Global rally against devastating wildlife poaching

The last few decades have been deadly for wildlife.  Since the 1970s, over half of all animals on Earth -- mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish -- have disappeared, according to a major analysis by WWF.  And overhunting -- often by illegal poachers -- is one of the biggest reasons.

Mom killed by poachers...

Mom killed by poachers...

In response, there's just been the first-ever global rally against poaching, focusing specifically on the devastation of elephants and rhinos.  In 136 cities and towns across six continents, thousands of demonstrators voiced their strident concerns about this issue.

The rally echoed the stark messages of the WWF Living Planet Report, which assessed the state of 10,380 populations of 3,038 wildlife species across the Earth.

According to the report, the situation is worst in poorer countries, where wildlife numbers have fallen by 58% on average, between 1970 and 2010.  Latin America had the biggest declines, with 83% of all animals lost in the last 40 years.

Some of the most imperiled species include African forest elephants, whose numbers have plummeted by an estimated two-thirds in just the last decade, following a massive rise in poaching for ivory.

Marine turtles have fared just as badly, falling by 80% in abundance in the last 40 years, the report concludes. 

As the situation grows more desperate for many species, some conservationists are beginning to devise innovative tactics in an effort to combat poaching.  For instance, an Australian-led team is using research on human behavior in an effort to modify attitudes toward rhino poaching in Vietnam.

In Kenya, the situation has grown so desperate that shoot-to-kill orders have been given to park ranges in an effort to combat heavily-armed poachers.  Globally, hundreds of park and wildlife rangers have been murdered by poachers in recent years.

The global rally against poaching is an admirable attempt to raise awareness about the critical role of illegal wildlife hunting.  It's come not a moment too soon. 


Melbourne woman combats illegal rhino-horn trade

One highly motivated person can have the impact of 10,000.  That's what one must conclude from the story of Lynn Johnson.

Johnson, who lives in Melbourne, Australia, was disturbed by a documentary about the slaughter of rhinos to sustain the illegal trade in rhino horn.  And she was appalled by a WWF report that the illegal trade has skyrocketed by 5000% since 2007.

Let the rhino keep his horns...

Let the rhino keep his horns...

So, despite having no training in wildlife conservation, Johnson set her mind to doing something about it.

Johnson decided to focus on Vietnam, a major consumer of rhino horn, which is a putative treatment for cancer and other ills.  So far she has raised $20,000 to place ads in Vietnamese newspapers and magazines, to fight the illegal trade.

But rather than pushing conservation, Johnson uses a different tack--emphasizing the potential risks for human health.  This is because South Africa has begun putting powerful poisons into rhino horn, to help deter the illegal trade. 

One of Johnson's ads cautions Vietnamese mothers not to risk poisoning their children.  Another warns businesspeople--who often give gifts of rhino horn during negotiations--not to risk sinking their business deal.

Johnson's next goal is to raise $250,000 on to put similar advertisements in major airports in Vietnam.

As Lynn Johnson is showing us, where there's a will, there's a way.  If rhinos could talk, they'd surely be thanking her.


Take a minute to help save Sumatra's last rainforest

It's the last place on Earth where orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinos still coexist.

It's the last major tract of lowland rainforest on Sumatra--the island paradise devastated over the last decade by corporate oil palm and wood-pulp plantations and slash-and-burn farming.

Rare real estate... tiger footprint in Sumatra (photo by William Laurance)

Rare real estate... tiger footprint in Sumatra (photo by William Laurance)

It's the Leuser Ecosystem, and you can help save it.  Just take 30 seconds to add your name to this growing petition, appealing to the Aceh government in Sumatra.

And ask your friends to support this initiative too--by signing up for ALERT's automatic updates and liking ALERT on Facebook

For more information about the imperiled Leuser region, see our earlier blogs and press release.

The plight of primates... 9000 killed for one bushmeat market

Why are our closest relatives, the primates, declining almost everywhere? 

Eying trouble ahead... night monkey in Peru. 

Eying trouble ahead... night monkey in Peru. 

