Ivory poaching on the rise thanks to Asian demand and a legal loophole

poaching, ivoryThe poaching of elephant tusks is a growing problem due to increased demand from Asian nations, the Kenyan newspaper Business Daily reports.

A loophole in the UN law regulating the ivory trade allows Japan and China to legally purchase some ivory from selected nations under tightly controlled contracts. This has encouraged poachers to smuggle their illegal goods to Asia. Once there, it’s much easier to unload them.

African nations are split on a global ivory ban, with Kenya supporting a ban and Tanzania wanting the trade to be legal. This basically comes down to whether nations want short-term profits by killing their wildlife and hacking their tusks off, or long-term profits from safaris and tourism.

Radio Netherlands reports that 2011 was a record year for ivory seizures, showing that at least some nations are taking the problem seriously. It also suggests, of course, that the trade is on the rise.

Authorities around the world made at least 13 large-scale seizures last year, bagging more than 23 tonnes of ivory. TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, says that represents about 2,500 elephants. The figure is more than twice that of 2010.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress. It dates to sometime between 1880 and 1923, showing poaching isn’t a new problem.

Can stem cell research save endangered species?

northern white rhino, stem cell researchNew 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]

Conservation victory: Serengeti highway plans cancelled

Serengeti
Plans to build a paved, two-lane highway through the Serengeti National Park have been canceled.

The road, which was supposed to bring better access to Lake Victoria, will possibly be rerouted further south to avoid having an impact on the Serengeti’s rich wildlife.

There’s already a gravel road across the park, but paving it would have attracted much more traffic and probably fencing. The U.S. government expressed concern, as did UNESCO, after a study showed the project would affect the annual migration of millions of animals that’s one of the wonders of the natural world.

This is a rare victory of common sense over unbridled “development.” It’s also an example of how being eco-friendly can be good for the economy. Tourism generates a major part of Tanzania’s income, and there’s no way a road cutting through the nation’s most valuable natural resource wouldn’t have had a negative impact.

[Photo courtesy D. Gordon E. Robertson]

Rwanda looks to its history to get over its past

RwandaSadly, when people think of Rwanda they tend to think only of the 1994 genocide, yet Rwanda has a rich history and heritage.

Now the government is developing its museums and historical sites to encourage cultural tourism. Sites like Nyanza Palace, shown here, will get special attention. Other attractions include dance troupes and even something called the Inyambo dance, performed by trained cows!

Rwanda has been inhabited for at least ten thousand years. Around the 15th century AD, several kingdoms cropped up with distinctive artistic styles. Several good Rwandan museums showcase this heritage.

Rwanda has become increasingly popular with adventure travelers and safari groups. It’s working to preserve its environment to help its rebounding population of mountain gorillas as well as other species.

This new move towards cultural and historical tourism appears to be emphasizing a common past in order to erase longstanding ethnic divisions. Hopefully this new project will get the international community to see more to Rwandan history than its tragic recent past.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Kenya attempts to reconcile wildlife and people

Kenya
Two recent articles in the Nairobi Star highlight the Kenyan government’s efforts to preserve wildlife while keeping the human population happy.

Kenya has always been a top safari destination and tourism is a major source of hard currency. Unfortunately, tensions between people and wildlife are heightening in Kenya and all over Africa due to deforestation and population pressures. Earlier this month, elephants broke out of Tsavo West National Park, destroying crops and scaring villagers.

The Star reports that 490 new rangers in the Kenya Wildlife Service will be stationed around the country, assisted by community scouts who will act as liaisons between the service and locals. The Kenya Wildlife Service has erected 1,300 km (807 miles) of electric fences to keep wildlife out of farmers’ fields.

Meanwhile, the government said it’s cracking down on the illegal wildlife trade, although the source for the article, Ministry of Wildlife official Mohamed wa-Mwacha, was a wee bit vague as to just how that’s being done. He recently ran a workshop on improving monitoring of the trade. He and his colleagues face a big task. There’s a huge demand for rare animals and animals parts, as you can see by the regular posts here on Gadling about poaching and smuggling, and an organized international network of smugglers.

Hopefully the bad guys will get locked up, the good guys can plant their crops in peace, and the Kenya’s precious (and profitable) wildlife will be allowed to thrive.

[Photo of kid riding tortoise at Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy courtesy Chuckupd via Wikimedia Commons]