Life At 30: The EU Project That Has Saved Species From Lynx To Flying Squirrels

The Life programme, which celebrates its birthday this weekend, has poured billions into saving Europe’s most vulnerable creatures.

THE IBERIAN LYNX

“It has been a miracle,” whispers biologist Gabriel Llorens Folgado as he studies a tumble of granite boulders for any signs of movement. The miracle is that Spain’s Lynx population has been saved. Today, in the wildflower-coated hills of the Sierra de Andújar in southern Spain, Folgado is looking for Magarza and her four cubs. “When I first saw a Lynx, 20 years ago, there were fewer than 100 in just two places in Spain. I never stopped hoping, but I thought they might disappear,” he says.

AN IBERIAN LYNX IS RELEASED IN THE FRAMEWORK OF THE ANIMAL PROGRAMME ‘LIFE IN TOLEDO

The Iberian Lynx was the world’s most endangered cat 20 years ago, but after a number of EU Life projects, today there are more than 1,000 across Spain and Portugal. Carmen Rueda Rodriguez from the conservation group CBD Habitat, who has been working with the Iberian Lynx since 2014, says the EU funding programme has been a gamechanger.

“In the 1990s everyone knew the Lynx was in decline but no one knew how to stop it,” she says. “The first projects started looking for Lynx and that led to realising there were fewer than 100 left.” What followed was “Lynx intensive care” – capturing some of the few remaining Lynx and putting them into a breeding programme, alongside rebuilding myxomatosis and haemorrhagic fever-ravaged wild rabbit populations. Building on that success, the aim of the fourth phase, Lynxconnect, is to link up populations established across Spain and Portugal to improve genetic diversity.

In 1992, when the EU agreed the habitats directive and launched Natura 2000, the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world, the EU Life funding programme came into being. In the last 30 years it has supported 5,500 projects and spent €6.5bn (£5.5bn) up to 2020, with a further €5.4bn pledged for the period 2021 to 2027.

Threatened species that have benefited from Life projects include European Bison, Marsican and Cantabrian Brown Bear populations, the Siberian Flying Squirrel, European Mink, various Vultures and Raptors, Yelkouan Shearwaters in Malta, Capricorn Beetles in Sweden and seven species of Sturgeon in the Danube river system. Some projects build ecological knowledge, others implement conservation measures; many promote knowledge of endangered species and foster public support.

A MARSICAN BEAR

In Spain, it is not just the Iberian Lynx that has benefited from Life projects. The Sierra de Andújar is also home to the Spanish Imperial Eagle. Endemic to Spain and Portugal, in the 1960s the birds were reduced to 30 pairs, mostly due to poisoning, collapsing rabbit populations and electrocution. José Luis Sánchez, a biologist at Iberian Lynx Land, says: “The main problem was electrocution. When Eagles perched on pylon towers their wings spanned the wires on both sides and they were killed.” Life projects enabled about 15,000 electric pylon towers to be modified with rubber to insulate the wires, while agreements with private landowners generated more than 22,000 hectares (54,353 acres) of new eagle-friendly habitat. Now there are thought to be more than 1,000 of the Eagles – Spain’s national bird – breeding across the Iberian peninsula.

“Getting the baseline science right is key,” says Hall-Spencer, “but the whole point of Life projects isn’t primarily scientific, it’s social.”

THE FUTURE OF THE IBERIAN LYNX

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Asian Elephant Mom Carries Dead Calf For Weeks, New Eye-Opening Videos Reveal

Asian Elephants, like their African cousins, seem to mourn their dead.

Female Elephants are very protective of their calves, and when youngsters die, some mothers continue carrying their babies’ corpses. 

Asian Elephants, like their African cousins, seem to mourn their dead, sometimes even carrying their lost infants in their trunks for days or weeks, new research finds. 

Whether Elephants  understand death in the same way humans do is unknown — and probably unknowable. But Asian Elephants are social creatures, and the new research adds to the evidence that they experience some sort of emotional response when they lose one of their own.

“Understanding Elephants’ response to death might have some far reaching effects on their conservation,” study co-authors Sanjeeta Sharma Pokharel of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute and Nachiketha Sharma of the  Kyoto University Institute for Advanced Study, wrote to Live Science in an email. “We have personally observed that when people witness an elephant responding to a dead kin, there will be some sense of relatedness, compassion and empathy towards the species. Therefore, anything which instantly connects people might pave the way for coexistence in elephant ranging countries.” 

Death ritual

African bush Elephants have long been observed reacting emotionally when a herd member dies. They might approach the body and touch it with their trunks, kick at the corpse or stand nearby as if on guard. Asian Elephants, however, are less well-understood. They tend to live in forested habitat, so they are harder to observe in the wild than savanna-dwelling African elephants.

“They can be 100 feet [30 meters] away from you, and you might not see them because the forest is so dense,” said Brian Aucone, the senior vice president for life sciences at the Denver Zoo, who was not involved in the new study. .

To get around this, Pokharel, Sharma, and their co-author Raman Sukumar, all of the Indian Institute of Science at the time, turned to YouTube, where remarkable animal videos are a staple. They searched the site for keywords related to Asian Elephants and death, and uncovered 39 videos of 24 cases between 2010 and 2021 in which one or more Asian Elephants were seen reacting to the loss of a herd mate. Eighty percent of the videos showed wild Elephants, 16% captive Elephants and 4% semi-captive Elephants (typically, semi-captive Elephants are animals that work in the timber industry or in tourist parks in Asia).

Some of the most striking behaviors seen in the videos occurred when a calf died. In five of the 12 videos showing a deceased calf, a female adult — likely the mother — was seen carrying the calf. Based on the state of decomposition of the corpse, it appeared that this carrying behavior went on for days or weeks.

Indian Forest Service ranger Parveen Kaswan uploaded one such video in 2019, showing an Asian Elephant dragging the body of a calf across a road in what he likened to a “funeral procession” in a post on Twitter at the time.

