Sunday, February 24, 2013

Indian Rhino: Conservation and Poaching Threats

The news about rhinos in India is less depressing than the stories coming out of Africa. Most of the country’s rhinos live in the north-east state of Assam and are held in relatively small national parks that lie along the Bramapuhtra river.

The range of the Indian Rhino, aka the Greater one-Horned Rhinoceros once covered a vast swath of land that stretched across what is known as the Indo-Gangetic plain. 

As this map, taken from a Wiki site shows with the tiny reddish dots, they are now confined to protected populations in Nepal, Bhutan and India’s state of Assam, where about two-thirds of the total number of about 3000 live (claims vary, but not by more than10%).

In an interesting historical note by one RC Beavan of the Bengal Survey the status of this creature was nicely summed up, albeit in 1865, in a journal called the Intellectual Observer

He wrote that it “has been driven by the progress of civilization further and further from the haunts of men, until now it is to be found only in the dense untrodden jungles which skirt the base of the Eastern Himalayas, and the branches of that chain which penetrate Assam.”  

I was particularly struck by his spelling of the name of the major river of the region. He called it the Burrampooter.

Of the many images of this live armoured tank available I chose this belligerent-looking character, a photo taken by Yathin S. Krishnappa and available on a Creative Commons  site.  

While poaching is definitely a threat, a surprising cause of mortality comes from the river. Every year it floods in spring when the snows of the Himalayas melt and many rhinos drown before they can leave the riparian swamps and head for the hills.

In a short NDTV news clip video dated 28 Sept 2012 titled FLOODS, POACHING KAZARINGA’S DOUBLE TROUBLE the recent poaching of three rhinos in two days was compared the drowning of some 700 animals in a previous flood seasons. It may be that 700 is a cumulative number, but that is not clear in the news clip. But flooding is very definitely a problem. A recent (Jan 2013) DW report talks of the death of 50 rhinos and also mentions that 30 of them drowned in 2012.

One of the stranger elements of that same NDTV news clip is that the face of a poached rhino, presumably with its horn chopped off, has been blurred as if it were the genital regions of a human.   

More disconcerting than this ultimate homage to the PC world is that two of the rhinos were still alive. This implies that someone immobilized them.  A vet? Maybe. It would not be the first time, as members of our profession have been implicated in some such activities in South Africa. Sad.

In a January 2011 report in the online Save the Rhino magazine the numbers are reported to have “recovered from fewer than 200 animals in the early 1990s to more than 2,850 today.”

The story goes on to relate how translocations from nearby parks is helping to spread the load.

The translocations are the backbone of the ambitious Indian Rhino Vision (IRV) 2020 – a partnership among the government of Assam, the International Rhino Foundation, the World Wide Fund for Nature, the Bodoland Territorial Council, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service – that aims to attain a population of 3,000 wild rhinos in seven of Assam's protected areas by the year 2020.”

If you have time you can watch a twenty-minute Youtube video that tells the same story of the rhino and the translocations from Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary and the nearby Kazaringa National Park. Pobitora is really tiny, in rhino terms. It covers only 39 square kilometres and something obviously had to be done. The video is a compilation of previous shorter posts, the first translocation having taken place in 2008.

In that same DW report there is mention that in Kazaringa NP, home to over 90% of the state’s rhinos they “lost 18 animals to poachers last year. Another four were killed in the Pobitora, Orang and Manas national parks.”

As far as the rhinos in Bhutan and Nepal are concerned the animal is not safe in either country. A report in an on-line news letter called Green Fudge dated 24 June 2010 there is an account of the poaching of 24 rhinos in the preceding eleven months. These came from a population of about 400 animals.

Are the reported different poaching rates in Africa and the Indian sub-continent real or imagined? 
It is impossible to tell from local websites and reports, but there is one possible explanation. 

As I wrote in my Rhino Poaching and Possible Solutions blog of Jan 3rd there is one major difference. In some Indian parks there are two field staff per square kilometre. In parts of Africa a single ranger is expected to patrol thirty-three square km!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Celia Ho's reply on ivory in China

Here is Celia Ho's quick reply to my email and blog post. She wasted no time and we need to encourage her. If you have contacts in schools and so on, please ask them, especially the children, to write to Celia.

To get a better idea of what she is trying to do first of all visit her website here.

Date: 10 February, 2013 8:37:22 PM CST
To: Jerry Haigh
Reply-To: Celia Ho

Dear Jerry,

Many thanks for your encouraging words! Of course you are influential as there are many Chinese people in Canada and your efforts to relay the information could be very important.

