The Parrot who Cried “Don’t Shoot” – & Other Feathery Feats

The African Grey Parrot, prince of prattle, pre-eminent among a small bevy of birds with the ability to speak the language of humans.

Occasionally when one of these awesome birds is thrown into the human mix, strange things happen. And so it was that in one utterly bizarre murder case that involved a crossbow, psychics, and mysterious death threats between members of the victim’s family, the bizarrest element of all was the key witness to the crime – an African grey by the name of Bud. What began as a domestic dispute in the home Bud shared with his humans, ended with a 48 year old woman shooting her husband.

After the calamitous incident, Bud was heard saying in a deep man’s voice,”Get out,” followed by the woman’s voice saying, “Where will I go?” The man’s voice answered, “Don’t f—ing shoot.” Extraordinarily, Bud appeared to be repeating the couple’s final argument.

Damning evidence in the case? “The case’s prosecuting attorney said he wasn’t aware of a precedent allowing a parrot into a trial, but would look into whether Bud could serve as admissible evidence.” In the event, Bud wasn’t called to take the stand. After all, who’s to know if he was giving testimony to that tragic event, or simply imitating a TV show he’d once seen? Despite the lack of testimony from the crime’s only witness, the woman was convicted.

Experts, acknowledging the incredible brain power of these birds, admit it is possible Bud could verbally re-enact an incident observed just once – but unlikely. The fact remains though, these birds are truly remarkable mimics. Not only can they produce the sounds of human words, but they can even imitate to near perfection different voices and tones of voice, a feat that is pretty exceptional among their fellow avians.

How do they do it?


  • Like most other birds, parrots have a syrinx above the lungs for producing sound. But what’s unique to them is the complicated set of muscles controlling the syrinx that give them enormous versatility in sound production
  • Like human use of tongue and mouth, parrots use their tongues and beaks to speak
  • What they can’t use like us, are lips and teeth, so they use the esophagus to ‘burp’ their Ps and Bs, and press their tongues against their beaks to make L (with us it’s tongue and teeth)

Cognitively? An extra layer, literally, of grey matter inside the little psittacine skull.

Why do they do it?

In the wild, a lone parrot is a dead parrot. Learning new songs and sounds helps them bond with their mate and fit into the flock. In captivity, by learning to speak like us, the parrot is saying to its humans “Please let me be in your flock”.


Now to another member of the clever parrot family showing off its talents

cockatoo-1129586__340The Goffin’s cockatoo. A study reveals that these cockatoos who are not tool-users in the wild, can learn to create tools to solve a problem reaching food. If that doesn’t seem surprising, we should take into account that these birds had never experienced this kind of test before, and yet actually performed in it better than many 8 year old children.

In one test the cockatoos were shown a tiny basket with a handle containing food inside a vertical tube, and a straight pipe cleaner. To get the food the birds needed to bend the pipe cleaner into a hook that could lift the basket by the handle out of the tube. The second test involved a piece of food lying in horizontal tube, with a bent pipe cleaner. This time the birds needed to straighten the pipe cleaner to poke out the food. Many of the birds managed one of the tasks, and one little genius managed both!


Their beauty is their downfall

Of course it’s not just the parrots’ cheeky personality, startling ability to mimic us, and sheer brainpower that make these animals so appealing. Their plumage makes a vivid splash of colour in their forest habitat, and sadly it’s that very plumage that puts them in jeopardy. It seems humans suffer from feather envy and covet that finery for themselves. In the 19th century, thousands upon thousands of these dazzling creatures were killed so their gorgeous feathers could decorate fashionable ladies’ hats.

Today in spite of CITES they are still – illegally – being plucked from forests and jungles, with the result that 66 parrot species out of 375 have been put on the Endangered Red List. The South American Blue-throated Macaw is one of the rarest – there are only about 250 birds left.


And the beauty of this parrot creates a particular problem. On the Moxeño plains of Bolivia ‘macheteros’ (meaning anything from ‘cane-cutters’ to ‘revolutionaries’ – take your pick) hold fiestas where they dance to the music of bongos and flutes in celebration of the colours of nature – the colour that ironically by this very celebration they are causing to disappear. Because macheteros traditionally wear brilliantly coloured headdresses made from the feathers of 4 types of macaw, including the Blue-throated.

But there is good news. The Asociación Armonía (BirdLife Partner in Bolivia) has come up with the ‘Alternative Feather Programme’. It involves workshops held in local schools to teach the macheteros to create their own ‘feathers’ out of organic materials found locally. Since each headdress is made of approximately 30 central tail feathers, “one headdress of artificial feathers saves at least 15 macaws,” explains Gustavo Sánchez Avila, Armonía’s Conservation Programme coordinator for the Blue-throated Macaw.

In 6 years this program has saved 6000 individual birds of the 4 macaw species, involved thousands of local people in the conservation of Bolivian nature, and provided work and income for locals selling their vivid headdresses of hand made ‘feathers’ to tourists.

And more good news for Blue-throated Macaws: conservationists from Asociación Armonía discovered an entirely new roosting site of this rare bird. Hopefully a sign that these gorgeous creatures are making a comeback.


So how do birds get their colours?

We already know why all the colours and patterns in birds’ feathers. They serve one of two purposes: camouflage as protection from predators; or finery to attract a mate. No-one knew where the colours came from until a recent study undertaken by Dr Ismael Galván and his team.

Their findings?

  • melanins provide the range of blacks, greys and browns in birds’ plumage
  • carotenoids taken up by specialised feather structures create the brighter shades

Interestingly, birds cannot themselves produce carotenoids. So if they want bright feathers, they have to eat foods rich in the stuff. The carotenoids are carried in the bloodstream to the feather follicles. Melanins on the other hand are synthesised in birds’ bodies by cells called melanocytes.

