Corruption and the illegal wildlife trade

A new report published by The Guardian yesterday has exposed key wildlife trafficking crime groups and the corrupt government officials enabling them.

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The investigation was carried out by Freeland over 14 years and identifies through Thai government surveillance the main crime networks and individual traffickers who have profited around $23bn through illegally trading in animals, including endangered species, such as elephants, tigers and rhinos.

‘The Bach brothers’, two Vietnamese siblings, allegedly control one of the main trade routes in endangered species and are some of the key suspects in the report.

Why and how is this criminal trade so lucrative? It is the fourth most profitable illegal trade, after drugs, people and arms trafficking. A pair of rhino horns, for example, can sell for 200 times the original price in Vietnam and 400 times in China. Around 5% of rhinos are alive today compared with four decades ago, and around 1,000 are killed by poachers each year. Just to be clear – the rhinos are ‘detusked’ and left to bleed to death.

Rhino horns have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, and used to treat rheumatism, fever, gout, headaches, and all sort of other ailments, despite having no scientific basis in fact. Rhino horn is mainly made of keratin and has no proven ability to cure anything.

The Guardian report reveals that the known wildlife trafficking kingpin, Vixay Keosavang, has apparently brought his operations to a close, since the US put a $1m reward on his capture. This is the only monetary reward historically offered for a wildlife trafficker, and seems to have been almost instantly effective in halting his business. Since then, however, new players have taken over – the Bach brothers, who are:

well-known locally for their criminal activities, which also include vehicle smuggling; the Bachs run legitimate businesses in wholesale agriculture and forest products, construction materials, electrical equipment, hotels, and food services.

Today, the Guardian has also revealed  that senior officials in Laos have profited through a 2% tax on trade involving tigers, rhinos and elephants. For over a decade, the office of the Laos prime minister has cut deals with three leading traffickers to move wildlife through borders. The statistics are truly shocking:

In 2014 alone, these deals covered $45m (£35m) worth of animal body parts and included agreed quotas requiring the disabling or killing of 165 tigers, more than 650 rhinos and more than 16,000 elephants.

This trade is illegal and prohibited by the International Trade in Endangered Species.

Laos continues to be a full member of Cites, despite having been suspended in 2015 for failure to produce a plan to tackle the ivory trade, and again this year for failure to implement a plan to tackle the ivory trade. This new evidence proves that not only has Laos shown little interest in confronting the illegal trade in wildlife, it has actually profited substantially from taxing the trade.

You can read about the WWF’s efforts to stop the illegal wildlife trade here.

If we are to end this horrific trade in wild animals, we need an international approach that must involve robustly tackling the demand, enforcing the laws, and investing in the areas that are targeted by poachers, to promote education about the ecological need for diverse habitats and species, and to enable local communities to protect wildlife on their doorstep.

Most importantly, we need to kill the demand in Asia and China.

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Buzzards are now fair game for gamekeepers

One man in England has been given a license to shoot 10 buzzards which, he claims, are interfering with his pheasant-shooting business. That one license will enable others to seek licenses to shoot legally protected species in this country, and it makes a mockery of the huge conversation success that was the protection of the buzzard.

Birds of prey have been legally protected in the UK since 1954, but just one license will undermine that; not only will it set a precedent for more licenses, but it will make the continued illegal killing of raptors by gamekeepers even easier.

Buzzards were hunted to near extinction in the 19th century and, although there are now around 30 to 40 thousand in the UK, there are still reports of illegal killing and they are still a recovering species. You can read about the buzzard’s story on the RSPB website here.

Once again, economic interests have been placed before the survival of a species, despite the evidence that buzzards pose very little threat to pheasant populations. Those that escape the barrel of a gun are usually discovered squashed by the roadside.

45 million gamebirds are released into the countryside every year for the sanguinary enjoyment of those who pay to kill animals for fun. Some of those birds will inevitably meet their fate instead at the claws of a bird of prey. BECAUSE NATURE.

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And where does it end? Licences to shoot hen harriers and peregrine falcons? This is the precedent that will open the floodgates to allowing further licenses that could threaten the buzzard with extinction yet again, or decimate struggling populations of other birds of prey.

Will the post-Brexit apocalypse enable thousands of EU environment-friendly laws to be crossed out? This is the first step.

Angry? You should be. I know how you like to sign a petition.

Canada Heading Towards An Animal Testing Ban

I recently had a debate on WP with someone about the issue of testing cosmetics on animals. Instead of offering logical, unbiased arguments, this person eventually chose to ban my comments from their post, a pretty cowardly and insecure act from someone who claimed I lacked confidence in my position. Luckily, I’m too self-assured and angered by injustice to be silenced.

