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mercoledì 8 febbraio 2017

Trading in Extinction

Global biodiversity loss doesn’t just result from the destruction of habitats, or even hunting species for meat. A huge number of species are threatened by trade – both alive as pets or exhibits, or dead for use in medicines.

Though people have become increasingly aware of the threat posed by the trade of high-value species, such as the elephant for ivory, and various animals such as tigers, rhinos and the pangolin for medicine, few realise the risk that the pet trade poses to the future survival of many less well-known species.
On visiting a zoo or pet shop, you may expect that the reptiles and amphibians on show are bred in captivity, but many of these animals may have been imported live. In fact, 92% of the 500,000 live animal shipments between 2000-2006 to the United States (that’s 1,480,000,000 animals) were for the pet trade, and 69% of these originated in Southeast Asia.
These exports are increasing annually from the majority of tropical countries. And without careful regulation, this trade may be disastrous for many species.

Legal trade?

Many zoos, aquaria and pet stockists formerly relied on “certified breeders” in many parts of the world (especially Southeast Asia and South America) to provide stock for pets and exhibitions. But it’s now well established that only a small proportion of these animals are, in fact, captive bredThe vast majority may be harvested from the wild and laundered to appear legal.
One such case is the common Tokay Gecko (Gecko gecko), of which Indonesia can legally export three million live annually (as designated by CITES which determines legal exports quotas of all internationally traded species), in addition to a further 1.2 million dried for its mythical medical properties.
But breeding three million of these animals would require at least 420,000 females and 42,000 males; 90,000 incubation containers and 336,000 rearing cages; plus food and hundreds of staff. All that outlay would need to be recovered at the cost of under $US1.90 per gecko, and that’s before considering death rates and the 1.2 million that are sold dried. As a result, the majority of these geckos are caught in the wild.
The same is true for an estimated 160 reptile speciesAround 80% of Indonesia’s green pythons (Morelia viridis) (more than 5,337 annually) are estimated to be exported illegally, and almost the entire population of the Palawan forest turtle was captured by a single group to export across the region.
Due to collector demand for new and rare species, entire populations can be collected using academic publications to target animals as soon as they are scientifically described. At least 21 reptile species have been targeted this way and wild populations may become extinct soon after their discovery as a result. Academics have begun leaving precise locations of new species out of their publications to try prevent this.
Collector demand has driven a number of species to extinction in the wild, including the Chinese Tiger gecko Goniuorosaurus luii) and many other geckos known only to collectors and scientists. Yet these extinct in the wild, critically endangered and unclassified species are easily available from unscrupulous traders in America and Europe, via the internet or reptile fairs.
These threats are a particular risk to any newly described reptile species, particularly the reptiles of Asia as well as New Zealand and Madagascar.
For the majority of these species, legal trade has never been permitted internationally; all available animals come from illegal stock, and may represent the global population of some of these species.
An estimated 50% of live reptile exports are thought to be caught in the wild despite the fact under half of the 10,272 currently described reptile species have had their conservation status assessed. Under 8% have their trade levels controlled so developing appropriate priorities, quotas or management guidelines is almost impossible.
But this exploitation is not limited to reptiles and amphibians alone. Any species can fall prey to collectorswith primates, and orchid and bird species often suffering the same fate. More than 212 over-exploited amphibian species have been classified so far, with at least 290 species targeted for the international pet trade.
Surveys in Thailand revealed more than 347 orchid species available in a single market. They come from across the region and include many undescribed species, as well as those illegally transported into Thailand.
These species suffer the same fate as reptiles, with new discoveries often being exploited by the market, sometimes encouraged by researchers. They’re easily available over the internet, resulting in the extinction of these species based to trade alone and the refusal to accept the threat of trade.
Many bird species are also under severe extinction threat because of the pet trade. They include thousands of birds in South America, and an estimated 3.33 million annually from Southeast Asia (1.3 million from Indonesia alone).
The pressure on Indonesian birds is so severe that in just one day in a single market over 16,160 birds of around 206 species were reported to be for sale, of which 98% were native to Indonesia, and 20% occurred nowhere else in the world.
Fish have similar statistics. Up to 98% of those in aquaria are wild caught from reefs and suffer death rates of 98% within a year. As a result, wild fish populations of species, such as the clownfish, have decreased by up to 75%.

Whose responsibility?

