Giraffe’s “Silent Extinction” No Longer Going Unnoticed
Even the world’s most beloved animals cannot escape the threats that lead to extinction. Last week, IUCN declared the giraffe as “vulnerable to extinction.” The world’s tallest mammal is widespread across southern and eastern Africa, with smaller isolated subpopulations in west and central Africa has been moved from “least concern” due to its decline. From an approximate of 151,702 to 163,452 individuals in 1985 to 97,562 in 2015, that is an almost 40% decline for this iconic species.
The decline during the past three decades is mainly due to factors such as poaching and habitat loss. With a growing human population, these threats along with changes through expanding agriculture and mining, increasing human-wildlife conflict, and civil unrest are pushing the species towards extinction Of the nine subspecies of giraffe, three might have increasing populations but five have decreasing populations and one is stable.
Of course, IUCN’s declaration does not yet take into account the research published earlier this year, revealing that giraffes may actually be four separate and genetically distinct species. If the IUCN were to adopt this new taxonomy, then all four giraffe species would almost certainly will be considered endangered.
But that journey will be difficult. “That will be a very slow process and more work on classical taxonomy will be required before initiating this change,” says Stephanie Fennessy, director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.
Tanya Sanerib, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, believes that the taxonomic question is not as important as fighting for the survival of the giraffe species. “I think the take-home message is that we need to fight for the conservation of giraffes first and save all of these exceptional animals that we can so there’s time for the deep dive into learning about these remarkable mammals before we lose any more.”
Some conservationists have been sounding the alarm for the past few years like when “Extinction Countdown first covered their population drop in 2014. However, or the majority of the world, IUCN’s announcement came as a shock to the world. It generated coverage from about every major media outlet as well as sad comments throughout social media. For the most part, people were unable to understand how the giraffe was going extinction because of its high recognition value.
“Whilst giraffe are commonly seen on safari, in the media and in zoos, people – including conservationists – are unaware that these majestic animals are undergoing a silent extinction. With a decline of almost 40% in the last three decades alone, the world’s tallest animal is under severe pressure in some of its core ranges across East, Central and West Africa. As one of the world’s most iconic animals, it is timely that we stick our neck out for the giraffe before it is too late,” says Julian Fennessy, co-chair of the IUCN SSC Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group.
The IUCN declaration does not bestow any new protections to the giraffe. Though the resolution adopted at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in September this year called for action to reverse the decline of the giraffe, it is up to the African governments and the world to decide its fate.
China Is Finally Setting the Date to Close Ivory Factories
A year and a half ago, China pledged to close its legal ivory carving factories and shut down its domestic commercial sales but it did not set a deadline. This week, China finally announced that preparations is underway to bring in a ban on their domestic ivory trade.
“The preparation for the domestic ivory trade ban is under way in China,” Zhou Fei, head of the Chinese program at wildlife trade watchdog Traffic, told the Guardian. “According to our information, most of the legal ivory vendors are developing alternative business. The ivory price of both legal and illegal ivory products dropped.”
At the time, conservationists described the announcement as the “single greatest measure” in the fight to save elephants from poaching. And many wildlife advocates have since been urging Beijing to make some progress.
Legal ivory carvers in China use tusks imported from Africa. Advocates for the total ban believe that it will discourage local demand for black market ivory and shut off smugglers’ attempts to launder poached tusks into legal markets. After a bilateral announcement with the US in July, China pledged to set a timeline for the phase out of its market by the end of this year. Many conservationists believe that China will follow through with its process.
“I think the Chinese government is serious about shutting down the domestic market in ivory in China,” Wildlife Conservation Society ivory trade policy analyst Simon Hedges.
But conservationists have raised concerns that Europe’s expanding international ivory exports may undermine the diplomatic pressure for China to implement and police the shut down in a robust way.
“There is a concern among the western world that the longer that China leaves telling us how it’s going to implement its plan, there is an increased danger that they might dilute the legislation that they were going to introduce,” said Tusk CEO Charlie Mayhew. “And there is a concern that the lack of momentum from Europe, and in particular the UK, could provide them with an argument as to why they don’t need to fully implement their plan.”