“I think they’re holding on and trying to grasp what has happened, and there’s something happening there with their interaction with their offspring, just like it would be with us,” Aucone said of the behavior.

Other commonEelephant reactions seen in the videos included restlessness or alertness when near the corpse; exploratory movements such as approaching or investigating the body; or touching and smelling. Elephants communicate through scent, Aucone said, so the sniffing is not surprising. In 10 cases, the elephants tried to lift, nudge or shake the body, as if to attempt to revive their lost comrade. In 22 cases, they seemed to stand vigil over the body.

AN ELEPHANT STROKING THE DEAD BODY WITH HIS TRUNK AS OTHERS STAND GUARD

“We’ve seen some of this before ourselves,” Aucone told Live Science. When the zoo euthanizes older Elephants due to illness or infirmity, the staff give herd mates a chance to say goodbye, Aucone said. The survivors often sniff the deceased Elephant or lay their trunks by its mouth, a social behavior.

Animal grief

Elephants aren’t the only social creatures that react to death, especially to the death of babies. Orca mothers have been observed pushing their dead calves around, as have dolphins. In 2018, an orca female named Tahlequah off the coast of Washington held on to her lost baby for 17 days. Other female orcas were seen huddled around Tahlequah and her dead newborn in the hours after the baby’s death in what looked like a circle of grief. Ape and monkey mothers sometimes carry around dead infants for weeks or months.

TAHLEQUAH PUSHED THE BODY OF HER DEAD BABY FOR 17 DAYS

In the case of the Elephants, which are devoted to caring for their young, the mother-calf bond is fundamental, Pokharel, Sharma and Sukumar wrote in the study, published Wednesday (May 18) in the journal Royal Society Open Science(opens in new tab). This is true of primates, as well, Pokharel and Sharma told Live Science.

“[T]he mother-calf/infant bonding in both Elephants and primates have some striking similarities as both nurture their young until they become strong enough to forage and defend themselves,” they wrote. “Therefore, this long lasting bond between mothers and calves/infants may potentially motivate mothers to respond towards their unresponsive calves. It is very difficult to predict the exact causations and functionality behind the dead infants carrying. But, some of the YouTube videos certainly provide evidence that some species may have some sense of death awareness.”

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PREGNANT ELEPHANT FOUND DEAD WITH ‘BLOOD COMING OUT OF ITS MOUTH AND ANUS’

THE PREGNANT SUMATRAN ELEPHANT IS SEEN LYING ON THE GROUND AT A PALM PLANTATION IN BENGKALIS, RIAU PROVINCE (PICTURE: EPA)

A critically endangered Elephant and its unborn baby were found dead in western Indonesia after a suspected poisoning.

Disturbing photographs show the animal with blood coming out of its mouth on the island of Sumatra.

Local authorities are now investigating the death of the pregnant Elephant, which was due to soon give birth.

Its corpse was discovered during a joint patrol by conservation groups on Wednesday.

Conservationists suspect the incident may be linked to the palm oil industry, which they say consider the animals a pest.

‘From the sign of changes in the shape of its internal organs, such as the lung, it looks like it is burning, black and oozing from the blood,’ said Zulhusni Syukri, programme director of Rimba Satwa Foundation, one of the groups that found the dead animal.

THE CARCASS OF A DEAD SUMATRAN ELEPHANT AND ITS UNBORN BABY IN BENGKALIS

Rimba Satwa strongly suspect the animal was poisoned as pineapple was found in its stomach, even though the tropical fruit does not grow in that area.

There are already fewer than 700 Sumatran Elephants remaining on the island.

According to Indonesian forestry and environment ministry, the number has gone down from 1,300 in 2014 to 693 last year.

This is why the species is protected under an Indonesian law on the conservation of biological natural resources and their ecosystems.

The decline has occurred amid a loss of more than 69% of the animal’s potential habitat in the last 25 years, the equivalent of one generation.

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Did You Know That The WWF Endorses Trophy Hunting?

In 2009, WWF sent a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in support of limited, managed hunting of black Rhinos in Namibia.

“WWF believes that sport hunting of Namibia’s black Rhino population will strongly contribute to the enhancement of the survival of the species,” the group wrote, citing the generation of income for conservation and the removal of post-breeding males.

COREY KNOWLTON PAID $350K TO KILL ENDANGERED BLACK RHINO

The WWF Endorses The Killing Of Wild Animals

KING JUAN CARLOS OF SPAIN, THE HONORARY PRESIDENT OF THE WWF

Juan Carlos, the King of Spain, sparked widespread criticism for going on an elephant hunting trip in Botswana. The king is the honorary president of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). When asked should the honorary president of the conservation group WWF be allowed to hunt elephants the press spokesman of WWF Germany said No but insisted that a regulated and controlled hunt can help to protect nature.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) gives special meaning to the word “conservation.” The organization, founded in 1961 by a group of wealthy trophy hunters, including HRH Prince Philip, apparently believes that conserving animals means keeping them around long enough for well-heeled “sportsmen” to blast them out of the woods, oceans, skies, plains of Africa, and jungles of Asia. Past WWF chapter presidents include C.R. “Pink” Gutermuth, who also served as president of the National Rifle Association, and trophy hunter Francis L. Kellogg, who is legendary for his massive kills. In its early days, the WWF even used fur auctions to raise funds. Since then, the WWF has learned that most people are appalled by hunting and trapping, so today, the organization veils its true stance under phrases like “sustainable development,” arguing that killing is acceptable under some circumstances. When answering difficult questions about its policy on hunting, trapping, and whaling, the WWF is careful never to state outright that it approves of all these activities. But don’t be fooled, the WWF’s intentions are all too clear and deadly.

Sport Hunting: As one would expect of an organization founded by hunters, the WWF does not oppose the slaughter of animals with guns and other weapons for sport. Rather than working to stop the killing, the WWF believes that hunting should be regulated, arguing that wealthy trophy hunters can bring income to poorer nations. The WWF claims that it has no power to stop hunting, stating, “The decision to allow trophy hunting is a sovereign one made entirely by the governments concerned. We will continue to monitor governments’ enforcement of important trade laws to ensure that trophy hunting is done within the legal standards of that area.”

