'Slaughter' fear over poaching rise

The number of african elephants killed illegally for their ivory is rising steeply. A poaching surge in the past 5 years is raising fears of a re-run of the catastrophic slaughter of elephants in the 1970s and 1980s. During that period Africa's elephant population plunged from an estimated 1.3 million animals to 500,000. One team of scientists argues that, today, about 38,000 elephants across Sub-Saharan Africa are dying annually at the hands of poachers to feed the growing demand for ivory carvings and trinkets in eastern Asia. If that poaching rate is correct and is sustained the elephant would become extinct across most of Sub-Saharan Africa in 15 years. Other scientists question this calculation and believe the overall slaughter rate is lower.

Nonetheless, 20 years after the international trade in ivory was made illegal, there is widespread concern over the escalating problem. In the last 5 years the price of ivory has rocketed with reports of Asian dealers paying in excess of US$1,000 per kilo. A combination of the soaring value and the fact that wildlife crime is a low priority for most law enforcement agencies means that ivory poaching and trafficking has attracted the interest of international crime syndicates. According to Sam Wasser of the Centre for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington, Seattle "this has created a situation where organised crime has gotten very heavily involved in the illegal trade. In fact, if you look at all wildlife crime - not just ivory - there are tens of billions of dollars being made annually."

The slaughter of elephants is at its most rampant in Central Africa but poaching rates are also rising in southern and East African countries. Patrick Omodi, head of species conservation at the Kenya Wildlife Service, said that the number of elephants killed for their tusks in his country more than doubled between 2007 and 2008. Latest figures for 2009 suggest it may double again by the close of the year.

(Extract of story from Andrew Luck-Baker, BBC NEWS, 6th August 2009)

Comment UCF supports the Uganda Wildlife Authority in its work to prevent illegal activities such as this and seeks to reduce conflict between humans and wildlife. UCF is  involved with Sam Wasser in the project to build a worldwide database of elephant DNA to enable confiscated ivory to be traced back to its origins and focus anti-poaching measures. UCF is currently sending samples of elephant dung from across Uganda to Sam Wasser to add to the DNA database. Your donations will help this work.

For the full BBC news item 'Slaughter' fear over poaching rise click here




Map of elephant DNA reveals trail of ivory smugglers

UCF's work through its Elephant DNA Project contributes to the fight against worldwide illegal ivory trade.  This is highlighted in an article published in The Guardian extracts of which are shown below:

Scientists have used a revolutionary generic technique to pinpoint the area of Africa where smugglers are slaughtering elephants to feed the worldwide illegal ivory trade. Using a DNA map of Africa's elephants, they have found that most recent seizures of tusks tested can be traced to animals that had grazed in the Selous and Niassa game reserves on the Tanzania and Mozambique borders.

The discovery suggests that only a handful of cartels are responsible for most of the world's booming trade in illegal ivory and for the annual slaughter of tens of thousands of elephants. The extent of this trade is revealed through recent seizures of thousands of tusks in separate raids on docks in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan. these were aimed at satisfying the far east's growing appetite for ivory. As a result, ivory prices have soared from $200 a kilogram in 2004 to more than $6,000. At the same time, scientists estimate that between 8% and 10% of Africa's elephants are now being slaughtered each year to meet demand.

"In the past, law enforcement agencies - including Interpol - thought these shipments of ivory had been put together by traders cherry-picking small stockpiles across Africa," said Professor Sam Wasser, director of the University of Washington's Centre for Conservation Biology, where the DNA elephant map was developed. "Our work show that isn't true. The vast majority of poaching is being carried out by a few big organisations - possibly one or two major syndicates - that are targeting one area and then hammering its elephants. It is grim, but it suggests we can target our anti-poaching efforts very specifically by focusing efforts on these regions." At present, Tanzania is at the centre of the world's ivory slaughter. However, other work by Wasser and his team indicates that different areas, including parts of Zambia and Malawi, have been targeted in the recent past.

Ivory poaching was halted by an international campaign in the 1990s after it reached a peak between 1979 and 1989, when more than 700,000 elephants were killed for their tusks. However, aid that helps African nations fight poachers has dried up and the illegal ivory trade has returned to its previous high levels. killing for tusks is a particularly gruesome trade. Elephants are highly intelligent animals whose sophisticated social ties are exploited by poachers. They will often shoot young elephants to draw in a grieving parent, which is then killed for its tusks. "Our estimates suggest that more than 38,000 elephants were killed using techniques such as this in 2006 and that the annual death rate is even higher today," said Wasser.

His team's technique - outlined in the current issue of Scientific American - involves two separate sets of analyses. First, volunteers and researchers across Africa (including UCF) collected samples of elephant dung. Each contains plentiful amounts of DNA from cells, sloughed from the intestines of individual animals. These provide material for DNA fingerprints, which have since been mapped for the whole of Africa. Animals from one area have very similar DNA fingerprints, the researchers have found. As part of the second analysis, a section of tusk seized from smugglers is ground up and its DNA is carefully extracted. again a DNA fingerprint is made and compared with those on the dung map, in order to pinpoint the origin of the elephant. 

