Tag Archives: China

WILDLIFE : Reducing ivory and rhino horn demand is key to the species’ survival

Wildlifetrafficking

Legal trade and military-style protection may help, but ultimately elephants and rhinos will not survive with their ecological function intact unless demand and price falls

From NatureUp : Astonishing numbers of elephants and rhinos are being poached across Africa. Between 25,000 and 40,000 elephants are likely to be illegally killed there this year. South Africa, home to about 80% of the continent’s rhinoceroses, is projected to lose between 900 and 1,000 of those primeval beasts to poachers by Christmas, up from a mere 13 in 2007.

Governments and conservation organisations are struggling to contain the rising carnage, a result of increasing demand for rhino horn and ivory in Asia, especially in China, Vietnam and Thailand.

I recently wrote about some proposed solutions to the problem for two US-based environmental magazines, Ensia and Yale e360. Although I’ve followed the poaching issue for years, researching these articles has heightened my sense of it being, to use an appropriate metaphor, a“blind-men-and-an-elephant” problem.

Stopping the onslaught of poachers is a daunting, complicated task. It requires understanding the economics of the illegal wildlife trade, the methods of the criminals engaging in it, the psychology of those buying its products and the biology of the animals being killed.

Many experts that I’ve interviewed understand only part of the problem and the solutions they propose are strongly coloured by personal expertise. Unsurprisingly, economists often put forward market-based solutions, legislators push more laws, police want better law enforcement, soldiers say they need more drones and guns, politicians think more speeches and treaties are useful, and conservationists with no deep experience in any of these fields tend to favour whichever solutions they’re most exposed to.

Most of those trying to save elephants and rhinos are intensely emotionally invested in their struggle. I can relate to them, because every time I encounter wild elephants I’m amazed by their power, their intelligence and their sense of fun. Rhinos are perhaps the nearest living thing we have to dinosaurs. The thought of the next generation not being able to experience these pachyderms is heartbreaking. We’ve recently lost the Western black rhino and the Vietnamese subspecies of Javan rhino to poachers, so the fear of further extinctions is not at all irrational.

But this desperate emotional investment combined with many individuals’ limited exposure to aspects of the poaching problem has led, in my opinion, to an unhelpful amount of conflict among conservationists and the decision-makers whose actions will decide the future of elephants and rhinos.

Opposing views have become strongly entrenched, and instead of acknowledging that there can be disagreement among honest people about the solutions to wildlife crime, many activists are quick to demonise those with differing ideas. Instead of asking more questions and together exploring the possible implications of various courses of action (because no one can, in my opinion, cover enough mental ground to take it all in alone) many pay lip service to the complexity of the issue and refuse to engage meaningfully with the “‘opposition” who, as it happens, want to save elephants and rhinos just as much as they do.

One extremely divisive potential solution that I explore in my Ensia articleis to re-legalise the international trade in rhino horn, which has been largely banned since 1976. South African state and private stockpiles contain over 18 tonnes of horn recovered from dead animals and de-horning operations, which could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars if it were allowed to be sold at today’s black market prices. The only people currently making money from the rhino horn trade are criminals, and it’s extraordinarily frustrating to some rhino custodians that they could fund conservation by selling these stockpiles if they were allowed to sell them.

Another potential solution is to adopt military equipment and tactics in the fight against poachers. This is the first-used option of many wildlife managers, and understandably so. Poachers don’t drop in with jasmine garlands in their hair to politely present you with tea and a plate of home-baked cookies; they’re often blooded, hard men with military training and increasingly sophisticated weapons who are a threat not just to animals but to people. I’d want my own squad of hard men with guns if I managed a wildlife reserve.

Military-style solutions to poaching are popular because there are many examples that when looked at in isolation seem to confirm their success, albeit success that comes at a high price in dollars and human lives. (Military-grade equipment costs millions, and poachers and game rangers are regularly killed in firefights.)

Adam Welz NatureUp blog : Game rangers training at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, KenyaGame rangers training at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya. Photograph: Adam Welz

For example, when I visited the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya in late 2011, they’d lost five of their famous rhinos that year to poachers. In response, they’d recently employed a just-retired British soldier to train a new anti-poaching squad equipped with Heckler and Koch assault rifles. Ol Pejeta lost no rhinos to poachers in 2012, and has lost only one so far this year.