Peter Dinklage joined the #BeCrueltyFree campaign and has been associated with Cruelty Free International for the last few years.

Canada is the latest nation progressing towards a Cruelty-free ban, which would see an end to testing cosmetic products on animals. The EU brought in a ban in 2013, though many major cosmetic companies allow others to carry out animal tests on their behalf, so that they can sell their products in China, which lags behind other nations in animal welfare on this issue.

Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen has recently introduced a bill to implement a Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act, which will not only ban animal testing for cosmetics, but also prohibit the sale of imported products that have been animal-tested in other parts of the world.

Despite viable alternatives, such as artificial human skin, cosmetics are often still tested on animals, in a system that is outdated and unnecessary.

100,000 animals from around the world are blinded, poisoned and killed yearly in cosmetic tests; this includes rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs and rabbits.

The advantages of non-animal tests are outlined by the New England Anti-Vivisection Society, and they include:

  • more reliable test results that can be safely applied to humans
  • fewer errors and miscalculations in interpreting data
  • far more cost effective
  • takes a fraction of the time to produce results
  • less hazardous waste created from dead, toxic animals, therefore more environmentally friendly.

If you want ethical products, look for the Leaping Bunny label. Boots and Superdrug offer many excellent cruelty free, inexpensive own brand products.

Reluctant Yulin Dog Meat Festival Aftermath Post

I wanted to avoid writing about the Yulin dog meat festival, as social media has been buzzing this last few weeks with haunting images of dogs and cats crammed into tiny wire cages, on their way to an inhumane slaughter. I don’t need to argue that the boiling, beating and murder of stolen beloved pets is morally wrong – that’s a given. But this is a good time to point out that the mass production of billions of chickens, pigs and cows, all kept in unnatural and unpleasant conditions, is not too far removed from the perverse Yulin dog eating festival.

Dog eating is dying out in China, despite the popularity of the new Yulin festival. Attitudes to animals are changing in China, and the festival attracted animal rights activists, who went to rescue as many dogs as they could afford to.

Yang Xiaoyun, retired school teacher, paid about 7,000 yuan ($1,100; £710) to save 100 dogs on Saturday.

We’ve all seen farmyard animals packed tightly into trucks on their way to slaughter in the UK – a more humane slaughter, perhaps, than the hideous fate that awaited the stolen Chinese pets this month. Pigs are highly intelligent creatures and they, like domestic pets, do not deserve to suffer a horrific journey to the abattoir. You might not agree that animals shouldn’t be eaten, but it is undeniable that sentient creatures deserve freedom from the kind of daily torture that occurs on a massive scale globally every day.

I’m not going to make the case that current animal husbandry is unnecessary cruel. There have been plenty of investigations – you can Google it yourself. I’d just like to put the grotesque nature of the Yulin dog festival into perspective: 10,000 dogs and cats once a year. 56 billion farmed animals each year.

Ricky, a lucky dog rescued by Dr Peter Li of the Humane Society International.

Sandra The Orangutan And Her Human Rights

Buenos Aires Zoo has yet another high-profile resident, in addition to Arturo the depressed polar bear.

The Association of Professional Lawyers for Animal Rights (AFADA) will soon make their case in court on behalf on Sandra the shy Sumatran orangutan, and they will use the habeas corpus law to argue that the great ape has been illegally detained and deprived of her dignity and liberty.

Sandra was born in captivity in Germany and transferred to the zoo in Argentina, where she has been living for the past two decades. Her enclosure is currently being renovated on the advice of vets who recommend more environmental enrichment. Activists argue that her shyness is a sign of depression, this others have argued that shy behaviour is typical of orangutans.

A court ruling in December granted Sandra the possibility of limited human rights as a “non-human person” because she has cognitive abilities. An Argentinian judge is set to rule this week whether or not Sandra’s human rights are infringed by her captivity in the zoo, and the judge will also consider whether her restricted freedom is a form of maltreatment.

If the judge rules in favour of Sandra’s release, she could be transferred to an animal sanctuary, which would offer her more freedom, though it is unlikely she will be released into the wild, having never set foot in the Sumatran jungle before.

Sandra will not be appearing in court, obviously, but I will keep you updated of developments. These are exciting times in the animal rights movement – Sandra’s possible release could pave the way for other primates to be granted legal personhood. I recently blogged about Hercules and Leo, two chimpanzees fighting for their human rights.