The illegal wildlife trade is the fourth largest illegal trade globally, worth about $US20 billion annually. About half comes from Southeast Asia.
But unlike other illicit trade, much of the illegal wildlife trade is not buried in the “dark web”. Enforcement is generally so weak that traders of the majority of live animals and plants can operate in plain sight with little fear of reprisal.
The Lacey Act in the US prevents the import of live organisms from their countries of origin, in order to prevent potential laundering of wild-caught animals. But as Europe has no similar legislation, it provides a conduit in addition to an end point for trade.
The majority of the demand for these species, and especially rare species is from European and North American collectors. But, as only a tiny portion of this trade is regulated (2% of international amphibian trade, and 10% of global reptile trade), urgent action is needed to protect vulnerable species from possible extinction.
As many species of reptiles, amphibians and orchids have not been listed by CITES (due to insufficient information, or recent discovery), there is no real regulation in the animal trade. And customs officers cannot be expected to distinguish between a rare and a common orchid or frog, so simpler restrictions are required to prevent this potentially damaging trade.

Innocent until proven guilty?

As so many species have no CITES classification perhaps what we need is a paradigm shift so that only species classed as tradeable, and certified as such can be traded. This would mean all specimens without a certificate could not be transported internationally.
At present, tracking trade of whole groups is difficult as organisations that are in position to do this, such as the World Customs Organisation, do not include records for amphibians.
Many species in the West can only have arrived through illegal routes, yet domestic trade of these species once in a country is currently unrestricted. Licensing or certification systems should be created as a mandatory part of the sale of any taxa vulnerable to exploitation, with confiscations and punishments used to assist compliance.
Collectors of live animals and plants are predominantly hobbyists, so the majority are unlikely to go to great lengths to procure specimens if any level of enforcement were instigated. Such action also needs to extend to finally restrict the thriving trade via the internet in these species which currently exists.
Though pledges have been made by European governments to restrict wildlife trade, their efforts normally fail to account for the huge numbers of species at risk as pets and live specimens. Given the laundering and corruption in these species ranges, restrictions on import by consumer countries are urgently needed.
If we want any future for wild populations of these species, drastic action is needed to control their international and domestic trade. Without such action, we can expect to see the loss of many rare species to greed alone. 

A secret network of wildlife traffickers selling baby chimpanzees has been exposed by a year-long BBC News investigation. 
The tiny animals are seized from the wild and sold as pets. The BBC’s research uncovered a notorious West African hub for wildlife trafficking, known as the “blue room”, and led to the rescue of a one-year-old chimp.
In a dusty back street of Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s largest city, a tiny chimpanzee cries out for comfort.
His black hair is ruffled and his dirty nappy scrapes the concrete floor as he crawls towards the familiar figures of the men who have been holding him captive.
The baby chimp, ripped away from his family in the wild, is the victim of a lucrative and brutal smuggling operation, exposed by a 12-month-long BBC News investigation spanning half a dozen countries.
In demand as pets in wealthy homes or as performers in commercial zoos, baby chimpanzees command a price tag of $12,500, a little under £10,000, but sometimes more.
Each capture of a live infant like this one exacts a terrible cost on chimp populations.
The usual tactic used by poachers is to shoot as many of the adults in a family as possible. This prevents them from resisting the capture of the baby and their bodies can then be sold as bushmeat. To obtain one infant alive, up to 10 adults are typically slaughtered.
One has to kill the mother, one has to kill the father,” explained Colonel Assoumou Assoumou, an expert in wildlife crime with Ivory Coast Police. “If our ancestors had killed them, nowadays we wouldn't even know about chimpanzees.”
Once captured, these baby chimps then enter a sophisticated chain that stretches from the poachers in the jungles to middlemen, who arrange false export permits and transport, and ultimately to the buyers.
The animals are in high demand in the Gulf states, south-east Asia and China, with buyers prepared to pay high prices and additional fees to help bypass international controls. And while they may be well looked-after while they are young, chimpanzees soon become too strong and potentially violent to be kept in a home.
Karl Ammann, a Swiss wildlife activist who campaigns against chimp trafficking, describes it as a “kind of slavery” and warns that when chimps cease being cute infants, they face a terrible fate.
They still have 90% of their life ahead of them,” he said. “They get locked in some cage and maybe even killed in some cases because they have outlived their useful pet stage. That for me is just impossible to accept.”
The baby chimp discovered by the BBC had been bought from a poacher, according to one account, for 300 Euros (£257). But it was rescued en route as a result of our research - leading Interpol officials and Ivorian detectives to expose a major trafficking ring.

