3,200 acres of Giant Panda habitat has been destroyed by loggers.
The logging is occurring illegally in the Sichuan Sanctuaries, a string of protected forest in the highlands of south-central China. Despite the government’s efforts to halt the practice, there are weak forestry regulations that allow the forest to be exploited for profit.
“Large areas of primary natural forest are a basic condition for the survival and reproduction of giant pandas in the wild. Deforestation further reduces and fragments the already limited natural habitat of the species, and is a direct threat to their feeding and migration zone. It increases the risk that their small and dispersed populations become increasingly cut off, limiting their chances to make contact with each other and reproduce.”
Less than 1,900 pandas still exist in the wild, most residing in the Sichuan province. And although the population has rebounded since 2003, the species is still considered at high risk. Habitat loss from illegal logging only puts them in more jeopardy.
Indonesia’s forests are burning as palm oil companies clear land to plant their cash crop, which is used in everything from cosmetics to food. That very same land is home to wild orangutans and other rare animals.
Satellite photography shows that about 100,000 fires have already burned in Indonesia since July, with thousands of those occurring deep in the forests and national parks across the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. These fires are threatening several animals, which include the rare clouded leopard, the iconic hornbill and as many as one third of the world’s remaining orangutans.
358 fire “hotspots” have been found inside the Sabangau Forest in Borneo, which is home to 7,000 wild orangutans – the world’s largest population. Fires are also occurring in the Tanjung Puting national park where 6,000 of the wild apes reside, the Katingan forest with 3,000 and the Mawas reserve with an estimated 3,500.
These kinds of fires produce an abundance of harmful gases and particulates, causing serious problems for both orangutans and humans. Up to 500,000 people have suffered respiratory infections, in addition to several orangutans. Communications manager for International Animal Rescue, which runs a rehabilitation center for more than 125 injured and orphaned orangutans in Ketapang, Borneo, Lis Key says:
“The problem with fire and smoke is absolutely dire. Wild orangutans and orangutans in centers like ours are badly affected by the smoke,” she said. “Some suffer upper respiratory tract infections, which can even prove fatal. Some of the babies we’ve taken in recently have been suffering not only from dehydration and malnourishment through lack of food but also breathing problems from the polluted air.”
Not only do the fires threaten orangutans with disease and malnutrition, but also with habitat loss. The apes are being pushed out of their homes into areas closer to humans, where they are killed or sold into the pet trade.
The fires have burned out of control from an unusually dry and windy season due El Niño weather patterns. And one of the worst parts of the fires is that they can occur underground, re-emerging away from the initial source. This makes them extremely difficult to extinguish and contain. Unfortunately, the Indonesian fires may not end the rainy season begins mid-November, if then.
The endangered one-horned rhinos of Nepal were down to 375 in 2005, but today they number a triumphant 675.
The rise in Rhino population occurred thanks to anti-poaching measures over the past decade. In fact, there has been no rhino poaching at all in three of the last five years, making Nepal a global role model on how to handle poachers.
“At a time when the world is facing difficulties to protect and conserve the wildlife including rhinos, Nepal has seen an extraordinary improvement in wildlife conservation. It is definitely a rare successful conservation story in the world, where park officials and the Nepalese army have managed to succeed in anti-poaching activities.”
Still, killing greater one-horned rhinos for their horns is a terrible problem. The rhino is on the red list of the IUCN, as countries in Africa continue to have trouble stopping poachers.
“Wild animals such as tigers, rhinos, elephants and leopards have been regularly killed by poachers for their body parts and skin, which fetch thousands of dollars on the black market.”
In 2002, 37 rhinos were killed by poachers, triggering deep concern about the one-horned rhino’s future in Nepal. Since then, Nepal has taken several measures to halt the poaching of these endangered animals, including harsher penalties, police and military involvement and a well-run judicial system to deal with the offense. Kunwar explains:
“The Nepal army plays a key role in anti-poaching, normally one battalion of army [soldiers] is deployed in Chitwan National Park. That’s 1,100 men and more are added according to need. There has been 24/7 patrolling going that has resulted into this success.”
