Two recent poaching incidents reveal the dangers faced by India’s rare animals, even when they are supposedly under protection.
The BBC reports that a one-horned rhino was shot in Assam when it wandered out of Kaziranga National Park. Poachers took its horn but the animal did not die. Park staff are now trying to save it. The park is home to about two-thirds of the world’s population of one-horned rhinos, which number in total fewer than 3,000 individuals. Thirteen of the animals have been poached in the park in the past nine months.
On the same day, the BBC reported the poaching of a tiger in a zoo. Poachers entered the Itanagar zoo in Arunachal Pradesh and hacked a female tiger into half a dozen pieces before being scared off by the security guards, who had been away eating dinner.
The Times of India reports that several employees have been fired over the zoo incident. No arrests have been made in either crime.
Poaching is a major problem in many countries because of the high demand for animal parts as trophies and for use in traditional medicine.
[Photo courtesy Mandeep Singh]
Flying Rhinos from Green Renaissance on Vimeo.
Flying rhinos aren’t something you see everyday–not even in South Africa, where 19 of these endangered rhinos have recently been moved from the Eastern Cape to a conservation location in the province of Limpopo. Still relatively new, an airlift capture technique was used to transport black rhinos out of inaccessible or difficult locations. Suspending a sleeping rhino by the ankles through the air and to waiting vehicles is undoubtedly a difficult task, but conservation managers, wildlife veterinarians, capture teams from WWF, SANParks, Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency, and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife all worked in cooperation with each other to ensure the success of this translocation mission.
All in all, these rhinos were moved 932 miles across the country. With an average commute of just 10 minutes or so by helicopter, one of the advantages of flying the black rhinos in this specific manner is that they don’t need to be drugged for an extended period of time. The WWF Black Rhino Range Expansion Project has created seven significant black rhino populations over the last eight years–nearly 120 black rhinos have been translocated due to these admirable efforts.
Zimbabwe has seen an increase in rhino poaching this year, the government newspaper The Herald reports.
At least 23 of the 700 or so black and white rhinos in the country were poached this year, but authorities managed to arrest 37 poachers and horn dealers. Rhino horns are popular for folk medicine, especially in Asia where they fetch high prices. One tactic of the poachers is to poison water holes, which kills not just the rhinos but any animal that drinks there.
More than $4 million is being spent to protect the animals, the government says, including implanting radio transmitters into the horns of 100 rhinos this year.
Zimbabwe isn’t the only country facing this problem. The Huffington Post reports that South Africa is doing more to train park workers on how to investigate incidents of poaching. Several poachers were killed in shootouts with authorities earlier this year, but that didn’t stop 341 South African rhinos from being poached in the first 10 months of the year, more than in all of 2010.
Photo of rhino in Matopos National Park, Zimbabwe, courtesy Susan Adams.
This year in Africa, the fight between law enforcement and poachers of endangered species has flared into a war.
In the first two months of 2011, nine poachers were shot dead in South Africa. Despite this, poaching is up. In that nation alone, 333 rhinos were killed in 2010, and there have been 309 rhinos poached so far this year. It looks like the illegal hunters are set to break a grisly record.
Now South Africa is holding talks with Vietnam to reduce the demand for rhino horn, which some Asians use as an aphrodisiac and as a cure for cancer. Sometimes the horns are kept whole as curios or for religious rituals, as this 1930s photo of a Tibetan monk from the Bundesarchiv shows. The two governments are working on a plan to fight organized syndicates that trade in animal parts.
South Africa isn’t the only country seeing trouble, and isn’t the only country fighting back. In Zimbabwe, poachers have been poisoning water holes so they can kill animals silently and avoid detection by park guards. At least nine elephants, five lions, two buffaloes, and several vultures are known to have died.
Meanwhile, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are going to sign a treaty to cooperate across their borders to stop poaching of mountain gorillas and other species. The treaty also sets up joint research and education about the region’s diverse flora and fauna.
New advances in stem cell research are giving hope in the fight to save endangered species.
Scientists have created stem cells for two endangered African species–the northern white rhino and the drill monkey. They “reprogrammed” skin cells to make them revert to stem cells, an early stage of cell development in which a cell can develop into different types of specialized cells.
It’s hoped that one day these stem cells could be made into sperm and eggs, leading to test tube babies that could bolster dwindling populations of some species. This has already been achieved with laboratory mice.
The white rhino used to be a favorite of safari goers and, unfortunately, big game hunters. There are probably none left in the wild, and only seven in captivity. These rhinos are the poster children of how tourism can hurt the environment.
This stem cell breakthrough is good news. With Obama scrapping tighter smog regulations and China discovering just how much they’ve screwed up their environment, we can’t rely on our so-called leaders to get us out of this mess. While environmentalists say we all need to change our attitudes in order to save the planet, that’s unlikely to happen. In fact, science is the only part of society that regularly advances. Common sense, foresight, and wisdom sure don’t.
Here’s hoping the scientists can give us a world where our children don’t have to go to a zoo to see wildlife.
[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]