants test positive in recent years.
The threat of deadly disease transmission, however, does not only affect humans. In a process called reverse zoonosis, diseases such as influenza A virus, herpes simplex 1, measles and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) have been documented as passing from humans to animals. Regarding TB, studies have shown that the causative agent that leads to human infection of TB is also present in elephants, suggesting a reverse zoonosis of the disease from humans to elephants. This opens the possibility that humans could actually be the cause of TB infections in captive elephants.
Another incident of reverse zoonosis occurred at the Bronx Zoo recently. In April 2020 the zoo announced that one of its tigers tested positive for COVID-19. While no other cats were tested, the tiger's sister, along with two other tigers and three African lions, developed symptoms including a dry cough, suggesting they might have also been infected.
One of the main reasons that zoos can be hotbeds for deadly disease transmission — which threatens elephants, tigers and other captive animals as well as human beings — is that captive animals can suffer from compromised immune systems due to the confines of captivity, rendering them more susceptible to illness. In many facilities, tigers and elephants are often held in cramped enclosures that bear little resemblance to their natural wild habitats. They can be forced to perform or interact with the public on a daily basis or endure living in solitary confinement. The Bronx Zoo, for example, has forced an elephant named Happy to live alone since 2006, a crushing sentence for a highly social species. These types of living conditions can cause a range of physical and psychological ailments, which have been well documented. Captive elephants tend to live shortened lifespans in contrast to those in the wild and suffer from diseases and conditions virtually unseen in the wild. The cumulative effect of these factors renders elephants prone to the TB contagion.
The fact that TB has continued to infect captive elephant populations in the U.S. for decades reveals the extent to which zoos are incapable of providing adequate living conditions to prevent the spread of this disease, despite their best efforts. While zoos and their supporters continue to argue that keeping animals captive is necessary to raise awareness and get people to care about them, seeing animals trapped in unnatural environments that prevent them from thriving doesn't do anything to teach us about how they live or how they should be recognized, respected and protected in the wild.
We can hope that the world will soon return to some semblance of normalcy, but if this pandemic has taught us anything, it's that we can't continue with business as usual when it comes to our relationship with wildlife and the environment — at least not if we want to survive. In the meantime, we can protect captive animals and ourselves by avoiding zoos.
Marilyn Kroplick is the president of In Defense of Animals.
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By Charli Shield
When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.
That's one way you can tell other elephants have passed through the area, says George Wittemyer, a wildlife conservation biologist at Colorado State University who's been researching African elephants in Kenya's Samburu National Reserve for more than 20 years.
Another sign, long-term elephant conservationist Joyce Poole adds, is the presence of tracks worn through the grass leading to its body. "The vegetation will be gone and the carcass will be surrounded by elephant dung because so many elephants will have visited and stayed," Poole says.
While scientists are yet to pinpoint what exactly struck down a reported 356 elephants in Botswana's Okavango Delta area, what we do know is that these deaths are not only significant for ecologists and conservationists — but elephants themselves.
Elephant Burial Grounds
Highly social creatures that form deep familial bonds, elephants have long been observed gathering at the site where a peer or family member has died — often spending hours, even days, quietly investigating the bodies or the bones of other dead elephants.
Although the popular idea that dying elephants are instinctively drawn to special communal graves — so-called "elephant graveyards" — is a myth, their tendency to go out of their way to visit the bones and tusks of the deceased isn't unlike human rituals at graveyards, says animal psychologist Karen McComb.
"They spend a lot of time touching and smelling skulls and ivory, placing the soles of their feet gently on top of them, and also lifting them up with their trunks," McComb, who's been studying African elephants for 25 years in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, told DW.
The most striking part of watching an elephant experience loss, Poole recalls, is the quietude. She still remembers one of the first elephant deaths she witnessed; a mother who birthed a stillborn calf. That elephant stayed with its baby for two days, trying to lift it and defending it from vultures and hyenas.