In West Africa, for example, primate numbers are plummeting from the fatal one-two punch of deforestation and overhunting.  A recent study found that over 9000 dead primates are sold each year in a single bushmeat market in the Ivory Coast. 

And in Borneo and Sumatra, the iconic Orangutan continues to suffer widespread declines despite a high-profile pledge from the Indonesian President to stabilize its population--ostensibly using the scheme as a "blueprint" for conservation of other endangered wildlife in the country. 

Despite such rhetoric, habitat destruction continues apace in Indonesia.  The endangered Leuser Ecosystem of Sumatra--the focus of a recent ALERT press release--is the only place on Earth where the Orangutan still lives alongside Elephants, Rhinos, and Tigers.  But this forest is under assault from a massive road-building scheme and other development pressures (see blog below and please sign this petition).

Baby Orangutan... prey for the pet trade

Baby Orangutan... prey for the pet trade

Unfortunately, most primate species live in parts of the world where human numbers and environmental impacts are skyrocketing.  Studies like those above reveal a tough road ahead for our closest kin. 

Australia scuttles funding for endangered rhino

Australia had promised $3 million to help save the Sumatran rhino, one of the world's most critically endangered animals.  But now the conservative Tony Abbott government is breaking that promise, according to The Guardian newspaper.

Struggling to hang on...  (photo by Bill Konstant, International Rhino Foundation)

Struggling to hang on...  (photo by Bill Konstant, International Rhino Foundation)

Abbott's Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, announced that the commitment--made by the previous Labor government--would not be honored. 

Only 200-300 Sumatran rhinos are estimated to survive today.  One of five living rhino species, it was formerly widely distributed across southern and eastern Asia, but today persists only in a few tiny, relict populations in Sumatra, Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia.

Sumatran rhinos are suffering both from rampant habitat loss--their forest homes are being destroyed faster than just about anywhere else on Earth--and from poaching for rhino horn, which is used in Vietnam and East Asia for traditional medicines and ornaments.

A particular concern is forest loss and road-building in the endangered Leuser Ecosystem and adjoining Aceh region in northern Sumatra, the last stronghold for the species and an issue in which ALERT is playing an active role (see blog below and our associated press release).

The director of the conservation group Wildlife Asia, Claire Campbell, called the decision to cut the funds "potentially pretty devastating for the Sumatran rhino."

ALERT supports online petition for Leuser Ecosystem

ALERT's first policy issue is the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra Indonesia. It is the last surviving lowland rainforest on the island and "it is the last place on Earth where elephants, tigers, rhinoceros and orangutans still coexist”. The local government is being pressured to allow for this area to be developed. We are advocating that the Leuser Ecosystem should be conserved as a World Heritage area. 

Earlier in the week, we participated in faxing a well-prepared letter to 30 Indonesian and international officials. We also sent a press release about the issue to hundreds of environmentally-focused media reporters.

Today we are circulating an online petition that has already garnered 12,600 supporters through our social media channels. Less than 2500 signatures are needed. Please add your support by signing the petition here:

Thanks to the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme for creating these tweets to support the issue. Please use some of the tweets below or customize your own. <strong>It is important that you TAG @SBYudhoyono,&nbsp;@presidenSBY</strong> and use #SaveAceh and/ or #SelamatkanAceh



ALERT's first issue: The last lowland forest in Sumatra

The Leuser region is the last surviving lowland rainforest on the island of Sumatra, where forests have been devastated by rampant clearing for oil palm and wood-pulp plantations and slash-and-burn farming.  It is also the last place on Earth where elephants, tigers, rhinoceros and orangutans still coexist.   

The Leuser region is also ALERT's first major policy issue.  We have joined with a coalition of NGOs to urge the Indonesian government to declare the imperiled Leuser region a World Heritage site. 

This effort involved our faxing a well-prepared letter to 30 Indonesian and international officials.  Here's a press release on our inaugural effort!

The Leuser region is the last place on Earth where elephants, tigers, rhinoceros and orangutans still coexist
Forest clearing for an acacia plantation in Sumatra

Forest clearing for an acacia plantation in Sumatra