Elephants: The WWF believes that culling—another way of saying “killing”—elephants is acceptable, as is the trade in ivory, because the profits that it brings spur governments to keep elephants from going extinct. In 2000, U.S. News & World Report reported that WWF representatives travelled to Nairobi to ask the United Nations to lift the ban on the ivory trade in order to allow a “sustainable harvest of ivory for horns and hunting trophies.” The WWF’s bizarre view—that we must kill some animals now in order to save animals to kill later—has proved false time and again. The trade in ivory has only encouraged rampant poaching, the senseless slaughter of elephants. The WWF tries to duck the issue by falsely stating, “The decision to cull, or to select animals from the herd for removal or death, is indeed an agonizing choice, but it is one made entirely by the governments concerned and there is no international involvement in those decisions.”

A GERMAN TROPHY HUNTER APPLAUDS HIS KILL

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION: WWF SABOTAGES PLANNED BAN ON TROPHY HUNTING IMPORTS IN BELGIUM

HRH 174f220ded880ba5fcd4632304a2f5b7

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Ivory From At Least 150 Poached Elephants Seized In A DRC Raid

  • A three-year investigation has led authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo to 2 metric tons of ivory hidden in a stash house in the southern city of Lubumbashi.
  • The tusks are valued at $6 million on the international market and estimated to have come from more than 150 elephants.
  • The three people arrested in the May 14 raid are allegedly members of a major wildlife trafficking ring in the Southern African region.
POACHED ELEPHANT ON ITS KNEES WITH ANOTHER LYING DEAD BEHIND IT

Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo have seized 2 metric tons of ivory in the city of Lubumbashi, a hub for ivory trafficking.

The May 14 seizure is one of the largest in recent years, according to Adams Cassinga, who heads Conserv Congo, an NGO that fights wildlife trafficking and which took part in the operation. The seized ivory is estimated to be worth $6 million.

Authorities arrested three people, believed to be members of one of the major wildlife trafficking rings in the region. The network is linked to the smuggling of 20 metric tons of ivory in the past five years alone.

The latest seizure represents more than 150 elephants killed for their tusks, Cassinga said. The tusks originated from countries in Southern Africa, which has seen a surge in ivory trafficking in the 2000s, fueled by demand from Asia, particularly China.

Ivory found in a stash house in Lubumbashi, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Image courtesy of Adams Cassinga/Conserv Congo
Ivory found in a stash house in Lubumbashi, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Image courtesy of Adams Cassinga/Conserv Congo

At the height of the crisis, 30,000 elephants were being killed every year, an average of 80 a day. African elephant populations have shrunk by 80% in the past 100 years, according to an analysis by WWF. The African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana) is considered endangered on the IUCN Red List, while the forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) is critically endangered, only a step away from being extinct in the wild.

Poaching has declined in recent years, a 2021 report by Geneva-based nonprofit Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC) found. One of the factors cited for the dip is the weakening of criminal networks because of raids and arrests.

DR CONGO AUTHORITIES SEIZE 1.5 TONNES OF ELEPHANT IVORY

“The reduced poaching seems to be the result of the dismembering through arrests and prosecutions of a large number of transnational organized criminal networks involved in ivory poaching and trafficking in East and southern Africa between 2014 and 2020,” the GI-TOC report said.

The Lubumbashi raid was led by the DRC’s top conservation authority, known by its French acronym, the ICCN. It included members of the national police force, court officials and the NGO Conserv Congo.

The team recovered the ivory from a stash house in Lubumbashi in the southern DRC. Traffickers brought the poached parts into the DRC from Zambia, which lies on the country’s southern border. Lubumbashi has emerged as a major hub from where poached wildlife parts are funneled out of Africa. The items originate primarily in Southern African countries like South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

“We are sure it will bring a great deal of deterrence in a place where previously wildlife laws were neglected and not applied,” Cassinga said in a tweet.

Weak enforcement of laws, armed conflict and corruption have allowed international gangs to operate with impunity in western and Central Africa. The DRC, which shares borders with nine countries, serves as an important transit point for the movement of trafficked parts. The Central African nation, which hosts the largest swath of Congo Basin rainforest, is also a source country for illegal wildlife goods.

Yet, from 2000 to 2014, when elephant poaching was rampant, the DRC recovered only around 8 metric tons of ivory in seizures. Then, between 2015 and 2019, authorities there confiscated 20 metric tons, according to data collected by the Environmental Investigation Agency, an NGO based in the U.K.

“We are making strong efforts to take down all the illegal trade networks. With time, we have bigger impacts on the illegal networks,” Olivier Mushiete, head of the ICCN, said in a phone interview with Mongabay.

The Lubumbashi raid follows a series of raids in the DRC capital, Kinshasa, last year. Mushiete told Reuters at that time that they expect to recover more than 60 metric tons in future seizures. The current operation was a result of three years of investigation.

“The relationship between the government and the civil society is improving. You can see that it is yielding results,” Cassinga said. He added that support from partners like Zambia-based Wildlife Crime Prevention and international donors like the Rhino Recovery Fund is helping them combat wildlife trafficking.

The skull of an elephant recently killed by poachers who ripped out its tusks in Province Orientale, DRC.
The skull of an elephant recently killed by poachers who ripped out its tusks in Province Orientale, DRC. Image by Matchbox Media Collective via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Ivory poaching is one of the most lucrative illicit trades, valued at around $23 billion a year, according to Bloomberg.

CITES, the global convention on the wildlife trade, banned the international commercial trade in ivory in 1989. However, some countries continue to allow domestic trade and international trade, subject to varying degrees of regulation.

In the past decade, efforts to curb ivory demand have gathered pace, with the U.S. imposing a near-complete ban on elephant ivory trade in 2016 and China banning the domestic trade in 2017. The EU tightened its rules on the ivory trade in 2021. Narrower exemptions limit the legal ivory trade, which conservationists say often serves as a cover for unlawful transactions.