"I was so struck by the expression on her face and her body. She looked so dejected. It was really like, 'Oh God, these animals grieve…'. It was just so different," Poole told DW.
Witnessing Emotions in Animals
Not all scientists are comfortable concluding that elephants grieve. Among the more than 30 reports of elephant reactions to death that Wittemyer co-reviewed in a study published in November 2019 were accounts of "enormous variation and nuance" he says. "It can be incredibly involved and intricate for extended periods or can be relatively cursory checks."
In Wittemyer's own experience, it can be difficult not to attribute some kind of emotional experience to the more involved interactions between elephants and their dead.
He shares the story of an "extraordinary event" involving the death of a 55 year-old matriarch in Kenya in a protected area that happened to be near his place of work. She was visited by multiple unrelated families while she was dying, including another matriarch that exerted such enormous effort attempting to lift her to her feet that she broke her tusk, which Wittemyer says, is "like breaking a tooth."
"It was a remarkable example of this heightened emotional state, it was very clearly a very stressful interaction," he says.
A Different Sensory World
One factor that limits our ability to fully grasp the way elephants process and respond to loss is our markedly different sensory experiences of the world.
An elephant's world is fundamentally olfactory — based on smell. Ours is visual. Previous research has shown elephants possess the most scent receptors of any mammal, and can use smell to discern the difference between different human tribes from the same local area.
That could explain why elephants exhibit such interest in sniffing the bones and tusks of others, as a 2005 study from McCombs highlighted. When presented with the skulls and ivory of long-dead elephants and those from other large herbivores, including rhino and buffalo, McCombs and her team found elephants approached and were specifically attracted to the remains of their own species.
Without access to the smells an elephant picks up on, Wittemyer says "an enormous amount of stuff" could be missed by humans when studying these behaviors.
While scientists cannot say what the elephants are thinking, it is clear that death — whether of a relative, a close companion, or just another member of their species — has some kind of meaning for elephants.
And why wouldn't it? Asks Poole, who points to the fact that elephants' survival depends on their social and familial relationships.
"Through the course of evolution they have evolved these complex rituals to hold families together. Those have to be driven by some sort of positive emotions, otherwise why would they bother?"
"They recognize that death, for somebody, is a big loss."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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More than 350 elephants have died in Botswana since May, and no one knows why.
Poaching has been ruled out, because no tusks have been removed from the elephants' bodies, but it is possible the animals are dying of a disease that could spread to the human population.
A catastrophic die-off of elephants is happing in northern Botswana, and no one knows why. It’s vital that a team o… https://t.co/G4VlI5hZJA— Niall McCann (@Niall McCann)1593612416.0
Botswana's tourism ministry first said that it was investigating the deaths in mid-May, when 12 dead elephants were found over two weekends in the country's Okavango Delta, Phys.org reported at the time.
By the end of May, 169 elephants had died, and that number had more than doubled by mid-June, The Guardian reported.
"This is totally unprecedented in terms of numbers of elephants dying in a single event unrelated to drought," McCann told BBC News.
But despite the scale of the deaths, the government has not yet completed testing of the animals to determine the cause, earning the criticism of conservation groups.
"There is real concern regarding the delay in getting the samples to an accredited laboratory for testing in order to identify the problem — and then take measures to mitigate it," Environmental Investigation Agency Executive Director Mary Rice told The Guardian. "The lack of urgency is of real concern and does not reflect the actions of a responsible custodian. There have been repeated offers of help from private stakeholders to facilitate urgent testing which appear to have fallen on deaf ears … and the increasing numbers are, frankly, shocking."
The government, meanwhile, attributed the delay to the coronavirus pandemic.
"We have sent [samples] off for testing and we are expecting the results over the next couple of weeks or so," Dr. Cyril Taolo, acting director for Botswana's department of wildlife and national parks, told The Guardian. "The Covid-19 restrictions have not helped in the transportation of samples in the region and around the world. We're now beginning to emerge from that and that is why we are now in a position to send the samples to other laboratories."