One third of the 9,000 species of bird studied had complex plumage patterns, most of which are produced by melanins. So the rule is, patches of bright colour – carotenoids. Subtle and complex patterns – melanins.


But that’s not the whole story

Some Canadian woodpeckers are seeing red – that is if they’re looking at each other, because their feathers have taken on an inexplicable rosy hue. It’s like this: the Northern Flicker woodpecker has two populations, the “yellow-shafted” in the east and the “red-shafted” in the west. The shaft is of course, the feather’s central ‘spine’.


Where the two different populations cross paths in the middle of the country, you get a blend of both colours. But for years ornithologists have puzzled over the ‘yellows’ that are too far east of the hybridization zone to have picked up the genes of the ‘reds’, yet also sport a blend of both colours.

Well, now the puzzle is solved. In the autumn the eastern birds feast on a bounty of bright red honeysuckle berries. It turns out that the red of the western birds does indeed come from carotenoids, but the red in the eastern birds comes courtesy of the berries, from another compound altogether – rhodoxanthin. That to me has a toxic ring to it, but clearly the Flickers are not getting poisoned.

There is a downside. The berries in question are the fruits of two invasive species of honeysuckle. And because the new red hues they are creating in the birds come from rhodoxanthin not the usual carotenoids, other Flickers could be bamboozled into picking the wrong mate. Normally, bright colours equals plenty of carotenoids. equals a well-fed bird, equals a fit and healthy prospective partner. It “could have major implications for mate selection if plumage coloration no longer signaled a bird’s body condition.” Who knows how that could affect the population long term.

And it’s not just the Flickers. Cedar Waxwings’ feathers are turning orange too. Dr Hudon of the Royal Alberta Museum is afraid this is not the last we will see of birds displaying unexpected colours.


From colour to camouflage

We all know that animals’ fur or feathers is often the perfect camouflage ‘design’ for concealing them in their own habitat. Some are hiding from predators, and others are concealing themselves from their prey. And as we also know, though all tigers have stripes, no two tigers’ stripes are quite the same.

Ground-nesting nightjar

But what scientists from Exeter and Cambridge Universities discovered about animal camouflage is mind-blowing. In this instance they were looking at not a predator like the tiger, but 9 species of birds who, as ground-nesters, have a particular need to mitigate their chances of being prey. And they found that not only are those species wonderfully camouflaged for their habitats, but individuals within a bird species choose a place to nest that best matches their own individual colours and markings.

“This is not a species level choice.” Prof Martin Stevens tells us. “Individual birds consistently sit in places that enhance their own unique markings, both within a habitat, and at a fine scale with regards to specific background sites.”

And even more amazing, the individuals are tailoring their choice of nesting sites to the visual systems of their main predators! Like seeing themselves through the predator’s eyes. Isn’t it remarkable? How do they do it? How do they even know what they look like? As yet no-one knows, so exciting as this is, there could be more to come.


Looking back, it seems we have travelled quite a distance from Bud the African grey, witness to murder. But from each little piece of this post (for me, and I hope, for you) emerge two common take-aways  – the ever-amazing genius of birds, and the wonder of Nature. The mysteries and marvels of Nature we will never fully fathom. Nature is an irreplaceable treasure, and to lose even the smallest scrap of it is tragic beyond measure.

If we want to help stem the loss, here are 50 Easy Ways to Save the Planet Although this list dates from 2002, it’s still entirely relevant. We can all make a difference.

The single biggest adjustment we can make to our lifestyles though, is missing from that list – cutting back on meat and dairy. “Human carnivory—and its impact on land use—is the single biggest threat to much of the world’s flora and fauna.” Science

So here are 6 Easy Ways to Cut Back On Meat If You’re Not Ready to Give it Up Just Yet

Come on ecowarriors, let’s go make a difference!

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Extinction Is Forever: Why We Need To Change To Save Animals

We’re running out of time. It doesn’t matter what we know, if we don’t get the message out.

This is a heartfelt plea from Dana Hunnes, expert in conservation, nutrition, and climate change. Our dietary choices play a huge role in sustainability, climate change, saving animals as well as our personal health. But she says simply being vegan is not enough.

In this important article she urges us to take action, and suggests what everyone of us can and must do to help save our planet from the brink.

Dana writes:

I recently spoke at the “March Against Extinction” event in Los Angeles as a way to call attention to how our diets, behaviors, and choices influence whether or not a particular species survives.  While our individual choices represent a vote with our wallet, it is the policies and laws in various countries surrounding conservation, climate change, and agriculture that frequently play the larger role.

Right now in Taiji, Japan, dolphin hunts are underway. Every day from September 1 until March 1, dolphin hunters go out to the ocean and search for innocent dolphins, either to sell to amusement parks for hundreds of thousands of dollars, or to slaughter for “human consumption,” Yet, it is well known that dolphin meat has toxic levels of mercury, PCBs, and other chemicals; making this both a public-health and animal-rights issue.

The cruelty and injustice of these hunts cannot be understated.  The demand for these dolphins comes from amusement parks around the world who want to “show off” dolphins and their “little tricks.”  What’s more, dolphins are viewed as pests, competition for the fish that the world has overfished and removed from the oceans.

In sum: We take their fish, we make them toxic with chemicals that WE have dumped into their oceans, and then we blame them, and brutalize them.

These hunts, by the way, are sanctioned by the Japanese government. 

Read more

Please share, and take as many of the actions she suggests as you can. Nothing could be more important.


Source: Extinction is Forever: Why We Need to Change Our Consumption Habits to Save Animals | One Green Planet

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How Drones Might Just Save Our Endangered Animals – & the Planet

For better or worse, drones are changing our lives in ways we never could have imagined. And we may as well get used to it, because they are definitely here to stay.