The three suspected traffickers from the Lubumbashi raid are due to appear in court this week.

Even if seizures and arrests increase, the impact on poaching could be limited by countries’ failure to prosecute alleged traffickers. Coordinating cross-border investigations and amassing the necessary evidence is tricky. Wildlife crimes are often not prioritized by law enforcement agencies or judicial authorities.

The arrest of two Vietnamese nationals during the seizure of 3.3 metric tons of ivory from Uganda’s capital, Kampala, in 2019 did not result in convictions because both suspects skipped bail.

Raids also tend to net intermediaries but rarely lead to the capture of those who organize, fund and benefit the most from this illegal trade. “As far as dismantling the network, that is unlikely. It may be slowed down,” said Chris Morris, who works with the Kenya-based organization Saving Elephants through Education and Justice (SEEJ). “These cartels are a business. They are prepared for losses from seizures and arrests.”

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Scientists Uncover Widespread Declines Of Raptors In Kenya

A recent study confirms alarming declines in raptor populations in Kenya. Incidental poisoning is a major problem for vultures in particular, depriving ecosystems of the birds’ vital role as scavengers. Conservationists are working with communities to help species recover.

“The population of raptors today bears no resemblance to those numbers we saw a half century ago,” said Simon Thomsett, director of the Kenya Bird of Prey Trust and one of the study’s authors. “And those had already drastically declined 25 years ago before we started to take notice.”

Drawing on road surveys carried out from 2003-2020, as well as historical data from similar surveys done between 1970 and 1977, the researchers found that populations of vultures and large eagle species had all declined. Numbers of previously common small and medium-sized raptors like black-winged kites (Elanus caeruleus) had also fallen sharply.

“The level of decline for many species was huge,” co-lead author Darcy Ogada told Mongabay. “But more surprising was the decline in medium-sized raptors like augur buzzards [Buteo augur] and long-crested eagles [Lophaetus occipitalis] which were once very commonly seen roadside birds and often seen in farms where they are the farmer’s friend because they prey on rodents.”

Vultures that died from poisoning in Maasai Mara, Kenya. Image courtesy of Nature Kenya

Ogada, who is assistant director for the Peregrine Fund’s Africa program, and her co-lead author, Phil Shaw of the University of St. Andrews in the U.K., led the team of scientists drawn from Kenya, the U.K., France and the U.S., which published the first report on nationwide trends for Kenya’s raptors.

“Given what we know about biodiversity loss in general in Kenya, we wanted to know specifically about the fate of Kenya’s raptors,” she said. “Fortunately, there was already historical data from the 1970s that was collected using the same method [road surveys], which could be used for comparison.”

Each year from 2010, the researchers spent four or five days driving slowly along roads in different parts of the country, identifying how many of each raptor species they saw. One team of scientists covered Laikipia, Samburu and Meru counties in central Kenya, while another team surveyed the southern part of the country, in Kajiado county and the national parks of Amboseli, Tsavo East and Tsavo West.

Raptors have fared better in protected areas, with the overall rate of decline for vultures and large eagles less pronounced in national parks and private conservancies than in unprotected areas. Medium-sized and small raptors like Montagu’s harriers (Circus pygargus) were actually seen more frequently in protected areas in the 2000s than during surveys in the 1970s, but those gains are tempered by an 85% drop outside of protected areas. Ten of the 22 species covered by the surveys are now found almost exclusively within protected areas, underlining the importance of these areas to their continued survival.

Andre Botha, co-chair of the IUCN’s Vulture Specialist Group, who was not involved with the recent study, said the survey method was a sound one.

“The method that was used to conduct the recent assessment is the same as that followed in 2010 [by these researchers] and also similar to approaches to surveys in various other parts of the world, so it is one way to assess populations,” he said. “It was, however, also scientifically important to follow the same method as previously to enable reliable comparison between the two counts.”

Medium-sized and small raptors like Montagu’s harriers (Circus pygargus) were seen more frequently in protected areas in the 2000s than during surveys in the 1970s, but those gains are tempered by an 85% drop outside of protected areas. Image by Radovan Václav via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).
Medium-sized and small raptors like Montagu’s harriers (Circus pygargus) were seen more frequently in protected areas in the 2000s than during surveys in the 1970s, but those gains are tempered by an 85% drop outside of protected areas. Image by Radovan Václav via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Grim findings

“Outside of Kenya’s protected area network, there is evidence that populations of many raptors have almost collapsed,” study co-lead Phil Shaw told Mongabay, “and this cuts across species size, diet or ecological requirements. While most species have fared better within protected areas, several large raptor species have shown worrying declines even here, suggesting a need to bolster site protection and connectivity.”

Both the reasons for the decline and possible remedies are well-known.

“Some threats, like raptor electrocutions, can be easily mitigated and some excellent work is being done around the world to reduce raptor mortalities,” said co-author Munir Virani, CEO of the Mohamed Bin Zayed Raptor Conservation Fund. “A case in point is the remediation of power lines done in Mongolia where raptor mortalities from electrocution has been reduced by 98% per year.”

More complicated is eliminating the use of pesticides used on crops and medicine given to livestock, both of which harm raptors’ health.

“Mitigation in the form of banning the veterinary drug diclofenac, which was responsible for the decline of up to 99% of populations of vulture species in Asia, has dramatically lowered additional mortality in these populations,” Ogada said. “In the U.S., banning of the chemical DDT also led to national resurgence of the country’s national bird, the bald eagle, such that populations today are growing at 10% per year.”

Other threats faced by raptors include habitat destruction caused by expanding agriculture and logging, being trapped or shot (including for use in traditional medicine), and poisoning. Vultures in particular are vulnerable to poisoned carcasses targeting other predators.

A lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni). Some threats, like raptor electrocutions, can be easily mitigated and some excellent work is being done around the world to reduce raptor mortalities, say experts. Image by Sergey Pisarevskiy via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).
A lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni). Some threats, like raptor electrocutions, can be easily mitigated and some excellent work is being done around the world to reduce raptor mortalities, say experts. Image by Sergey Pisarevskiy via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Helping vultures recover

Responding to the worrying collapse in vulture populations, the Peregrine Fund, Nature Kenya, BirdLife International, the Kenya Bird of Prey Trust and others are working to reduce cases of poisoning by tagging and tracking vultures, training people in the raptors’ range to help protect and rescue birds from poison, and building predator-proof livestock sheds as an alternative to poisoning.

Conservationists have documented cases of poisoning across the country to map hotspot zones.

“Keeping the records of poisoning incidences help us map the hotspot zones in areas where conflicts are rife so that awareness can be increased,” said Vincent Otieno, vulture conservation program coordinator with Nature Kenya. “From our records, such areas prone to poisoning are those that border conservancies and national parks.”

In Narok and Kajiado counties, at the southern end of the Rift Valley, community volunteers have been trained to respond quickly to vulture poisoning incidents. Equipped with rubber gloves, face masks, plastic containers, and fuel, they bag and burn poisoned carcasses so more vultures don’t gather and gorge themselves on a deadly meal.

They can also bring stricken birds to raptor centers at Naivasha and Soysambu, clinics set up to treat poisoned vultures. Once the birds recover, they are fitted with GPS trackers and released.

Encounters with 19 of 22 species studied using road surveys fell, including for the secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius), which was encountered 94% less frequently. Image by Ansie Potgieter via Unsplash.
Several conservation organizations are working to reduce cases of poisoning by tagging and tracking vultures, training people in the raptors’ range to help protect and rescue birds from poison, and building predator-proof livestock enclosure as an alternative to poisoning. Image courtesy of Caroline Chebet.
Several conservation organizations are working to reduce cases of poisoning by tagging and tracking vultures, training people in the raptors’ range to help protect and rescue birds from poison, and building predator-proof livestock enclosure as an alternative to poisoning. Image courtesy of Caroline Chebet.

“Tagging these vultures with GPS trackers helps us map out the areas where they spent most of the times,” said study co-author Shiv Kapila, from the Kenya Bird of Prey Trust. “The information we get helps when conducting anti-poisoning campaigns and education.”

Similar work with communities is taking place in the central counties of Laikipia and Samburu. In addition to training volunteers to respond to poisoning incidents, the Peregrine Fund is working alongside conservation nonprofit Lion Landscapes to construct predator-proof bomas, offering herders an alternative to way to protect their livestock from lions than leaving poisoned carcasses where the big cats — as well as vultures, hyenas and other scavengers — will find them.

Conservation groups have also trained rangers, police officers and Kenya Wildlife Service officers.

Botha, who is also the program manager of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Vultures for Africa program, noted that conservationists in Kenya and South Africa have been working together for almost 15 years, training thousands of people across 15 African countries to reduce wildlife poisoning.

“We continually communicate and share expertise between countries and beyond, but the uptake of certain interventions are done with different degrees of success, largely due to different circumstances in-country and limited resources that are always a challenge,” he said.

This article by Caroline Chebet was first published by Mongabay.com on 17 May 2022


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A Poacher’s Attack Through The Eyes Of Rhino Calf Ntombi

As the number of rhinos killed by poachers keep rising and more traumatized orphaned calves are in need of care, Kirsten Everett, a volunteer at Nikela, takes us on a touching journey as she looks at the horrors of a poacher attack though the eyes of a young Rhino calf called Ntombi.

Vet Karen Trendler With Ntombi

“My mother and I were contently filling our hungry stomachs when we heard a strange noise. I carried on eating but she smelt the air for unknown scents. I saw the terrified look in her eye before she managed to control it; the unnatural smell meant something. A few minutes later we heard the ‘whop, whop’ of a metal monster flying closer towards us. Just when my mother focussed on it the men crept out of the bushes with a crunch of sticks. Something seemed to hit her and she grunted in surprise. The birds abandoned their posts heading away from the danger. I stood helplessly as she tried to run but ended up falling to the ground. The men surrounded her and tried to chase me away. I ran forward scared enough to not care about the men as they had done something to my mother, I needed her and they must go away.

Out of nowhere one of the big men spun on me and hit me hard with something sharp. Blood oozed from my wound as my mother answered my cry for help with a weak beg, ‘Away, away’. I backed away nursing my wound, how could I get to her?? She grunted again so I didn’t give up. I ran forward again but this time the angry man was merciless, determined to get his message across. As quietly as possible I took the cuts to my poor head trying not to worry my mother even more.

This The Work Of Poachers

Confused I backed away into the bushes calling to her to get up, but the eerie silence dragged on and she didn’t move a muscle. Fear glued me to the floor as I felt my young heart pulsing with anger and fear. A breeze blew, as I waited for the monsters to go so I could go to my poor mommy and find out what was wrong. My heart skipped a beat when I realised this was what my cousin had gone through only a full moon ago. It was terrible, my body couldn’t stop shaking and I couldn’t think clearly, I felt lightheaded from all my blood loss.

Finally when the monsters left I ran to her side, ‘Mom wake up.’ My voice cracked with emotion but still she didn’t respond. I took a step back and saw the pool of blood. Her horn had been brutally cut off and she lay lifeless. Above me a crow flew over.

I turned to run then I asked myself some important questions… where would I go? I wasn’t old enough to know the way to the dam yet. Who would protect me from predators? The truth was that I wasn’t strong enough to survive by myself yet. Would I be with my mother in the sky sooner than I thought? The last question scared me the most; out in the wild without my mother I might just be able to survive a week.

I heard the snap of a twig, I wasn’t alone. This time I didn’t have the strength to care what these humans wanted with me. I collapsed and slept for a few hours. I was almost completely unconscious though I sensed kindness near me. Too traumatised to do anything I lay as they treated my wounds. The people who tried to comfort me planted a seed of hope. Hope that I could survive and hope that the rest of the human race would come to its senses and help my species and all the others out there”.

