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South African Government Has Plans To Legalise Trade In Rhino Horns

Zimbabwe To Re-Introduce Rhinos Into National Parks

The South African Government is pushing ahead with plans to legalise the sale of the rhino horn within its borders. The proposed legislation will include a provision for the export of the animal product that is the reason behind a poaching crisis which many experts believe could result in the extinction of the species with ten years. Edna Molewa, South Africa’s Minister of Environmental Affairs filed draft regulations in February which would allow the sale of rhino horn in the country for “personal purposes” with a valid permit.

More valuable than gold

Over the last ten years, powdered rhino horn has become more valuable in weight than either gold or cocaine. The reason is Asian demand where in some countries it is believed to cure ailments ranging from cancer to impotence. Rhino horns are actually made from keratin which is the same ingredient as fingernails from humans are made from. The proposed regulations are not clear on why South Africa is thinking about opening up the trade though it has been previously argued that the sale of the horn could help fund the protection of living animals.

South Africa home to most of the world’s rhinos

Most of the world’s living rhinos make their home in South Africa and both the government and private individuals have kept caches of horns worth perhaps billions of dollars. Some breeders have begun to campaign for legalisation arguing that such stockpiles could flood the market and drastically drive down the price undercutting the income of poachers who kill over 1000 of the animals each year.

Breeders argue ban on trade caused the price to jump

John Hume who is a rhino breeder says that banning the horn trade has driven up the price of the commodity. Mr Hume owns more than 1,100 rhinos and argues had the ban never been implemented, its price would never have reached the levels seen today. Breeders such as Mr Hume as well as a number of conservation groups cut the rhino horns off whilst the animals are still alive as they seek to deter poaching. Dehorning a rhino is relatively harmless to the animal though it does cause them stress and needs to be repeated every few years since like fingernails they grow back.

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White Rhino’s Use Poo As Social Network

WWF Worried By Rhino Poaching

From the water cooler to Facebook, people have always come together to share information. Apparently white rhino’s do the same thing. The only difference is they meet at a giant pile of poo. White rhino’s faeces contains chemical cues that deliver information about gender, age, health and reproductive status to other rhinos that visit a the communal latrine whose scientific name is a midden.

Dung contains information

Courtney Marnewec who is studying ecology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa and is leading the study says that people tend to think of dung as simply waste, however it is a really great way for animals to communicate and there is a lot information it conveys that we simply don’t use. Lots of animals make use of chemical in urine and faeces to find out what is happening with other members of their species. This is the reason for example why dogs like to sniff fire hydrants. What makes the white rhino unique is they defecate as a group in the same location

Looked at 200 rhinos

Marneweck and her team followed over 200 individual white rhinos in South Africa from different populations and sampled their poo after the rhinos payed a visit to their middens. This enabled the team to keep tabs on exactly what individual rhinos were contributing to the sample. It was relatively easy to find the middens because the large animals trample grass along paths that are well used and do not travel far when it comes time to add to the collection.

They don’t smell as bad as you would expect

Middens are also very hard to miss because measure as much as 65 feet across. Surprisingly the researchers say the middens do not smell that bad. Once they located a midden, the scientists analysed rhino dung’s chemical makeup. What they would find is that different ages, sexes had faeces carry different cues. The researchers then created fake poo from grass and mud, and then spritzed it with the same compounds that were obtained from three different groups. The fake dung was deposited randomly in selected middens and then they watched how the dominant males responded to it.

Males were the most responisve

What they found was interesting, males were extremely responsive to fake dung that was spritzed with chemicals from females ready to mate. The males spent more time sniffing it than other rhinos did. They also made more visits to the midden and defecated on the experimental poo according to the study. Their reaction clearly shows that male rhinos were receiving information from chemicals Ms Marneweck says.

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African Leopard At Risk Of Extinction

Leopard near extinction

Climate change induced habitat loss combined with poaching and other illegal activities have caused an environment filled with torment for animals globally. In fact, the impact is so great that the rate of extinction of animals is increasing at a faster rate. The latest addition to the list of animals that are at risk of extinction is the African leopard who population has fallen by 30 per cent over the last 25 years and may now qualify as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act.

Legal petition filed

Last a year a legal petition was filed by a number of animal protection charities to extend the full protection of the Endangered Species Act to the African leopard.  According to Nature World News, HSI director of wildlife department Dr Teresa M. Telecky, the number of African leopards have plummeted despite the fact that the United States which is the largest trophy importer in the world has taken vital steps to ensure its consumption does not threaten the survival of the African leopard.