103 wild tigers were counted in Bhutan this year – a huge jump from the previous estimate of just 75.
The survey was conducted by Bhutanese scientists and spanned habitats from snowy mountains in the north to subtropical forests in the south. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) worked closely with the Bhutan government to provide funds and technical support. The tigers were identified by their stripes, which, like human fingerprints, are unique to each animal.
“This is a critical milestone in the global effort to save tigers. Bhutan is one of only 13 tiger range countries, and knowing how many tigers exist is the first step towards effectively protecting them. We applaud Bhutan’s efforts to set this tiger population baseline.”
Like Bhutan, other countries have performed national tiger surveys with India, Russia and Nepal reporting higher numbers than previous estimates. Bangladesh reported lower numbers in its first national survey and Malaysia reported a drastic drop from 500 in 2010 to as few as 250. The numbers for tigers in Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar are unknown.
Poaching and habitat loss are the major threats to remaining wild tigers in Southeast Asian countries. There could be as few as 3,200 left in the wild and counting them is the first step in protecting and conserving these majestic big cats. Although surveys are expensive, labor intensive and often in difficult climate and weather conditions, the results are more than worthwhile.
In 2007, the Amur leopard population dropped to just 40 adults – a dangerously low number that indicated they were on the edge of extinction.
But according to a 2014 census, the population appears to have doubled as 80 or more leopards were counted, with some even repopulating part of its historic range in China. The census was conducted over two years by federal nature reserve Land of the Leopard National Park, located on Russia’s far southeastern border shared with China. Using cameras, researchers were able to analyze and identify individual leopards.
The Amur leopard is a subspecies of the well-known leopard of the African savannas, who is adapted to a cold and snowy climate. It was once native to a wide range of eastern China, eastern Russia and the Korean Peninsula.
But poaching and habitat loss have drastically decreased the species’ numbers in the 20th century. By 1996, the IUCN Red List declared the Amur leopard critically endangered, as they were extinct from the Koreas, functionally extinct in China and existed in only small numbers Russia.
But this recent rise in the leopard’s numbers is a testament to Russia’s commitment over the last few years to saving the animal from extinction. In 2012, the Russian government created the Land of the Leopard National Park by combining three other smaller protected areas with a nearby unprotected land. It’s 1,011 square miles of forest habitat for Amur leopards and Siberian tigers, along with the deer and boar they prey on. Russia has also strengthened penalties for poaching.
Wildlife biologist collaborating with Russian scientists and conservationists in the region Jonathan Slaght says:
“There could in fact be 80, but more likely the number is a little bit less,” he said, because some leopards are likely to be moving between Russia and China and encountering the networks of camera traps on both sides of the border. What needs to happen, to evaluate that number of 80, is to join the Chinese data to the Russian data. It’s looking like both sides are willing to do one of these unified database analyses.”
Thailand destroyed more than two tons of ivory in August, sending a loud and clear message in the fight against wildlife trade.
The industrial crusher in Bangkok ground up elephant tusks, carved ivory and other trinkets – most of which came from elephants poached in Africa. Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha led the event, and was joined by government representatives, international diplomats and conservationists.
“Thailand’s ivory destruction is more than just a symbolic event since it follows a series of important steps that the country has taken to tackle illegal ivory trade in the past year. For too long Thailand has been exploited by wildlife criminals as both a gateway and marketplace for ivory poached in Africa and Asia. This event aligns the commitment of the Thai government and the will of the Thai people with the global priority of stopping the illegal ivory trade.”
The ivory destruction occurred after several important laws passed to combat the illegal ivory trade. Approximately 30,000 African elephants are killed each year for their ivory, which then makes its way to other countries. And for years, Thailand was home to the world’s largest unregulated ivory market. But after facing intense global pressure and potential trade sanctions under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the country is now cracking down on the issue.
This year, the Thai government passed several important laws and regulations on the trade, and implemented a National Ivory Action Plan. For it, all ivory had to be registered by April 21, which resulted in people reporting more than 220 tons of elephant ivory. In April alone, Thai Customs seized more than 7 tons of illegal African ivory. The government also declared that the African elephant is now a protected species in Thailand.