Let’s stop the babies’ cries! Let’s save the last rhin0!

Written by Kirsten Everett. Based loosely on the story of “Ntombi” who was rescued by Karen Trendler and her team.

Update (July 31, 2013): This is Ntombi feeling good and playful

NTOMBI

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The Texas Trophy Hunter Whose Wall Of Death Sent Social Media Into Meltdown

As the Internet went into meltdown over the poaching of Cecil the Lion by Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer, another man was causing a stir after a photo published in National Geographic went viral at the same time.

Kerry Krottinger, a wealthy Texas hunter and businessman, has slaughtered so much African wildlife over the years that he amassed a veritable “wall of death” in his Dallas-area home. The National Geographic portrait depicts him sitting with his wife among the taxidermied bodies of Lions, Rhinos, Cheetah, Giraffes and enough Elephant tusks to open a traditional Chinese hospital.

The British-based charity LionAID, which uploaded the photo to their Facebook page, took a markedly dim view. “This is just one Texas trophy hunter with a ‘love’ of Africa,” they write. “Is it any wonder that Africa’s wildlife is disappearing? Just have a count of the various species displayed. Three Lions? So many Elephant tusks? A Giraffe? A Rhino? Kerry must be one of the leading conservation hunters on the planet!”

10-dallas-safari-hunters-670.jpg1
Kerry and Libby Krottinger in their ‘Wall Of Death’ room

Little is known about Krottinger’s personal life. Aside from being an energy millionaire with multiple companies to his name, he and his wife Libby operate a Gypsy horse farm called Ndugu Ranch. A website about the property had been taken offline, but a cache copy can be viewed here. A Facebook page also associated with the ranch was also taken down. Next to a smiling photo of the pair, Krottinger wrote he named the ranch after the Swahili word for “brother” or “family member,” and that the couple has “a great love for Africa.”

Krottinger’s kingly haul of animal carcasses was acquired through what’s known as “conservation hunting,” a practice that is supposedly designed to protect species by allowing people to hunt animals for a high fee that’s then to be used for other conservation efforts. Palmer, who is now facing indictment in Zimbabwe for poaching, said in a statement that he had trusted his guides and assumed his activities had been legal.

Far from poachers, conservations hunters — and the websites that promote them — see themselves as environmentalists. LionAID’s director Pieter Kat said the whole premise was nonsense.

“Conservation hunting is a complete myth,” he told Mic. “If conservation hunting had been effective, Cecil the Lion would not have to have been poached out of a national park, because conservation hunting would have maintained a viable and sustainable Lion population within their own trophy hunting concession.” According to Kat, steep fees like the more than $50,000 Palmer paid to kill Cecil typically end up in the pockets of tour operators. “Sustainable hunting does not sustain anything,” he said.

PETA president Ingrid Newkirk was blunter still. “The idea of killing animals to ‘protect’ their species is like having 5-year-olds build a child-labor museum,” she said in a statement to Mic. “True conservationists are the people who pay to keep animals alive through highly lucrative eco-tourism, not the power-hungry people who pay for the cheap thrill of taking magnificent animals’ lives and putting their heads on a wall.”

On Twitter, the response was one of almost universal disgust, with the photo generating near Cecil-levels of rage.

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Kat was unapologetic about the Krottinger-shaming on LionAID’s Facebook page. “What we were trying to do there is to alert people to the fact that trophy hunters have this sort of enjoyment of their activity, and what we would like to expose to people is these sorts of people belong in the 19th century,” he said.

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Legendary Guns N’ Roses Guitarist Slash’s Plea To Help Save Elephants

ICONIC ROCKER SLASH IS DOING HIS BIT TO HELP CURB ELEPHANT POACHING

If former Guns & Roses guitarist Slash hadn’t put all his heart and soul into music and becoming one of the world’s greatest rock guitarists, perhaps he would’ve sought a career in zoology?

He is a trustee of the private, non-profit Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association (GLAZA) and shot a commercial for Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens with veteran actress Betty White to promote their new exhibit The Lair, which displays over 60 species of weird, rare and endangered amphibians, invertebrates and reptiles. He has shot other ads and PSAs before for the zoo.

“I used to not believe in zoos as a concept, but now because there are so many endangered animals; there’s so much poaching,” Slash tells Samaritanmag. “With zoos now, it’s really about conservation. They become safe houses for a lot of species so, I think, now, zoos are really necessary places, not totally about just family entertainment at any cost. It’s about education; it’s about conservation.”

Anyone familiar with Guns N’ Roses, Slash’s former band, knows he used to own snakes — as many as 80, which he got rid of when he became a father. He has been on the cover of Reptiles magazine and even had a band called Slash’s Snakepit post GNR. But he’s actually a lover of all animals.

Slash has been visiting the LA Zoo since the age of 5 and later in childhood went every weekend, sometimes twice. As a touring musician, he often visits the local zoos on his downtime.

in 2011, Slash received the inaugural Tom F. Mankiewicz Leadership Award from GLAZA at the 41st Annual Beastly Ball recognizing his long-time support of the zoo and the welfare of the world’s natural and civic environment (filmmaker Mankiewicz was GLAZA chairman who died in 2010).

The award will recognises his long-time contributions to environmental welfare programs and his support to the LA Zoo and zoos around the world.

GLAZA (Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association) President Connie Morgan declared:
‘Tom [Mankiewicz] advocated opportunities for interaction among our diverse communities and championed the cause of animals and the environment through education and on-the-ground conservation. He strongly believed the Los Angeles Zoo exemplifies both missions as a place where people come together having a good time while learning the importance of saving and protecting wildlife.’

To which Slash responded:
‘The biggest compliment for me is that it’s Tom’s award. I really adored that man. I miss him very much, and that aspect is very special and resonates deeply. Additionally, I profoundly appreciate the implications of the award itself. It’s a fantastic honour.’

But Zoo director John Lewis could not stop there:
‘Slash is a great example of our mission of nurturing wildlife and enriching the human experience. He is a champion for wildlife and conservation and has introduced our mission, his passion, to millions of his fans’.

