Wednesday, November 19, 2014



It’s a common saying that elephants never forget. But the more we learn about elephants, the more it appears that their impressive memory is only one aspect of an incredible intelligence that makes them some of the most social, creative, and benevolent creatures on Earth. Alex Gendler takes us into the incredible, unforgettable mind of an elephant.


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Saturday, November 8, 2014



How China’s ivory addiction explains the new world economy
By Ana Swanson, New York Times
November 7, 2014

Tanzania, the world’s biggest source of illegal ivory, lost an average of 30 elephants per day in 2013, contributing to a trend that has seen half of the country’s elephant population die in the last five years, some to natural causes and others to poaching, according to a report released Thursday by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency. Fueling these killings is an upsurge in demand for ivory in China, the world’s largest market for illicit elephant tusks. The trafficking chain between Tanzania and China has become the biggest conduit for illegal ivory in the world, according to the report.

Why exactly is China fueling the ivory trade? Here are the five top reasons.

1. China’s poorly regulated system for legal ivory sales. China views ivory carving as part of its cultural heritage. It has sanctioned a small industry for products made with ivory obtained in legal auctions. A complex system of permits regulates the companies that carve and sell ivory, including some that are state-owned.

In practice, however, this legal industry cloaks a massive black market. Those who have obtained government licenses can generate huge profits by laundering illegal tusks into the stock of more expensive legal ivory. This makes it virtually impossible for buyers to distinguish between the two.

Just like with the drug trade, there’s a long-running debate about whether establishing a regulated market or banning the product entirely would be more effective at limiting the ivory trade. Some argue that banning ivory in China would drive up the price in the underground market and fuel poaching. Yet, even in its current state, China’s system provides camouflage for an illegal industry.

A new report that accompanies this video by the Environmental Investigation Agency says Tanzania is the hub of a resurgent elephant poaching industry thanks to growing demand for ivory in China. (Environmental Investigation Agency)

2. Growing ties with Africa and porous Chinese borders. China became Africa’s largest trading partner in 2009. Ivory accompanies shipments that move between China and Africa, buried in containers of dried fish, plastic waste and grains.

People traveling between Africa and China also can carry ivory in their luggage. More than one million Chinese, from businessmen to factory workers to chefs, have moved to Africa over the past decade. Chinese officials say that 90 percent of ivory seizures involve individuals concealing ivory in their suitcases.

According to the EIA report, diplomatic channels are also often used to smuggle ivory. The report alleges that that bags of ivory were loaded onto Xi Jinping’s own plane during a visit to Tanzania in March 2013, presumably without the Chinese president’s knowledge.

3. Gift-giving and corruption. The ivory trade has close ties to Chinese practices of giving expensive and exotic trinkets, which is sometimes linked to business and official corruption.

One United Nations report suggests that Chinese demand for ivory might be driven, counterintuitively, by the high price of ivory -- just like other expensive status symbols like watches and diamonds.

The chart below shows the price and quantity of imports into China and Hong Kong have increased as the price has gone up. The report offers two explanations: that mammoth ivory is subject to some kind of speculative price bubble, or that it is what economists call a “Veblen good.” (A Veblen good refers to any product for which demand rises as its price goes up -- contrary to the law of supply and demand.)

If this is true, the Chinese government’s current crackdown on corrupt government officials might help to dampen sales of ivory as it chills questionable behavior -- as it has done for watches and luxury cars.

4. The suppression of the Chinese environmental movement. Toxic air, water and food products mean environmental issues are increasingly on Chinese minds. However, limitations on free speech and collective organizing have greatly hampered a nascent environmental movement.

Environmental organizations and activists are subject to government surveillance and hampered by restrictive laws; some have been arrested or detained for inciting social unrest.

5. Lack of knowledge about the ivory industry. Many Chinese who buy ivory may not realize that the trade is illegal, or that elephants have to be killed in order to obtain their tusks. And Chinese thinking on animal rights is still an early stage compared to Western countries.