"Ivory is now traded globally in the same illegal manner as drugs and weapons," said Wasser. "It is shameful that this has happened and we need to press the countries whose elephants are being targeted this way and get them to halt this trade."

(Original article published in  The Guardian, 28th June 2009)

Comment UCF is  involved in this project to build a worldwide database of elephant DNA to enable confiscated ivory to be traced back to its origins and focus anti-poaching measures. Working with the Uganda Wildlife Authority samples of elephant dung from parts of Uganda have already been submitted to Professor Wasser and his team. 80% of the first batch submitted (103 samples) were able to be used to extract DNA to contribute to the database. However, more sample collections need to be carried out.  Work is continuing to achieve this with sample collection about to commence in the Murchison Falls area but there is a need for more funding to help complete the work. Whilst initial findings of the database show that other countries are being targeted by smuggler syndicates first, if these areas are closed off to the major syndicates then they will inevitably turn to the smaller countries such as Uganda for their source of ivory. Other stories in our news section confirm that ivory smuggling is taking place in Uganda albeit on a smaller scale at the present time. It is vital that the database for the area is completed as soon as possible to make this harder for them.

UCF is grateful for the support already provided by the organisations Born Free and Seaworld Busch Conservation Foundation in this work. Further donations / grants are urgently needed to help complete this work.
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Kenya seizes coffin-stashed ivory

Kenyan authorities have seized 300kg (660 lbs) of illegal ivory hidden in coffins on a plane bound for Laos. The haul included 16 elephant tusks and black rhinocerous horns. Officials said the blood on the ivory suggested the animals had been killed very recently.

The flight - which stopped in Nairobi - originated in Mozambique and was bound for Thailand and then Laos. The haul of ivory may have had a value of about $1m (£614,000), Reuters reports. Officials from the Kenya Wildlife Service said the ivory might have come from Tanzania or South Africa. The black rhino is found only in eastern and southern Africa.

The international ivory trade has been banned since 1989. the sale of ivory is illegal if the ivory is not from pre-1989 stockpiles. However, some countries have done little to enforce the ban.

(Story from BBC NEWS,  published 14th July 2009)

Comment UCF supports the Uganda Wildlife Authority in its work to prevent illegal activities such as this and seeks to reduce conflict between humans and wildlife. UCF is also involved in a project to build a worldwide database of elephant DNA to enable confiscated ivory to be traced back to its origins and focus anti-poaching measures. Your donations will help this work.




More ivory seized

The Uganda Wildlife Authority is hunting for poachers and traders in ivory following the recovery of pieces of elephant ivory hidden in sacks of beans at Kasuba in Kampala.

The police deployed on the Masaka Road at Kasuba stumbled on the ivory during a routine check on June 18th. The ivory was handed over to UWA. Most of the ivory looked old but some pieces had fresh stains of blood suggesting that illegal killing of elephants is still taking place, UWA's law enforcement coordinator observed. The consignment is suspected to have originated from the DR Congo. This incident comes two months after pieces of hippo teeth and elephant ivory were impounded after a similar discovery by Uganda Revenue Authority officials.

Trade in ivory is banned according to national and international laws on wildlife. the elephants are listed internationally as endangered species. There is concern that illegal killing of elephants could easily spread into the country if anti-poaching measures are not tightened.

(Original article by Gerald Tenywa,  New Vision, 29th June 2009)

Comment UCF supports the Uganda Wildlife Authority in its work to prevent illegal activities such as this and seeks to reduce conflict between humans and wildlife. UCF is also involved in a project to build a worldwide database of elephant DNA to enable confiscated ivory to be traced back to its origins and focus anti-poaching measures. Your donations will help this work.




First rhino born in Uganda after 20 years

A calf has been born among the six rhinos living at the breeding sanctuary in Nakasongola district. This is the first birth of a rhino in Uganda in the last 20 years.

"The calf is 3 days old, but the mother is too protective so it is difficult to get close to them to establish its gender," said Angie Genade, the executive director of Rhino Fund Uganda. The mother is one of four rhinos that were donated by the Disney Animal Kingdom to help the breeding of rhinos at Nakasongola for re-introduction into the country's parks.

Rhinos are globally endangered because of their valuable horns. In Uganda the last northern white rhino was last seen in 1982 in Murchison Falls National Park while the last black rhino was last seen in Kidepo in 1983. According to wildlife officials,  rhinos were killed during the civil unrest that Uganda experienced in the 1970s and early 1980s.

After realising that rhinos in Uganda had become extinct conservationists formed the Rhino Fund Uganda, an NGO, to bring back the rhinos. A breeding sanctuary was established in Nakasongola. The Sun Park in South Africa has donated a further 12 rhinos which are expected in country in November 2009. There are believed to be around 600 rhinos in Kenya, about 100 in Tanzania and the DRC had about 10 in the Garamba National Park before the Lord's Resistance Army camped there.


(Original article by Gerald Tenywa, The New Vision, 28th June 2009)