Conservation News: Ivory Incident, Leopards, and Elwa River

Christie’s Auction House Fined for Trying to Sell Ivory

As of late, countries and organizations have been fighting hard to end the ivory trade. Kenya recently burned several tons of government-held ivory and with other countries, will push for harsher restrictions on the trade.

Now, Christie’s, one of the world’s most recognized auction house, is under fire for listing elephant ivory on its website. Offering everything from real estate to fine wines to upscale handbags, Christie’s added the banned product to its catalog in April and was later fined nearly $5,000 (£3,250) because of it. The particular item was mounted on a silver pedestal but was otherwise a raw, untouched elephant tusk.

63 year old silver dealer Barry Collins brought the tusk to London-based Christie’s, claiming to have found it in a loft after his mother died. The auctioneers priced the item to be between $1,750 and $2,600 (£1,200 and £1,800). The item was then placed for sale on the website before it was returned to Collins when no one purchased it.

The trial held at Hammersmith Magistrates’ Court, the company admitted it did not have the proper paperwork to sell the item. In doing so, it violated EU law, adopted in 2012, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, a treaty that sets policy for the trade in wildlife and regulate the trade in ivory. Tony Woodcock, on behalf of the international auction house, described the incident to court as an “honest, genuine mistake”.

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Christie’s in South Kensington Photo By: Ian Dunster

But Woodcock and Christie’s were reprimanded. Magistrate Gay Cheyne told Mr Woodcock. “Christie’s professionals should know what they are doing and should be beyond reproach.” Previous guidelines allowed ivory to be acceptable for sale if they were  “significantly altered from their raw state” for utility, ornament or jewelery.

However, new guidelines designed to protect species affected by the black market, including elephants and rhinos, required specific exemption paperwork. Elephant numbers have been in decline with 30,000 killed annually in Africa to satisfy the demand in Asia, where raw tusks can sell for around $1,000 (800 euros) a kilo (2.2 pounds).

Rowena Roberts, wildlife officer for Kensington and Chelsea borough in London, stated “The tusk … was basically a raw, unmodified elephant tusk and therefore should not have been offered for sale without the correct documentation.”

Collins was arrested on a charge of offering the banned object for sale but he denied, arguing that he took the tusk only to determine its value. Michael Levy, Collin’s lawyer, says, “one may reasonably think that relying on somebody like Christie’s one would not be led into committing an offense.”

But, “Anyone who owns antique ivory should be aware that it cannot be legally sold without an Article 10 certificate which can be obtained via the Animal and Plants Health Agency,” says Roberts.

Collins is set to appear at City of London Magistrates’ Court on September 7 for trial.

For its part, Christie’s said in a statement that the ivory sale was an isolated incident. “Christie’s unequivocally condemns the slaughter of elephants for illegal ivory and will not sell modern ivory, or unworked tusks of any age. We take the obligations in relation to endangered species very seriously. Our ongoing responsibility is to ensure that illegal ivory cannot be sold at Christie’s. This was an isolated incident and we believe that the honorable response was to accept the charge as made.”

Christie’s Auction House Fined After Trying to Sell Ivory

World-famous auction house Christie’s fined over elephant tusk sale

Cambodian Leopard Populations Could Disappear by 2018

Jam Kamler, coordinator of Panthera’s leopard program in Southeast Asia, has spent the last four years monitoring leopards in Mondulkiri and says the end is near for Cambodia’s population of spotted Indochinese leopards. The Indochinese leopards are one of the nine known subspecies. Once found from Burma to Singapore, most have black fur. However, the spotted leopards in Cambodia are unique, a result of the open, dry forests there.

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Photographed with a camera trap WWF Cambodia

The journal PeerJ published a groundbreaking paper on global leopard range loss this month. Up to 75% of their former range across Asia and Africa, and in southeast Asia, it is approximately 95% decrease in leopard territory. The loss leaves only three existing pockets of leopards throughout southeast Asia, in Thailand along the Burmese border, peninsular Malaysia, and eastern Cambodia.

Over a period of six months, starting in December, Mr. Kamler set up a network of 86 camera traps in two areas of the eastern plains in Mondulkiri province. He only recorded nine different leopard individuals, a sharp decline from earlier surveys in 2009 and 2014, which also saw falling numbers. Mr. Kamler estimates that there are only 20 to 30 left in Cambodia, small enough that inbreeding could destroy the remaining population. “Once you get below 20, inbreeding starts, and that is the end.”

The primary threat to the Indochinese leopards in Cambodia and across Southeast Asia is snare-traps.

“I would say there is a snaring crisis across Southeast Asia right now and especially in Cambodia. More and more snares are being found further within core protected areas,” he said. “If nothing changes, this decline shows the likely extinction of leopards by 2018.”

However, if the snare-traps were removed, along with improving enforcement of existing regulations and increasing park ranger numbers, “the population would rebound almost immediately”.

Not only did the use of electrified traps increased, poachers have been coming up with new ways to avoid being detected.

