Wildlife Trade Crisis
In recent years the impact of illicit wildlife trade on species has reached unprecedented levels. This trade, linked to global criminal gangs and terrorist groups is estimated to be worth over $10billion annually and represents a threat to the very existence of some of our best loved species: In the last 2 years over 10% of the total African elephant population has been slaughtered for ivory, a death toll the species simply cannot sustain; since 2000 over 1000 tigers have been poached, a huge number considering there are thought to be no more than 3500 left in the wild; and 2012 has seen a surge in tiger poaching reports from across the tiger’s range. Even more worrying than the increase in numbers of confiscated tiger parts or snared tiger incidents are the clear intelligence indications that the demand is becoming more international, more professional and better organised. Meanwhile rhino poaching in Africa has increased by 43% between 2011 and 2012 and this rate seems to be rising -since the start of 2013 1 rhino has been killed every 11 hours; whilst in our oceans many shark species are being driven to extinction as massive levels of overfishing, estimated at over 100 million individuals killed annually, takes its toll.
Wildlife trade is regulated through the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species (CITES) to which 178 countries are signatories. In March 2013 representatives from these countries and other interested parties, including ZSL, are meeting in Bangkok at the 16th Conference of the Parties (COP 16). Delegates will decide on issues that will go a long way to deciding the fate of many species including amongst others, proposals to legalise trade in rhino horn, how to address the massive illegal ivory trade and providing stronger protection for sharks.
Urgent action is needed to face this crisis, to help countries control poaching on the ground as well as to take steps to reduce the demand in countries like China, Thailand and Vietnam that is ultimately driving the demand for wildlife and wildlife products. ZSL is already active in fighting wildlife crime through our global conservation projects.
Kenya is a stronghold for the eastern subspecies of black rhino, but the population plummeted in the 1970s and 1980s (from over 20,000 to just 350) due to poaching. Since then, efforts to increase the rhino population by Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) have met with relative success, but levels of poaching have surged again in the past three years. ZSL has been supporting KWS to conserve black rhinos for around 25 years and is currently working in Tsavo National Park, which is strategically important for rhino conservation due to its large size and suitable habitat.
Greater One-Horned Rhino
Escalating demands for rhino horn for traditional Chinese medicine and for use in ceremonial dagger handles in the middle east is fuelling a growing crisis for greater one horned rhino conservation in India and Nepal. Poaching rhinos for their horn has reached its highest level in 2 decades with Kaziranga National Park, home to 2290 of the global population of 3300 greater one horned rhinos, losing 21 rhinos in 2012 and 6 rhinos in the first two months of 2013 to poaching.
However, in Nepal’s Bardia National Park, ZSL and the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC), with support from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, have put in place a patrol system which has brought rhino poaching to an almost complete halt; only one rhino has been killed there since 2010.
One in five reptile species is threatened with extinction. If the apparent declines in many reptile species are to be reversed, trade in these species must be tackled. Harvested and traded species of reptiles (particularly freshwater turtles) are found throughout the world. The worst affected regions are Europe, central and southeast Asia.
Only about 300 tigers still survive in the humid forests of Sumatra, protected by dedicated teams of Indonesian government staff in partnership with groups like ZSL. Our patrol teams in Berbak and Sembilang National Parks share intelligence reports with others across the island to identify and arrest key wildlife dealers as well as poachers. In 2012 there was up to a 50% increase in snare removal from some reserves, and a minimum of 32 tigers are known to have been killed. This frightening upsurge can only be stopped by tackling the demand for tiger parts and skins – mostly for the Chinese market - as well as catching the criminals.
Cheetahs are being taken from the wild and smuggled across international borders to be sold as pets and with less than 10,000 individuals left in the wild the population can ill afford to lose any to the wildlife trade.
Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda have brought this issue to international attention at the CITES meeting in Bangkok and propose commissioning the first major study of the trade as a crucial step to enable countries to address its impacts on the species.
With perhaps 400 tigers in unfragmented forest in the Russian Far East and low local human density, prospects for the Amur tiger would be relatively good were it not for the poaching crisis. Demand from China has led to removal of at least 30 Amur tigers from the wild in the last 12 months; some of them orphaned cubs whose mothers have been killed. If this is not stopped, Amur tiger numbers will decline sharply very soon. ZSL works with Lazovsky State Nature Zapovednik and other partners to tackle the problem, using patrols and surveillance cameras. Four poachers were arrested in Lazovsky in November 2012.
The forest elephant is the savannah elephant’s smaller and less well known cousin, likely a completely separate species. Unfortunately it’s a species facing extinction. They used to range across the forests of central Africa but massive illegal poaching means their numbers have plummeted by almost two thirds in recent decades. ZSL is taking action to conserve the species in one of its last strongholds – the forests of south east Cameroon.
Although their international trade has been banned since 2000, pangolins are the most frequently encountered mammal species seized from illegal traders in Asia. They are intensively hunted throughout their range in Asia, and increasingly Africa, for use of their meat, skin and scales in Asian markets. In 2010, a single criminal syndicate was found to have illegally traded 22,000 pangolins in just 21 months. In 2012, some estimates suggest that 60,000 pangolins could have been lost.
Seahorses are valuable commodities that are traded around the world. Our pioneering research has shown that they are overfished for use in traditional medicines, aquarium display and as curiosities. More than 25 million animals — dead and alive — are traded globally each year.
Sharks are a diverse group of fish, ranging from 20cm to 20 metres, and have inhabited our oceans for over 400M years. As top predators, many sharks help to regulate marine ecosystems, and are a vital component of the oceans; however, a recent report has suggested that ~100 million sharks are being killed each year by target fisheries and as by-catch, primarily for their valuable fins.
As such, there is considerable focus on the CITES meeting in Bangkok as five sharks and five rays were proposed for addition to Appendix II, which, if successful, would limit trade in these species.
For the last 10 years ZSL has been working closely with the UK Border Agency CITES team at Heathrow to monitor the trade in marine organisms coming into the UK. In that time we have received thousands of animals confiscated under the regulations, helped the authorities with identification of shipments and trained Border Agency staff in basic coral taxonomy.
Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool
Traditional tools, technologies and resourcess are not stemming the illegal killing and trading of endangered species. SMART is a new tool for measuring, evaluating and improving the effectiveness of wildlife law enforcement patrols. The combination of software, capacity building tools and best practices will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of anti-poaching efforts. Developed by a consortium of conservation organisations, the SMART software was released at the end of February 2013.
Smart Conservation Software