Rhinos Now Extinct In Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park

Rhinos are now extinct in Limpopo National ParkAn official from the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique made a sobering announcement this week when it was revealed that rhinos are now extinct inside the park. António Abacar, the park’s director, indicated that no rhinos have been spotted in Limpopo since January, which leads him to believe that poachers have killed the few animals that had remained. With rhinos now gone, he believes those same poachers have now turned their attention on the park’s elephant population, which is endangered as well.

Rhinos are hunted throughout Africa for their horns, which are then sold on the black market in certain Asian countries. The horns are highly valued for their use in traditional medicines throughout Asia, despite the fact that there is absolutely no evidence that indicates they hold any kind of medicinal properties whatsoever. The mistaken belief that a rhino horn is capable of curing any number ailments has pushed the species to the brink of extinction across the entire continent.

The Limpopo National Park is part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, which includes Kruger National Park in South Africa and Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe. This large sanctuary was created in 2001, with the three countries agreeing to remove numerous fences between their lands so that the animals could continue to migrate freely across the region. At the time, more than 1000 elephants and 300 rhinos were relocated into Limpopo National Park to help bolster their populations there. At the start of this year, only about 15 of those rhinos were believed to still be living inside the park. Now it seems that those are gone as well.The poaching throughout the region has gotten so bad that South Africa has threatened to restore its fences along the border with Mozambique. According to the article linked to above, over the past five years South African law enforcement has killed 279 Mozambicans who were caught in the act of poaching, while arresting another 300. That would seem to indicate that much of South Africa’s poaching problems isn’t homegrown but instead comes from its neighbor.

It is incredibly sad to me to think that we on the edge of wiping out an entire species because some people erroneously believe that its horn can be used in medicines. The rhino is being pushed to the brink and it may soon be gone altogether.

[Photo Credit: Kraig Becker]

More Than 11,000 Elephants Poached In Gabon In Past Decade, Officials Estimate

elephantsThe West African nation of Gabon has one of the largest populations of elephants in the world, yet now they’re in danger of being wiped out for their ivory.

The World Wildlife Fund reports that a study done by itself in cooperation with the Gabonese National Parks Agency and the Wildlife Conservation Society found that up to 11,000 elephants were killed by poachers in Gabon since 2004. That may be up to 77 percent of the total population.

Most of the killings took place in and around Minkébé National Park, a vast and remote area that’s supposed to be a safe haven for wildlife.

The area is home to forest elephants, which are especially prized by poachers because their ivory is unusually hard and has a pink tinge to it, making it more profitable to sell on the international black market.

As we reported last month, the illegal ivory trade rose to its highest level ever in 2011. This is mainly due to a rising demand in Asia. While some African nations are investing in more law enforcement, corruption in both Africa and Asia is keeping the illegal trade in ivory alive.

Is it any wonder that another recent study found that elephants try to avoid humans?

The WWF is circulating a petition to stop ivory trade in Thailand. It says in part, “Thailand is also the biggest unregulated market for ivory in the world. Although it is against the law to sell ivory from African elephants in Thailand, ivory from domestic Thai elephants can be sold legally. As a result, massive quantities of illegal African ivory are being laundered through Thai shops.”

The petition already has more than 200,000 signatures, including mine. They’re trying to get to a million.

[Image of forest elephant in Ivindo National Park, Gabon, courtesy Peter H. Wrege]

Tanzania Planning To Sell 100 Tons Of Ivory

Elephants in TanzaniaTanzania has formally applied to the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species requesting permission to sell off its massive stockpile of ivory. The East African country has more than 100 tons of ivory in storage and wants to conduct a one-time sale to China and Japan. Proceeds from the sale would help fund elephant conservation efforts throughout the country, but the plan has drawn sharp criticism from conservationists.

The sale of ivory is banned in most parts of the world but demand has been on the rise across parts of Asia over the past few years. That has led to a thriving black market, which is supplied by the illegal poaching of elephants throughout Africa. In the past decade, poachers have slaughtered thousands of elephants to harvest their tusks. As a result, the creatures are now endangered across much of the continent.

Tanzania’s stockpile is the result of tusks being collected following the natural deaths of elephants throughout the country, but conservationists say they still shouldn’t sell off all of that ivory. Critics of the plan fear that flooding the market with 100 tons of ivory would only serve to confuse consumers, many of who aren’t even aware that it is illegal to purchase in the first place. They say it sends the wrong message at a time when they are trying to educate people about poaching and the illegal ivory trade. Instead they recommend that Tanzania destroy its hoard of ivory, something that the country Gabon did earlier this year.

