Today is the first ever World Wildlife Day; a day introduced by the United Nations to instigate a world-wide celebration of the planet’s phenomenal creatures and plants. It’s also a day for us to recognise that the world’s fauna and flora is facing a crisis of epic proportions. The illegal trade in wildlife is now an estimated £12 billion industry, the fourth most lucrative illegal trade in the world. And, it’s growing exponentially.
The fallout of this commercial war on wildlife has become so severe, global leaders gathered in London last month to devise a critical battle plan. Forty six countries agreed to a number of decisive actions to overpower the rampant greed and corruption driving the trade, including: support for an international ban on commercial trade in elephant ivory; renouncing the use of products from species threatened with extinction; amending laws to take poaching and wildlife trafficking seriously; strengthening global co-ordination through the sharing of intelligence, and supporting natures protectors who stand on the frontline of conservation. Building on previous commitments, these actions could make a real difference, if implemented and enforced.
Elephant Family has been working hard to make sure that Asia’s wildlife has not been forgotten during these critical talks. The savage slaughter of Asian elephants for their ivory is on the increase, and it’s not just elephants facing onslaught. India lost 41 of its rhinos last year, out of a total population of just over 2,500; Asia’s big cats are being annihilated for their skin and bones; and pangolins are disappearing from the forests, along with thousands of other endangered species.
Last year, our co-founder Mark Shand accompanied the Prince of Wales to the forests of India to show him what is remaining of Asia’s wildlife. Mark emphasised the fact that the upcoming meeting on wildlife presented a watershed moment to recognise that Asia’s animals and plants are in crisis too. We were incredibly encouraged that the Prince of Wales included the following in his opening address to the London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade on 13th February:
“This tragedy [for wildlife], of course, is not confined to Africa alone. It is crucial to understand that Asia's, specifically India's, wildlife is also being decimated and if the world's focus remains solely on Africa we risk losing South-East Asia's wildlife, which includes 20% of the world's species.”
There is global accord on at least one point; the time for talking has past. There are already other international days for the environment, but by making today World Wildlife Day we are reminded that we can all work together to incite greater action to save the planet’s species – making sure that 3rd March does not become a memorial day, a moment where we mourn the loss of what once was, rather than celebrating what we still have.
written by Jo Cary-Elwes on 03 March 14
Last week, the UK government hosted an international conference on the illegal wildlife trade, where governments committed to do more to stop the poaching of elephants and other wildlife.
While the conference had a positive outcome, adding further momentum towards a solution that could eventually put an end to the escalating crisis, it coincided with the development of an emergency situation in Odisha, India. An 'ivory mafia' is right now targetting elephants with advanced weapons and customised equipment. This needs immediate intervention.
Elephant Family's project partners are working on the ground everyday to stop the killing, with Biswajit Mohanty of The Wildlife Society of Odisha at the forefront of our efforts. He has dedicated his life to help protect India's wildlife and was recently awarded his PhD on "Wildlife Poaching in Odisha". We asked Biswajit to give us a firsthand account of what is happening, and to find out more about his life and work:
What first inspired you to become such a champion of wildlife?I trained as a Chartered Accountant, but I loved wildlife and never missed a chance to visit forests. One day I got a tip off about smuggling of leopard skins from a relative who used to work for the Customs Department. Though it was not their usual work, as they concentrated on gold smuggling, he wondered if I would be interested to take this further. Without having any idea about the risks involved I said yes and successfully conducted my first sting operation in which the largest ever seizure of leopard skins (21 pieces) was made in Odisha, in April,1996. It was hard work, without any training or expertise. It was sheer enthusiasm that impelled me to jump in. Delhi based NGOs like The Wildlife Protection Society of India [our other project partner in the region] contacted me to find out more, as the seizure shook up the entire country and revealed the extent of the wildlife trade in Odisha.
You have just been awarded your PhD on "Wildlife Poaching in Orissa". Can you tell us a bit about your key findings?I got my PhD degree on a research topic about which very little was known earlier! My key findings were quite startling... The Forest Department had a very poor record of the actual wildlife poaching and trade which was taking place. For example, they registered a total of less than 200 cases of hare poaching in the entire twenty year period of study over the state, while I knew that this was the number of cases every day all across the state! Even the few cases which were detected were not properly investigated and offenders were rarely convicted thanks to court cases dragging on for decades.
What are the major changes you have witnessed in recent years when it comes to wildlife poaching in Odisha?The poachers are now better organised and ruthless. Three elephants were recently shot down in Sambalpur District by a gang of poachers who moved around in a Jeep. Thanks to vastly improved road communications and mobile networks, it is easy to get information about movement of tuskers and leopards, and for the poachers to zero in and kill them, and smuggle out the articles. Prices have jumped, attracting inter state poachers: we regularly see smugglers coming from states like Chattisgarh and Arunachal Pradesh to poach elephants in Odisha. Catching them will be difficult as Forest Department capacity is limited and there is no intelligence collection. Even a simple appeal to the public to provide information would fetch good actionable tips which could be useful to crack down on the poachers and smugglers. This has already proved effective where we've been working elsewhere in the state.