Did you know that for as little as $150 and a mere 15 minutes of your time you can build  your own drone out of Lego? I’m not kidding. A company called Flybrix will sell you a drone kit which comes with enough Lego bricks for you to be able to create yourself a quadcopter, octocopter or hexacopter – take your pick.

the-drones-1134764__180Drones are rarely out of the news these days. From unmanned military aircraft in the skies over the tragic country of Syria to Amazon’s proposed new delivery service, drones are everywhere.

In a world first, the Dutch National Police now use trained raptors (bald eagles) – yes, really – to take down the ‘bad’ 5% of drones that are not ok. ‘Unmanned threats’ might just be drones in the wrong place like flight paths, or drones operated by criminals and terrorists with more sinister intent.

But set the eagles aside for one moment – and the sad truth that the human race keeps finding new ways of forcing every animal imaginable and unimaginable into its service. Drones have the incredible potential to help save animals, and indeed the planet.

“As we face a period of mass extinction — of a potentially irreversible depletion of the web of life that sustains us — enterprising conservationists are exploring how new technology might curb those losses. In the near term, this involves eyes in the sky: drones. But in the long term, it may consist of something more comprehensive: semi-autonomous networks of sensors, some of them mobile and enhanced with artificial intelligence, that act as stewards of the wild.”

Drones saving the planet is a big claim, but there is some cause for optimism in the conservation community. Even quite basic drones have already made a significant difference to the animal kingdom.

300x200xnews-160830-1-3-antarctic-two-whales-img_0285-1000w-jpg-pagespeed-ic-xtrw0jhrcNo-one with an interest in conservation, wildlife or animal rights needs telling about Japan’s illegal whaling in defiance of the International Whaling Commission. Or Sea Shepherd’s war on the whalers. Sea Shepherd received its first drone as a donation in 2011. They intended to use it to film marine life for their TV show on the Animal Planet channel, but found that – even better – the drone could be deployed to collect evidence of the whalers’ illegal activity. And being able to fly even in fog and hover right next to a boat gives them the edge over helicopters. Plus they come with a much smaller price tag!

Each of Sea Shepherd’s ships is now equipped with its own drone, and their deployment has brought down the Japanese’ whale catch to less than one third of their expected quota over the last five years. Sea Shepherd’s founder Paul Watson is an enthusiast. “The only way to combat [illegal whaling] is to have the best technology we can deploy,” he said. “So far, this is the best.”

Naturally, drones are being used over land as well as sea, as for instance in orangutan habitat surveys in Borneo. Surveying on the ground in tropical rainforest is difficult, hazardous, expensive and time consuming. But even a basic drone can provide images that allow conservationists to pinpoint orangutan nests, as well as distinguishing different kinds of land cover – forest, roads, corn fields, oil palm plantations, illegal logging and fires. Drone surveys are fast, inexpensive and invaluable.

There is no end to the projects in which drones play the leading role. These are just a few –

  • Chimpanzee conservation in Tanzania
  • Tree cover analysis also in Tanzania
  • The Jane Goodall Institute’s conservation work in Congo
  • Forest monitoring in Suriname
  • Monitoring seabirds in North Australia
  • Monitoring illegal fishing of totoaba in the Gulf of California which is driving vaquitas to extinction
  • Herding elephants away from areas where they are in danger from poaching
  • Mapping tree diversity in the Amazon basin

alarm-clock-1274239__180Not before time have drones appeared on the scene. According to a disturbing new study, the Earth’s wilderness areas will be completely wiped out by the year 2100. And plants and animals are reaching the point of extinction at a disastrous rate – a thousand times higher than would happen if no humans were living on the planet.

There are many reasons for this frightening state of affairs, not least among them the fact that a staggering 30% of the Earth’s land mass is being used for animal agriculture, and this can only increase given the emerging economies’ new appetite for meat and dairy products, China of course, being the biggest.

elephant-1049846__180With its rapid growth in wealth comes a ravening lust after raw materials and products of every kind, whether traded legally or illegally. China has become a black hole, sucking in everything within its earth-embracing gravitational field: ivory, rhino horn, shark fins, pangolin scales, tiger parts, bear bile, seahorses, and more. Rhino horn and elephant ivory are literally worth their weight in gold.

As we are all only too aware, Africa’s iconic animals are being decimated. “South Africa’s Kruger National Park is ground zero for poachers,” says Crawford Allan, spokesman for the World Wildlife Fund’s crime technology project. “There are 12 gangs in there at any [given] time. It’s almost like a war zone.” And its not just the wildlife that’s dying. African park rangers are being murdered at the rate of 100 a year.

China may be the biggest consumer of illegally trafficked protected and endangered species, but by no means the only one. The US, Vietnam, Lao, the Philippines are but a few of the rest. The illegal wildlife trade is worth billions, equal in value to the illicit trades in arms and drugs. The WWF has even suggested that the trafficking mafia have now become so large and powerful, they pose a real threat to the stability of some nations.

This is the scale of the problem the little drone is up against.

And the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, even a virtually noiseless second generation one equipped with thermal imaging that simply returns to base with nice snapshots, is not actually much help alone in the fight against poachers. By the time staff on the ground have examined the data and sent rangers to the right location, the poachers are long gone, leaving a bloodied butchered corpse behind.

“You can have a drone flying for 100 hours. But if you can’t get a team there in 5 minutes, what’s the good of having a drone?”

drone-1538957__180What is needed is a ‘cyber canopy’, which is exactly what WWF have developed with the aid of a $5 million Global Impact Award from Google. Their system comprises 5 technologies, the foremost of which is the UAV (the drone), all rolled into one package: the WWF’s Wildlife Crime Technology Project

  • Unmanned Aerial Systems for surveillance and rapid response
  • Digital monitoring systems that monitor high-risk areas and boundaries of protected areas
  • Affordable wildlife/patrol tracking devices connected through mesh networks
  • Rifle shot recognition software in portable devices with real-time connectivity
  • Data integration and analysis through the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART).

I’m glad to say, already in successful use in Namibia, Kenya and Nepal combating poaching and wildlife crime.

