Previously, the flood waters that inundated the area were left to either recede on their own – during which time all stores remained flooded and the streets impassable – or the water was pumped into the ocean.
Close-up of homes abandoned to flood waters and weeds. Small garden plots can be seen at the top left. Photo: John Scott-Railton
A surface system of drains channels the water to a new underground canal. From there, the water flows through a natural filtration system and through a series of basins.
This results in a water reservoir that remains intact through the long dry season. Herb gardens, rented out for a nominal fee to families, are cultivated for market sale. The image below is a screenshot from a short film on the Live With Water project (click here to view the film), which was initiated by two local Pikine women.
There’s a strange circular aspect to this story: Created in the 1950s, the area was only really settled in the late 1970s, when people from drought-stricken regions relocated to Dakar. They were sold land that became Pikine, which is now a city of over one million.
At the time – during years of major drought – the low-lying land was dry. The area was, however, actually situated on the beds of dormant, shallow lakes. With increasing heavy rainfall during the short rainy season, beginning in 2005, the lakes did what they do. They filled with water.
So those fleeing drought ended up on flooded lake beds, redirecting an over-abundance of water into reservoirs.
Megalithic stone circles, Siné Ngayenne, Senegal. Photo: Didier Euzet
Today is World Wildlife Day 2015, which this year highlights the challenges of the illegal trade in wildlife.
World Wildlife Day, on the 3rd of March, marks the day of the adoption of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The global trade in wild animals and their body parts is estimated by UNEP at US$50-150 billion per year. The global illegal fisheries catch is valued at US$10-23.5 billion a year and illegal logging, including processing, at US$30-100 billion.
These numbers don’t include the costs of fighting poaching, the impact that fight has on local communities, or the indirect costs of border security – after all, 90% of all illegal animals and animal parts are shipped across international borders.
These numbers don’t include issues like the introduction of non-native species in the form of exotic pets and the havoc they can wreak on local eco-systems (not to mention the introduction of foreign pathogens).
They don’t include the cost of fighting the organized crime that is funded via illegal wildlife trade.
Find sustainable alternatives to traditional medicine that calls for endangered species like pangolin or rhino (after all, people have been substituting buffalo horn for rhino for years).
That supposedly antique ivory trinket was probably made from poached elephant tusk. If that hardwood lumber for your floors is being sold at a price too good to be true, chances are its been illegally logged. And so on.
What you buy as a consumer ripples out through the entire environment of the illegal wildlife trade.
I thought I’d repost Farewell, Forest Symphony, something I wrote a couple of years ago on the interconnectivity of one single endangered species, the elephant, on its entire ecosystem.
It’s not a short post – but what is true for this particular animal is true in other ways for all the other endangered animals and plants:
They, and we, are all part of something larger.
Sunset over the Congo rainforest Photo: David Beaune via Mongabay.com
The fundamental chords that hold a symphony together aren’t always apparent to the untrained ear. The symphony of an ecosystem is often more complex than we comprehend.
A recent study draws a vital connection between elephant poaching, tree reproduction and forest ecosystems. Certain trees – in this case, large bush mango trees – have evolved alongside large animals, in this case, forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis).
The trees have developed seeds which are best dispersed via elephants eating the seeds, walking long distances, and then depositing digested seeds far from the parent tree. The seeds of these trees are too large to be properly digested and dispersed by smaller mammals.
Unfortunately for both the wild trees and the elephants, up to 75% of the elephant population has been killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where this study was carried out, and an estimated 60% of all forest elephants in the world have been killed in the service of the illegal ivory trade – all in the last ten years.
“[The] Congo forest without elephants would certainly lose part of its soul, but elephant extinction with their seed dispersal services would also affect the entire plant community,” lead author David Beaune with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology told mongabay.com. Forest elephants are “important gardeners of the forest,” says Beaune, so important in fact that when elephants go extinct in a part of the forest, important trees are unable to reproduce. “If we can’t replace elephants, then the reproduction of these plant species is hugely compromised.”
Irvingia gabonensis, the African mango, an edible fruit with nutritious nuts at their core. Source: Herbwisdom
The bush mango tree used in the study, Irvingia gabonensis, happens to be one that is also important to the economy of many African regions, and has been successfully cultivated. Its reproductive patterns are well-known.
It plays a key role in preventing soil erosion as well as being useful as a cash crop.
What of the many other fruits and seeds eaten by forest elephants which are less-studied, with lesser known roles in the ecosystem? Without the massive ‘gardeners of the forest’, what aspects of the ecosystem will crumble?
