Thursday, September 20, 2012

Conservation, chimps and rhinos

I have been a member of the East African Wildlife Society for over forty years. In the early days they published a magazine called Africana. Some time in the early 1970s there was a rift in the organization. For a while both Africana and a new magazine, called Swara  (which is Swahili for antelope) ran side-by-side, but then Africana, of which I still had a few copies until we recently moved house, disappeared.

The latest issue of Swara is a reflection of what is happening to wildlife across Africa. There are eight articles under the general heading of Conservation and four Spotlight pieces. Two of those four are also about conservation.

Two of the conservation articles report in-depth examinations of the trade in wildlife and wildlife products. One of these, by professional photographer, author and long-time conservationist and bushmeat activist Karl Amman covers the latest development in oft-studied SE Asia, particularly as regards rhino horn. The other deals with things that have gone on in Morocco for ages but have not been much reported upon.

All the authors bemoan the massive decline in wildlife numbers, and by wildlife I don't just mean animals. Forest have been under threat for may years, mostly due to the fact that the populations of these countries are expanding at unsustainable rates and people want land to cultivate their crops. The Mau forest, on the western side of the Great Rift Valley in Kenya is but a remnant, and now the Kijabe forest has taken a beating.

Karl Amman also has an opinion piece that follows right on the usual editorial and administration material and gives something of a taste of things to come. He does not mince words. Even the title tells the tale: Conservationists should carry condoms, ‑ not GPSs. I have written similar sentiments in the past, but the meat of Amman’s article was a shock. In it he tells of the illegal and growing trade of live baby chimps into China and to a lesser extent to the Middle East. He reports “some 130 chimps and 10 gorillas were smuggled out of Guinea [West Africa] during the last three years.” As he writes further “That’s a horrific number, considering how many adults were most likely killed to generate the orphans for trade.” It would be at least ten adults per orphan. As there are a reported 95 dollar billionaires in China, and over a million millionaires, money is no barrier.

It is obvious that Amman is not impressed with the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) staff involved. He criticizes them for completely ignoring the China connection and even ignoring the written offer of a Kenya-based chimpanzee sanctuary to house them in new facilities.

In his book What I tell You Three Times is True Ian Parker, who knows more about ivory and elephants than almost anyone considers CITES to have become “a top-heavy bureaucracy that is held up by its own inertia;” he describes it as “an orgy of silliness.” Sad, but based on these and other reports, probably true.

Amman makes an interesting point. He compares the effective campaign to interest the media in the rhino horn trade and the increase in smuggling to SE Asia. I have written about this on a few occasions and the Swara editors have been a part of this effort. In the same July-Sept 2012 issue as Amman’s piece they provide a table showing the increase in poaching of rhino in South Africa. In the year 2000 only 7 rhino were poached, none in the Kruger NP. By 2011 the number had risen to 448, of which 252 went from the Kruger. The 2012 figures to June show a continued increase. As Amman points out, even in the face of these events rhino numbers are on the increase.

To quote him again, Amman states, “the ape conservation community could learn a lot from the rhino community in terms of lobbying, campaigning and activism.”

Try and find a Guinea Ape Traffick story on primate blog sites. Not easy. I found three.

This was the third item on the Google list during my search today. It is by Jeremy Hance but it is headlined Cute Animal Pictures of the Day. I see nothing cute at all. Just desperately sad. 

This picture of a young chimp, that I took in 1997 in Cameroon, is a more realistic reflection, but it won’t win any “cuddly” prizes. He was in the grim cage 24/7 in the forecourt of a hotel near the coastal town of Limbe.

You will find Amman’s story (in a slightly different version) here where you can read about his thesis on the need for condoms.

Amman’s final paragraph, both in the magazine and on-line begins “The fact is that when it comes to wildlife conservation the animals are not the problem. The humans are.”

How true.


Jerry Haigh said...

You raise an interesting point about people doing what they want in their own countries. In "The Touble With Lions" I made the same point. When you are scraping a living and trying to raise a family on a dollar or two a day life must be tough. However, folks are also at the mercy of unscrupulous traders, logging outfits and so on. I doubt that the chimp and gorilla killers, who take serious risks, make more than a tiny fraction of what the traders make in and out of the forests, let alone what the final vendor makes in China.

Zimbabwe said...

I am horrified at the increase in rhino poaching particularly at Kruger, what on earth is happening.

The endangered list must be growing daily thanks to man.

As for the photo I just want to sit and cry.