Blue room discovered

After months of work building relationships with dealers across a number of countries, our team tracked down the smuggling ringleaders to a house in Abidjan. Posing as prospective buyers, undercover reporters confirmed the infant chimp was at the property before alerting Interpol and local police who were waiting nearby.
During the police operation, a small room about the size of a shower cubicle was discovered, decorated with small blue tiles. Inside it, they found a tiny chimp cowering in a wooden crate.
The discovery was not only a moment of liberation for the little animal, but also a crucial turning point in a long search by wildlife campaigners to track down a notorious “blue room”, known to be used as a holding pen by traffickers and constantly restocked.
For years, when dealers had circulated videos showing captive baby chimpanzees ready for sale, the same distinctive blue tiles were visible. Understood to be in West Africa, no-one knew which country it might be in, let alone which city, until our research led police to it.
This revelation provides new insight into the potential scale of loss suffered by great apes, including chimpanzees.
An estimated 3,000 great apes, including orangutans, gorillas and chimpanzees, are lost from the wild every year as a result of illegal trade, according to the UN Environment Programme. They are either sold, killed during the hunt or die in captivity. About two thirds of the apes lost are chimpanzees - an endangered species.
Western chimpanzees, like the one freed in Abidjan, are judged to be especially vulnerable, so are categorised as critically endangered. There are no more than 65,000 left and probably far fewer.
Some 1,800 apes were seized by authorities in 23 countries while being trafficked between 2005 and 2011, according to the Great Ape Survival Partnership, an alliance of more than 100 governments and other organisations. A quarter of those apes rescued were chimps. Although it is unknown how many smuggled apes reach their destinations undetected, the BBC’s investigation suggests the total is almost certain to be higher than previously thought.

Buying fake permits

The illegal trade in great apes is made possible by the determination of the smugglers and the ease with which international laws on buying and selling endangered species can be evaded.
Trading of endangered wild animals and plants is tightly controlled under the Cites agreement - the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora - which aims to protect all wildlife under threat.
Under the convention, chimpanzees, which are awarded the highest level of protection (a listing under what is known as Appendix 1), can only be exported under a very limited number of exemptions. For example, the animals need to have been bred in captivity (which is not known to happen in West Africa) and exporting and importing organisations need to be registered with Cites.

Despite this, the BBC’s investigation revealed that with the right money and the right connections the smuggling networks can evade these controls. In fact, our team was able to buy two permits to export chimps for $4,000 each.
Posing as buyers for a client in Thailand, the team obtained their first permit in the Egyptian capital Cairo, which has long been known as a centre for animal trafficking.

'Abuse of permits'

Confronted with the BBC’s evidence, the secretary-general of Cites, John Scanlon, said that while he wasn’t shocked by the ease with which fraudulent permits for the export of baby chimps were purchased, he was “dismayed”.
Although he believed the permit system was “sound and secure” overall, he said there were instances, particularly in West and Central Africa, where there was “an abuse of permits”.
There is corruption in the system,” he told the BBC. “We’ve brought it to the attention of our governments at a standing committee meeting several months ago. We said if we can’t get a handle on corruption, we are not going to stop illegal trade in wildlife.”
For this reason, Cites was pushing to introduce an electronic system of permissions that would be harder to fake, he explained.
“These things are not easy, but we are onto it, we are seeing it and we are doing our best.”

'Suspensions in place'

But, despite this, Mr Scanlon said he did not believe there was a surge in the illegal trade in great apes, including chimpanzees.
“If we did, I can assure you there would be a rush of attention to this issue and a rush of resources to stop it, but we are not seeing it,” he said.
He stressed that wherever the abuse of permits was observed, the governments of those countries implicated were warned and punished. There were about 30 trade suspensions currently in place, he confirmed.
Law enforcement efforts, however, appear to lag far behind the rates of illegal trade. Just 27 arrests were made in Africa and Asia in connection with the great ape trade between 2005 and 2011, and one-quarter of the arrests never led to prosecutions prosecuted, according to the UN Environment Programme.
At Interpol, which facilitates international law enforcement cooperation, wildlife smuggling is a priority, but national governments have stipulated that the funding and investigative effort should be focused on the highest-profile threats, such as the slaughter of elephants and rhinos.
David Higgins, manager of Interpol’s Environmental Security Unit, admitted the region of West Africa had not been a priority - and nor had the smuggling of great apes.
Because such crimes did not threaten the economic well-being of a country, or its political stability, they did not compel governments to respond, he said, and the resources were simply not there.
“Without the funding, we can’t do anything,” he said. “So with primates, unfortunately, our information is not as strong as it could be.”
He urged states to step up and offer the required financial investment.
“Yes, we need the global community’s attention on this and we call upon that level of support.”