It puts me in mind of the final movement of Haydn’s Symphony No. 45, in which all the instruments disappear. There is a final song of the remaining violins, but it is thin and lonely without the other melodies.
Once ivory has entered its destination country, it is extremely difficult to differentiate the illegal stuff (harvested from one of the elephants killed every 15 minutes around the world) from the legal stuff (either antique, or imported before the African elephant was listed in CITES Appendix I in 1990).
I am baffled that the US still allows the importation of hunting trophy tusks. But given the ongoing battles to re-instate permission to allow for the importation of endangered rhino horns even as the rhino population is in steep decline, it shouldn’t be a surprise.
I’m sure there are many, many dealers who handle only legal ivory, but as a responsible and concerned consumer, would you know the difference?
Origami elephant created by Sipho Mabona Photo by Philipp Schmidli / Mabona
I know I wouldn’t.
There’s an easy solution to that: Don’t buy the stuff.
Stop buying it anywhere until all imports have been stopped, the elephant populations and those of other catastrophically endangered source animals have rebounded, and the illegal market has dried up. If it’s made of ivory, that means no trinkets, no souvenirs, no fancy gifts for business associates, no allegedly legal decorative items for the home. Don’t admire that new ivory bracelet someone shows you, don’t covet that sculpture.
A thriving market in one kind of animal part only supports all the others, and the trade in general.
Sorry, sellers of legal ivory, the stakes are just too high.
It lists pangolin scales as being composed of “stearic acid, cholesterol, N-butyl tricosylamide, cyclo (L-seryl-L-tyrosyl), cyclo (D-seryl-L-tyrosyl), and other 18 kinds of microelements” and “16 types of free amino acids.”
This makes it sound like pangolin scales have a chemical composition uniquely suited to medicinal uses. It does not highlight that pangolin scales, along with rhino horn and goat hooves and human fingernails, all have the same basic composition, and are all made of keratin.
I have no doubt that practitioners and adherents of traditional medicines believe in what they are doing with pangolin scales, and by extension, the consumption of pangolin flesh, especially that of unborn pangolins.
So if one kind of horn can simply be substituted for another, from entirely different animals, why not just substitute human nail cuttings for pangolin scales?
In the end, they all have approximately the same medicinal value beyond that of a placebo, namely, none.
Traditional medicines were born in a time of fewer humans and more animals. Harvesting these animals from the wild until they are all gone is a ridiculous, illegal and shameful undertaking for all concerned, from those who poach to those who consume.
The various species of critically endangered pangolins (and the rhino, and the elephant, and all the other iconic and lesser known animals being hunted to extinction) have a place in the world, but it’s not in a sack, being traded for every-increasing amounts of money to satisfy our own greed for better health or more income.
So on this World Pangolin Day, whip up a Happy Pangolin cocktail, celebrate the pangolins and other animals staying right where they belong, and celebrate all those people who are working hard to achieve that goal, maybe make a donation, and most importantly, maybe have a conversation with someone else about not supporting the illegal trade of any animal or plant.
There are so many different lenses we can use to view and understand the past. History books and rock paintings, ice cores and rock strata. What kind of scroll you need depends on the kind of past under investigation.
And so to the useful archive provided by the rock hyrax (Procavia capensi) of southern Africa, a small mammal that has a couple of pertinent habits when it comes to creating a long-term set of reference material.
Hyrax colonies tend to stay in one place over millennia. They also tend to use a communal urinary, which also tends to stay in the same location. Further, hyrax urine is thick and dries quickly, and together with the fecal pellets, contains traces of hyrax life – pollen, bits of leaves, trapped gas bubbles. Over the years the hyrax midden becomes a long, multi-layered chronicle of hyrax life from the vantage point of what generations of hyrax left behind.
The HYRAX Project uses midden archives to look at climate and vegetation change over a period of 50,000 years. It’s not the first midden study, of course, but in an area as arid as southern Africa, the challenges for finding a paleoenvironmental tool are higher than in area with lakes and wetlands, which are rife with sediment traps.
Sometimes, it’s just a matter of finding the right archive for the subject at hand, and then knowing how to read it.
When it comes to putting a stop to the illegal trade in endangered animals and animal parts, I don’t know if the London Summit on Illegal Wildlife Trade is the first major conference to explicitly include the main consumer nations of animal parts as well as the countries in which the most animals are poached.
Paper lion – an historic French West Africa banknote (1926)
A team of researchers spent six years tracking populations of West African lions (Panthera leo), a breed genetically distinct from other lions on the continent. Twenty-one parks exist for their protection, but according to a study out in PLOS ONE, lions were actually found in only four of these parks.