Thank you very much for spreading the idea of ivory ban to the next generation who controls the fate of our earth. Would you please tell me the name of the schools you talked to with the number of students so that I can add them to the ‘students supporting ivory ban’ part in my website?

I've visited your website and was very interested in the ‘Rhino Capture’ part in your book 'The Trouble with Lions’, which I would like to purchase after reading Jane’s foreword. Could you please give me a price? I am from Hong Kong.

Wish you all the best in your meaningful work and I would like to tell you that you are living a life which I have been longing for:)

Warmest regards,


This was my reply
How nice to hear from you Celia,
I hope that you are not being flooded with emails, as you must surely have other school work to do. Or perhaps you have understanding teachers?
If you check out my website pictures you may use any of the elephant photos that you like for your own collection. This may be my favourite one. As you have a yahoo address I am sending it in low resolution only because in my experience that server cannot deal with large files. If you would like it larger please let me know.
I will send you the schools and classes as I speak to them. I do not have any storytelling engagements right now, but next month I am expecting one or two. I have tried to spread the word of your activity as far as I can. Let's hope some action takes place.
Best wishes.

A relieving scratch in Murchison Falls NP, Uganda

Friday, February 8, 2013

New efforts to curb elephant poaching - before it is too late

There is a growing move to try and stop the shattering effect of massive elephant poaching to fuel the ivory carving industry (yes, industry) in China. At least 25,000 elephants were slaughtered last year and the rate has not diminished.

Many of the animals were very young. Some carried almost no visible ivory, but the price of the stuff is so high than even pieces a few centimetres long, and still invisible inside the mouths of the calves, are taken.  The western efforts may not have much effect on the government of a notoriously insular nation and their newish generation of ultra-wealthy businessmen.

After all, as I have reported before after following Bryan Christy’s tweets and FB reports about his work for National Geographic, the Chinese have built a large factory dedicated to this ancient art and there are at least a dozen master carvers at work creating stunningly beautiful works. In one of Christy’s most recent reports, the first installment of what promises to be a landmark story, he shows a set of empty benches in the factory that are waiting to be occupied by apprentices. Here is the trailer. The entire film, titled Battlefor the Elephants is due to be premiered on Feb 27 on PBS.

I have half a dozen blog posts over the last couple of years about this issue, and you can find them under the keyword ivory on this site. I doubt anyone in China either knows about them, or if they do, gives a tinker’s damn. 

One greatly respected man, Chinese basketball star Yao Ming, has visited Africa and made a real effort to curb the violence being perpetrated in the name of human greed. He opens with these words:

“After witnessing how illegal ivory was obtained, I really was speechless. After seeing these animals up close and watching them interact in loving and protective family groups, it was heart wrenching and deeply depressing to see them cruelly taken before their time.”

You can read his entire blog post, titled THE REALITY OF THE IVORY TRADE here.

A much less well-known elephant advocate is a 14 year-old Hong Kong Chinese girl named Celia Ho. Bryan Christy tweeted about her in these terms: This Might Be the Most Important Step Ever to Stop the Ivory Trade.

She may be the new bright spark that could ignite the sort of fire that is needed inside China. Christy has posted a tweet about Celia, who has has started a campaign to try and make more folks aware of the ivory trade and you see her work here.

Celia asks for suport and even supplies an email address. I wrote to her. Why don't you do the same?

This is what I wrote to
Feb 22nd update. Celia now has a new email address. Use it as well if you can
It is:

Dear Celia, 
Congratulations on your inspired efforts.

I have worked with elephant since 1970 and write about them, and other conservation issues, on my blog. I'm not sure that I have had much of an effect as my readers are from the west. What you are doing is much more likely to be successful. China's government-sponsored huge ivory carving industry is one of the main problems. 

In my blog of Oct 2 2012 I quoted J. Michael Fay's National Geographic news watch page titled (Elephant Guards Murdered in Chad)

He wrote: 

In China if you somehow managed to convince 99.9 percent of the population not to buy ivory, that 0.1 percent who remain unconvinced represents 1.3 million people still wanting to buy ivory.” 

That is a lot more people in China alone than there are elephants in all of Africa.

Good luck with your efforts. I will spread the word about your endeavours when I tell stories to schoolchildren here in Canada.

Will anyone reading this post please do the same to their own friends, FB friends, other social media contacts, teachers and colleagues? Let everyone you know, know.

The sooner the better.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Elephants and ivory. A terrible story

This is a short one. We have just returned from a holiday in sunny Panama. This post was run in several places, the latest being National Geogrpaphic. Here it is again. A desparate situation that needs no further comment from me.