Long considered endangered

Sarah Uhlemann international program director for the Center for Biological Diversity says that leopards in both Asia and Africa have for a long time been considered as an endangered species. She argues that the United States must provide protection to this species in order to reverse the population decline which Ms Uhlemann says is extremely disturbing.

South Africa bans trophy hunting

According to studies that have been conducted the main reason behind the drop in leopard numbers is poorly managed trophy hunting. Earlier in the year South Africa banned trophy hunting on its territory as a result of an alert from its CITES Scientific Authority who warned that the number of leopards left in the country was not known and the survival of species was at risk.

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Wildlife Sanctuary Euthanises All Its Animals

Tiger Poaching On The Rise

A Colorado wildlife sanctuary euthanised all 11 of its animals. The decision was taken to euthanise according to one of the sanctuary’s co-owners because county commissioners denied their request to relocate. Dr Joan Laub in a television interview said the animals had to be euthanised because of continuous flooding on the property which made conditions unsafe for the animals.

Not in the community’s interest to relocate

According to the television report, the Lion’s Gate Sanctuary euthanised 3 lions, 3 tigers and 5 bears on April 20th. Apparently, Elbert County Commissioners the previous week had voted in unison to deny the request by the sanctuary to move roughly 30 kilometres from its original site South-East of Denver. Grant Thayer a County Commissioner said the permit for the move was denied because the commission felt the communities best interest would be best served if it was denied.

The second time a request to move was turned down

This was the second time the commission denied the Lion’s Gat Sanctuary request to move. Previously the board turned down a request by the sanctuary in 2006. According to the report neighbours had been blocking the move, saying it was inappropriate for a rural community mostly known for its equine lifestyle. The neighbours said they worried about safety and claimed that the lions would probably at all times of day and night.

Neighbours complaining

The owners of Lion’s Gate argued at the planning commission meeting in March that the animals in their care were aged and posed little threat. In terms of noise they said the two male lions living at the sanctuary roared perhaps once a day for a few seconds at a time. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department says its officials were aware of the mass euthanasia and the burial of all the animals that lived at the sanctuary but said no regulations were violated.

Animals could have found another home

Pat Craig who is  founder of another Wildlife Sanctuary in Keenesberg which is the largest of its kind in Colorado with 450 animals under its care says he was surprised the owners of Lion’s Gate did not try to find another home for the animals.

 “In this specific case with Lion’s Gate, they have so few animals, they would easily be able to place every animal with another wildlife sanctuary,” Craig said.”  “I can guarantee you that a lot of organisations would be glad to help.”

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Broken Hearted Polar Bear Dies After Companion Sent Away

New Home Could Be Found For Sad Polar Bear

A prominent charity dedicated to animal welfare claims that a polar bear “died from a broken heart” after her companion of 2 decades was sent away from San Diego’s SeaWorld to the Pittsburgh Zoo. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) made the claim after a 21-year-old polar bear named Szenja who was born in captivity and lived at SeaWorld’s Arctic exhibit died. Szenha lived with her companion Snowflake for over twenty years and there was a deep bond between the two females.

Reason behind the death is clear

PETA says the reasons behind Szenja death are obvious. Peta spokesperson Tracy Remain said she died of a broken heart after SeaWorld sent her companion to breed more miserable polar bears. According to Ms Remain, Szenja did what anyone would do in her situation where there is no hope left, she simply gave up. Ms Remain added that Szenja’s death should server as a wake-up call to SeaWorld. The theme park should cease its breeding programme and stop shipping animals around. PETA called on SeaWorld to close its animal exhibits and retire the animals to sanctuaries.

Szenja’s death was a shock

It was reported that in the days following Snowflake’s transfer, Szenja lost her appetite, however her death came as a shock to staff at SeaWorld. Al Garver a spokesperson for SeaWorld said that Szenja had touched the hearts of the people that have been her care givers over the last two decades as well as the millions of visitors to the park who had the chance to see her in person. Mr Garver added the park was proud to have been part of her life and was pleased to know that Szenja inspired people all over the world to want to protect wild polar bears.

SeaWorld comes in for intense criticism

In the wild, polar bears have a life expectancy of about 18 years. Polar bears in captivity can live into their late twenties. SeaWorld has come under intense criticisms for its practices, and was most recently chastised for sending employees to pose as animal rights activists to spy on its critics.