How serious is ivory poaching in Odisha?Odisha has always been targeted for its elephants. We have lost many magnificent tuskers over the last decade. After the supply of illegal ivory from South India dried up, ivory traders now see our elephants as the next major source. As a result we have lost more than 250 tuskers over the last 10 years! Traders from Rajasthan, Delhi and Kolkatta regularly arrive here and contact local poaching gangs who supply them ivory. The notorious Lishu tribe poachers from Arunachal also come here and carry out poaching in Simlipal and Kalahandi forests. Several arrests and seizures of ivory have been made in the past.
In 2010, more than 15 elephants were poisoned or shot in Simlipal for their tusks and the forest staff had burnt and destroyed some of the bodies to avoid booking cases. I was part of an enquiry team sent by the Ministry of Environment & Forests to investigate and report on the incident. We were shocked by the situation and the collapse in relations between the Forest Department and the local communities, which had weakened the Forest Department's capacity to protect the park.
What can be done to stop the “ivory mafia”?This is one field where NGOs can play an excellent role by running an informer system and passing on tips to the Forest Department. We have done this in the past and achieved unbelievable results.
There are enthusiastic and determined DFOs (Divisional Forest Officers) in the field with whom we network and join forces to control and crack down on smugglers. But frustratingly, there is no organised state level intelligence unit which can work out information passed on to them effectively, despite our repeated pleas for one to be established.
Have you come across the bodies of dead elephants in your work, and if so how has it made you feel?It is a ghastly sight to see the bloated and rotting body of a dead elephant killed by poachers deep inside the jungles. As the carcass is usually discovered after 3 - 4 days, it would have started rotting given the hot climate of ours. It is also difficult to approach the body and examine the cause of the death from close quarters. Usually we use bundles of incense sticks to drive away the strong pervasive smell of rotting flesh. I feel very upset and angry since many of the deaths could have been stopped had the local officials been able to monitor the movement of poachers in their area and maintain a good informer network who could have alerted them.
Is there anything that we as individuals can do to help?To stop poaching of elephants in our state a two pronged strategy is required. To stamp out the demand from across the borders of consuming states like China, Japan, Malaysia, etc. and also to carry out preventive measures in the home range countries to stop elephant poaching. As individuals in the UK, elephant lovers can urge our Chief Minister to take more interest in elephant conservation in Odisha by improving the capacity of the Forest Department. Petitioners can also demand that the consumer countries ban all trade in ivory artefacts, as very often illegally sourced ivory is passed off as legally imported stocks.
What other threats do elephants face in Odisha?There are other serious threats to elephants in our state. They are regularly electrocuted by low hanging wires, as the distribution companies refuse to pull them up, even though they violate the electricity safety rules. Their migratory corridors are blocked by coal and iron ore mines as a powerful mining lobby prevents the Forest Department from shutting them down. They also get run over by speeding trains which do not slow down in elephant habitat areas. We lost 5 elephants in a single night in December 2012 in Ganjam District! They also fall inside open wells in crop fields. The government is aware of these multiple threats, but addressing them does not seem to be a high priority.
Elephants are increasingly falling into open wells in Odisha in the quest for water
Have you had any memorable encounters with wild elephants in Odisha?Yes many indeed! I have seen them gambolling in a forest water pool during the hot summer months. I have seen squealing and playful calves being admonished by an elderly aunt for straying too far away from the herd! It is a wonderful sight to see elephants in the wild and one can only be amazed by their strong family ties and the disciplined pattern of movement. I also witnessed a patient tusker tolerate the jibes and stones thrown by a jeering crowd at Nilgiri forest last year. He bore the taunts like a true gentleman and refused to charge though he could have easily rushed ahead and trampled at least 3-4 people who were hardly 60 feet away from him!
What do you think the future holds for Odisha’s elephants and other wildlife?Odisha with its vast forest areas, lush meadows and abundant water could be a heaven for wild elephants if only the government would seriously think about their future and not permit mindless mining and quarrying in their habitats and corridors. However, the mining lobby in the state exercises a strong influence on government decision making, given their awesome money power, as they make millions of pounds in profits every year! Unless poaching is controlled with a firm hand, I do not see a future for Odisha's elephants as the breeding males are being selectively targeted. It would lead to a collapse of the population if the recruitment rate falls below the natural percentage of the total population. But we're determined to stop that from happening!