The problem is that conservation organisations mostly don’t have a cool $5 million at their disposal and cannot afford such sophisticated systems and top of the range drones – the very topic primatologist Serge Wich and academic colleague Lian Pin Koh were brainstorming one fine day over coffee. From this meeting of minds emerged the seed of an idea which a year later burgeoned into their non-profit organisation Conservation Drones.

These two men have a vision. They see a future where swarms of semi-autonomous drones fitted with infrared cameras patrol protected areas, relaying back their own garnered data as well as data beamed up to them from camera traps on the ground. This is the first step towards a conservation version of ‘The Quantified Self-Movement’. If like me, you are new to this concept, the QSM is “A wide-ranging Internet of Things (IOT) ecosystem …to support the process of connecting real-world objects like buildings, roads, household appliances, and human bodies to the Internet via sensors and microprocessor chips that record and transmit data such as sound waves, temperature, movement, and other variables.” We are practically there already with our smartphones, fitbits, tablets, cameras and watches, cars, home appliances, medical equipment, aircraft and weaponry.

Now for ‘buildings’, ‘appliances; and ‘humans’ substitute camera traps, different species of animals and well yes, humans. What is needed to enable drones to gather, identify and relay back this data and create that cyber canopy, a ‘quantified biodiversity system’ if you like, is Artificial Intelligence. And in fact AI software for drones already exists. A Dutch firm is selling their version to farmers for monitoring livestock and crops. It enables UAVs to distinguish cows from deer, trucks from tractors.

Ironic isn’t it, that livestock farmers who must take quite a lot of responsibility for destroying habitats and their biodiversity along with them, are the ones who can afford this technology. Conservationists not so much. All is not lost though., rather like its name, has two wings, one commercial and one non-profit, and the latter aims to supply the software for next-to-nothing to the cash-strapped conservationists.

But if anyone has big money riding on all this, it’s the trafficking cartels. What’s to stop them using the same kind of technology to outsmart the embattled conservationists? Or even hacking the conservationists’ own systems to locate for themselves the animals and the rangers? As with all forms of cyber hacking, it will be a big challenge to stay ahead of the game.

nature-conservation-480985__180And quite apart from that not-so-little problem, is a piecemeal approach to wildlife and its habitats, a project here and another there, even with the aid of drones, really going to halt our headlong rush to planetary armageddon? Not in the opinion of renowned biologist Professor E.O. Wilson. His is a much grander plan, but one he believes to be imperative if we are not to lose vital wilderness habitats with all their biodiversity – and indeed threaten our own existence. His bold idea is to keep only half the planet for humans, and designate the other half solely for the wild – Half for Us Half for the Animals. Which of course doesn’t mean splitting the Earth in two pole to pole! Rather establishing a worldwide system of protected wilderness areas linked by wildlife corridors.

In this scenario, semi-autonomous drone ‘eyes in the sky’ would provide invaluable guardianship of the wild against human incursion. And with the massive quantities of ecological data they provide, we would be better able to monitor the status of Nature’s health. Carnegie Science already has ambitious plans to use their own advanced UAV to create a 3D animal mapping of the entire world and to monitor climate change. That is a huge ambition. Knowledge is power, and accurate real-time data like this could provide an incredible basis for effective action to save the planet.

binary-1414317__180“So if human civilisation increasingly represents a kind of cybernetic superorganism – a vast, living network of machines and people that’s greater than the sum of its parts – drones may function as sensory organs informing this brain, as probes for what’s really a nascent planetary nervous system.

If we actually pull off this great retreat, this new human-machine life form will have done something highly unusual and perhaps unprecedented in the history of life on earth. Rather than furiously expanding until all resources are depleted, it will have deliberately retreated as a survival tactic. It will have made room for other life forms. A new sort of intelligence, one that’s proactive rather than reactive, will have emerged.”

Drones and all the potential they embody will play an indispensable part in this new mega-organism saving our precious wilderness and wildlife. But the drones, advanced and complex as they may be, are the easy bit. Now we just need to work on the humans.


To find out more about the use of drones for our wildlife and wild spaces see


What’s Better Than Lego? Drones Made of Lego! – Wired

A Dutch company is training eagles to take down drones – Science Alert

The Flying Sensor Network That Could (Finally!) Save Our Planet – BackChannel

Facts on Animal Farming and the Environment – One Green Planet

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Saving Wildlife on the World Wide Web

From the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s CEO, Azzedine Downes

‘The Internet just became a lot friendlier to wildlife, and a lot less friendly to wildlife criminals”

Yesterday we celebrated World Elephant Day with the good news that seven major online tech companies, including eBay, Etsy, Gumtree, Microsoft, Pinterest, Tencent and Yahoo! have united to adopt a new policy framework that will help protect animals from illegal online trade.

This announcement comes at a crucial time for wildlife. Take a moment to digest these shocking figures:

  • Approximately 100,000 African elephants were killed for their ivory between 2010-2012
  • Rhino poaching increased by 9300% in South Africa from 2007-2014
  • Tiger populations have plummeted by 97% in the last century, leaving only approximately 3,900 left in the wild
  • And more than 1 million pangolins have been poached from the wild in the last decade alone

Many of the parts and products from those animals ended up for sale on popular online sites. The new framework will prohibit trade of a wide variety of imperiled wildlife and their parts, making it much easier for customers to know what is and isn’t allowed on these online platforms.

And whilst previously criminals could “shop around” for sites with the most relaxed policies, this latest agreement is a big step toward an industry-wide standard that eliminates the loopholes that that have made it easier for criminals to traffic wildlife online.

With this new policy, these companies put aside their commercial interests to work together to protect wildlife.

We were thrilled to partner with WWF and TRAFFIC on this important project. We’ll continue to work together to monitor progress and make sure that these policy changes accomplish what they’re intended to, but it is incredibly encouraging to see this latest development.