As if the sale of ivory wasn’t enough to draw the ire of conservationists, Tanzania has also said that it would like to remove elephants from the list of the most endangered species. That move would effectively reduce the level of protection given to the animals and allow for commercial big game hunting and even the trade of hides and live animals.

For a cash strapped country like Tanzania, the sale of this ivory would bring in millions of dollars in revenue. But if it further fuels the ivory trade and could potentially increases poaching, the price of the sale could ultimately be much higher than anyone wants to pay.

Central African Ivory Wars Ravage Elephant Population

The demand for ivory has resulted in the slaughter of elephants in AfricaAn ever-increasing demand for ivory on Asia’s black market is creating conflicts across Africa and having a devastating effect on the elephant population there. According to a somber and in depth report published by the New York Times on Monday, the high price of ivory has now made elephant tusks akin to blood diamonds, a natural resource to be plundered at all costs. As a result, elephants are now being killed by the tens of thousands on an annual basis with poaching at its most rampant in over thirty years.

According to the article, ivory is now sold on the illegal underground market for more than $1000 per pound. That kind of cash has lured in organized crime syndicates in China that work with rebel resistance groups throughout Africa who obtain the ivory by hunting down and slaughtering elephants in the wild. The tusks of the animal are then smuggled out of the country and shipped to Asia, where it is used in the creation of ornamental goods. Ivory has long been seen as a symbol of wealth and status in that part of the world and it has grown in demand with a rising middle-class, particularly in China.

It isn’t just outlaws and mob bosses that are caught up in the ivory trade, however. The armies of some African nations are also likely being used in poaching operations as well. The Times says that armies from Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan have all been implicated in the poaching of elephants. The article even implies that Ugandan soldiers have employed the use of military helicopters to hunt down and kill elephants inside the neighboring DRC. Those soldiers are blamed for the slaughter of a herd of 22 elephants that took place in April.And where is all of this ivory going? For the most part it ends up in China. It is estimated that 70% of the ivory finds its way into that country and last year more than 150 Chinese citizens were arrested in Africa on charges of smuggling ivory. Experts feel that if China cracked down on the demand for ivory amongst its growing middle-class, the systematic poaching of elephants would drop off dramatically.

For their part, most of the African nations try to protect their elephant herds as much as possible. Those herds are generally found inside national parks, which are of course protected lands. But those countries don’t have enough manpower, money or other resources to patrol those large sections of wilderness, thus poachers can come and go almost with impunity. When they are caught in the act, however, it often results in a bloody conflict between anti-poaching units and the outlaws, who are often very well armed.

Just how badly has the elephant population been hurt by the ivory trade? No one knows exactly for sure, but in the Congo’s Garamba National Park the creatures once numbered in excess of 20,000. Today it is believed that just 2400 still freely wander that region, which was also once home to the white rhino. Sadly, that species has already been hunted to extinction within the park as poachers harvested rhino horns, which are also in high demand across Asia.

Reading the New York Times piece is both shocking and sad. Having seen elephants in the wilds of Africa with my own eyes I found it impossible to not be struck by the intelligence and nobility of those animals. It is hard to believe that in the 21st century man’s greed could possibly see the last of these creatures roaming free.

Poachers may now be setting fires in Kenya

Mt. Kenya in AfricaPoachers in Kenya may have added a new weapon to their arsenal as they continue to look for ways to illegally harvest ivory in the African country. Earlier this week a series of wildfires ignited on and around Mt. Kenya and officials believe that they were started by poachers looking to draw attention away from their nefarious activities.

Officials at Mt. Kenya National Park scrambled more than 100 firefighters to combat the fires, which sent wildlife fleeing for safety at lower altitudes. The blaze scorched hundreds of acres of forests along the slopes of the mountain, which is Africa’s second tallest at 5199 meters (17,057 feet). Typically, these types of fires are ignited naturally by lightning, but the region hasn’t had storms of any kind in recent weeks. The fact that they also sprung up near important structures, such as a school, has also fueled suspicion as to their origins.

As we’ve reported numerous times on Gadling, illegal poaching has become a serious problem throughout Africa. Elephants and rhinos are the biggest targets as their tusks and horns fetch large sums of money in Asia where they are commonly used in traditional medicines. Those two species have been hunted to near extinction in several regions of the continent and despite increased anti-poaching operations they continue to be killed at an alarming rate.

The concern is that while park officials were busy putting out these fires, the poachers were hunting the elephants that were forced off the mountain by the blaze. It is too early to tell if they managed to slaughter any of the animals, but authorities fear that they could see the hunters employing fire in future poaching operations as well.

[Photo credit: Chris 73 via WikiMedia]