Taolo said the government had confirmed 280 out of 350 reported deaths and is working to confirm the rest.
Local reports indicate that animals of all ages and sexes are dying, with some spotted wandering in circles, a sign of neurological damage. The cause is likely a poison or disease, but experts are not sure which.
More than 100 elephants died in October 2019 in a suspected anthrax outbreak, Phys.org reported, but McCann told BBC News he had tentatively ruled out anthrax as the cause of the most recent deaths. Cyanide poisoning used by poachers is another possibility, but scavengers are not dying after eating the carcasses, The Guardian pointed out.
"It is only elephants that are dying and nothing else," McCann told BBC News. "If it was cyanide used by poachers, you would expect to see other deaths."
Botswana hosts the world's largest elephant population at more than 135,000 animals, about a third of all the elephants in Africa, Phys.org pointed out. The Okavango Delta, meanwhile, is home to 10 percent of Botswana's total population, or around 15,000 animals. African elephants are considered vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. Botswana was considered one of the safest countries for elephants until recently, Science Alert pointed out. But the government made a controversial decision to lift its elephant hunting ban in May of 2019, and poaching is on the rise. An Elephants Without Borders study published in Current Biology last year found that new elephant carcasses in northern Botswana had increased by 593 percent between 2014 and 2018 and that at least 385 elephants had been poached between 2017 and 2018.
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With the coronavirus continuing to spread and self-isolation becoming the norm, it feels more important than ever to embrace the power and beauty of nature. Sure, we can't travel as much these days, but the modern world can still bring the natural world to us.
We've picked some great webcams around the globe to help keep you sane in these trying times. Depending on the time of day or night you're reading this, they should offer you some solace and wonder for the long weeks ahead.
Tembe Elephant Park
One of several great livecams from Explore.org. This one brings you to a very popular watering hole on the Mozambique border.
A rare opportunity to see bald eagles up close and relaxed in Decorah, Iowa.
Gorilla Forest Corridor
You may or may not see any critically endangered Grauer's gorillas, but this is a heck of a peaceful site in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
An urban reef in Miami, Florida that's part habitat, part science experiment and part art project. You never know who might swim by.
Cornell Lab’s Panama Fruit Feeder-cam at Canopy Lodge
Pay attention. All kinds of colorful birds fly by to sample the wares that scientists have left out for them at this conservation site in Panama.
Big Sur Condors
Two webcams from the Ventana Wildlife Society showcasing the amazing California condors in their care. The birds aren't always on camera, but it's worth sticking around to see them.
Big Sur Condor Nest powered by EXPLORE.org
Otters and More at Monterey Bay
A neverending parade of sea otters, birds, harbor seals and other marine mammals will entertain you at this feed, courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Bison Watering Hole at Grasslands National Park
Again, you never know what wildlife you'll witness onscreen, but the beauty of this site in Saskatchewan can take your breath away.
New York University’s Hawk Cam
Oh wow, an urban nest whose residents are mini-celebrities. This includes an active chat feature, so it's one more way to connect with fellow enthusiasts.
Jellyfish at Monterey Bay Aquarium
Who knew jellyfish were so Zen? This livecam is about as relaxing as it can possibly get. Get lost in the gentle motion.
There's more! We found one more essential livestream that we can't embed but it's worth opening a new browser tab to see:
Red Wolf enclosure cam — Check out one of the rarest predators on the planet, courtesy of the conservation breeding program at the Wolf Conservation Center, which also maintains several other great webcams.
Don't find something you like above? You can also try going for a walk to see what wildlife or natural beauties you can find in your neighborhood. After all, self-isolation doesn't mean we have to keep ourselves indoors all day and all night.
While you're at it, bring your phone and share photos of what you see on iNaturalist or other citizen-science platforms — that's one more way to stay connected with your community and avoid feelings of isolation. And you can help collect important scientific information along the way.
No matter what you do, please just stay safe. The world will still need you when all of this is over.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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