written by Elephant Family on 18 February 14
- Wildlife Organisations Call on David Cameron to Address Wildlife Crime in Asia - 07 February 14
- The Decline in the Cambodian Ivory Trade Gives Hope for the Rest of Asia - 24 January 14
- Sumatran Elephant Killed, With Many More at Risk - 17 December 13
- Conflict Disaster Averted in Odisha, India - 18 November 13
- HRH The Prince of Wales Visits Our Projects - 13 November 13
- Ivory Poaching Concerns for India’s Elephants - 10 October 13
- The Highs and Lows of India’s Forgotten Elephants - 18 September 13
- A Ray of Hope for the Sumatran Elephant - 15 August 13
- Fight Continues for Sumatra’s Elephants - 18 July 13
- Sumatra’s Elephants Threatened More than Ever - 19 June 13
- River Keepers Launched to Protect Sabah’s Elephants - 16 May 13
- Keeping Elephant Corridors Safe - 16 April 13
- Search on for missing calf as CITES takes steps to prevent illegal trade in live elephants - 13 March 13
- Update | Fourteen Elephants Found Dead in Borneo - 12 February 13
- Fourteen Elephants Found Dead in Borneo - 30 January 13
- 13 Elephants Killed by Trains within a Fortnight - 16 January 13
- Unravelling the Wider Impacts of Living with Elephants - 09 January 13
- Rare Sumatran Elephant Rescued - 20 November 12
- The Elephant Struggle Continues in Odisha - 01 October 12
- Overcoming Challenges to Save Bornean Elephants - 16 August 12
- First Success in Stopping the Illegal Trade in Live Elephants - 31 July 12
- Stopping the Live Elephant Trade - 04 July 12
- A Leading Light in Elephant Conservation - 12 June 12
- First Steps Taken to Protect Orissa’s Elephants - 18 May 12
- Wildlife Corridor Success - 03 May 12
- Checking Thailand’s Captive Elephants - 02 March 12
- On Eggs and Elephants - 21 February 12
- Reclaiming the Sumatran Forests - 19 January 12
- Lights go up in Elephant Habitat - 22 December 11
- Clear Labels, Not Forests Campaign Success – Palm Oil No Longer to be a Hidden Ingredient - 30 November 11
- More Elephant Deaths Feared on India’s Railways - 11 November 11
- Action for Elephants in Orissa - 25 October 11
- The Elephant in the Room! - 12 October 11
- Saving Borneo’s Wildlife Through Jungle City - 06 September 11
- Elephants Remain a Hot Topic for CITES - 23 August 11
- New Report Shows Soaring Demand for Ivory in China - 12 August 11
- Ceremony Held to Celebrate Securing Vital Elephant Corridor - 05 August 11
- Elephant Calf Rescued in Sumatra - 26 July 11
- Important Elephant Routes Confirmed in Thailand - 07 July 11
- Train Kills a Young Elephant in the Deepor Beel, Assam - 24 June 11
- Help Still Needed for Orissa’s Elephants - 09 June 11
- First Steps to Securing International Unity for Elephant Conservation - 25 May 11
- On the Right Track to Saving Elephants - 04 May 11
- Vital First Victory for Palm Oil Campaign - 21 April 11
- Could Anne the Elephant Help Save her Wild Relatives? - 06 April 11
- Taking a New Approach to Saving Elephants - 30 March 11
- Celebrating National Thai Elephant Day, and Beyond…. - 16 March 11
- A Fresh and Timely Approach to Saving Elephants and People - 08 March 11
- Welcome Steps to Give Elephants Legal Protection - 28 February 11
- Tragic News of More Poaching in Simlipal - 17 February 11
- Introducing the Elephant Conservation Unit - 08 February 11
- Low-hanging Power Lines Claim More Elephant Lives - 28 January 11
- Preventing ivory poaching in Kerala - 21 January 11
- 2011 – The International Year of Forests - 12 January 11
- Stepping in before it’s too late in Thailand - 17 December 10
- Helping the elephants of Orissa - 13 December 10
- Founder Mark Shand returns to where it all began - 01 December 10
- Has Enough Value Been Placed on Biodiversity? - 05 November 10
- “Angry Crowd” was Actually Trying to Help Young Elephant - 04 November 10
- Horror as Young Elephant is Beaten to Death in Assam - 29 October 10
- Significant Progress Made in Securing a Key Elephant Corridor - 26 October 10
- Valuing Biodiversity - 20 October 10
- Hilary Benn and Others Call For Coordinated Government Efforts to Save the Asian Elephant - 28 September 10
- Seven more elephants killed by a train in India, causing serious concern - 24 September 10
- Sunda the elephant helps conservation plans develop - 15 September 10
- India declares elephants a “national heritage animal” - 03 September 10
- Train kills a young elephant in Kerala - 23 August 10
- Troubling times for the elephants of Orissa - 16 August 10
- Karnataka Forest Department invests in elephant corridors - 06 August 10