“I just try to help the zoo,” says Slash of his role as a trustee. “We all on the board support and help the zoo’s best interests. We just try to keep all that together. It’s a pretty big thing. It’s a city-owned zoo and we’re trying to make it a private zoo and there’s just always something going on with that.”

In 2012, while on a trip to Australia, Slash took wildlife warrior Bob Irwin up on an invite, but left the meeting by signing on to aid Irwin’s new conservation initiative.

SLASH loves reptiles. So does Bob. And that’s enough.

A deep affinity for the cold-blooded creatures has forged an unlikely friendship between the legendary Guns N’ Roses guitarist and wildlife warrior Bob Irwin.

Irwin, who is the father of late ‘Crocodile Hunter’ host Steve Irwin, reached out to the guitarist when he learned the tour was coming to Australia, and invited him down to Queensland to visit the crocodiles and snakes.

After lending his support, Irwin returned the favour by urging his followers to catch one of Slash’s performances while he was visiting the country.

SLASH Bob Irwin Wildlife Conservation Foundation 2012 (1)
Slash and Bob Irwin at the launch of the Bob Irwin Foundation

In 2013, Slash performed in South Africa with rock super group Kings of Chaos and spent extra time seeing the local wildlife. Although he had been aware of the diminishing numbers of Elephants in the world, the former Guns N’ Roses guitarist learned on this trip that the situation was becoming increasingly more dire. While poaching rangers had increased their efforts to stop the illegal ivory trade, Slash believed that people needed to be more aware of the situation.

The guitarist also released the “Beneath the Savage Sun” video, which details the illegal ivory trade and tells the story of an Elephant who has lost a loved one from the Elephant’s point of view.

“How many killing seasons can you justify?” he asks. “How many dead and bleeding / only for an ivory lie?

“I was shocked that the poachers still manage to get away with it,” he told Rolling Stone in the above video. “A lot of people don’t know that every time they purchase anything that has even a smidgen of ivory in it, it comes from a dead Elephant. I think if people were more aware of that, it would have a dramatic effect on the whole ivory trade.”

Slash’s singer, Myles Kennedy, was equally affected by the situation. Kennedy wrote the lyrics for what would become “Beneath the Savage Sun,” a doomy hard rocker told from the perspective of an Elephant who witnessed the death of a fellow pachyderm.

SLASH AND MYLES KENNEDY

Slash made a powerful video for the track – which is featured on the guitarist’s last solo album, 2014’s World on Fire – illustrating the brutality of the ivory trade with written facts, images of both living and murdered Elephants and poachers’ spoils. The video notes that the U.S. is the world’s second-largest consumer of ivory, so Slash hopes the clip serves as a wake-up call.

“We wanted to give the viewer an idea of the atrocities that are going on, to hit them full in the face with it,” says Slash, an animal lover who is on the board at the Los Angeles Zoo and has long been active in animal conservation. “It’s more of an immersive experience. The most important thing is to reach as many people as possible.

“Elephants are so beautiful, intelligent and sensitive,” the guitarist continues. “They have emotions we’re all familiar with. They care for their young. They move in big family groups that live on for generation after generation. They very visibly mourn their dead. When you actually meet Elephants and get to know them a little bit, they have a whole myriad of personalities.” (Slash was previously part of the campaign for Billy the Elephant.)

In addition to educating people about Elephants, Slash has also partnered with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), an organization he reached out to personally because he had worked with them in the past and liked how they were “hands on” in their causes.

Jeff Flocken, IFAW’s regional director, North America, has been working with the Obama Administration to draft and implement laws to regulate ivory. “Any legal trade of ivory encourages illegal trade,” he says. “Our laws are riddled with loopholes like Swiss cheese.”

He believes that if the U.S. led by example, real change is possible. “Last November, the U.S. crushed six tons of ivory that was seized illegally here in the U.S., and within months, China crushed 6.1 tons of their own ivory,” he tells Rolling Stone, adding that China is the world’s Number One ivory consumer. “It’s the first time they’ve ever done that. It shows that other countries are watching what we’re doing.”

Trade in elephant ivory is driving these amazing animals to extinction; largely at the hands of criminal networks that kill local wildlife rangers and support organized crime, smuggle drugs and transport illegal firearms. They do all this to meet the lucrative demands of consumers in China, the United States and elsewhere, many who don’t even realize that every piece of ivory comes from a dead elephant, but who still value the stuff as jewellery, trinkets, and yes, instruments.

Flocken added that the anti-ivory movement has begun facing opposition from the N.R.A., who want to protect ivory for ornamentation on gun handles, among other causes. Slash says that ivory ornamentation is not necessary and uses musical instruments as an example.

We love our instruments. We know that many of you love your guitars with ivory bridges and pianos with ivory keys, but we need you to think about where things came from and what are your ethics when buying and selling them?” Piano keys don’t have to be ivory,” he says. “It’s not important. And for inlays on guitars and tuning pegs, it’s absolutely not necessary and I won’t use it.” Do we really want to profit off of the extinction of such a beautiful and majestic species?

To prove his point, Slash donated proceeds from the sale of the song to the IFAW and has redesigned his website to provide more information about the ivory trade and serve as a place where people can donate to the organization. Supporters can also donate to the IFAW.

“Donating is great – that’s hugely necessary – but the other thing to do is to stop purchasing ivory,” Slash says. “Do not buy it. I think the more people that stop buying ivory is going to have a significant effect on the Elephant poaching trade.”

The Mission of Protect All Wildlife is to prevent cruelty, promote the welfare of ALL animals EVERYWHERE, and help END animal abuse.

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An Obituary To Tolstoy, One Of Africa’s Few Remaining Tuskers

TOLSTOY

18th March 2021: Just after dawn, Tolstoy lumbers into view. A wandering giant, with tusks almost scraping the earth, this great elephant has roamed beneath Mount Kilimanjaro for nearly 50 years.

He has survived ivory poachers, spear attacks and terrible drought, but the mighty bull could be confronting a new threat to his natural realm: surging demand for avocados.