But poaching in Kenya as a whole has gone up since 2011. The rhino and elephant slaughterers may be avoiding Ol Pejeta, but they’re hitting less well-protected areas of the country. As I explain in my Yale e360 article, researchers of the illegal drug trade call this the “balloon effect”. If you push down drug production in one area — for example by destroying coca crops in one part of Colombia — it pops up elsewhere. It’s simply proved impossible to control illegal activity across large, remote areas when a lucrative market for that activity’s products — eg cocaine — persists. Despite the US having spent billions on enforcement and interdiction operations in Latin America as part of the “war on drugs”, drug production remains high and murderous drug smuggling gangs remain extremely powerful. As many observers point out, the same criminals who smuggle drugs also often smuggle illegal wildlife products.

Some people have already started breeding rhino and regularly harvesting their horns in anticipation of legal trade. (The horn contains no nerves, so cutting it off is painless, and it grows back over a few years. No equivalent procedure is practical for elephants.) Their idea is to ensure the future of rhinos by create a profitable business supplying horn over the long term, which would pay for their expensive security and incentivise more people to breed them.

This might work. If legal horn farming turns out to be profitable, we might end up with many more rhinos than we have today. I’m concerned about what sort of rhinos those will be, though, because the most economical way to keep them for horn harvesting purposes is in dense concentrations, a bit like cattle in paddocks, where it’s cheaper to manage and guard them compared to when they’re free-ranging in large, wild areas.

Initiating a legal trade in rhino horn or ivory will not automatically remove the incentive to poach rhinos and elephants. A black market in these commodities is likely to persist if retail prices remain high, and there is no shortage of poor people in Africa who will risk their lives for the prospect of earning a life-changing amount of cash by shooting one animal, especially when the chances of being caught are low. This means that even those rhino custodians who aren’t involved in the horn trade and who aren’t managing their animals for maximum profit may be forced to confine their rhinos to small “intensive protection zones”, because it’s near-impossible to protect wide-ranging animals across massive, rugged areas like the large national parks and wilderness areas of Africa.

If the only practical way that we can protect animals is to confine them to small areas, the only sorts of rhinos and elephants we’ll have will be ecologically useless ones. They’ll look like the beasts we know, but they’ll no longer be able to fulfill their vital roles in the forests, savannas and drylands. Africa will have “paper pachyderms” to complement its many “paper parks“, those national parks which exist on maps but serve no real conservation purpose because they’re not managed and have been destroyed by settlers, miners and hunters.

Rhinos and elephants are ecosystem engineers, which means that Africa’s iconic ecosystems look and work the way they do because these animals have helped shape them over millions of years. Elephants and black rhinos maintain savannas by knocking down trees and munching bushes. White rhinos create “grazing lawns” for other herbivores to feed on. Elephants spread the seeds of forest trees and dig waterholes in dry river beds that countless other animals rely on to get through the dry season. All megaherbivores transport vital nutrients through landscapes. If wide-ranging elephants and rhinos are removed from Africa, its ecosystems will change fundamentally.

I’m not sure how large numbers of ecologically functional rhinos and elephants will survive unless the demand for and the price that users are prepared to pay for their products comes down drastically, which is why I’ve come to believe that persuading people not to buy rhino horn and new ivory, so-called “demand reduction”, is ultimately the most relevant part of the multi-faceted struggle to save these magnificent animals and the grand, diverse ecosystems that they’re part of. YouTube movies, social media campaigns and thousands of people talking to their friends might not be as sexy as machine gun-toting, drone-flying anti-poaching armies, but I think they’re worth far more investment and attention than they’re currently receiving.

I know that by saying this I’m opening myself up to attack. I’ve already been accused of being seduced by an organisation called WildAid that believes strongly in demand reduction and been lambasted on social media for writing about legal trade, which, apparently, is so wrong an idea that it shouldn’t even be mentioned in public. I’ve also been told that writers like me shouldn’t have opinions on the things they write about, even though I try to be clear about when I’m reporting as neutrally as possible on issues and when I’m delivering opinions on them.

If you, dear reader, are inclined to join the mud-slinging parade, please consider the following: I’m open to the possibility that my view of the potential and importance of demand reduction is because I’m a biased “blind man” who has spent a large chunk of his life working in the media, and none in law enforcement, the military or commerce. I might not have understood significant parts of the poaching problem, so I’m not claiming to have the answer. I’m not even advocating the removal of emotion from the debate.