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Police Find Drug Addicted Python During Raid

Florida Seeks To Get Rid Of Invasive Burmese Python

When police in Australia raided a laboratory that was manufacturing crystal methamphetamine last year, they were probably expecting to find kilos of narcotics, piles of cash and drug making equipment. What they actually uncovered was something else. Along with all the things that were mentioned, they also found a 6-foot long jungle python that was displaying visible signs of addiction. The poor snake had apparently been absorbing fumes from the drug making process as well as other particles through its skin.

Extremely aggressive at first

Initially the snake was extremely aggressive, but after seven months of abstinence, the python has returned to normal behaviour under the care of 14 prisoners who are part of a programme that works on wildlife care. They python is just one of 250 animals that are being cared for at a minimum-security prison in Sydney. The prison also serves as home to a number of native Australian birds, wombats, possums, wallabies and kangaroos.

Prisoners taking care of animals

The John Morony Correctional Complex also houses several other reptiles that were seized during police raids. According to one of the officers at the Complex, some criminals resort to using poisonous snakes in order to keep their hidden stashes of drugs and guns protected. The jungle python whose name cannot be revealed for legal reasons will eventually be resettled with new owners after the court case against the alleged traffickers has been completed.

Wildlife programme helps rehabilitate prisoners

Ivan Calder who is governor of the prison said the wildlife programme has been running for nearly two decades and also helps to rehabilitate inmates. Mr Calder says what he sees with the men that are incarcerated at his facility is their approach to animals is what softens and humanises them. By giving inmates the opportunity to take care of the animals, it also provides a major agent for behaviour change.

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Lion And Bear Rescued From Wreckage Of Zoo In Mosul

Lions On The Lose In Nairobi

Recently two of the only surviving animals of Mosul Zoo have been rescued form terrible conditions in the conflict-ridden city of Iraq. Simba the lion and Lula the bear were found at the zoo back in February. The zoo is privately owned and the two animals were found in their cages covered in dirt and excrement. Fortunately, a charity called Four Paws International has stepped into rescue the animals and is flying the tiger and the bear to a better life in Jordan.

Many animals already dead

Iraqi troops are trying drive Islamic State militants from Mosul which is the terrorist outfit’s last major urban strong hold in Iraq. After six months of intense combat, there has been plenty of civilian casualties and the war has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes. The Montazah al-Morour Zoo was almost completely destroyed during the fight for control of the Eastern half of the city and most of the animals living at the zoo which included rabbits, monkey’s and a lioness either died of starvation or were killed.

The bear and lion had multiple diseases

Amir Khalil a veterinarian of Egyptian and Austrian descent who headed the effort by Four Paws said Simba the lion and Lula the bear were suffering from multiple diseases that were the product of malnutrition and lack of care. When he first laid eyes on them back in February both animals had extremely bad teeth. Simba had ill joints and Lula was suffering pneumonia.

Lots of paper work required to move them

In March Dr Khalil began the process of acquiring the correct paperwork from the Iraqi authorities so that he could transport the animals abroad where they would receive proper care. A couple of weeks later the convoy made its first attempt at getting the animals out of the country by flight. That attempt had to be aborted however, because the lorry carrying the animals we stopped at a checkpoint.

A happy ending hopefully

The lorry was stuck at that roadside checkpoint for a further nine days until additional permits were secured at which point Simba began to exhibit symptoms of a respiratory problems. The plane carrying the two animals to Jordan eventually took off and Dr Khalil in an interview with the AFP news agency said he was pleased that this was the beginning of a new life for the animals and from now on they no longer are part of the war.

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Python Swallows Indonesian Farmer Whole

Florida Seeks To Get Rid Of Invasive Burmese Python

This is a story that has to be seen to believed. We can’t show you pictures unfortunately so you will have to take our word for it. In Indonesia, a farmer who was harvesting his crops disappeared. Very near where the farmer was last spotted, a giant python was caught and inside the belly of the python the farmer was found.

7 metre python

Akbar the farmer was only 25 and his body was discovered in the 7 metre (23 feet) long snake which villagers where the farmer worked has seen slithering very awkwardly. The snake was captured in Salubiro village on the Eastern island of Sulawesi.

“We were immediately suspicious that the snake had swallowed Akbar because around the site we found palm fruit, his harvesting tool and a boot,” said Junaidi, a senior village official.