Sanctuary for chimp

Back in Ivory Coast, it was the trafficking ringleader, Ibrahima Traore, who eventually led our reporters - and Interpol - to the blue room.
He sent a video of the baby chimp and himself inside the room holding a piece of paper showing the date at the time of the deal - to show that the footage was genuine and that the animal had previously been captured and was ready for sale. His face was clearly visible and he seemed not to worry about incriminating himself.
Days later our undercover reporter visited the property - purportedly to discuss arrangements for buying the chimpanzee - where they confirmed its presence and tipped off police.
Ibrahima Traore was arrested and, along with his uncle Mohamed, is facing charges related to wildlife trafficking.
The data captured from his phones and laptops revealed a goldmine of information about a sprawling international network of great ape traffickers, working across Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Cites certificates found on Traore’s computer documented the possible illegal movement of dozens of different species of primates, as well as other endangered species.
The evidence also implicated Traore’s brother, Aboubacar, who was named in a Cites document last year because of his smuggling of endangered birds including African grey parrots.
Ibrahima Traore’s father, Alhassane, also appeared to be involved. Records showed his bank account in Guinea’s capital Conakry was used to deposit payments – and it was that account that the BBC team was told to use.
The detective in charge in Ivory Coast, Colonel Assoumou Assoumou, pledged to delve into the entire illegal supply chain - from the hunters to the traffickers to the buyers.
“In 10 years, in 20 years, we won’t have any more chimpanzees,” he warned. “This species will disappear. That’s the reason why this cause was taken up by Interpol. Personally I am committed to fight against this phenomenon.
“These are rare species and it should not be us, in our generation, that wipes them out.”
As for the baby male chimp discovered in the blue room, he was initially taken to the Interpol building in Abidjan, before being handed over to wildlife officials from the Ministry of Water and Forests.
They took him to the zoo in Abidjan, where he was fed and comforted and given a name by keepers: Nemley junior. He was then shown an older female who acts as an adoptive mother to two other infant chimps.
After being gradually introduced to this new family, Nemley junior may live with them. But caring for an infant chimp is a long-term and costly commitment so two wildlife organisations with experience of infant chimpanzees have offered him homes in specialists sanctuaries, including the Born Free Foundation.
Will Travers, president of Born Free, described the exotic pet trade as “sickening and cruel” and promised to help relocate the baby chimp.
“If given the opportunity, we will do all we can, with the help of our specialists and the full participation of the local government agencies, to try and relocate Nemley junior to a registered chimpanzee sanctuary, where this little victim of the illegal wildlife trade can be given a life worth living, in the company of other chimps, for the rest of his life.”

'Clever sentient animals'

But whatever happens next, the orphan has certainly been left traumatised, according to Dr Cleve Hicks of the University of Warsaw, a specialist in chimp behaviour who set up a chimp sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mainly they have a broken heart - they’ve seen their mothers die,” he said.
Dan Bucknall, of the wildlife charity Tusk, agreed that recovery could be “very difficult with such clever sentient animals” but added that chimpanzees were resilient creatures.
“In the right hands, with good carers, and with constant attention, they can do OK and the prospects are good.”

Nearly two-thirds of primate species face the threat of extinction largely as a result of human actions that kill animals directly and destroy habitats, according to a new review from more than 30 leading primatologists.

Researchers behind the paper, published in the journal Science Advances, called for urgent action to prevent mass extinction. Measures would vary between regions but include protections for primate habitats and actions to combat illegal poaching.

"Primate conservation is not yet a lost cause," the researchers write in the paper. "We have one last opportunity to greatly reduce or even eliminate the human threats to primates and their habitats." 

The paper's top line numbers were sobering. There are 504 species of primates worldwide, ranging from the 1-oz. (30 g) mouse lemur to the 450-lb (200 kg) western and eastern gorilla. But size is no protection against extinction. According to the study, fully 75% of primate species are in decline and 60% are threatened with extinction.

That danger is not spread evenly around the globe. In mainland Africa, with 111 species, for example, 42% are declining and 37% are threatened with extinction. On Madagascar, with 103 species, fully 100% are declining and 87% are threatened. Several primate species only have a few thousand animals that remain alive, including the ring-tailed lemur, Udzunga red colobus monkey, Yunnan snub-nosed monkey, white-headed langur and Grauer's gorilla.

Threats to primates have grown increasingly grave in recent years thanks to a variety of threats. Human population growth in areas where primates live has driven up demand for food leading farmers to develop primate habitat into agricultural land. Global demand for natural resources like timber has also encouraged the destruction of forests. Less directly, man-made global warming is changing—and eliminating—primate habitats.

Humans have also targeted endangered primates directly through practices likes hunting and trapping to participate in the illegal wildlife trade. Demand for such illegal goods has spiked thanks to an increasingly globalized market, according to the research.

The extinction of various primate species would have a direct effect on human wellbeing, according to the study. Primates help sustain ecosystems by spreading plant seeds over wide distances and acting as predators and prey. Humans often depend on the diverse life in these regions to support their own diets and local economies.

The overall range of primates stretches across 90 countries, but researchers have identified four—Brazil, Madagascar, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo—that are home to two-thirds of primate species. Those four represent an obvious starting point for policy measures aimed at stopping primate extinction.

The paper on primates joins growing warnings from scientists that world is currently experiencing an unsustainable ecological crisis as a result of a decline in biodiversity, a measure of the different plant and animal species in a given area. Species large and small in the land and sea face potential extinction.

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