What I am saying is that I’m not sure how large, ecologically functional populations of rhinos and elephants will survive across their historic ranges in Africa (and Asia) if the price of and demand for newly harvested rhino horn and ivory remain high. I remain curious about solutions to the poaching problem and am open to changing my mind in the face of new information and argument. I hope you are, too.

For NatureUp blog updates and wildlife conservation news, follow@NatureUpBlog on Twitter; follow me at @LearnFromNature and @NAEE_UK

WATER : China and India ‘water grab’ dams put ecology of Himalayas in danger

DSC_0495

More than 400 hydroelectric schemes are planned in the mountain region, which could be a disaster for the environment

The Guardian reports: The future of the world’s most famous mountain range could be endangered by a vast dam-building project, as a risky regional race for water resources takes place in Asia. NAEE_UK sees this as a huge discussion issue.

New academic research shows that India, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan are engaged in a huge “water grab” in the Himalayas, as they seek new sources of electricity to power their economies. Taken together, the countries have plans for more than 400 hydro dams which, if built, could together provide more than 160,000MW of electricity – three times more than the UK uses.

In addition, China has plans for around 100 dams to generate a similar amount of power from major rivers rising in Tibet. A further 60 or more dams are being planned for the Mekong river which also rises in Tibet and flows south through south-east Asia.

Most of the Himalayan rivers have been relatively untouched by dams near their sources. Now the two great Asian powers, India and China, are rushing to harness them as they cut through some of the world’s deepest valleys. Many of the proposed dams would be among the tallest in the world, able to generate more than 4,000MW, as much as the Hoover dam on the Colorado river in the US.

The result, over the next 20 years, “could be that the Himalayas become the most dammed region in the world”, said Ed Grumbine, visiting international scientist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Kunming. “India aims to construct 292 dams … doubling current hydropowercapacity and contributing 6% to projected national energy needs. If all dams are constructed as proposed, in 28 of 32 major river valleys, the Indian Himalayas would have one of the highest average dam densities in the world, with one dam for every 32km of river channel. Every neighbour of India with undeveloped hydropower sites is building or planning to build multiple dams, totalling at minimum 129 projects,” said Grumbine, author of a paper in Science.

China, which is building multiple dams on all the major rivers running off the Tibetan plateau, is likely to emerge as the ultimate controller of water for nearly 40% of the world’s population. “The plateau is the source of the single largest collection of international rivers in the world, including the Mekong, the Brahmaputra, the Yangtse and the Yellow rivers. It is the headwater of rivers on which nearly half the world depends. The net effect of the dam building could be disastrous. We just don’t know the consequences,” said Tashi Tseri, a water resource researcher at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

“China is engaged in the greatest water grab in history. Not only is it damming the rivers on the plateau, it is financing and building mega-dams in Pakistan, Laos, Burma and elsewhere and making agreements to take the power,” said Indian geopolitical analyst Brahma Chellaney. “China-India disputes have shifted from land to water. Water is the new divide and is going centre stage in politics. Only China has the capacity to build these mega-dams and the power to crush resistance. This is effectively war without a shot being fired.”

According to Chellaney, India is in the weakest position because half its water comes directly from China; however, Bangladesh is fearful of India’s plans for water diversions and hydropower. Bangladeshi government scientists say that even a 10% reduction in the water flow by India could dry out great areas of farmland for much of the year. More than 80% of Bangladesh’s 50 million small farmers depend on water that flows through India.

Engineers and environmentalists say that little work has been done on the human or ecological impact of the dams, which they fear could increase floods and be vulnerable to earthquakes. “We do not have credible environmental and social impact assessments, we have no environmental compliance system, no cumulative impact assessment and no carrying capacity studies. The Indian ministry of environment and forests, developers and consultants are responsible for this mess,” said Himanshu Thakkar, co-ordinator of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People.

Himalayas dam graphicHow the Himalayan rivers are being used for hydropower.

China and India have both displaced tens of millions of people with giant dams such as the Narmada and Three Gorges over the last 30 years, but governments have not published estimates of how many people would have to be relocated or how much land would be drowned by the new dams. “This is being totally ignored. No one knows, either, about the impact of climate change on the rivers. The dams are all being built in rivers that are fed by glaciers and snowfields which are melting at a fast rate,” said Tsering.