“They didn’t find him (Akbar), but the villagers saw an unmoving python in the ditch. They grew suspicious that maybe the snake had Akbar,” Mashura, a spokesperson for West Sulawesi police, told BBC Indonesia. “When they cut it open, Akbar was inside the snake.”

Attacks on humans are rare

Relatives were obviously very worried when Akbar did not return home from the family’s plantation and launched a search. According to Junaidi the snake had swallowed the farmer whole and that this was the only incidence he had ever heard of in the region. This species of python routinely exceed 20ft, is common throughout Indonesia and the Philippines. Whilst these reptiles do attack small animals, it is rare for them to attempt to eat people. In 2013, a security guard on the island of Bali was killed by a python at a luxury beachfront hotel.

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China Establishes Huge Nature Reserve To Protect Endangered Big Cats

Tiger Poaching On The Rise

China has established a huge new 5,600-square-mile reserve in the North-Eastern part of the country. The reserve was established to protect two endangered big cat species, the Siberian tiger and the Amur leopard. The park will be spread across two provinces in China and is part of a new park system being established by China and is being encouraged by China’s president Xi Jinping according to the Chinese state news services.

This is major news for tigers and leopards

This is huge news for the endangered big cats. In 2007 for example, there were thought to be less than 30 Amur leopards living in the wild. The news for tigers was even worse with numbers dropping as low as five in China, though there were more Siberian tigers living across the border in Russia. China stopped logging in that part of the country and this has to some extent helped the populations of the big cats recover. There is also a small reserve just along the border which provides enough space for the numbers of big cats in the area to rise.

The big cats face numerous threats

Whilst the news is good the gains are tenuous. According to the IUCN both the Amur leopard and Siberian tiger face a variety of threat such as encroaching civilisation, poaching, the construction of new roads and climate change. Many of these threats have started to reduce through the designation of this large area of protected land as part of government mandated conservation plan. The plan for the park should be in effect by 2020.

Human-animal conflict ever present

When it comes to big cats there is always human-animal conflict. For example, pet dogs and livestock have been preyed upon by leopards and tigers that live close to human settlements. A Chinese government spokesperson said in order to counter this, the government intends to relocate some existing communities and factories that will lie within the grounds of the national park area. This should go a long way to helping to tackle the problem of conflict between wildlife and human activities.

China sees the US as a model of its park system

According to a report in the New York Times, the Chinese see America as a model for the kind of conservation it is engaging in, particularly its park system. Whilst the country does have thousands of nature reserves, the system lacks organisation. Rose Niu of the Paulson Institute which is working with the Chinese government on its national parks plan says the country wishes to develop a national park system that is in line with international standards, but also fits in with the Chinese context.

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Giant Tortoise Thought To Have Fathered Over 800 Offspring

Sea Turtles Take A Shorter Route Around The Atlantic

Diego is a giant tortoise who is thought to be over a century old, but he has been doing his bit to ensure his species survives by having lots and lots of sex. Diego is a giant Galapagos tortoise who lives on the island of Española. The island is part of the Galapagos Archipelago and lies on its Southernmost tip. It estimated that he has fathered as many as 800 offspring.

Long Journey

Diego has had a long journey in his life including spending decades at the San Diego Zoo. Dr Harry Wegeforth, the founder of the San Diego Zoo brought Diego to the zoo after one of his expeditions to the Galapagos way back in 1928. By the time the 1960’s arrived the species was declared critically endangered. There were only a couple of males and a dozen females left in the wild so a search went out seeking other giant tortoise’s living in zoos. The San Diego Zoo allowed Diego to return home back in 1977 where he joined his compatriots at the Charles Darwin Research Station.

Diego the stud

It was at the research station where Diego provide he was nothing short of a stud. According to the results of a study done on the turtle population in 2010, it was revealed that Diego was so busy procreating that he was actually the father of 40 per cent of all new tortoises released back into the wild from the station. Thanks to the breeding program at the station the species is no longer in danger of extinction with more than 2,000 being released in Española.

The species has a bright future

Despite all the success the research station has had with this breeding program, threats remain. Originally there were 15 species of giant tortoises that lived in the Galapagos Islands, unfortunately three have become extinct. Diego has now reached a ripe old age, nevertheless, he is doing his best to ensure that his species and his descendants have a much brighter future ahead of them.

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