During the 2014 survey, approximately 2% of his cameras were stolen or damaged. However, this year, the number increased to over 20%. Typically, the cameras are secured to trees with locks, but two were shot at, one tree was felled to steal a camera, and one camera even photographed a man urinating on it.

Mr. Kamler also notes that hunters are sharing knowledge on how to capture bigger animals, such as leopards, more efficiently. He discovered that electrified fences are being set up around watering holes, a technique borrowed from Cambodia’s neighboring country, Vietnam.

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Photo By: John Mildinhall

Efforts have been taken to encourage local communities to find alternate sources of income. But, Mr. Kamler says it probably would not dissuade villagers from hunting animals that are highly valuable in the illegal wildlife trade. “In my opinion, if you teach local people to make baskets or such like, they will still go out and hunt something that might be worth so much more.” Wild tigers have been the most sought-after animal, netting poachers over $10,000 per catch, but leopards have become increasingly valuable, with skns fetching over $1,000 and bones for over $50 per kilogram.

World Wildlife Fund Cambodia will continue efforts to remove snares and prosecute traders and poachers, as well as working with authorities to close markets and restaurants selling illicit bush meat. In addition, recently announced plans to reintroduce tigers to Mondulkiri Protected Forest by 2019, which would involve hiring more than 100 new rangers, would benefit all animals, including leopards.

Soon, the International Union for Conservation of Nature will be updating its status of the Indochinese leopards from ‘threatened’ to ‘endangered’ by the end of this year. The upgraded status will include tougher penalties such as jail time, making it easier for authorities to punish the poachers than just giving out fines.

Mr. Kamler still remains hopeful because of the seemingly strong local will to save the leopards. “If I come back in two years and the population has improved, it would be a rare success story in Southeast Asia.”

Cambodia’s Leopards Facing Extinction by 2018

Two Years After The Largest Dam Removal Project Shows Ecological Growth

The Elwha River, which courses through northwest Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, once hosted enormous runs of chinook and red salmon. But, that quickly came to an end in 1913 with the building of the Elwha River Dam. Fourteen years later, in 1927, the Glines Canyon Dam was built upriver. These dams were built to produce electricity for the region but they weren’t equipped with fish ladders, devices that allow the animals to pass the dam. As a result, salmon could no longer swim from the Pacific Ocean through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and breed in the river.

“There’s nothing more painful than to see red salmon banging up against the dam, which is what you saw when you went there,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

As the twentieth century continued on, the relative contribution of electricity from the dams declined while the support for the dam’s removal rapidly increased. Congress gave its approval for the removal in 1992 but it took until 2004 for the National Park Service and others to finalize a plan.

Finally, in August 2014, workers completed the largest dam removal project in U.S. history with the final part of the 210 foot (64 meter) high Glines Canyon Dam fell. The multistage project began in 2011 to dismantle the dam on the Elwha River in northwestern Washington State in hopes to restore a natural river system and nearshore environment. A nearshore environment is an ecological zone of aquatic habitat along the shoreline. Anne Shaffer, marine biologist of Coastal Watershed Institute, says it “offers refuge and feeding areas for fish and other organisms that helps them transition from freshwater to marine habitat”.

With the Elwha River Dam removed in March 2012, the Elwha River is running free for the first time in a century.

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Jason Jaacks, National Geographic Creative

A river system is often the primary source of sediments, which define and build the nearshore habitat, and nutrients and wood. With dams blocking the sediment, wood, and fish from the river, the Elwha nearshore has been significantly impaired.

Luckily, the Elwha river and nearshore quickly showed signs of recovery. Within weeks of the dam removal, new species of fish were found in the previously closed-off area. “There has also been an increase in good habitat by about a hundred acres (40 hectares),” says Shaffer.

By 2015, a whole new delta formed when the seafloor near the river mouth rose by 33 feet (10 meters). Shaffer notes, “The estuary had been badly reduced because of sediment starvation, but its return has been incredible to watch”. Native vegetation such as alder and cottonwood also began to grow around the area and bare rock has been replaced with sand for fish to lay eggs on.

The connection between the Elwha watershed and the Pacific Ocean is important to not only the salmon, but to a variety of other species. A healthy nearshore environment is critical for the salmon and its prey, herring and smelt, as well as for many birds.

Shaffer says her team has seen a spike in numbers of chinook, coho, and chum salmon as well as for bull trout, steelhead, and eulachon. The new habitat became home to dungeness crabs, clams, and other similar species. For birds, the new delta became a resting area for gulls and the boom in fish has become a new source of food.

However, this newfound sanctuary is threatened by nearby development. Unlike most of the river, this area of the Elwha is not part of Olympic National Park. The local community has been expressing interest in the new beach since the arrival of the sediments and formation of the sandy bank. Shaffer’s commentary on the issue: “New people are moving in, and they are building closer to the water’s edge. That can lead to issues with toxic stormwater runoff and erosion, so that’s a real worry for us”.

As World’s Largest Dam Removal is Completed, Fish Already Returning

NPS: Dam Removal Overall

River Revives After Largest Dam Removal in U.S. History

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