Lions are protected throughout Africa, with millions of dollars spent in conservation efforts – just not in West Africa. The lion population – estimated to be at under 400 individuals – has been divided, encroached upon, hunted. Habitat destruction due to farming, and the large bushmeat market that competes with the lions for prey, have done most of the harm.
The research team and the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) are calling for immediate investment in protection of this species, but considering that West Africa is among the poorest regions on the planet, this will be an uphill march.
Dr. Philipp Henschel, survey coordinator for Panthera, the non-profit wild cat conservation organization that sponsored the survey, led a team that examined lions across 17 countries. I heard Dr. Henschel interviewed on the BBC.
In addition to the plight of these animals, one image of his particularly struck me: He and his colleagues devoted years to the survey before ever laying on a living West African lion, symbol and emblem of West Africa. They went from park to designated park, only to find the lions had disappeared.
They had thought they would be counting lions, but they spent most of the survey counting paper parks – parks in name only, the subjects of protection already long gone.
One of the many legacies left behind by the great Nelson Mandela will be his attention to conservation issues and his awareness of the role these issues play in society. In honor of his life, I thought I would highlight one of his many laudable projects today, one that brought together the dual challenges of conservation and peace.
Dr. Nelson Mandela, who passed away on 6 December 2013, was a founding member of the Peace Parks Foundation, together with Dr Anton Rupert and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands.
In Dr. Mandela’s words: “I know of no political movement, no philosophy, no ideology, which does not agree with the peace parks concept as we see it going into fruition today. It is a concept that can be embraced by all.
“In a world beset by conflicts and division, peace is one of the cornerstones of the future. Peace parks are a building block in this process, not only in our region, but potentially in the entire world.”
Nelson Mandela opens a gate between South Africa and Mozambique to allow elephants to be moved from South Africa’s Kruger National Park to a protected area in Limpopo National Park.. Photo: Tony Weaver / PPF
Peace parks are also known as transfrontier conservation areas (TFCAs). The Southern African Development Community(SADC) Protocol on Wildlife Conservation and Law Enforcement of 1999 defines a TFCA as “the area or component of a large ecological region that straddles the boundaries of two or more countries, encompassing one or more protected areas as well as multiple resource use areas”.
The Protocol commits the SADC Member States to promote the conservation of shared wildlife resources through the establishment of transfrontier conservation areas.
From the Peace Parks Foundation website: “The establishment and development of peace parks is a dynamic, exciting and multi-faceted approach to jointly manage natural resources across political boundaries.
“Peace parks are about co-existence between humans and nature, about promoting regional peace and stability, conserving biodiversity and stimulating job creation by developing nature conservation as a land-use option.”
At its 2014 convention, the Dallas Safari Club will be auctioning off the rare chance to kill an adult rhinoceros in Namibia and the even rarer chance to bring the trophy parts back home. The organizers say they can expect up to $750,000 dollars, and that every penny will go to the ‘Conservation Trust Fund for Namibia’s Black Rhino’.
The hunt would be carried out with the permission of both the Namibian government and of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to import parts of the black rhino. These animal parts are otherwise highly controlled and illegal, as there are only an estimated 5000 black rhinos left in the world and they are both protected under the Endangered Species Act, and heavily poached for their horns.
The DSC 2014 convention banner
This notion of high profile hunting as a means of conservation is nothing new, and hunters have often been aligned with conservationists when it comes to protecting land and species.
However, not one article I have read on this has mentioned the background to the strange approval of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
Earlier this year, the USFWS set a precedent by issuing a permit allowing the import of a black rhino trophy. The permit was the first USFWS permit ever allowing parts of an endangered species hunted abroad to be brought into the United States.
It was approved following an import application filed by the hunter himself, with the assistance of lawyer John J. Jackson III, who runs Conservation Force, a Louisiana-based conservation non-profit organization.
David K. Reinke poses with the black rhino he shot in 2009. The advocacy work of Conservation Force helped him bring the horn back to the U.S. Photo: Thormählen & Cochran Safaris
For insight into the Conservation Force strategy, reading the group’s Updates and Alerts page is enlightening.
Most entries deal with overturning the endangered status of various listed species (lions, polar bears, etc.); legal attempts to reduce or eliminate restrictions on the importation of restricted animal parts; and finally, an update on the Dallas Safari Club’s award to John and Chrissie Jackson of Conservation Force for their “tireless advocacy of hunting as an integral part of wildlife conservation.”
Through a variety of strategies including tourism and rural development, Namibia has been very successful – far more so than its neighbor South Africa – in preventing poaching and promoting the recovery of the black rhino population without the assistance and funds of high end foreign hunters. So I am not sure what kind of value this new trend (if two cases can be called a trend) is supposed to add to conservation.
I am not fully versed in the value of hunting individual animals from a small genetic pool of an endangered species like the black rhino (Diceros bicornis); perhaps it’s a useful method.
I also don’t know much about the ‘Conservation Trust Fund for Namibia’s Black Rhino’, the fund to which the Dallas Safari Club intends to donate the auction amount from the black rhino hunt – I was unable to find any listings online which mentioned this trust fund, but for all I know it could be part of one of Namibia’s many long-standing legitimate conservation groups.
I can’t claim agreement with the argument that promoting the hunting of endangered species, putting a high monetary value the hunt and on the very parts for which these animals are being poached into extinction, is a viable path towards saving these animals – not only for our future generations, but for theirs.
What I do know is that the Conservation Force’s determined efforts over many years to establish an endangered species import precedent succeeded this year with the USFWS permit.
I am also quite sure that this first trophy hunt auction, which would not have been possible without that precedent, will almost certainly not be the last of its kind.
UPDATE: 21 May 2015. The rhino auctioned for hunting was shot dead on 20 May 2015 by Corey Knowlton, the Texas hunter who won the auction bid.
From the AFP: Knowlton stated, “I think people have a problem just with the fact that I like to hunt… I want to see the black rhino as abundant as it can be. I believe in the survival of the species.”
Since 2012, Namibia has sold five licences each year to kill individual rhinos, saying the money is essential to fund conservation projects and anti-poaching protection. The only rhinos selected for the hunts are old ones that no longer breed and that pose a threat to younger rhinos.
Sorry, I just don’t agree. This is no different from countries selling off illegal rhino horn or elephant ivory seized from traders.
As long as the animals are worth more dead than they are alive, for any reason, poaching and the trade in illegal animal parts will be encouraged.
Sea ice located along the shallow continental shelf of the Bering Sea usually provides a diving board, a hunting perch and resting place for female walrus and their young. With sea ice retreating into water too deep for hunting, the walrus have had to find safer shores.
Around 10,000 of them have gathered on a small barrier island near the village of Point Lay in northwestern Alaska. They were photographed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which has been carrying out aerial surveys of marine mammals in areas of potential gas and oil development.
It’s not the first time the walrus have gathered on dry land to escape treacherous waters. While there, they remain more vulnerable to hunters, polar bears, and other stress factors that have, in the past, prompted deadly stampedes.
What looks like a termite mound here is actually a massive walrus pod. This clickable image can be enlarged.
Walrus gathering on Alaskan coastline Image: Stan Churches/NOAA
Here’s a quick update on a couple of topics I’ve followed over the past year:
I’ve written several times about the ongoing discussion surrounding the American eel. More specifically, the harvesting of young eel – elvers – during their spring run along the American East Coast in spring.
Prices for live elvers have skyrocketed over the past few years due to high demand in Asia, where the local populations have been decimated by overfishing, environmental pressures and natural disasters. The young eel are shipped to farms, where they are grown to adulthood and sold for consumption all over the world.
In light of how little is actually known about the current population and health of the eel population, there was talk earlier this year of tightening regulations when it comes to fishing elvers. This has, for the moment, been postponed until further notice. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s American eel management board has been unable to reach a consensus, likely pushing any decision until right before the 2014 season starts in early spring.
My overview of the American eel is here, with some of the other posts here and here.
A good discussion of the current fraught situation is here.
One of the more obscure objects of international animal smuggling is the odd pangolin, the scaled anteater which inhabits its very own lonely branch on the mammalian tree of life. I’ve talked about them here, when I looked at seizures of illegal shipments.
Pangolins are in demand because their scales (which are no different in composition than fingernails or hair) are used in some traditional medicines, while pangolin meat and fetuses are served as a delicacy in some East Asian cuisines. The pangolin is protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The pangolin is considered to be one of the world’s most trafficked animals, yet I find very little on conviction rates following seizures.
Six men were convicted in Malaysia this year of smuggling 150 pangolins, sentenced to a year and jail and fined. Meanwhile, over seven tons of pangolin – some of them still alive – were confiscated by customs officials in Hai Phong, Vietnam. And in a baffling decision, the seized goods were auctioned off rather than destroyed, thus re-entering the illicit market.
No mention of what happened to the smugglers themselves.
The world’s first ever pangolin conference with the International Union for Conservation of Nature – Species Survival Commission (IUCN-SSC) Pangolin Specialist Group met in Singapore in July. Perhaps this will bring more attention this unique creature, hopefully before it is trafficked into extinction.