P.S. We have worked for years to make the e-commerce sector a cruelty-free environment, and this announcement is an important step towards that goal.

Read more

Sadly, Yahoo Japan has not joined the other online tech companies in adopting the new policy framework. Sign petition here to ask them to do so now.

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August 21st 2016 Namibia and Zimbabwe have filed petitions to CITES to lift the international ban on the sale of ivory – Focusing on Wildlife

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Nations of the World Step Up for Elephants & Rhinos

Elephants and rhinos, rhinos and elephants – what else would an international summit meeting in Nairobi on wildlife crime be talking about?

Well, UNEP is hosting UNEA this very week, and if those acronyms are news to you as they are to me, they are respectively the UN Environment Programme and the UN Environmental Assembly. The meeting has the potential to be hugely important for these two iconic and endangered species in particular.

The opening session saw the launch of the Wild For Life campaign, asking you and me, governments and corporation to stand with the UN against wildlife crime and trafficking by making our personal pledge. Here is my certificate:

Animalista Untamed UN Pledge against Wildlife crime & trafficking UNEP UNEA

Please sign up and get your own!

Kenya set the scene for the Assembly with its recent highly-publicised Burning of the Ivory last month. The country is showing it is serious about wildlife crime, and in spite of problems with corruption, its “investment in new legislation, strengthening anti-poaching effort on the ground and training investigators, prosecutors and judicial officers has paid off. The deterrent effect of all this effort is working. Poaching in Kenya has declined by 80% in just 3 years: this is the most spectacular demonstration of impact in any elephant range state.”

rhino calf baby mother endangered animal hornWith ivory and rhino horn top of the agenda in Nairobi, environmentalists and all lovers of wildlife are keeping fingers and toes crossed that the UNEA conference will bring Swaziland and South Africa into the global consensus. That consensus being that all markets must be closed down and ivory and rhino horn put firmly beyond economic use. (South Africa’s Supreme Court, just this week, rejected the government’s appeal against the legalisation of domestic trade in horn. And Swaziland has announced it is putting a proposal to CoP17 summit of CITES members to take place in Johannesburg this August, to relax the ban on international trade.)

It’s time to put aside our differences and forge a global alliance based on our shared commitment to save African wildlife. Every day we delay, more elephants – and those whose job it is to protect them – will die. All the UN resolutions and the efforts by states will be in vain as long as wildlife criminals are able to operate with impunity and – if caught – to walk free from the courts.

Paula Kahumbu for The Guardian

The UN is now calling for “each country to prohibit, under national law, the possession of wildlife that was illegally harvested in, or illegally traded from, anywhere else in the world.”

“There is tremendous international goodwill on this right now. No one is going to stand up and say that wildlife trade should be less regulated,” said Theodore Leggett author of a new report for the UN.

 Arthur Neslen for The Guardian

Can you believe that as it stands, there is no internationally agreed definition for “wildlife crime”? That’s hard to credit in 2016 when we’ve arrived at a state where the world’s wildlife is under unprecedented threat from criminal syndicates.

The 182 CITES signatory countries also have widely differing penalties for CITES infringements, with many failing to recognise them as serious crimes.

Tanzania doesn’t appear to be underestimating the seriousness of elephant poaching though. Just this week they arrested ‘the Ivory Queen’, Yang Feng Glan, a Chinese grandmother. She is charged with trafficking 706 elephant tusks worth over $2 million, and allegedly ruled a network that linked local poachers to powerful Chinese buyers. It beggars belief that a person could oversee the slaughter of these beautiful animals out of sheer greed. If Tanzania can get a conviction the Ivory Queen faces up to 30 years in jail.Let’s hope she won’t be one of them to walk free from the courts.

And wildlife crime is not just a problem in Africa and Asia. The Liberal MEP Catherine Bearder says: “Organised criminal gangs are exploiting the minor penalties against wildlife trafficking in some European countries to accrue massive profits. Time is running out for many of our most beloved species. The penalty of wildlife trafficking must fit the seriousness of this crime.”*

Here in the assembly at Nairobi, as everywhere else when it comes to discussion about poaching and trafficking of the iconic big beasts, delegates struggle with this knotty problem – on one side, the advocates of a ‘sustainable’ trade to provide much-needed funding for anti-poaching protection and ‘conservation’, and on the other, ‘environmentalists who object to any financial commodification of animal species, particularly endangered ones.’ For more on this complex issue see Man, Money & Rhinos – Unraveling the Tangled Knot of Poaching

We won’t lose hope. We can turn our sadness and anger into action, and start with taking the pledge.

With special thanks to Garry Rogers for blogging about the Nairobi summit. This is Garry’s comment on the proceedings:

All Earth’s creatures need protection from humans.  Sad that the ones that serve as the top regulators of ecosystem function are also the most visible and therefore subject to our purposeful abuse.

(Special mention of friend Christina Edwards who is acting as an interpreter at the Nairobi summit!)

Fight for Rhinos

International Elephant Foundation

Source: UN calls for overhaul of national laws to tackle wildlife crime | The Guardian | GarryRogers Nature Conservation

Source: Together we can end wildlife crime – The Guardian – Garry Rogers Nature Conservation

ITV News on The Ivory Queen

*The World Wildlife Crime Report from The United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime (UNODC) identifies nearly 7,000 species that have been illegally traded and seized, including reptiles, mammals, corals, birds, fish and others. 164,000 seizures from 120 countrie

wildlife crime report UNODC


August 21st 2016 Namibia and Zimbabwe have filed petitions to CITES to lift the international ban on the ivory trade. They may find an ally in South Africa – Focusing on Wildlife

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Man, Money & Rhinos – Unravelling the Tangled Knot of Poaching

Saving Wildlife on the World Wide Web






Man, Money & Rhinos – Unravelling the Tangled Knot of Poaching

“We walk around armed at all times. We’re all living 24 hours in a state of readiness. You would start at first light trying to check on all your animals on the reserve, to make sure they’re alive” – Pelham Jones, president of the Private Rhino Owners Association

In 2007, 13 rhino were poached in South Africa. In 2008, 83. Since 2008 poaching has risen by – can you get your head around this? – 8,900%.  And no, I haven’t made a mistake with the noughts. The strange thing is, until that time the white rhino population of the Republic of South Africa was actually increasing. It hardly seems possible. All we hear now is how to save from extinction the iconic African Big Five, one of which is of course, the rhino.

rhino-1077906__180Many in the RSA now believe it’s no coincidence the massive upsurge in poaching suddenly began at just about the time the government decided – amid fears that the domestic trade was delivering poached horns into the hands of international trafficking networks – to impose the moratorium. Back then though, it took rhino protectors by surprise. Pelham Jones again, “We were caught with our pants down. We didn’t think the bad guys would come knocking on our door. We’ve been hit by a tsunami of poaching, and the onslaught is relentless.”

A few facts and figures

  • There are 5 species of rhino
  • The most abundant species is the southern white rhino of which there are about 20,000, 75% of them in Kruger National Park
  • The black rhino is the only other African species, and they are right down to roughly 4,000 – heavily poached in the 70s and 80s and struggling to recover
  • There are 3 Asian species, also sadly killed for their horn
  • Last year nearly 1200 rhino were poached in RSA across private reserves and national parks
  • This tragically makes a poaching rate of 1 rhino every 8 hours
  • Rhino horn sells on the Asian black market for the eye-watering price of $65,000, that is £43,000 a kilo
  • China and Vietnam are the biggest buyers of rhino horn

Exactly why is rhino horn such a valuable commodity?

It is after all just keratin – like our fingernails and hair. There’s a little bit of calcium in it and a lot of water. It’s just an outgrowth of the skin, and nothing like elephants’ tusks or buffalo horn. Well, it seems the market is as complex as the rest of the knotty rhino problem. Some are used for artefacts like daggers and bracelets. China and Vietnam have used the horn in traditional medicine for thousands of years to ‘treat’ fever, boils, epilepsy and such. But more recently it is the unlucky subject of an urban myth. A rumour went around that rhino horn had cured a top Chinese official of cancer. Not hard to imagine how that bumped up demand. Then because it is so astronomically expensive it’s seen as a desirable status symbol. So you might, for example, want to impress your boss by presenting him with a piece of horn, an expensive gift.

rhinoceros-768714__180Does rhino horn work as a medicine? There’s slight evidence that it has marginal pain-killing properties – but then if you grind up water buffalo horn, it does just as well. So it’s more likely than not the placebo effect. And it’s not nearly as effective as paracetamol. As for the cancer cure, well …

At £43K a kilo of horn, poaching of the poor rhino continues to escalate. And at £43K a kilo, I suppose it’s not surprising to discover that there are already companies producing synthetic rhino horn which is of course, perfectly legal. Perhaps there’s money to be made with it, but debate continues as to whether synthetic horn  will do anything to keep the rhinos safe.

So what protection methods are being tried?

The rhino in private reserves like Pelham Jones’s are the lucky ones. The animals are much more vulnerable in national and provincial parks. It’s verging on impossible to protect the beasts in Kruger National Park for instance, which covers a vast area, has long open borders with Mozambique and Zimbabwe, and is surrounded by poverty-stricken communities. Corruption in the police, park rangers and government officials also threaten the rhino’s safety. Though their chances are better in the private reserves, the financial, physical and emotional cost to the owners of protecting their animals is bringing them to breaking point.

“We walk around armed at all times. We’re all living 24 hours in a state of readiness. You would start at first light trying to check on all your animals on the reserve, to make sure they’re alive, to check for tracks, to see if your fence hasn’t been cut. You’re working late into the night, you get a tip off or you see a set of vehicle tracks stopped along the fence. Or someone hears a fire crack or a gun shot going off. So your stress levels are skyrocketing all the time. You don’t relax, physically or mentally. 

There’s not a day goes by we’re not out from dusk to dawn through the night patrolling. And this was the hardest thing for me to face,  finding our rhinos and knowing that I’d failed them. That no matter how hard we tried, no matter how many patrols we do, the sleepless nights, the worry, they were still killed.” – Pelham Jones

For his 1000+ rhino, the largest privately-owned herd in the world, John Hume employs even more militaristic methods.

“I’m not giving you the size of my army, but I can tell you it’s far bigger than what I’d like, because it’s more expensive than I’d like. We have many vehicles patrolling all the time. We have a helicopter that flies all night. We are busy installing an early warning system on all of our perimeter fencing which will give an alarm in our ops room when anybody tampers with or climbs the fence.”  The cost of all this? 3 million rand a month just for security – that’s over 1.5m pounds sterling a year.

Apart from keeping a private army like John, how else can the rhino be protected?  

Lynn McTavish made the decision to dehorn her rhino. It’s painless and quite simple. You just hire a qualified vet, a helicopter pilot with helicopter and a capture crew. The rhino is darted, goes down, has its breathing monitored, and is kept cool with water. Removing the horn takes about 15 -20 minutes. The drug is reversed, the rhino wakes up and joins the rest of the herd. Simple. But expensive.

Another equally expensive method but more drastic, is to spoil the horn and make it unsaleable. This is what Linda Hearne  director of the Rhino Rescue Project decided to do.

“So we set about a research project in which we infused the horns of animals with animal-friendly toxins and indelible dyes, and we did that in the presence of local communities and our staff. Because what we found was that 90% of poaching incidents are made possible with inside information. So to have that local community go out spread the message for you that these horns are now off limits has been an extremely valuable tool in our anti-poaching toolbox, and the results we’ve had thus far have been great.”

The problem as always is money. Many of the smaller reserves are struggling to meet the costs of protection. Linda says, “That has been the main challenge, the lack of funding, the lack of government support. And a lot of conservation bodies have come out and said they weren’t willing to assist.”

south-africa-926930__180The same applies in the national parks. For Hendrik Asics, a park ranger in Pellensburg, resources are so limited he sometimes struggles even to feed his tracking dogs. Like so many others he risks his life every day to protect the rhino. “We’re fighting a losing battle at the moment, because we’re losing our rhinos at such a critical, alarming rate. When we walk in the bush and see a rhino that’s been poached, it puts tears in your eyes. It’s heartbreaking.”

So why do the rhino protectors keep doing it?

Because the animal has an appealing, gentle nature. Because of their vulnerability – “there not the smartest kid on the block and 3,4,5,6 animals can be shot easily in one incident.” Because they are an iconic species. Because the African plains will never be the same if they are lost.

Then what is the answer?

In the view of many private owners – the answer would be to lift the moratorium on domestic trade. There are already large stockpiles of legally obtained and confiscated horn which could be made available for sale. John Hume alone has stockpiles of 4,000 kilograms of rhino horn, his investment running into many millions of dollars. The owners want permission to sell, not out of greed, but because they believe it could check the poaching epidemic, and as a bonus, sales of horn would help fund those astronomical protection costs.

Why don’t they do it then?

Because their government has remained consistently opposed to the domestic trade ever since they introduced the ban 8 years ago. (And we’ve seen how well that worked out.)

Last year John Hume along with a colleague brought a case against the government. on the grounds it was their constitutional right as breeders to sell rhino horn. And they won. The judge found in their favour and the ban was overturned.

The government responded by lodging an appeal and re-imposing the moratorium on sales, pending the result. But in January this year, the High Court set the government’s appeal aside. Officially, domestic trade in horn is now legal though no-one has as yet applied for a licence to trade.

“By overturning the domestic ban, rhino owners might want to influence how nations vote at the CITES convention”  – writes Anton Crone for The Daily Maverick.

The CITES global ban on trading rhino horn has remained in place since the 1970s. The RSA’s recently published National Treasury Report for Environment Affairs revealed the government’s intention to table a proposal for the lifting of the ban. The proposal will be put before the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)  which meets in Johannesburg this coming September. It will require a two thirds majority to be passed.

If the international ban is lifted in September, will we be able to stop worrying about the rhino?

That is very much open to debate. The private owners lobby hard for the lifting. But many conservationists say that reviving the trade would send the wrong signal to consumers in China and Vietnam, where groups such as Traffic and WildAid are trying to reduce the demand. And how could anyone be certain the traded horn came from legal supplies and not from poaching? Animal welfare organisations such as IFAW, say a legal trade could encourage more poaching by criminal gangs seeking to launder “dirty” horns in clean markets. And if more horn comes on to the market and the price drops, won’t that in turn stimulate demand?

In spite of the questions raised, all interested parties believe a radical new approach is needed, because right now efforts both to reduce demand in the Far East and to tackle illegal killing are simply not working.

And the world cannot afford to keep losing 3 precious rhinos every single day every week every month every year. 

Sign and share Southern African Fight For Rhino petition to CITES

Good news just out on Earth Day :-  the WWF has obtained a grant from Google “to engineer a remarkable new thermal and infrared camera and software system that can identify poachers from afar and alert park rangers of their presence.” Trials are being piloted in Kenya, and if the system proves a success WWF plan to roll it out across Africa. Read more here

The Story Continues to Unfold

The latest news from Care 2 is that South Africa is expected to propose keeping the ban on rhino horn trading in place at the upcoming Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) at the convention to be held in Johannesburg this September. The recommendation comes from the Committee of Inquiry, which was tasked with advising the government on this issue.

It’s an interesting development since the internal trade in rhino horn has been declared legal by South Africa’s own courts. It looks like a case of ‘watch this space’.

Breaking news April 29th 2016: Swaziland Submits Rhino Horn Trade Proposal for COP17

Swaziland’s rhino horn trade proposal comes less than a year after its controversial sale of 18 of its elephants to three American zoos for $450,000 in order to help fund the country’s rhino conservation efforts ( Read more about this controversial new move in the unfolding story of the South African white rhinos.

May 18th 2016 One man’s plan to save rhinos by airlifting 80 to Australia Focusing on wildlife

May 24th 2016 S Africa”s Supreme Court of Appeal rejected government’s appeal to keep domestic sale ban in place. Sale of rhino horn within S Africa is now legal.

May 24th Meet Chloe – a Belgian Malinois dog receiving anti-poaching training to protect orphaned rhinos in s S African sanctuary. You can donate towards her training at this link.

May 25th 2016 Sudan, Najin and Fatu, the last three northern white rhinos, thought to be incapable of breeding, the species now extinct.  Focusing on Wildlife reports scientists’ attempts to save the species from extinction by harvesting the last eggs from the two remaining females and using advanced reproductive techniques to create embryos. If successful, it would be a world first, but a controversial one. People cannot be allowed to believe that science can always save the day, and right what humans have done wrong to animals and their habitats.

May 25th 2016 US State Department announced a five-year bilateral partnership with Vietnam to combat wildlife trafficking, Vietnam being, with China, the biggest market for rhino horn.

June 8th 2016 South Africa’s domestic rhino horn trade back on ice after Department of Environmental Affairs takes issue to top court – Business Insider

August 19th 2016 France bans all ivory & rhino horn trade – The Ecologist

Sep 11th 2016 SA’s Minister for Environmental Affairs says rhino poaching has decreased by 17.8% in Kruger National Park. The Minister said this in a statement on Sunday on progress in the implementation of the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros – South African Government News Agency

28th November 2016 Innovative Technology Creates Safe Haven for Rhinos – Focusing on Wildlife


18th August 2017 South Africa opposes online rhino horn auction – PhysOrg

21st August 2017 Petition to ask S Africa to stop rhino horn auction

8th January 2018 DNA evidence is putting rhino poachers behind bars, study shows

6th February 2018  World-Renowned Ivory and Rhino Horn Investigator Killed in Kenya

30th October 2018 The terrible news that China has reversed 25-year ban on using rhinoceros horns and tiger bones in medicine

13th November 2018 China postpones lifting the ban on rhino horn and tiger bones

24th November 2018 Sotheby’s latest auction house to end rhino horn sales

14th February 2019 South Africa’s rhino poaching sees ‘significant’ decline, minister says

16th February 2019 Hong Kong seizes $1m of rhino horn in record airport haul & Scientists fine-tune method to save rhinos

Fight for Rhinos

To find out more about the pros and cons of legalisation visit Save the Rhino

To find out about a novel idea to ensure the survival of the species Click here

My main source BBC Radio 4 The Horns of a Dilemma

Related posts

Nations of the World Step Up for Elephants and Rhinos

Saving Wildlife on the World Wide Web





ENDANGERED 13 – A Mural Project Raising Awareness of Endangered Species

13 artists take on a 120 metre stretch of railway arches in Tower Hamlets, London


Dr Zadok – Bateleur

Dr Zadok – Bateleur

Louis Masai – Bees

Louis Masai – Bees

Louis Masai – Rhino

Louis Masai – Rhino

Carrie Reichardt – Bees

Carrie Reichardt – Bees

Faunagraphic – Grey-breasted Parakeet

Faunagraphic – Grey-breasted Parakeet

Fiya One – Sumatran Orangutan

Fiya One – Sumatran Orangutan

Louis Masai – Coral Reefs

Louis Masai – Coral Reefs

Jim Vision – Polar Bear

Jim Vision – Polar Bear

ATM – Curlew

ATM – Curlew

Louis Masai – Blue Whale

Louis Masai – Blue Whale

Vibes – Tiger

Vibes – Tiger

Xenz – Hummingbird

Xenz – Hummingbird

Andy Council – Asian Elephant

Andy Council – Asian Elephant

Jonesy – Western Lowland Gorilla

Jonesy – Western Lowland Gorilla

Von Leadfoot – Haiku Lettering

Von Leadfoot – Haiku Lettering

Charlotte Webster – Human Nature Founder

Charlotte Webster – Human Nature Founder

Olivia Skalkos – Project co-ordinator

Olivia Skalkos – Project co-ordinator

Where’s Kong – Film

Where’s Kong – Film

Tanya Loretta Dee – Haiku Poet

Tanya Loretta Dee – Haiku Poet

Ian Cox – Camera

Ian Cox – Camera

According to the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) there are currently 23,250 species listed as threatened. This means: critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable. Adding extinct, and extinct in the wild, species the figure is 24,153.

It’s widely predicted that as many as two-thirds of all species could be near extinction by the end of this century. But, some are now rising in population due to increasing concern about the extinction crisis. Co-ordinated conservation efforts include the protection of natural habitats and prevention of destructive practices such as illegal hunting.



The project is being made possible with the support of
Montana Cans, The Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, Kabloom, Handover and Earthborn.

The permanent home of ENDANGERED13 will be on Ackroyd Drive at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, over 30 acres of woodland in the heart of East London. Opened in 1841, The City of London and Tower Hamlets Cemetery is now a designated park, Local Nature Reserve and Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation. It is run by our project partners, The Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. Get your hands dirty and join their local conservation work.

ENDANGERED 13 will be completed on Sunday 10th April and available to view ongoing at
Ackroyd Drive, Tower Hamlets, London


Produced by Louis Masai and Human Nature






Breaking News – A Win for Wildlife!

UK’s wildlife crime unit wins late reprieve from closure


The specialist body tackling wildlife crime was set to close at the end of March but has been awarded a further four years’ worth of funding.

Dominic Dyer, policy adviser for the Born Free Foundation and CEO of the Badger Trust, said: “For the government to waste over £25m killing badgers but refuse to find less than £500,000 to fund the NWCU to tackle wildlife crime would have been a national disgrace.” Read more


I am so happy!!!!!

Update:- according to The Mirror, the government caved in to campaigners’ pressure. Yay! A win for us too😀

On Long John Silver’s Shoulder

The video of this parrot is super cute and made me laugh out loud.


But then I wondered if this is really something I should be sharing. A while back, not longer after I started this blog, I wrote a post called  On Long John Silver’s Shoulder  And I think it’s worth revisiting because for the parrot, as with most species of animals with whom humans interact, there’s a darker story beneath.

Recent research offers a postscript to this: findings are that the beautiful intelligent parrot is the most endangered of all bird species.


Tories Fail Animals Again -National Wildlife Crime Unit Facing Imminent Closure

This Tory government’s record on animal and wildlife protection is appalling. As I mentioned in my previous post on the NWCU, the funding for it is absolute peanuts, and axing it will make no significant difference in balancing the books. The Tories’ economic policies affect disproportionately the most vulnerable. It’s clear whose side they are on!

Please sign petition to save the NWCU. And also sign here. Thank you.

Government failure to confirm funding for police unit responsible for investigating crimes against British wildlife condemned

Chris Packham, the naturalist and TV presenter, has said it is “disgusting and disappointing” that the UK’s wildlife crime agency faces closure in six weeks unless the government renews its funding.

The national wildlife crime unit (NWCU) was established in 2006 to investigate offences including rare-bird egg theft, deer poaching, the trade in endangered species, hare coursing, illegal taxidermy and cruelty to wild animals.

George Osborne’s spending review, announced in November, did not confirm government funding for the agency beyond the end of March and it is now expected to close within weeks.

The body, which receives the bulk of its funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Home Office, was told shortly before Christmas that a decision would be made about its future before the end of January – but it still hasn’t heard anything.

Read more