A turf war has erupted over a 180-acre (73-hectare) avocado farm near Amboseli, one of Kenya’s premier national parks, where elephants and other wildlife graze against the striking backdrop of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak.

In 2020 Kenyan agribusiness KiliAvo Fresh Ltd received approval from the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) to start its own avocado farm on land in Kimana, southern Kenya it purchased from local Masai owners. [Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP]

Opponents of the farm say it obstructs the free movement of iconic tuskers like Tolstoy – putting their very existence at risk – and clashes with traditional ways of using the land.

Adjacent landowners and wildlife experts say elephants have already collided with KiliAvo’s electric fence – proof that it impedes migratory routes used by an estimated 2,000 tuskers as they depart Amboseli into surrounding lands to breed and find water and pasture. “Can you imagine if elephants in Amboseli died of starvation so that people in Europe can eat avocados?” Kenyan conservationist Paula Kahumbu, who heads the campaign group WildlifeDirect, said.

HUMAN WILDLIFE CONFLICT

16th March 2022: The Elephant named Tolstoy is a living natural wonder, carrying some of the largest tusks on the planet. So when Big Life’s rangers don’t see him for a while, they go looking.

They searched beyond their normal patrol areas and eventually found him resting under a tree. All appeared fine, until he took a step… something was badly wrong. Tolstoy could barely walk. Upon getting closer, the rangers could see the problem: a puncture wound in the joint on his front right leg.

Tolstoy being treated for his leg wound

A wound like this was no accident. Tolstoy frequently plays a high-stakes game called crop-raiding. When he wins, he comes away with a bellyful of highly nutritious crops. But when he loses, he gets speared.

Tolstoy doesn’t know it, but his crop raids can cost a farmer their entire season’s income in one night, and these farmers (justifiably) care little that Tolstoy is one of Africa’s dwindling number of ‘super tuskers’. It’s not the first time this has happened: in 2018 he was treated for three spear wounds, also a result of crop-raiding.

The Kenya Wildlife Service vet unit, funded by our partners at Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, was quick to respond, but the decision to treat him was not made immediately. Darting an animal of this size, particularly with a wound in a sensitive joint, is extremely risky because the Elephant may not be able to stand after treatment. The decision was made to wait 24 hours and see if his condition improved.

Big Life’s rangers stayed by his side, spending the entire night out with him, but the wound showed no signs of improvement. The decision was made to dart him, and it was done quickly and professionally.  His wound was thoroughly cleaned and treated, and Tolstoy was given antibiotics and painkillers before a jab to wake him up.

Tolstoy comes round watched by members of the KWS team

With great effort, he finally stood and stared back at the treatment team, before retreating into the shade. For now, his prognosis looks good, but he’s not out of the woods just yet as he continues to heal. Big Life rangers will continue to monitor him while he recovers. And they will continue to spend their nights out in the farms, keeping Elephants safe and helping farmers to protect their crops, in order to prevent this from happening again.

The elephant named Tolstoy is a living natural wonder, carrying some of the largest tusks on the planet. So when Big Life’s rangers don’t see him for a while, they go looking.

They searched beyond their normal patrol areas and eventually found him resting under a tree. All appeared fine, until he took a step… something was badly wrong. Tolstoy could barely walk. Upon getting closer, the rangers could see the problem: a puncture wound in the joint on his front right leg.

A wound like this was no accident. Tolstoy frequently plays a high-stakes game called crop-raiding. When he wins, he comes away with a bellyful of highly nutritious crops. But when he loses, he gets speared.

Tolstoy doesn’t know it, but his crop raids can cost a farmer their entire season’s income in one night, and these farmers (justifiably) care little that Tolstoy is one of Africa’s dwindling number of ‘super tuskers’. It’s not the first time this has happened: in 2018 he was treated for three spear wounds, also a result of crop-raiding.

THE SADDEST DAY

27TH April 2022: “This is so painful.”

These few words spoken by ranger Daudi Ninaai describe well how we are all feeling at Big Life. Tolstoy, one of Africa’s biggest ‘tusker’ Elephants, and an icon of the Amboseli ecosystem, has died at 51 years old.

He was speared in the leg 6 weeks ago, almost certainly by a farmer defending his crops from one of Tolstoy’s night-time crop raids. The wound was treated, but the resultant infection has ultimately had the worst possible consequences.

Big Life’s rangers in Kimana Sanctuary have been monitoring Tolstoy since his treatment. Yesterday morning, they found him lying down. This was not unusual for an Elephant who took frequent horizontal naps despite his enormous size, but upon getting closer, the rangers could see signs of his failed struggle to stand up. They knew that this time was different.

Tolstoy was still alive and two Kenya Wildlife Service vet units (both funded by the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust) responded. He was given further treatment, but getting him on his feet again was unlikely from the start. For hours the rangers and vets tried to pull him up with vehicles and ropes, with no success. A front-end loader was called in as a last desperate attempt, but Tolstoy was just too weak to stand.

With the rescue team running out of ideas, and night fast approaching, Tolstoy finally ran out of strength and died, surrounded by the rangers who have looked over him for so long.

Ranger Job Lekanayia is one of these: “Today is the saddest day in my job as a ranger, having lost one of the Elephants that I treasured the most. We tried everything that we could. I thought he would wake up, but he just couldn’t lift himself up.”

After 50 years on earth, there isn’t much that Tolstoy hadn’t seen. And there isn’t much that looks the same. His home has been transformed by the human species, and it is the consequences of rapidly expanding farmlands that eventually killed him.

His death is a reminder of the vulnerability of even the largest of animals, as well as the urgent need to protect habitat for wildlife and manage the interface between wild animals and human activities. There are solutions, and we are making progress despite a tragic setback such as this.

Over his long time on this planet, Tolstoy had a positive impact on countless people, and will be remembered as a calm and gentle giant. As ranger Lekanayia says, “All I can say is: rest in peace Tolstoy, we will miss you.”

TOLSTOY

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