“Considerable progress has been made this year but there will be challenges ahead with implementing these new regulations, clamping down on illegal traders and reducing demand.”
But Thailand continues to send messages to the world about its determination to put an end to ivory trafficking and wildlife crime. In July, Thailand co-sponsored a historic UN General Assembly resolution to address illegal wildlife trade. And the ivory destruction in August only reinforced its stance.
The Sumatran rhino population has been gone from tens of thousands two centuries ago to 100 or less today.
Also known as the “hairy rhino” for its unique brown fur coat, the Sumatran rhino is the smallest and rarest species of rhino. Most recently, the species was declared extinct in Malaysia in late August.
The researchers who conducted the population study found that poaching, habitat loss and underfunded anti-poaching efforts were the main culprits of the animal’s extinction in the region. The scientists were from University of Copenhagen’s Center for Macroecology and partners of the study included WWF, the International Rhino Foundation and IUCN.
Only two Sumatran rhino females were sighted in Malaysia in 2011 and 2014, but both were taken to be bred in captivity in the hopes of raising the species’ numbers. But sadly, the captive breeding program has proven mostly ineffective as the 45 rhinos captured since 1984 have resulted in only four babies.
“It is vital for the survival of the species that all remaining Sumatran rhinos are viewed as a metapopulation, meaning that all are managed in a single program across national and international borders in order to maximize overall birth rate. This includes the individuals currently held in captivity.”
Indonesia and its surrounding areas are now the only wild home of the Sumatran rhino. In a different research study by scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, three steps that could help save the animal from extinction were established.
The scientists began by identifying five critical areas of forest in in Borneo that must be protected and then formulated the three steps around these areas:
Establishing strong environmental and anti-poaching protections in these forests;
Stopping plans to build roads that would disturb these forests;
Condensing the rhino population, currently scattered across about 11,583 square miles land, into smaller regions
If there is any hope for the species to survive, these three crucial steps must be implemented
The two largest markets for ivory are working together to put an end to its illegal trade. The U.S. and China have agreed to enact almost a complete ban on the import and export of ivory to help minimize elephant poaching.
The ban covers “significant and timely restrictions on the import of ivory as hunting trophies” and unspecified “significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory.” It follows China’s decision in May to phase out the legal, domestic manufacture and sale of ivory products.
China is the largest market for poached ivory and the U.S. is estimated to be the second largest. Slashing the supply of ivory to the Chinese market is critical to decreasing the number of African elephant deaths due to poaching.
According to a March 2015 survey by WildAid, African Wildlife Foundation and Save The Elephants, support for this ivory trade ban is high. 95% of people surveyed in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou believed the government should impose the ivory ban. In addition, the survey showed that awareness about ivory poaching increased by 50% since 2012.
The White House said that the U.S. and China would cooperate with other nations in a complete effort to fight the wildlife trade.
Japan says it will resume whaling in the Antarctic in the 2015 winter season, defying the the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which stated that Tokyo has not proven the mammals need to be killed for research.
In a report in June, the IWC’s scientific committee concluded that it could not determine whether lethal sampling was necessary for Japanese whale stock management and conservation.
Japanese officials said they will submit additional data to support their argument, but still plan to resume whaling in the Antarctic in winter. Tokyo proposed a revised plan to catch 333 minke whales each year between 2015 and 2027, which is around one-third its previous target.
The IWC made a similar indeterminate conclusion in April when Japan revised its Antarctic whaling plan in response to the international court of justice 2014 ruling that the hunts were not truly scientific. As a result of the ruling, Japan sent a non-lethal expedition to the Antarctic for the 2014 season.
In 1986, the IWC banned commercial whaling but Japan continued hunting the animals under a research exemption. The country’s government has spent large amounts of tax money to continue whale hunting operations. In recent years, however, Japan’s actual catch has decreased in part due to a drop in domestic demand for whale meat and protests by anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd.