Conservation Update Q4 2014

To wrap up 2014 I wanted to focus the final edition of the year of conservation updates on wildlife crime.  My new role as campaigns officer at World Animal Protection means I work on our current campaign to promote and provide solutions for tackling wildlife crime in the UK.   I have learnt a lot about different types of crime here through meeting parliamentarians, other NGOs and various police forces, so I wanted to summarise some of the key areas of wildlife crime and why its so important we campaign against it.

  1. My first parliamentary event was attending an event organised by Wild Futures, a conservation organisation focused on primates and the environment, centred around raising awareness with MPs that keeping primates as pets is not illegal in the UK and should be.First and foremost I was actually shocked to discover this, but low and behold it’s the truth.  The animal welfare act has certain loop holes that although you’d be unlikely to see a monkey for sale in a pet shop, shockingly you would be able to find them for sale on eBay and on top of that it wouldn’t be a crime to do so.  Unbelievable!  Luckily with iconic support from those such as Jane Goodall and Bill Oddie, Wild Future are able to campaign for such an “easy win” for MPs as I really think most people would be in support of changing todays legislation.  As my first insight into political lobbying I was inspired to see how such passionate and dedicated people can come together to make a difference.  It made me realise I’m exactly where I need to be.

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  1. Illegal Wildlife trade online

Late last year IFAW (International federation for animal welfare) were credited highly for the release of a critical report that could be used to tackle the illegal wildlife trade, by focusing on sales and advertising online.  The report specifically focuses on eBay where it is known that you can practically buy and sell anything from houses to air guitars, and the results for illegal trade were astonishing.

Looking at adverts across 16 countries it found approximately 33,000 illegal items worth a staggering £7 million!  Some of these included adverts for live tigers, orangutans and chimps – including a “toilet trained” gorilla.  The results were well and truly horrifying and showed the real extent of illegal wildlife crime.  It is estimated that this is the 4th most lucrative illicit activity in the world after drugs, human trafficking and counterfeit goods, with an estimated global value of £10billion per year.

And all these illegal items are available at your fingertips with the simple click of button.  With its huge links to organised crime and terrorism (through funding) we are astounded that this area is so minimally enforced or tackled by policing agencies.  At World Animal protection we are working with national police forces, the Home Office, the Crown Prosecution Service and Border Force to highlight the need for effective wildlife crime enforcement both locally and nationally.  With huge backing from the likes of the Duke of Cambridge we will hopefully see huge strides to fight this crime in the future.

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  1. Plight of the Ploughshare Tortoise

This September I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the Annual Durrell London Lecture.  This year they focused primarily on the critically endangered Ploughshare tortoise to which they have dedicated so much of the Durrell’s resources, time and expertise.  The ploughshare tortoise is known for its unique markings and petite size and throughout the 17th and 18th centuries was traded heavily in Asia for food.  Similarly it was collected for bush meat in its locality, the Island of Madagascar.  Unfortunately, with the additional threat of bush fires and the illegal pet trade, this species is now the rarest reptile in the world.

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The species is now endemic to bush scrub habitat in North-West Madagascar with an estimated 85 in the wild.  It was at this point that Durrell decided to intervene.  Breeding programmes were introduced, starting in Ampijoroa, and illegal animals were beginning to be seized at the Island’s airport.   Once a nursery was established, with more than 600 youngsters being produced, a 95% survival rate was recorded. It was at this point that Durrell decided to reintroduce them into the wild.  By attaching radio trackers they were able to monitor the releases and found it was complete success, especially with the ultimate discovery that young had been produced that related to the reintroduced females. The shells of these tortoises are iconic for the rich yellow/gold and black contrast, and in an effort to reduce to demand from illegal traders and reduce their value the reintroduced individuals were engraved with their identities, but this only halted trade for a moment.  In Madagascar now Durrell works closely with the communities, such as the one in Baly Bay, who have ploughshares close to their hearts and dislike the idea of them being stolen from their country.  As result Durrell have been able to train park wardens to monitor the site and apprehend poachers, and also educate communities to appreciate the benefits of conserving this species.  Close collaborations have also been attempted with the Border Force and UK trained border agents have been asked to help the training of Madagascan staff.  Other efforts such as the introduction of fire breaks have resulted in a reduction of bush fires by 75% in 6 years.

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It was a great lecture and I look forward to hearing the findings of Durrell’s most recent research.

  1. Poaching – Wildlife crime study

In the UK it might not seem that locally a lot of wildlife crime actually exists, but it does.  World Animal Protection is working to highlight the very prominent issues we have and how local police forces can work together to fight this type of crime. We are also promoting the reporting of intelligence to Crimestoppers anonymously if you know if people have or are planning to commit a crime relating to wildlife in your area.

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The major examples of wildlife crime are:

  • Illegal poaching
  • Animal/habitat disturbance or destruction
  • Violence or cruelty
  • Theft or illegal trade
  • Animal persecution

Illegal poaching can come in various forms, but the most common is illegal fishing and hunting of deer or game birds illegally.  The most highly controversial issue with weak persecution levels is the punishment for habitat destruction, particularly of bat roosts found in property developments that are being altered or demolished.  Currently as it stands, barely any persecutions have been successful enough that it might actually dissuade developers from dealing with vulnerable bat roosts. Animal persecution is also a common issue – the most well-known story in the news would be the poisoning of raptors.  Many cases have been reported in Scotland, particularly near land where species of game birds are bred and it is suggested that birds of prey are targeted so that they do not hunt the farms game birds.  Little successful persecution has been publicised, however, there is huge development in this area with strides in crime scene investigation and finding ways around the persecution of individuals by targeting them for other crimes such as those involving firearms.

Personally I find the acts of animal violence and cruelty the worst of all crimes, such as badger baiting, hare coursing, and random acts of violence to various wildlife such as kicking swans or shooting pellet guns at birds.  These acts stem from sadistic and cruel personalities that are truly abhorrent and these people are likely to be the most dangerous and unpleasant individuals in society, likely linked to other crimes.

Finally, the most widespread and profitable crime would have to be the illegal wildlife trade.  There are so many species that are endangered as a result of illegal trade with so many being killed for human use/trade.  It is estimated that 3 rhinos are killed every day and 96 elephants alongside that! From that angle it is shocking, but increased demand and to combined effects of poverty, corruption and poor law enforcement leads to increased poaching.  The ploughshare tortoise has decreased by 30% in the last 6 years alone, and is often seen in Asian markets fetching prices of around $37k! It is still unknown what these tortoises are wanted for: pets, traditional medicine, food, or simply symbols of wealth?  Durrell is going to begin research into this an attempt to plan a strategy to reduce demand for this endangered species through education and law enforcement.

I hope you enjoyed this installment of conservation updates!

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About wilsoemi

A 1st Class Biological Sciences graduate, with a Masters degree in Conservation Biology. Dedicated to nature and conservation, with over three years voluntary experience in environmental and conservation charities and NGO's. Currently working for the World Society for the Protection of Animals and volunteering for London Wildlife Trust.
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