Europe is the biggest legal exporter of ivory and the number of tusks sold from member states jumped significantly in recent years. Traffic analysis of the international trade database showed that the EU exported more than 300 raw tusks in 2013 and 2014. The EU has only ever sent more than 100 tusks offshore once in the past decade with Chinese and Hong Kong buyers being recipients of 92% of the tusks. The data also shows that shipments of ivory carvings also jumped in recent years.
“There are now rumors that China might be backtracking, and that this may be partly because it is just not seeing international solidarity on this issue,” environmental campaigner and celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who is calling for the EU to cease its ivory exports, told the Guardian. “It really seems as if China is now saying, maybe we’re not in such a hurry to do this, because the UK and other EU countries seem to be quite happy to sell their ivory to us.” A petition on the UK government website calling for the closure of the domestic ivory market in the UK has already got nearly 80,000 signatures and a parliamentary debate will be triggered when it hits 100,000.
Wei Ji, an independent wildlife researcher who does consulting work for China’s largest environmental NGO, also commented. “I think the international environment is at the moment the biggest challenge for China to take further action. Although I have no idea of what and when the final decision of our government towards domestic market would be, the decision would come out and would most probably respect the will of the majority of the world and take different voices from range states seriously into consideration.”
Exposing the Cruel Business of Paintbrushes Made with Mongoose Hairs
The fearsome mongoose is praised for its ability to fight a cobra, kill a snake with one bite, and keep a farmer’s field clear of insects and unwanted rodents. But to some in India, which is home to six subspecies of the mongoose, they are valuable in another way. Their fur makes expensive and illegal paintbrushes for artists.
Since 1972, India prohibited the hunting, selling, and buying of mongooses and its parts, including hair, because of overhunting for their fur. Yet, the poaching and activity of the black market continue to this day. In the early 2000s, some 50,000 mongooses were killed annually based on the most recent data available from the nonprofit Wildlife Trust of India. More recently in last August, Indian officials arrested people suspected of smuggling 12 pounds of mongoose hair, the equivalent of more than 130 animals.
“The production of mongoose-hair brushes is still ongoing,” says Jose Louies, of the Wildlife Trust of India. “The domestic trade is down, but the international trade is what drives the trade. Mongoose brushes are considered as fine brushes by artists across the world.”
Passed off as sable or badger paintbrushes, which are legal, these illegal brushes are sold directly to buyers in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East.
These brushes are sometimes sold directly to buyers in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East, and sometimes they’re passed off as sable or badger paintbrushes, which are legal.
Hunting can be brutal business. Indigenous hunters typically trap mongooses using snares or nets and then beat them to death with clubs, according to a documentary the Wildlife Trust of India produced. Hunters pull the fur off the skin, keeping the meat for themselves and selling the hair to middlemen. One mongoose provides a small handful of hair. The middlemen consolidate hair from many villages and sell it to factories to produce paintbrushes.
It can also turn into a large-scale operation. In 2015, Indian law enforcement seized 14,000 paintbrushes from a distributor in a coastal town of southwestern India. They were manufactured in the state of Uttar Pradesh, in an area the Wildlife Trust of India has said is home to many brush manufacturers.
“There is little knowledge among the artists or the buyers about this cruel and illegal practice,” says Shekhar Kumar Niraj, the head of the Indian office of TRAFFIC. Those who knowingly seek out mongoose-hair brushes tend to be professional oil painters, says Richard Llewellyn of ColArt, the English company that owns the Winsor and Newton art materials brand, which does not sell mongoose-hair brushes.
Mongooses are protected in India under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, which sets a three-year minimum sentence and a fine of 10,000 rupees (U.S. $146) for anyone convicted of killing, possessing, or trading a mongoose or its parts. There’s also a ban on the international trade of Indian mongooses and their hair under CITES, a global treaty that regulates the cross-border wildlife trade.