You can read more about the Nonhuman Rights Project here.

Who’s Looking Out For Animals In This Election?

* Guest blog post from Politics student James Craske *

Animal Rights. Where do the parties stand?

Human concern for animal welfare stretches back a long way. Despite the regular news of animal abuse, we have come a long way from the prevailing attitude of the Ancient Greeks that animals do not possess reason, to the recent court ruling that temporarily granted chimpanzees legal rights to personhood. Throughout the 20th century, activists have made gains in ensuring that animal health and welfare now finds itself a place in all the major political parties’ manifestos.

But what pledges have they made this coming 2015 general election?

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Labour Party

The last Labour government oversaw the first Hunting Act in 2004, which outlawed the hunting of wild mammals with dogs, and introduced the Animal Welfare Act 2006, the first review of pet laws for 94 years. Speaking in February, Ed Miliband stated that:

‘Labour values tell us that we have a moral duty to treat the animals we share our planet with in a humane and compassionate way’.

In continuing the work set about by the previous Labour government, the party has pledged to end the badger cull, defend the 2004 Hunting Act and ban wild animals from being exploited in circuses.

Conservative Party

David Cameron has said a Conservative government would remain committed to offering a free vote to MP’s to repeal the Hunting Act introduced by Labour in 2004 if they are given another term in government. However, a group of Conservative back-benchers are intending to resist this repeal; the Conservatives Against Fox Hunting have worked stoically since 2011 to make sure that the Hunting Act and other reforms have not been overturned. Moreover, they have doggedly criticised the government’s continuing badger cull.

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats have made a number of pre-manifesto claims to ‘ensure farming support is concentrated on sustainable food productions’. Their commitments extend to improving farm animal welfare and to reducing the use of animals in scientific research by funding research into viable alternatives. Importantly, they differ from the current Environment Secretary Liz Truss, in saying they would only support extending the current cull on badgers if they have shown to be effective, humane and safe.

Green Party

The Greens have made bold and consistent moves to put animal welfare at the top of their agenda. They go further than any other party in outlining a larger vision for society by stating the need to

‘foster understanding of our inter-relationship in the web of life and protect and promote natural habitat,’

and thus halting the destruction of the estimated 30,000 species we are currently losing each year. The Green Party have made commitments to end factory farming, including a ban on battery hens for eggs, preventing animals from being used for medical experiments, and ending the controversial badger cull. A fuller picture of the Green’s Commitments to animal protection can be found in their 2014 Animal Protection Manifesto. 

UKIP

UKIP have said they would scrap Green targets made by both the UK and the EU. On domestic issues, the party recently stated that they would be the first party to call for a complete ban on halal meat. The party maintains that this pledge is not being intended to stir up racial division, but rather to act on the conviction that the ethical treatment of animals comes before religious practice. However, UKIP’s animal welfare policy seems to be inconsistent and contains a number of contradictions, including the promise to re-instate fox-hunting. Furthermore, within Europe UKIP has voted against a crack-down on the illegal ivory trade, and, as the New Statesman recently reported, UKIP MEP Roger Helmer has claimed that dumb seal cubs deserved to be killed.

The Virunga Mountain Gorillas These Days

Dian Fossey carrying out observations with a silverback

I’ve just finished reading Dian Fossey’s Gorillas In The Mist and I’m wondering how Nunkie’s Group are getting on these days.

A lot has changed in the Virunga mountains since Fossey’s horrific murder in 1985, and humans have encroached on the gorillas‘ diminishing territory even more. The 1994 Rwandan genocide interrupted the research at the Karisoke Study Centre, and, since then, this recent documentary has demonstrated that the remote gorilla territory is threatened by oil exploration, as well as poachers and farmers

When Fossey’s book was published in 1983, there were 282 known gorillas in the Virgunas, so one could be forgiven for feeling encouraged to read on Wikipedia that there are now 880. The species are still critically endangered. They have at least managed to avoid becoming one of the species discovered and annihilated in the same century, as Fossey feared.

The fight against SOCO is far from over, as the BBC has recently reported that the Democratic Republic of Congo wishes to redraw the boundaries of the park, which would presumably enable SOCO to drill for oil in certain areas. The prime minister of the DRC hopes to persuade the UN that drilling for oil in one of the most bio diverse habitats on the planet is not incompatible with its world heritage status. The Virunga park certainly meets the selection criteria because it

‘contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.’

Even SOCO admit that the ensuing pollution of oil exploration operations could destroy the vulnerable ecosystem and threaten the survival of already endangered species. Why risk that?