This is changing, slowly. Both dog ownership and Buddhism, which values animals and often involves vegetarianism, are increasingly in vogue among Chinese urbanites. And public education about endangered animals is on the rise.

Yao Ming, the Chinese former star of the Houston Rockets, joined with WildAid, a San Francisco-based charity, to make a series of successful commercials in 2011 that urged Chinese to stop eating shark fin soup. Yao and WildAid partnered again on a documentary that was screened in China in August about the mass slaughter of the ivory trade.

In the long run, this kind of education is probably the most effective way to reduce China’s massive purchases of ivory, since it pushes down the demand for the good. This may be far more effective than just attacking supply, since limiting ivory imports will only push the value of them up.

Friday, November 7, 2014


Kenya: Google Funds DNA Lab to Catch Poachers
By Geoffrey Kamadi, The Star
November 7, 2014

Google will fund the new system to trace origin of illegal wildlife products to the tune of Sh255 million ($3 million).The DNA barcode tracing system for the country's endangered species will be up in a year's time in an electronic library at the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) headquarters in Nairobi.

The project is led by the NMK and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). Supervision will be conducted by the Consortium for Barcode of Life (CBOL), under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution, which is the world's largest museum and research complex.

This barcode system works much the same way as a supermarket scanner. The scanner reveals details of an item, such as pricing, name and manufacturer when it is passed before it.

"If someone is caught with a wildlife trophy, we as the wildlife forensics experts will get its DNA and scan it against the DNA data base in the library which will immediately tell us what species of the animal it belongs to," explains Dr Hastings Ozwara, a molecular biologist at the NMK's Institute of Primate Research (IPR).

The library will have an initial data base of at least 200 species of Kenya's critically endangered plants and animals. This number will increase with time, to include all wildlife species.

"The new forensics technology will eliminate doubt in evidence produced in cases involving wildlife crimes," adds Dr Charles Musyoki, the senior scientist, Department of Species Conservation and Management at the KWS.

Trade in endangered wildlife not only involves ivory and rhino horns. Some of the little-talked about animal and plant species are equally threatened by illegal trade.

"There are 60 cases of sea turtles being poached in one area of Watamu at the Kenyan coast in the last three years, but nobody is talking about it," says Salisha Chandra of the Kenya United Against Poaching (KUAPO).

Friday, October 24, 2014


In May of this year, Purdue University students planted more than 75 trees at Ore Primary School near Tsavo West. Such events help inspire the young students in Primary schools to become responsible and take care of the environment.

Amara Conservation paid for ten thousand litres of water to be delivered to the school for watering the trees a few weeks afterward. The school patron of the wildlife club at Ore primary school selected two pupils to take care of each tree every day to make sure the tree grows well.

On 23rd September I visited the school to check on the trees and they are doing very well. Every pupil told me he/she was very keen about the trees, some could even tell the date and time when the tree started producing new leaves!

This was encouraging and I saw how the pupils were happy to have Amara Conservation be part of them in school. The dry season has taken over in Tsavo now - so it was impressive to see the trees growing so well.

The pupils had put a local fence around the area where the trees were planted and also surrounded each tree with sticks to prevent goats or cattle from eating them.

When I was there, the school patron of the wildlife club informed me that they had registered with wildlife clubs of Kenya and they were asking Amara Conservation to help them get a field trip to the park.

I discussed this with Lori and we were hoping to find someone to fund this. Meanwhile I asked Mr Mulati from Sheldrick Wildlife Trust if they could help out, and they said yes!

On October 8th, only two weeks since our discussion, more than 25 Ore primary school pupils are enjoying being in the Tsavo East National Park right now. They informed me on the phone that the kids are very happy today to see a live lion in its habitat, among many other wild animals. One could feel the joy of the students in the bus on the phone when I was talking to the head teacher.JACOB DADI

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