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Attendees at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science (EWASS), hosted in Liverpool, UK from April 3 to 6, had the chance to hear a surprising presentation.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By William H. Funk
Proposed funding cuts to environmental programs in President Trump's proposed 2018 budget have drawn anxious attention from around the world. But while the biggest numbers deal with rolling back the Obama administration's climate change initiatives, more subtle withdrawals of federal support from lesser known international programs threaten the continued existence of some of the planet's most iconic animals.
President Trump's 2018 budget proposes a 32 percent across-the-board shrinkage of U.S. foreign assistance, affecting hundreds of sustainability, health and environmental programs.
Africa loses an average of three rhinos a day to the ongoing poaching crisis and the illegal rhino horn trade. In 2016 alone, 1,054 rhinos were reported killed in South Africa, representing a loss in rhinos of approximately six percent. That's close to the birth rate, meaning the population remains perilously close to the tipping point.
This year, the Natural History Museum in London awarded photographer Brent Stirton the 2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year grand title for his grisly image of a black rhino with its two horns hacked off in South Africa's Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park.
A baby rhino spotted alongside its mother in Manas National Park, located in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, is an encouraging new sign that the rhino population in the protected area is on the upswing. The mother, named Jamuna, was rescued as a calf from Kaziranga National Park, located about 200 miles east of Manas and raised at the Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation, a facility that cares for injured or orphaned wild animals run by Wildlife Trust of India/International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Assam Forest Department. She was moved to the Manas in 2008 as part of the country's rhino conservation efforts.
The calf is her second since 2013—a positive indication that despite concerns due to poaching of mature males, rhinos in Manas are reproducing.
By Michael Tatarski
Throughout the month of March, a unique graffiti campaign popped up on the walls of several streets in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, the hyperactive commercial capital of Vietnam. The works differed from the usual tags and designs that adorn urban areas around the world. The graffiti pieces, 17 in all, carry a simple message: "Save the rhinos" or "Cứu tê giác" in Vietnamese.
As a result of South Africa's highest court rejecting a bid by the government to keep a ban on the sale of rhinoceros horn, it will soon be legal to buy and sell the land mammals' horns in the country.
A young white rhino was killed after being shot in the head three times by poachers who broke into the Thoiry Zoo in Paris Monday night. Poachers de-horned the 4-year-old rhino, named Vince, and left alive two other white rhinos, 37-year-old Gracie and 5-year-old Bruno. They left part of Vince's second horn, leading local police to believe they were ill-equipped or interrupted. The poachers are still at large.
With legal immunity, Rangers at Kaziranga National Park (Kaziranga) in Assam, India can shoot poachers to protect the Indian one-horned rhinoceros. While the number of rhinoceroses killed has now dropped, the human shooting policy—started in 2013— remains controversial.
Local villagers and tribal peoples' rights organizations, including London-based Survival International, feel the poacher-killing program is out of control. In 2015, 16 rhinos were killed compared to 23 people, raising concerns about "extrajudicial executions," according to the BBC.
Rhino horn is highly valued as a medicinal and cultural product in multiple countries including China and Japan, where it can cost more than gold. Poachers come from crime syndicates and poaching gangs, who recruit locals. In response, India's rangers have long been uniformed, with arms, and given license to prosecute offenders in the parks, according to Quartz.
Kaziranga has made great strides in rhino conversation. Only a few of the one-horned rhinoceros were living 100 years ago when the park was established. There are now more than 2,400, or more than 75 percent of their world population. Kaziranga is the area's main tourist attraction, the BBC reported.
Rhino and ranger in Kaziranga National Park Robin Pagnamenta
When the amount of rhinos poached in Kaziranga reached 27 in 2013, M. K. Yadava, then director of the park, penned a report proposing the poacher-shooting initiative. To justify his beliefs, he wrote "Crime against man, an animal which is found in great abundance and one who is largely responsible for destroying nature and ecosystems, must take a back seat when crime against mother nature is on the examination table."
The current park director, Dr. Satyendra Singh, told the BBC, "First we warn them—who are you? But if they resort to firing we have to kill them. First we try to arrest them, so that we get the information, what are the linkages, who are others in the gang?"
Human rights campaigner Pranab Doley is investigating the park's record keeping relating to the poacher shootings and has found it quite lacking. Many of the poachers killed are listed as unidentified and forensic reports are missing. "We don't keep each and every account," a senior Forest Department official told the BBC.
Kaziranga National Park RangersDavid Reid
Several cases drew added attention to this policy, including the killing of a disabled man who wandered into the park and did not respond to a verbal warning, the shooting of a child in the leg and the alleged torture of an individual later deemed to be innocent.
In the first case, the family of little means felt unable to pursue a case against the rangers, who have significant government protection against prosecution. The park paid the medical bills and offered other compensation to the family of the boy who was shot, and it denies the torture accusations. An added danger for locals is that in some areas, there are no signs or fences to mark the edge of the park.
This conflict continues to embroil conservationists, government officials, native locals, animals, human rights organizations and poachers. The shooting policy may also be in violation of the 2006 Forest Rights Act, which, in part, "grants legal recognition to the rights of traditional forest dwelling communities." In related news, plans to dramatically increase the size of Kaziranga entails villager displacement "with little due process" and "documented cases of violence and even death," according to Quartz.
India isn't the only country fighting poaching. Check out this video from the Hemmersbach Rhino Force working to end poaching in Africa: