Nineteen rangers killed trying to save forest elephants

Elephants are not the only thing being slaughtered in Equatorial Africa.

Epic slaughter of wildlife and brave park guards

Epic slaughter of wildlife and brave park guards

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, 19 park rangers have been murdered so far in 2015 -- and in just two national parks.

The rangers aren't being killed by poor subsistence hunters.  Those responsible are heavily-armed gangs of illegal poachers in search of forest elephants, which are gunned down or snared for their valuable ivory tusks.

Ivory today is fetching record prices in Asia, especially in China and various southern-Asian nations -- the dominant consumers of illegal ivory -- where it is used for carvings and other ornamental purposes. 

The 19 park rangers have all been killed in just two protected areas -- Garamba and Virunga National Parks -- two of the oldest national parks in Africa. 

It has been estimated that two-thirds of all forest elephants -- which are confined to the dense rainforests of Central and West Africa -- have been slaughtered in the last decade.

Record ivory prices are not the only reason for the demise of elephants.  Vast networks of new roads -- totaling over 50,000 kilometers in length from the mid-1990s to mid-2000s -- have been bulldozed into the Congo rainforest by commercial loggers. 

This has opened up the rainforest to a tsunami of hunters, leaving few safe places for the elephants to hide.

For the increasingly beleaguered forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, cadres of poorly-paid park guards are often the only thing standing between the last forest elephants and oblivion.

We should tip our hats to these brave warriors who are drawing a line -- and often laying down their lives -- to save imperiled wildlife.

And while we're remembering their courage, we should also continue to pressure the dominant ivory-consuming nations, including China, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Laos, to finally clamp down on their illegal ivory trade -- which is exacting far too high a price on the world.

 

Rate of tropical rainforest destruction leaps by 62 percent

Globally, tropical rainforests are getting hammered even faster than we thought.  This is grim news indeed for the planet's biologically richest real estate.

Pardon me, thou bleeding piece of Earth... forest loss in Cambodia  (photo by William Laurance)

Pardon me, thou bleeding piece of Earth... forest loss in Cambodia (photo by William Laurance)

That's the conclusion of an important new analysis that used detailed Landsat data to assess deforestation rates from 1990 to 2010, in tropical nations that contain about 80% of the world's remaining rainforests.

The study, led by Do-Hyung Kim of the University of Maryland, USA, contrasted average rates of tropical deforestation between 1990 and 2000, and between 2000 and 2010. 

The authors found that the net rate of forest loss (the deforestation rate minus the rate of forest regeneration and afforestation) jumped from 4 million hectares per year in the 1990s to 6.5 million hectares per year in the 2000s -- a 62 percent increase overall.

In the 2000s, Brazil was the fastest forest-destroying nation worldwide, according to the authors.  However, its deforestation rate in Amazonia began falling in the mid-2000s and is now just 25% or so of its former rate.

Southeast Asia is the major tropical region in the worst shape, with less forest than either the New World or African tropics and the highest relative rate of forest loss.

Deforestation rates are relatively modest in Africa but are accelerating in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Madagascar -- both vital hotspots for biodiversity.

Notably, the University of Maryland study differs in its conclusions from a major analysis by the FAO (United Nations Food & Agricultural Organization). 

The FAO study concluded that deforestation had fallen in the 2000s, relative to the 1990s, but the University of Maryland researchers say the FAO missed important centers of deforestation that were obvious in their satellite analyses.

Clearly, it's time to redouble our conservation efforts in the tropics -- or we may be remembered as the generation that stood by and watched the rainforests die.

 

 

 

Export markets are driving much of tropical deforestation

Why are tropical nations cutting down their forests?  Is it to feed and house their people?  To provide goods for their domestic markets?

Who's benefiting from forest destruction?

Who's benefiting from forest destruction?

Not so much.

In fact, a lot of deforestation is happening so that tropical nations can export stuff -- especially agricultural goods, timber, minerals, and oil -- to consumer nations. 

And who are the big consumers?  At least for major commodities such as palm oil, beef, soy, and timber, the European Union and China rank as the biggest importers.

That's the conclusion of a recent analysis by the Center for Global Development, an independent think-tank based in London and Washington, D.C.

The analysis focused on six of the most important tropical nations -- Bolivia, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea -- as well as Argentina and Paraguay.  These countries produce a big chunk of the four internationally traded commodities (beef, soy, palm oil, timber) that were the focus of the study.

The study found that about a third of all deforestation could be directly attributed to those four export commodities.  And if one includes beef production in the Amazon, which is mostly 'exported' to the major population centers in southern Brazil, then exports of the four commodities account for a whopping 57% of all deforestation.

In all of the studied countries except for Bolivia and Brazil, export markets were the dominant drivers of deforestation.  Moreover, for most of the eight countries, the importance of export markets as a driver of deforestation and greenhouse-gas emissions increased over time.

What this says is that much of tropical deforestation is being driven not by the needs of local people, but by growing global demand.  The E.U. and China are big sinners, but there's plenty of blame to spread around among other nations.

A lot of the food and timber we consume comes from tropical nations.  We all want to live well, but there is no free lunch.  Somewhere, a chainsaw is roaring and a bulldozer growling so that we can have cheap food and timber.

 

Imperiled parks -- the 'new normal'?

Protected areas are our single best hope for conserving nature.  But as the human populace expands, more and more parks are facing a growing array of threats.  Are imperiled parks becoming the 'new normal'?

Too many pressures on parks... (photo by William Laurance)

Too many pressures on parks... (photo by William Laurance)

As examples, here's a smattering of recent news about imperiled parks:

- A British petroleum corporation will soon begin seismic testing inside Virunga National Park, a famed World Heritage site in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Just last week, Virunga's Chief Warden was gravely wounded by unknown gunmen, and in the last decade more than 140 park rangers have been murdered there. 

- In Thailand, illegal logging is so plaguing another World Heritage site, the Dong Phayayen - Khao Yai Forest Complex, that the IUCN has recommended it be classified as a "World Heritage Site in Danger".  The Thai government is now making a belated attempt to combat illegal logging in the park.

- A recent study by E. Bernard and colleagues has documented 93 instances in which national parks in Brazil have been downsized or de-gazetted since 1981.  Such actions have increased markedly in frequency since 2008, the authors say.

- As highlighted in recent ALERT blogs and press releases, national parks in Ecuador, New Zealand, and Australia are also facing an array of new challenges.

An apt analogy is the little Dutch boy, desperately sticking his fingers into a dyke that is springing ever more leaks. 

But what choice do we have?  Even a struggling park is far better than no park at all. 

 

Illegal logging still a scourge for forests globally

Some people with very loud voices are trying to play down the importance of illegal logging.

There's really nothing to worry about...

There's really nothing to worry about...

Among these are the lobbyist Alan Oxley, who's on the payroll of big international timber companies; and the Tony Abbott government, which is trying to sink Australia's hard-won illegal logging legislation

But even a cursory look shows that illegal logging is still at appalling levels in many developing nations: 

- Nearly 90 percent of the timber extracted from the Democratic Republic of Congo is illegal, according to a report from the respected UK think-tank Chatham House, a recognized authority on the illegal logging issue.

- In the Peruvian Amazon, illegal logging has been described as a "crisis" in a recent scientific analysis led by Matt Finer and Clinton Jenkins.  They found evidence of major violations in 68 percent of the timber concessions they assessed.  The Peruvian government has already cancelled 30 percent of its concessions because of rampant illegal activities. 

- In Indonesia, the Anti Forest-Mafia Coalition, an alliance of local environmental groups, has decried the ease with which anti-illegal-logging rules are being circumvented.  Indonesia's timber-certification system is so loose, the group declared, that it is "nearly impossible" for companies to fail to be certified. 

These are merely a sampling of stories that have appeared in the last ten days. 

In reality, illegal logging imperils forests, promotes criminal activities, and steals market share from legitimate timber producers.  It also defrauds developing nations of around $15 billion annually in direly needed revenues, and its toll approaches $100 billion annually if its environmental impacts are included.

The bottom line: Don't let anyone tell you illegal logging isn't a massive problem, or that we shouldn't be working hard to combat it. 

Eco-crisis: Deadly assaults on park guards growing

Defending nature can be dangerous work.  Just ask the park guards at Virunga National Park in the Democratic of Republic of Congo.

Peril abounds for gorillas (photo by John Fa)

Peril abounds for gorillas (photo by John Fa)

In the last decade more than 140 guards have been killed at Virunga in an effort to hold at bay poachers and armed militant groups.  The park is a World Heritage site, famous as home to a quarter of the world's critically endangered mountain gorillas, and an abundance of other African wildlife.

The latest victim of violence is the Chief Warden of Virunga, Emmanuel de Merode, who is also a member of the Belgian royal family.  Merode was shot and gravely wounded on Tuesday by three gunmen in the park. 

For years, Merode had led efforts to defend the park and its wildlife from a growing tide of lawlessness in the region. 

Park guards in many parts of the world have died while attempting to defend their reserves from illegal poachers, gold miners, loggers, and drug traffickers. 

The assault on a royal is underscoring what for many is seen as a growing crisis: A rising tide of violence and criminality among poachers and encroachers, which often operate in organized gangs.

Guards also struggle to hold at bay growing numbers of impoverished people living near parks--people who see the wildlife, timber, and other resources in parks as a potential source of food or income. 

Just as those who fight bravely in wars are often hailed as heroes, we should also recognize the gallantry of those who are fighting--and even dying--to protect Earth's most vital places.