Climate models suggest that major rivers running off the Himalayas, after increasing flows as glaciers melt, could lose 10-20% of their flow by 2050. This would not only reduce the rivers’ capacity to produce electricity, but would exacerbate regional political tensions.

The dams have already led to protest movements in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Assam and other northern states of India and in Tibet. Protests in Uttarakhand, which was devastated by floods last month, were led by Indian professor GD Agarwal, who was taken to hospital after a 50-day fast but who was released this week.

“There is no other way but to continue because the state government is not keen to review the dam policy,” said Mallika Bhanot, a member of Ganga Avahan, a group opposing proposals for a series of dams on the Ganges.

Governments have tried to calm people by saying that many of the dams will not require large reservoirs, but will be “run of the river” constructions which channel water through tunnels to massive turbines. But critics say the damage done can be just as great. “[These] will complete shift the path of the river flow,” said Shripad Dharmadhikary, a leading opponent of the Narmada dams and author of a report into Himalayan dams. “Everyone will be affected because the rivers will dry up between points. The whole hydrology of the rivers will be changed. It is likely to aggravate floods.

“A dam may only need 500 people to move because of submergence, but because the dams stop the river flow it could impact on 20,000 people. They also disrupt the groundwater flows so many people will end up with water running dry. There will be devastation of livelihoods along all the rivers.”

WILDLIFE : Ivory worth $5m seized in Hong Kong

Hong Kong customs illegal wildlife products Nigeria

Ivory tusks, rhino horn and leopard skins are displayed at Hong Kong’s Customs and Excise headquarters after the containers were intercepted. Photograph: Alex Hofford/EPA

The Guardian reports : Hong Kong customs officials have seized a shipment of illegal ivory, rhino horns and leopard skins worth $5.3m (£3.4m) in the territory’s second big bust of endangered species products in a month.

The haul is also the latest in a string of big ivory seizures over the past year in the southern Chinese city.

Acting on a tip from customs officials in China, authorities at Hong Kong’s port confiscated 1,120 ivory tusks, 13 rhino horns and five leopard skins weighing a total of 2,266 kilograms (4,997 pounds), said Vincent Wong, customs’ head of ports and maritime command.

They were found on Tuesday in 21 crates hidden in a container full of wood that originated in Nigeria, he said. Wong said the shipment changed vessels in Shanghai before arriving in Hong Kong, but he did not believe the former British colony was the final destination.

 

Wildlife activists say China’s growing presence in Africa is to blame for an unprecedented surge in poaching of elephants for their tusks, most of which are believed to be smuggled into China and Thailand to make ivory ornaments.

According to CITES, the international body that monitors endangered species, the illegal trade in ivory has more than doubled since 2007.

Ivory can fetch up to $2,000 a kilogram on the black market and more than $50,000 for an entire tusk. Last month, more than 2 tons of elephant tusks worth an estimated $2.2m found in a container from Togo were confiscated by Hong Kong customs officials, who said it was the city’s biggest ivory seizure since 2010. In January, officials confiscated an ivory shipment worth $1.4m that came from Kenya, which followed two big ivory seizures last fall.

Demand for rhino horn is driven by the belief in Asia that the ground-up horn cures diseases, which is not supported by medical evidence. Rhino horn is made of keratin, a tough protein found in human fingernails.

No one has been arrested.

Under Hong Kong law, anyone found guilty of trading in products from endangered species faces up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $645,000.

POLLUTION : Chinese coal company releasing toxic wastewater

Pollution of The Ordos Grasslands :waste water  from Shenhua Coal to Liquid Project, Inner Mongolia

From The Guardian

A project operated by China‘s largest coal miner, Shenhua Group, has reduced groundwater levels in an Inner Mongolia region and discharged high levels of toxic wastewater, environmental campaign group Greenpeace said on Tuesday.

The report, the first by Greenpeace to single out and publicly challenge one of China’s powerful state-owned companies, comes as the country’s new leadership steps up its focus on pollution amid growing protests over environmental degradation.

China recently cancelled plans to build a $6bn (£4bn) uranium processing plant after hundreds of protestors took to the streets. Other petrochemical projects have also been cancelled after mass demonstrations.

Shenhua’s coal-to-liquid pilot close to Ordos city is one of three such projects operating in China. It has drained more than 50m tonnes of groundwater from the Haolebaoji region since 2006, Greenpeace said in the report.

“We are taking these allegations very seriously and we will start our own investigations into the project to ensure that it meets all environment-related regulations,” a spokeswoman from Shenhua Group said. “We will release our own environmental report on the project after the investigation.”

The Greenpeace investigation, which the group said was based on 11 field trips to the Shenhua project from March to July this year, found high levels of toxic chemicals in discharged wastewater. It said many other carcinogenic compounds were identified in sediment samples.

“Shenhua claims its coal-to-liquid project has ‘low water consumption’ and ‘zero discharge’. Our investigation proves these claims are false,” Greenpeace east Asia campaigner Deng Ping said.

“Shenhua’s practices are violating Chinese water resource principles and laws controlling industrial waste water discharge.”

Shenhua’s coal-to-liquid project has a production capacity of 1.08m tonnes a year, with plans to expand to 5m tonnes.

Plans to scale up the project would see its water use triple to 41m tonnes by 2017, according to Greenpeace.

Coal-to-liquid technology turns the traditional fuel into petrochemicals. The process has long been controversial due to its high water and energy needs but with slowing growth of coal power generation, China’s coal companies are seeking new markets. More than 100 coal chemical projects are currently waiting for approval, said Li Yan, Greenpeace climate and energy manager.

“This is why we chose to stand out against a big iconic project like Shenhua coal-to-liquid at this time as it’s still possible that some major decisions can be shifted because of environmental concerns.”

The Ordos city government has also claimed damage caused by Shenhua’s coal-to-liquid project in two notices published on its website, pointing to reduced groundwater levels, irrigation problems, and a lack of safe drinking water for residents. It cited petitions from residents and warned of the threat to social harmony, recommending the relocation of farmers and compensation for water losses.

China pushes environment forward

ChinaMinistry

China incorporates the concept of ecological civilization into economic, political, cultural and social development…. Now the Government ‘just’ needs to take the country to do the same – incorporate ecology – in everyday actions! China Daily reports

Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli on Friday met four foreign leaders who will attend the opening ceremony of the Eco-Forum Global Annual Conference in Guiyang, capital of Guizhou province.

During the meeting with Swiss President Ueli Maurer, Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, Tongan Prime Minister Siale’ataonga Tu’ivakano and Thai Deputy Prime Minister Nivatthamrong Boonsongpaisal, Zhang said the Chinese government attaches great importance to the environment.

China incorporates the concept of ecological civilization into economic, political, cultural and social development, said the vice-premier.

He added that China hopes to use the forum to popularize the concept of ecological civilization,promote international cooperation, jointly work to fight climate change and push forward global sustainable development.

Dai Bingguo, former State councilor of China, said the nation should provide assistance to other developing countries in fighting threats from ecological crises while learning from other successful countries.

Ecological restoration efforts in China will improve rapidly in the coming years, Dai said at anews conference on Friday in Guiyang, ahead of the opening ceremony of the Eco-ForumGlobal Annual Conference on Saturday.

The Chinese government considers environmental protection a high priority, he said.

Nation pushes environment forward

While it learns how to cope with ecological degradation from developed countries, China will come up with its own environmental protection methods, he said.

Dai said it is necessary for China to further decrease itsconsumption of energy and increase energy efficiency.

He said energy conservation should be further promoted totake full advantage of energy resources.

Dai said ancient Chinese culture has always attached specialsignificance to nature and sustainable development.

But the responsibility of protecting the environment does notonly fall on the Chinese government, he said.

“It’s significant that every citizen cultivate awareness andundertake the obligation of resources conservation andenvironment protection, especially young people,” he said.

Many developed countries have achieved economic growth at the cost of the environment andnatural resources, he said, adding that countries only venture to clean up the environmentafter it becomes wealthy. He said China should try its best to learn from these lessons andavoid detours.

“We need to draw from the historical lessons and end development that sacrifices theenvironment and excessively consumes resources,” he said. “An economy that harms naturalresources will only deter progress in the long term and the key is to reach a balance betweennature and economic development.

“As the economy rapidly develops, it’s time we work on boosting our ecological environment ofour habitat with all our efforts.”

zhengxin@chinadaily.com.cn

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,198 other followers

%d bloggers like this: